Feb 26, 2013, 3:09 PM EDT
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.
Jul 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The first recruit to join the 2014 recruiting class, Greer Martini may have been envisioned as a 3-4 linebacker in Bob Diaco’s scheme, but he very quickly showed he could play anywhere the rebooted Irish defense needed him. Irish A-to-Z keeps on keepin’ on.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:44 PM EDT
While discussing Notre Dame’s “rivals” usually turns into some type of screaming hot-take opportunity, it’s undeniable that the Irish’s date with Boston College in Fenway Park is a wonderful place to renew a “rivalry” that’s gotten a lot less regular.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
In his first season without his brother on campus, Nick Martin looked to make a name for himself. But 2014 was a battle for Martin, not just to escape the shadows of his All-Pro brother, but to regain his health after a lingering knee injury and a multitude of other ailments made the entire season a grind.
Jul 27, 2015, 3:02 PM EDT
Ready or not, Cole Luke was thrown into the deep end in 2014, forced into a starting role after KeiVarae Russell’s August suspension. Paired with Cody Riggs as the team’s field cornerback, Luke more than held his own as a sophomore starter, taking on one of the most challenging schedules in college football, with elite receivers testing the Irish secondary nearly every week.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT
Looking for a sledgehammer in an offense that sometimes gets branded finesse? Look no further than tight end Tyler Luatua. The big-bodied thumper may not look like the rest of the tight end depth chart, but certainly will come in handy as the Irish do their best to transform into a run-to-win team in 2015.
Jul 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The big news of the spring was supposed to be DeShone Kizer ascending to the job of holder on field goals and PATs. Instead, Kizer is one snap away from being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, his development kick-started with Everett Golson’s decision to transfer.
Jul 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
After Jim Grobe presided over the Wake Forest football program for 13 seasons, the school made a change bringing in coach Dave Clawson after five consecutive losing seasons. What followed was ugly, an understandable bottoming out—and a three-win season that may have been one of the least impressive in any Power Five conference.
Jul 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After struggling to find his way in the program as a defensive end, Jarron Jones saw a lightbulb come on after filling in for Louis Nix at nose guard. With no other options available, the Irish defensive staff called on Jones to fill Nix’s sizeable void, and Jones responded—turning the trajectory of his career around in the process.
Jul 23, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Notre Dame won a long recruiting battle for Alizé Jones, landing one of the best tight ends in the country over UCLA. To the victor goes one of the most ready-made pass catching tight ends in the country, and Notre Dame gets a potential difference maker from the moment Jones takes the field.
Jul 23, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After a long recovery following a gruesome non-contact injury at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Torii Hunter Jr. fought his way back to the field in 2014. Now comes the hard part—playing up to the potential that had many so excited before the broken femur.
Jul 22, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
The fact that Chase Hounshell is still a part of Notre Dame’s football program is noteworthy. After shoulder surgeries essentially derailed the defensive lineman’s career, Hounshell was given the opportunity to reinvent himself this spring, serving as a tight end when many expected him to be done with the program.
Jul 22, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Notre Dame finally got back into Florida high school powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas when they landed Corey Holmes. After establishing in roads with Sam Young and holding court with specialists Ben Turk and Jordan Cowart, landing an elite receiver out of one of the country’s best programs was the handy work of Tony Alford.
Jul 21, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Harry Hiestand finally recruited a true center in early-enrollee freshman Tristen Hoge. Now it’s up to the two-time Idaho state player of the year to earn the opportunity to replace Nick Martin at the heart of the Irish offensive line.
Jul 21, 2015, 12:39 PM EDT
Our Offseason Q&As continue as we look at Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt Panthers. Anson Whaley of Cardiac Hill gets us up to speed.
Jul 20, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Rising sophomore Kolin Hill had a dazzling debut, notching 1.5 sacks against Michigan to send the Wolverines packing. Irish A-to-Z continues as we look at one of Notre Dame’s best pass rushers.
Jul 20, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
When Notre Dame recruited Mike Heuerman, they were chasing a tight end unlike any other on their roster. Undersized but highly-touted, Heuerman didn’t look like Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert or Ben Koyack, but he certainly came with a similar recruiting pedigree.
Irish A-to-Z continues.
Jul 20, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
We finish up the mailbag, talking the A-to-Z marathon, the Irish return game, Ishaq’s fate and travel logistics.
Jul 18, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
The emergency removal of Jay Hayes’ redshirt gives you an idea that Notre Dame’s coaching staff believes in the young defensive lineman. But burning Hayes’ redshirt was also immediately followed by a significant ankle injury against USC, making it difficult to get a season’s worth of work in the year’s final three games and bowl practices.
Jul 17, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT
Notre Dame’s wide receiving depth chart is fast becoming one of the toughest two-deeps to crack. And that was before the freshman class stepped on campus. Among that new group is Jalen Guyton, the most electric playmaker on the top team in the state of Texas.
Jul 17, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
In part one of the mailbag, we imagine what Hard Knocks: Notre Dame would look like, talk about the Navy hangover, and covet Urban Meyer’s offense.