Skip to content

Combine shows the Irish still have plenty of work to do

Feb 26, 2013, 3:09 PM EDT

2013 NFL Combine Getty Images

Think a 28-point defeat in the National Championship game put a little fuel in the tanks of the Fighting Irish as they prepare for 2013?

Well the NFL Combine did as well. If the annual meat market showed anything this week it’s that the Irish’s very best players still have a ways to go before they stack up apples-to-apples athletically with the elite of college football.

That doesn’t mean the 2012 Irish have anything to be ashamed of. Nor does it mean the professional careers of guys like Manti Te’o, Zeke Motta or Theo Riddick are sunk before they even begin. (Contrary to many public opinions that believe three days in shorts outweighs a collegiate career on the field.) But if you’re looking for something that’ll help push Notre Dame in these tough offseason months, it’s the realization that the Irish’s best players unequivocally need to get bigger, stronger and faster.

That’s not news to Brian Kelly.

“There’s no tricks. There’s no gimmicks,” Kelly said in the run-up to the national championship game. “It’s going to be basic fundamental football when you get to this level. I think it was just a maturation and a development of our football team to get bigger, stronger, faster, and then have a will. That’s been the process for us at Notre Dame.”

It was clear on January 7 that the Irish weren’t there yet. It’s also clear that after this week in Indianapolis, that the process continues.

In many ways, it makes Kelly and the Irish coaching staff’s accomplishments all the more impressive in 2012. Say what you want about a schedule that didn’t live up to its hefty billing, but the Irish squeezed every bit of efficiency out of last year’s football team, doing so while rebooting the offense with a redshirt freshman quarterback, a patchwork secondary, and an offensive line that had to break in two new starters with zero depth behind it.

The Combine also told us things we’ve known all along. For all the shake Theo Riddick has, he was never a burner. Braxston Cave, while physically stout, is limited athletically. Zeke Motta, someone Irish fans always thought had the size to be a linebacker, also turns out to run like one. And Manti Te’o’s excellence is much easier stated on the football field, not running around in shorts or answering off-the-field questions. While 12-0 can erase a lot of weaknesses, confirmation bias can only take you so far.

The silver lining in all of this? It appears many of the reasons Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly were also on display last season. While Kelly hasn’t turned out to be the up-tempo, spread offense innovator that many thought the Irish were getting, he was much more last season — program building his way to unprecedented heights with a team that probably wasn’t ready for primetime.

The strategy used to get there, the reliance on Tyler Eifert as a one-on-one match-up weapon, the showcasing of Theo Riddick as a dependable cog in the run game, and the usage of Manti Te’o as a one-man army in the middle of the defense proved, all likely trumped the personnel that the Irish are still committed to building.

And that personnel is improving. Turning Jamoris Slaughter, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and Zeke Motta into players that get invited to the Combine is a sign that things in South Bend are progressing. In years past, guys of that ilk — especially on an underperforming Notre Dame team — got one look from NFL scouts, and that’s at the Irish pro day.

With building blocks like Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt on defense, high end athletes like George Atkinson and DaVaris Daniels as playmakers, and an intriguing two-way threat at quarterback in Everett Golson, with some elite young talent pushing him along, there’s reason to believe that last year was more of a sign of things to come as opposed to a smoke and mirrors act.

But until then, there’s work to be done.

 

Latest Posts
  1. Irish A-to-Z: John Turner

    Aug 27, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT

    John Turner

    After being buried on the safety depth chart, junior John Turner became one of the talks of spring practice when he moved from forgotten man to a potential starter at outside linebacker. Irish A-to-Z looks at the unlikely outside linebacker.

  2. Opening Day Mailbag: Now Open

    Aug 27, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT

    Mailbag

    The season is finally here. Got questions before the opener? Drop them in the comments or over on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  3. And in that corner… The Rice Owls

    Aug 27, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

    UTEP v Rice UTEP v Rice

    Notre Dame opens the 2014 season with a visit from Rice on Saturday afternoon. While on paper, a matchup with the Conference USA squad looks like it could be a good way to get the rust off, taking the Owls lightly would be a large mistake. The Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte gets us ready for Rice.

  4. Kelly names Collinsworth, Day, Martin and McDaniel captains

    Aug 26, 2014, 8:38 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Brian Kelly announced his captains for the 2014 season, naming safety Austin Collinsworth, defensive lineman Sheldon Day, center Nick Martin and running back Cam McDaniel his four leaders for the upcoming season.

  5. Irish A-to-Z: Andrew Trumbetti

    Aug 26, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT

    247Sports 247Sports

    After enrolling early this winter, Andrew Trumbetti has forced his way into the starting lineup. Irish A-to-Z looks at the freshman defensive end slated to start against Rice.

