John Goodman

A closer look at the depth chart: Offense


With injuries, suspensions, and uncertainty in a few position battles, Brian Kelly released the season’s first official depth chart with a few minor surprises. We already knew quarterback Everett Golson locked up the starting quarterback job, but let’s run through the position groupings and see who broke camp in the starting lineup.

Here’s our first look, breaking down the Irish’s starters and back-ups for offense.


Everett Golson, Soph.
Andrew Hendrix, Jr.
Gunner Kiel, Fr.

Thoughts: It’ll be interesting to see where Tommy Rees inserts himself after he’s eligible to get back on the field. While the Irish staff has belief that Golson has the ability to lead this offense and run it in the fashion Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin hope, they also know Rees is capable — and likely ready — to take a step forward.

With the staff ready for anything, they’ll likely hope Golson does enough good to hold onto the job through the season’s first two weeks. More importantly, he’s got to get the Irish two victories.


Theo Riddick, Sr.
George Atkinson, Soph.
Will Mahone, Fr.

Thoughts: Cierre Wood finds himself missing from this depth chart thanks to his violation of team rules. That opens the door slightly for Mahone, who I’m guessing the Irish coaching staff absolutely don’t want to see on the field this year.

If you’re looking to impress your friends and are feeling gutsy, predict a big game for Atkinson. After an impressive spring culminated by a nice performance in the Blue-Gold game, I expect Atkinson to get a ton of touches against the Midshipmen, and turn a few into really big plays.


John Goodman, Sr.
Daniel Smith, Jr.
Justin Ferguson, Fr.

TJ Jones, Jr.
Davaris Daniels, Soph.
Chris Brown, Fr.

Robby Toma, Sr.
Davonte Neal, Fr.
Amir Carlisle, Soph.

Thoughts: This grouping is a head-scratcher. After hearing about the promise of youngsters like Daniels, Brown, and Neal, none of them are in the starting lineup. Whether that’s a nod to Kelly showing veteran loyalty or the talented trio not being ready, we’ll likely see in Dublin on Saturday.

There are rumors that John Goodman isn’t 100 percent going into Saturday’s game, which will likely shake up the depth chart outside. It’s also interesting to note that Amir Carlisle, who is still working his way back from a broken ankle, is listed at the slot receiver position.

Chris Brown, the freshman receiver who will likely signify the Irish’s best deep threat is buried beneath TJ Jones and Daniels. I still expect him to get a dozen offensive snaps this weekend. Also — even if Carlisle is injured, I expect him to see the field before Will Mahone, unless the Irish think they can save a year of his eligibility.


Tyler Eifert, Sr.
Ben Koyack, Soph.
Troy Niklas, Soph.
Jake Golic, Sr.

Thoughts: It’s the worst kept secret that Eifert is the team’s No. 1 tight end. He’s also the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, making the depth chart worth little more than the paper you’ll print it on. With Alex Welch out, the role of a traditional tight end will be given to Koyack and Niklas, with both sophomores having worlds of potential.


Left Tackle:

Zack Martin, Sr.
Ronnie Stanley, Fr.

Left Guard:

Chris Watt, Sr.
Connor Hanratty, Soph.


Braxston Cave, Sr.
Mike Golic, Sr.
Matt Hegarty, Soph.

Right Guard:

Mike Golic, Sr.
Connor Hanratty, Soph.

Right Tackle:

Christian Lombard, Jr.
Nick Martin, Soph.

Thoughts: There’s a lot to process here, but the easy takeaway is that the Irish don’t have a ton of depth here. There might not be a bigger plummet on the two-deep than the drop-off between senior Zack Martin and freshman Ronnie Stanley. Likewise, it’s interesting to see sophomore Connor Hanratty make his move into the two deep, providing depth at both guard positions, but expect fellow sophomore Nick Martin to be the first man off the bench to see the field if someone goes down. Starting right guard Mike Golic will be the first to slide to center if anything happens to Braxston Cave, while the injury to Tate Nichols kept the Irish really shy on options for a unit that needs a healthy season.


Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach


Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”




Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

ASU Sports Information

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller


Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”