Massachusetts v Michigan

Wolverines might take aim at Irish secondary

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You could fill up a few notebooks contemplating the ways quarterback Denard Robinson can beat the Irish. We’ve seen it first hand with his virtuoso running performance in 2010 and his fourth quarter passing display last season, where Robinson threw touchdown passes of 14, 21, and 16 yards in the games final eleven minutes to beat the Irish. (No matter how they looked, it worked.)

Still, as we break down the countless match-ups worth watching in this game, the electric speed that makes Robinson so dangerous might not be the most logical way for the Wolverines to attack the Irish. With big bodies Devin Gardner, the 6-foot-4 converted quarterback now leading the Wolverines in receiving, teamed with 6-foot-5 freshman tight end Devin Funchess, Michigan has to feel like they have some match-up problems for the Irish in the passing game.

If there is an X factor on Saturday night, it’ll be the Michigan aerial attack. The Wolverines are averaging an impressive 17 yards a catch, with their top four receivers, Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Funchess, and Drew Dilleo averaging 21.2 yards a catch.

While there were plenty of question marks about the receiving corps heading into the season, it appears that the Wolverines staff doesn’t have any.

“I think it’s probably one of the better positions on our team from a depth standpoint,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday.

Offensive coordinator Al Broges echoed the sentiments, explaining the evolution of the passing offense, anchored by two guys you wouldn’t have expected last season.

“I think about going into camp the perception was we lost some key players,” Borges said of his wide receivers. “But we knew we were working Devin Gardner at that position because we had done so much of it in the spring And Devin Funchess kind of manifested himself. We knew he was a good player, but we didn’t know to what degree, and he didn’t play much in the first game. It became increasingly evident he needed to be part of our passing game.”

The same could be said for the Notre Dame secondary. Heading into spring practice without starters Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton, the Irish felt confident about Bennett Jackson at one corner and the trio of safeties Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Austin Collinsworth. Lo Wood would spent the offseason battling with Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown at field cornerback. If you told most Irish fans that Notre Dame would be without Slaughter, Collinsworth, and Wood after three games — and the Irish would be undefeated — you’d have some incredulous listeners.

With true freshman KeiVarae Russell manning the field corner and Jackson playing on the short side of the field, the pass defense hasn’t missed a beat. With Mathias Farley now taking over for Slaughter and Elijah Shumate excelling in nickel coverage, the young secondary is gaining major experience, all while learning on the fly.

With a front seven that’s protected the back-end of the defense and allowed the Irish to routinely drop five and six men in coverage, that’s a convenience the Irish didn’t have last year at this time. And if Notre Dame can get to Robinson without having to send the house, they’ll likely be able to dictate terms, helping a young secondary against Michigan’s raw but promising group of receivers.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

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.