Alex Welch

Big personnel shakeup after first day in pads

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Jordan Prestwood leaving the football team yesterday was hardly the only big piece of personnel news. As the Irish donned pads for the first time in front of local media, Brian Kelly’s troops had a few big roster shakeups, two that could change the positional plans for the Irish.

Most notable was a serious knee injury to junior tight end Alex Welch, who was competing with sophomores Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas for the No. 2 job behind All-American Tyler Eifert. Welch was injured near the end of practice and carried off the field. As I hinted at yesterday on Twitter, multiple sources told me it was a torn ACL, essentially ending his season before it starts. (IrishIllustrated.com has also confirmed the ACL tear.)

The loss of Welch doesn’t limit what the Irish offense can do, but it sure takes away some of the versatility it could have had. With Welch, Koyack and Niklas, the Irish had three capable in-line tight ends, allowing Eifert to be split wide, in the slot, or just about anywhere Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin want to put him. While senior Jake Golic will move into the mix with Welch gone, losing the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder from Cincinnati is a blow to a position of great depth.

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One position that doesn’t have great depth is the ‘dog’ outside linebacker. Playing on the wide side of the field, the two defenders with the most experience there last season are no longer at the position, with Prince Shembo competing with Ishaq Williams for Darius Fleming’s old job and Troy Niklas now playing tight end. That leaves junior linebacker Danny Spond and sophomore Ben Councell battling for the position, a competition that’s been thrown in flux after Kelly reported that Spond suffered a concussion in practice yesterday.

Kelly only had the preliminary report on Spond, making it a guessing game for fans to wonder if the junior linebacker is out for days or weeks. Some have referenced a serious concussion Spond suffered during his senior season of high school, but while relevant, it’s not really an indicator of how long or serious this injury  could be.

While Spond heals, the majority of the reps will be taken by Councell, ready to take the field after sitting out his freshman season. Long thought of as the prototype field-side linebacker on the roster, the early returns on his play seem incredibly positive, with both the head coach and a reporter agreeing that the 6-foot-5, 240-pound North Carolina native has been a disruptive force early on.

“He’s really athletic,” Kelly said. “He can play out over the No. 2 and re-route him but he can also sit down on the tight end. That versatility is important and he’s long. He plays pretty big out there. He’s a guy that arrives at the ball with the kind of tenacity that you want. Just every day is a new experience for him, learning. But he’s what it should look like out there.”

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Lastly, just days after announcing Brad Carrico was hanging up the pads for good because of a foot injury, it appears running back Cam Roberson is doing the same thing. The junior running back suffered a major knee injury two springs ago and just hasn’t been able to fully recover.

“Cam Roberson physically was not able to compete at the level that he felt was necessary to play here at Notre Dame so we’re going to pursue a medical hardship for him,” Kelly said.

The loss likely won’t be felt on the depth chart, but it’s sad news for a guy that came into Notre Dame with high hopes. It’s a stark reminder for both players and recruits that picking a school isn’t just about picking a football program. It’s a bit of a cliche, but there’s some truth to the Notre Dame maxim that choosing a college isn’t a four-year decision but rather a forty year one. With medical hardship scholarships, both Carrico and Roberson will be able to complete their educations without counting against the Irish’s 85-man scholarship limit.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”