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.
Sep 4, 2015, 2:16 AM EDT
For all the grand plans on the horizon for Notre Dame’s most promising football team in a decade, none of them can materialize if Saturday goes haywire. So while the Fighting Irish have a team filled with depth, experience and talented playmakers as Texas is mid-renovation in Charlie Strong’s second season, all the magazine covers and preseason All-Americans in the world won’t help once the Irish kickoff at 7:42 on Saturday evening.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
The pieces are in place for Notre Dame’s secondary to be great. Led by returning cornerback KeiVarae Russell and armed with depth at every starting position, first-year position coach Todd Lyght has considerable talent to work with.
Sep 2, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT
When Everett Golson pulled the chute and headed south to Tallahassee, Notre Dame’s quarterback competition quickly cleared up. This is Malik Zaire’s football team.
Sep 2, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT
So who’s calling the plays? That was one of the main questions still unanswered heading into the season’s opening game, and when head coach Brian Kelly was asked about it, he was staying mum.
Sep 2, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Game week is finally here. After nearly nine months—spent wondering about transfers, speculating upon returns and predicting what’ll happen come September—we finally get to see a football game.
Sep 1, 2015, 2:23 PM EDT
With a strong recruiting surge, some roster shuffling and some good luck (and hard work) in the health department, Notre Dame’s linebacking corps was rebuilt remarkably quickly. A season after question marks were everywhere, the Irish have a linebacking group that is among the fastest and most athletic we’ve seen in a very long time.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:56 PM EDT
Brian Kelly released his first official depth chart on Tuesday. Let’s take a look at some of moves and surprises heading into the Texas game.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:12 PM EDT
Notre Dame’s wide receiving depth chart features talent at just about every level. Starting with All-American candidate and sophomore record-setter Will Fuller and working down to freshmen like Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders, top to bottom this is the most exciting set of playmakers the Irish have had at the position in, maybe—ever?
Aug 31, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
Let’s get the rest of the mailbag finished off so we can concentrate on game week. (Feels really good to type that sentence.) Thanks again for some great questions.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:34 PM EDT
There are a ton of good questions to get to so this will roll out in multiple parts. Many thanks for the thoughtful work. (And some nice examples of brevity.)
Aug 29, 2015, 3:19 PM EDT
After a long line of starters with plenty of experience, Notre Dame’s tight ends all but start over in 2015. Scott Booker’s position group comes in with all sorts of intriguing traits. Unfortunately, none of those are experience.
Aug 28, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT
Brian Kelly was on the Dan Patrick Show this morning and the Irish head coach got his last weekend without a game started by chatting it up with the popular radio host. While Kelly didn’t make any headlines in the interview, he did conduct it from his desk with a Showtime crew hanging a boom mic over his head, part of life with a documentary film crew following him around.
Aug 28, 2015, 1:04 PM EDT
Just about everybody expects Harry Hiestand’s offensive line to be a dominant unit. But after months of preseason hype, they now need to prove they can do it.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT
Ishaq Williams’ college football career is over. Notre Dame’s exiled defensive end, who sat out last season as part of a two-semester suspension for his role in the “frozen five” academic dishonesty investigation, has lost his NCAA appeal for reinstatement. Brian Kelly shared the news on Thursday after practice
Aug 27, 2015, 8:25 PM EDT
The votes are in and Notre Dame’s football team will be captained by five players. Graduate students Matthias Farley, Nick Martin and Joe Schmidt will be joined by senior Sheldon Day and junior Jaylon Smith as the captains of the 2015 Irish.
Aug 27, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT
It appears that the Greg Bryant era at Notre Dame is over. The junior running back, who was declared academically ineligible to play for the Irish this fall, has enrolled at ASA Miami, a junior college with a new football program run by former Irish assistant Ernest Jones.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After two seasons of trying to find carries for a handful of emerging running backs, Notre Dame has the opposite problem: Trying to spread out a growing workload among a smaller, highly-differentiated position group.
Aug 26, 2015, 1:56 PM EDT
With the season right around the corner and preseason camp finished, it’s time to get our final preparations done before the games start counting and the journey begins. We spent the summer pumping out tens of thousands of words on Notre Dame’s evolving roster, so if you’re looking for 50 hours of easy reading, check out the Irish A-to-Z series.
Aug 26, 2015, 12:42 PM EDT
Have a final question before we have actual football to talk about? Today’s the day. Drop them below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.
Aug 25, 2015, 5:06 PM EDT
Notre Dame announced a number of enhancements to Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday. Most notable among them, a video board that’ll go atop the south end zone.