Stanford v Notre Dame

Cleared to practice, Golson needs to elevate his game

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As expected, Everett Golson passed the final portion of concussion testing, clearing him to play this Saturday against BYU. Now, the sophomore quarterback needs to make the strides on the field to reward Brian Kelly’s faith in him.

Golson’s first season has been like many other rookie debuts: a work in progress. As the Irish were apt to do when discussing Tommy Rees‘ early appearances, it’s worth noting that Golson’s W-L record is sterling. He’s 5-0 as a starter, with his lone no-decision coming when Golson took over the offense after Rees took the offense’s first three snaps against Miami. But Golson has hardly been winning games for Notre Dame, having been relieved by Rees against Purdue and Michigan, then again after getting his bell rung against Stanford. Golson obviously hasn’t lost any games, but the offense has tagged along with the dominant defense, often times celebrating a victory in spite of the team’s offensive production.

An obligatory look at the stats gives you an idea of where Golson is through his first half-season playing quarterback at Notre Dame.

He’s completed 79 of 135 passes, a 58.5% clip, for 968 yards. He’s thrown four touchdown passes and three interceptions. As elusive as Golson is, he’s still been sacked 10 times. After failing to run for positive yardage through four games, Golson has carried the ball 21 times for a respectable 92 yards against Miami and Stanford. He’s also lost four fumbles, three coming against Stanford.

For the sake of an obvious comparison, through Tommy Rees’ first six games, he completed 100 of 162 passes, a 61.7% clip for 1,106 yards. (A slighty lower per throw average.) He tripled Golson’s touchdown passes, throwing 12, while more than doubling his interceptions with seven. He too was undefeated in those games, coming in as a reliever against Navy and Tulsa, and playing his worst in a rain-soaked victory against USC.

Instead of kicking another hornet’s nest, that’s where the comparison is going to end. Rees and Golson both play the same position, just as your reliable, hand-me-down Volvo and fit-filled Jaguar convertible are both automobiles. Each have their own admirers. When the the temperamental Jag ends up in the shop, you yearn for the days of the ol’ reliable Volvo, safer than a tank. When the Jag flies around you burning rubber, you start thinking that maybe a few extra trips to the garage aren’t so bad as long as you have a chance to feel the wind whip through your hair.

Credit Brian Kelly for show patience this season, especially as the leverage keeps cranking up. Letting Golson work his way through the slumps of Saturday night was admirable, and a decision not many people in Notre Dame Stadium would’ve been able to reach. Perhaps it was his belief in his defense (or his relief QB) but letting Golson work his way through the tough spot could be a launch point for the young quarterback playing another stingy defense.

Kelly talked about seeing progress when not many of us saw it.

“This is just the development of a young quarterback who is taking to coaching and understanding,” Kelly said. “Everett had his best four plays of the game with the last four plays that he was in there. I think probably his best play… he threw a ball out to T.J. that seemed to flutter.  He had somebody in his face.  He set his feet.  He stayed in the pocket.  He didn’t try to escape, which he did earlier in the game.  So that learning curve is taking place, series by series.

“That throw is something that he’s developed into by being out there.  That’s the value and the benefit of him playing this year with four seasons of competition.  That’s what I see and those are the things that keep me moving towards seeing the positive things.  I know there’s others.  He’s got to take care of the football.  He’s got to set his feet.  He plays sloppy at times but boy, he competed his butt off.  I couldn’t be more proud of the guy and the way he competed.”

Kelly stuck with Golson Saturday night, letting the young quarterback fight back from a tough situation. Now it’s up to Golson to reward his coach with more progress, putting together a complete game against the Cougars.

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.”