  6. Setting the bar: Expectations for the 2014 Irish

    Aug 26, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT

    Fighting Irish quarterback Golson brings the first team offense together during a practice session in Davie, Florida

    When Brian Kelly leads Notre Dame out of the tunnel to open the 2014 season on Saturday afternoon, he’ll be leading his youngest and most inexperienced team into battle on the new artificial surface of Notre Dame Stadium. He’ll also be short three key starters, still left in limbo as an academic investigation and Honor Code ruling continues.

  7. Irish A-to-Z: Drue Tranquill

    Aug 25, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Tranquill

    If there’s one coach counting on freshman Drue Tranquill to find the football field, it’s head coach Brian Kelly. Irish A-to-Z looks at the freshman safety who earned his scholarship thanks to Kelly’s evaluation of his high school film.

  8. Irish A-to-Z: Ronnie Stanley

    Aug 25, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT

    Michigan State v Notre Dame Getty Images

    After watching Zack Martin quietly spend four years dominating along the Irish offensive line, junior Ronnie Stanley steps in at left tackle. Irish A-to-Z looks at Notre Dame’s new starting left tackle.

  9. Irish A-to-Z: Durham Smythe

    Aug 24, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    South Bend Tribune South Bend Tribune

    Don’t look now, but the Irish might have another elite tight end in the making. That’s the expectation for sophomore Durham Smythe, our next entry in the Irish A-to-Z series.

  10. Irish A-to-Z: Jaylon Smith

    Aug 24, 2014, 9:34 AM EDT

    We are about to get an idea of how good sophomore Jaylon Smith can truly be. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at Notre Dame’s star linebacker.

  11. Walk-ons Cavalaris, Fiessinger and Plantz awarded scholarships

    Aug 23, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Michigan Getty Images

    Notre Dame awarded scholarships to veteran walk-ons Connor Cavalaris, Charlie Fiessinger and Tyler Plantz. The trio will get a free year of education during the 2014-15 school year, awarded for their hard work.

  12. Irish A-to-Z: Elijah Shumate

    Aug 22, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Notre Dame v Michigan Getty Images

    A blue-chip recruit who immediately contributed on the 2012 defense, junior Elijah Shumate is still looking to find his fit in the Irish defense. Irish A-to-Z takes a closer look at the New Jersey native.

  13. Irish A-to-Z: Joe Schmidt

    Aug 21, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT

    ncf_i_schmidt_600x400

    Senior linebacker Joe Schmidt might still carry with him the tag of walk-on. But he’s also one of the key leaders on an Irish defense that’s counting on the senior to play key minutes as the man in the middle of Notre Dame’s defense. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at Notre Dame’s starting middle linebacker.

  14. Preseason Camp: Final video breakdown

    Aug 21, 2014, 1:29 PM EDT

    Cam McDaniel Cam McDaniel

    It’s been a hectic last week inside the Notre Dame football program. Between suspensions, media day and the home-stretch of our A-to-Z series, it’s time to get to some football.

  15. Tune In: Another Strong & True airs Monday on NBCSN

    Aug 21, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly Brian Kelly

    With training camp over and Notre Dame transitioning to game prep, football is almost here. But for one more look back at the Irish’s time at Culver Academy and another behind-the-scenes look at the program, our friends at Fighting Irish Digital Media present a new edition of the always excellent Strong & True series.

  16. Irish A-to-Z: KeiVarae Russell

    Aug 20, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT

    Notre Dame at USC AP

    Inked to help fill a running back depth chart in need of reinforcements, KeiVarae Russell became a cornerback by accident. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at an All-American candidate with his season up for grabs, an academic investigation determining Russell’s role on the 2014 team.

  17. Riggs ready to lead

    Aug 20, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT

    Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

    Of the players made available to the media yesterday, grad student Cody Riggs wasn’t among them. But the cornerback stopped by UND.com’s Media Day coverage, and after watching his interview with Jack Nolan it’s hard not to be impressed.

  18. Quick thoughts from Media Day

    Aug 19, 2014, 9:57 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder

    With access to Brian Kelly, his assistants and a handful of veteran players, today’s Media Day felt a little different than most. That’s understandable, with the aftermath of unexpected academic suspensions still lingering over the program. With the investigation still on media lockdown, speculation has varied widely, but it’s clear that Kelly is moving forward, the only thing a head coach can do.

  19. Phillip Daniels feels confident son DaVaris will be cleared

    Aug 18, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Stanford Getty Images

    The Irish practiced today without four suspended veterans, as an academic investigation continues at Notre Dame about potential Honor Code violations committed by DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams. And with rumors swirling and little actual info coming out of anyone inside the program, Phillip Daniels was a guest on NBC 5’s Sports Sunday, and spoke candidly about his son’s situation.

  20. Irish A-to-Z: Isaac Rochell

    Aug 18, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT

    Oklahoma v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Providing depth in 2013, sophomore Isaac Rochell just became a very large part of Notre Dame’s plans this season. Irish A-to-Z continues with a lock at Notre Dame’s accidental starter at defensive end.