Michigan v Notre Dame

Chip not the only Kelly on the NFL’s radar?

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As college coaches like Bill O’Brien and Doug Marrone find themselves on the short list for several NFL head coaching openings, the lone defeated head coach of a BCS program was bound to find his name coming up in a few discussions.

But with Notre Dame’s biggest football game in the past 20 years less than a week away, seeing Brian Kelly‘s name come up in the conversation of college coaches primed to head to the NFL certainly raised an eyebrow or two.

The discussions started in earnest after CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman tweeted that Chip Kelly wasn’t the only Kelly generating interest amongst NFL general managers looking for a new coach. That led to ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio running with the story, echoing Feldman’s sentiments while discussing the similarities between the head coaching job at Notre Dame and the top spot at an NFL franchise.

Florio even went on air today to discuss the report, adding some unique thoughts to the conversation.

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Usually discussion like this flies across a message board after an anonymous blogger discusses it. But Feldman and Florio — two reporters that have tremendous reputations (and disclaimer, have played a huge part in me being where I am today), turn this into something that’s more than just a water cooler discussion.

Personally, I don’t see Kelly leaving Notre Dame for a head coaching job. Just about any opportunity he’s given will likely be a step backwards compared to the responsibility and prestige he currently has in South Bend. Whether this story is the product of excellent agenting — remember Charlie Weis’ 10-year contract extension after the Giants started sniffing round? — or legitimate news, a few things have me thinking that Kelly has little interest in coaching on Sundays.

First, Kelly has always identified Notre Dame as his dream job. After 19 years as a head coach, Kelly jumped at the Irish head job as soon as it was offered to him, making his departure from undefeated Cincinnati an awkward situation after he left his undefeated team to recruit for a bowl-less Irish squad.

Secondly, Kelly has turned in the opposite direction of the similarly surnamed Chip, who intrigues NFL teams because of his reputation as an offensive innovator. When he took the job at Notre Dame, many expected Brian Kelly to bring a fast paced, up-tempo offense to South Bend. But Kelly has shown himself to be a coach fairly pliable in regards to scheme, and his offensive struggles the past few seasons stopped any offensive guru comments in their tracks.

Lastly, the educator in Kelly likely finds the college job more rewarding that any NFL position. Whether it’s the tough love he gives his players, as often noted by his red-faced sideline demeanor, or the development process he uses with 18-t0-21-year-old players, Kelly the college coach with a very plentiful fiefdom probably holds more sway than any position where he’d answer to a general manager and owner.

At a time like this, coaching candidates come fast and furious, with some reporters eager to throw something against the wall, in hopes that it sticks. Brian Kelly, the consensus collegiate coach of the year, deserves to have his name on just about any short list out there, especially after leading Notre Dame to their first championship opportunity in 20 years.

But I’m a long way from believing Kelly is on his way anywhere after laying the foundation of a potential Notre Dame dynasty. That’s a head coaching job that’ll leaving a legacy far more enduring than anything the NFL can offer.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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)

 

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

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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.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.