Jaylon Smith

Weekend recap: schedules & stars

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Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend and had a chance to step away from the computer for a few days. There’s been little news to report on the football front, and hopefully everyone enjoyed some time with family and friends celebrating the unofficial start of the summer. With everyone back to work and catching up, let’s do the same thing here.

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Friend of the blog Bruce Feldman ran down the country’s toughest schedules. Not surprising, Notre Dame ranks first after Feldman awarded points for various levels of opponents. (A cupcake was worth 1 point, a decent team gets 2 points, 3 for a top 40 caliber team, 4 for a top 25 team, and 5 for a top-five heavyweight.)

Here’s Feldman’s rationale for putting Notre Dame at the top:

1. Notre Dame: Wait, where are the cupcakes? Notre Dame is one of the few programs that doesn’t play any FCS programs. The closest things to “cupcake games” are the opener against Navy in Ireland (the Midshipmen have won 24 games the past three seasons); Purdue (a Big Ten team which won seven games in 2011); at BC (who did beat both NC State and Miami last year) or against Wake Forest (which has beaten FSU four of the past six times they’ve met.) More impressively, the Irish face five teams that have a good shot to be in the top 15: at Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, at Oklahoma and then the Irish finish at arch-rival USC. Perhaps the best proof of how hefty this route is for the Irish, consider that Miami–after BYU (a team that may win 10 games this fall)–could prove to be the seventh toughest game on the schedule. Points: 42

The Irish rank just ahead of a top five rounded out by Washington (they’ll face potential Top 5 teams Oregon, LSU and USC), Oregon State, Michigan, and Kansas. Former Irish quarterback Dayne Crist will get to open with South Dakota State before facing a conference schedule that includes away dates against Oklahoma and rival Kansas State, and non-conference games at Northern Illinois and West Virginia*, not to mention a home game with TCU.

* Former Irish flamethrower Drew Duff reminds me that West Virginia will be in the Big 12 next year. This conference realignment stuff takes some getting used to.

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Rivals just announced an updated Top 100 and there are plenty of Notre Dame targets on the list, topped by outside linebacker Jaylon Smith. The 6-foot-3, 218 pounder from Fort Wayne has visited Notre Dame numerous times and many believe the Irish are the team to beat.

Other players the Irish are in good shape with include:

No. 9 — CB Vernon Hargreaves III — Tampa, Florida
No. 39 — WR Laquon Treadwell — Crete, Illinois
No. 42 — LB Trey Johnson — Lawrenceville, Georgia (Committed to Auburn)
No. 49 — LB Alex Anzalone — Wyomissing, Pennsylvania
No. 50 — RB Ryan Green — St. Petersburg, Florida
No. 58 — LB Chans Cox — Lakeside, Arizona
No. 79 — John Montelus — Everett, Massachusetts
No. 86–  LB Doug Randolph — Richmond, Virginia (Committed to Stanford)
N0. 88 — DE Isaac Rochell — McDonough, Georgia
No. 94 — DE Jordan Sherit — Tampa, Florida

Here’s Rivals rationale for Smith making the huge leap up to No. 4 in the country:

“Smith dominated several offseason camps on a level we have not seen in the Midwest for years. His length and athleticism at 6 foot 3 and 218 pounds is unreal,” said Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt. “Not only does he own the middle of the field from his linebacker position, but we saw him drop down to defensive end and destroy offensive tackles in pass rush scenarios as well as bounce out to a cornerback role and lock down some of the region’s top wide receivers in man coverage. The kid is just a freakish specimen at the linebacker position.”

Landing Smith would be a monumental deal for the Irish, and the best defensive prospect to sign with Notre Dame in ages. Landing any of the other guys in the list above would be huge additions to the class as well. Expect quite a few of the current Irish commits (other than Montelus, who is at No. 79) to show up in the Rivals250, a place where Steve Elmer is now likely listed after being bumped down by the current Rivals staff.

The Irish will likely add eight to ten more names to the class before things are all said and done.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.