Pittsburgh v Notre Dame

Weekend notes: Recruiting, SEC title, HeIsManti

23 Comments

For the first time in a long time, Saturday will be spent watching football for enjoyment’s sake. We’ll still have five weeks to break down either Alabama or Georgia, but just because this SEC Championship will be a bit more interesting to Notre Dame fans than usual, we’ll be live-blogging the proceedings tomorrow.

Joined by our buddies over at The Observer, we plan on hopping online and just hanging out. Consider it a three-hour chat session, where I’ll do my best to answer any/all questions on the Irish, the BCS Championship Game, and just about anything else. (Like Wreck-It Ralph, which I’ll be watching tonight.)

For those looking for some easy reading to take you into the weekend, here are a couple stories I thought were worth following.

***

After getting a visit from Irish assistant Mike Denbrock, blue-chip defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes has decided to take an official visit to Notre Dame. At 6-foot-3, 305-pounds, Vanderdoes is one of the elite players in this recruiting class, and while he’s committed to the USC, the changes in the Trojans defensive staff — mainly the “retirement” of Monte Kiffin — have him checking his options.

While the Irish haven’t focused their recruiting efforts on a true defensive tackle in this class, Vanderdoes might be a terrific replacement for Louis Nix, who will likely exit Notre Dame after his senior year, forgoing a fifth-year of eligibility as his draft stock has continued to sky-rocket.

For those looking for some highlights of Vanderdoes in action, here’s a nice look at what he did during his junior season.

***

***

With a nearly full bus in the ’13 recruiting class, many Irish fans are trying to make sense of the math. But if you’ve been keeping tabs on things, two recruits in particular are seeming less and less likely to be heading to South Bend.

Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated dig some digging on linebacker Danny Mattingly‘s recruitment. The lanky 6-foot-5, 225-pounder from Spokane has been taking official visits while still committed to the Irish, not usually a good sign for a player. With Pac-12 schools chasing hard, and Mattingly also interested in playing offense at the next level, Sampson caught up with Mattingly’s Mead High school Sean Carty.

“Something is going to happen in the next few days if it hasn’t already,” Carty told Irish Illustrated. “He’s just trying to make the best decision he can. I don’t press him very much on it.”

While Mattingly is an intriguing athlete, there are a few edge players that Notre Dame is still chasing, namely Al-Quadin Muhammad, that have Irish fans feeling a little better about the fall back plan.

***

Meanwhile, as Notre Dame chases blue-chip, five-star running back Greg Bryant, you begin to wonder if it’s because Irish commit Jamel James has expressed interest in taking some official visits. While Brian Kelly and company don’t draw the hardline Charlie Weis and company did about visits, they have expressed displeasure in any of their recruits taking a look elsewhere, and reportedly have taken a “If you’re looking, we’re looking” approach to the situation.

That makes things interesting with James, a nice power back prospect from Texas, who would like to look at UCLA and Arizona State. As Christian McCollum of IrishSportsDaily.com reports, James is weighing that decision heavily, while also working on his grades, a point of emphasis for James from the Irish coaching staff.

The Irish have a few running backs at the top of their list so any decision James makes likely puts him in limbo, so this is a situation definitely worth following.

***

I just mentioned it on Twitter, but if you are looking for something to do Saturday afternoon while watching the SEC Championship game, head on over here for a live-blog of the proceedings. Without a Notre Dame game to stress about, we might even keep things light and loose, and I’ll be answering any and all questions you might have on the Irish.

As usually, I’ll be joined by the crew at The Observer, and it should be a ton of fun.

***

Lastly, Manti Te’o, fresh off his appearance with Dicky V during the Irish basketball upset of Kentucky, was on Dan Patrick this morning. As always, it was a good interview as Te’o talked about the team’s improbable run to the BCS title game, and how all this team’s hard work isn’t over yet.

Both front-runners for the Heisman Trophy visited with Patrick today, as Texas A&M finally let Johnny Manziel out, with his first discussions with the press coming this week after his breakout season.

***

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
3 Comments

When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)
Mark Harrell, Sr* (No Starts, fifth-year available)

*Harrell’s departure is not confirmed, though expected.  

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars, T
Colin McGovern,* G/T
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
Getty
12 Comments

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)

 

2015-16 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

BVG
28 Comments

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.

***