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Irish offense getting up to speed

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You could forgive some Irish fans if they’ve forgotten that Brian Kelly came to South Bend with the reputation of being a quick strike, spread attack, offensive guru. (Okay. Most of you haven’t forgotten.) But if there’s been one thing the Irish haven’t been on offense in Kelly’s three seasons at Notre Dame, it’s up tempo.

Outside of the earliest reports in Kelly’s first days on campus, when players were awestruck at the pace of play during the Irish’s tempo offense, the extent of any comparison to former Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s call-it-and-haul-it offense, ended at the surname.

Yet with Everett Golson a full season into his on-field development, and entering his third spring in South Bend, Kelly made it clear that he still planned to run an up-tempo attack. Which is good news for those that thought Kelly left his high octane offense Cincinnati.

“No, that’s not in my past. That would be in my future,” Kelly said after practice. “We definitely would love to have the ability to dictate tempo. It takes so many things on a play. Look at the Alabama situation, if you’re playing fast there, you’re eliminating a lot of pressures because the ball is coming out so quick. We were deficient in areas offensively last year and one of them was our inability to play fast. That is definitely a part of where we want to go.”

It’s been pretty clear for the past three seasons that no quarterback in the Irish system was capable of running the up-tempo attack efficiently. Year one included Dayne Crist, a first-time starter that was learning on the fly while rehabbing a knee injury. He gave way to Tommy Rees, a true freshman that ended up beating out Crist in year two. Rees’ grasp of the offense was likely up to par, but he lacked the ability to bring a running threat to the offense, a critical component of an up-tempo, zone-read based ground game.

So much of what Golson did last year was predicated on his learning curve. Early in the season, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin didn’t even feel comfortable incorporating Golson into the run game. But heading into Golson’s second season starting and with offensive personnel that’s feeling more and more in line with the coach’s design, expect to see the Irish offense pick up the pace.

Perhaps even more interestingly, they’ll also likely take more chances. While last season’s success could be credited to a precipitous drop in turnovers, Kelly doesn’t believe that moving quicker and throwing downfield will mean more mistakes. In fact, he thinks it could work the opposite.

“The more aggressive that you are, if you’re fundamentally doing the things that we’re teaching, it doesn’t put you at a higher risk with throwing interceptions,” Kelly explained. “Playing faster decreases that because you’re going to have guys that are going to be running wide open that are not even defended. I don’t think that accelerating the offense puts us at a higher risk of interceptions.

“If we’re really doing it the right way, we’re going to get some easier throws along the way. Slowing it down, letting the defense set, being a little predictable in some of the things we do, we want to be much more unpredictable offensively and I think that’s going to help us.”

We’re seen these problems the past few seasons. With Rees at the helm, too often the offense was reactionary, often trying to counter a defensive look from the line of scrimmage. Against Alabama, we saw the predictability of a limited Irish offense (and defense) rear its ugly head, with Nick Saban able to scheme for looks he expected.

With three practices under their belts, the Irish have a dozen more opportunities to lay the tracks needed to pick up the pace. But the fact alone that Kelly has it on his spring checklist should be music to Irish fans ears.

 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.