Mar 28, 2013, 11:24 AM EST
You can hardly blame some Irish fans. Yesterday’s news that Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson were leaving school was the first sign of the apocalypse. After all, things seemed to be going almost too well for Notre Dame football, a group that at this point should expect a maelstrom every 60 days or so.
Most could understand Gunner Kiel’s departure. A promising quarterback recruit isn’t expected to wait his turn, especially with the program so securely in Everett Golson’s hands after an impressive debut season. Neal’s departure has a sense of nobility, a young father heading home to be closer to his girlfriend and six-week old child. Yet Ferguson’s decision to leave came out of the blue. There was a place for him on the depth chart, or so it seemed to those of us that watch the program from afar.
The totality of the moves, especially when you consider Tee Shepard’s pit-stop in South Bend last spring, puts a real dent in the 2012 recruiting class. Kiel, Shepard and Neal were three blue-chips at the top of the class, with Ferguson also rating well depending on the recruiting service. A 17 man class is now down to 13, a Willingham-like number that some worry could put a crater in the Irish’s momentum.
You’ll have to forgive Brian Kelly for not sweating it.
“The roster is gonna shift and move. We’re going to have additions, we’re going to have some deletions,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “But when it’s time to kick off against Temple, we’ll have the football team that we need to go out and play for a championship.”
Those final words should tell you everything you need to know. Kelly and his staff believe that they’ve got a roster that can play for a championship, and the loss of three back-up sophomores isn’t likely to change anything.
Roster shifts like this happen in every major college football program. And they’ll continue to happen at Notre Dame, where the competition for playing time is only going to get more fierce. With 83 scholarship players set for the 2013 roster, the Irish are still in better shape than just about every major program that’s not in the SEC, where stashing contingency bodies is still somehow acceptable.
Losing talented players certainly hurts. But Ferguson’s appraisal of the roster — specifically the depth chart in front of him — is something that only reiterates the perspective that there’s nothing to worry about. This is a roster with talented personnel. This is a group of players that’s won a lot of football games. (The Irish are 20-4 in their last two dozen games. That number is only bettered by two programs: Alabama and Oregon.)
The adjustments Kelly and his staff make to fill any roster deficiencies will be well chronicled. We’ve already seen one of them, with CJ Prosise moving to wide receiver, a decision made well before either Neal or Ferguson alerted the staff to their intentions. And while Chase Hounshell’s shoulder injury puts some more pressure on the defensive line, the Irish will fill his shoes by cross-training Ishaq Williams, a five-star prospect who is more than capable of sliding down.
The optimist looks at the three spring departures as another chance to reload. The weakest recruiting class in Kelly’s tenure trades three scholarships with a group that’ll likely be Kelly’s strongest. Any coach will take three extra bodies in a class coming off a twelve-win season.
A star-rating only matters until a recruit steps foot on campus. Any fear that the ’12 recruiting class will put a hole in the roster should be mitigated by the fact that the group has already unearthed its share of top-level players, with KeiVarae Russell, Sheldon Day, Elijah Shumate and Chris Brown leading the way. So as yesterday’s news scrolls along the ticker and raises more than a few skeptical eyebrows around the world of college football, the beat goes on in South Bend.
“Our guys are going to go out and compete,” Kelly said. “They know. They’re prepared for the next man in. They didn’t blink, nor did I, or the staff.”
Mar 5, 2015, 4:44 PM EST
It’s official: Brian Kelly’s new coaching staff won the press conference. Just about universally positive reviews came from Monday’s official announcements, with new coaches Mike Sanford, Autry Denson, Keith Gilmore and Todd Lyght winning the day.
Mar 4, 2015, 2:25 PM EST
As the focus begins to turn to spring football, it appears one very big roster move is taking place along the offensive line. Matt Fortuna of ESPN reports that starting center Matt Hegarty will be leaving Notre Dame and playing his fifth year elsewhere.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:49 AM EST
With Notre Dame just one season into Mike Denbrock’s tenure as offensive coordinator, Brian Kelly didn’t look like he was in the market for a new offensive coordinator. But in Mike Sanford, Kelly (and Denbrock) found a coach worth making room for.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:32 AM EST
In hiring defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, Brian Kelly decided to bring back to the program one of the most talented players of the Lou Holtz era. While his resume may be short as a coach, one listen to Lyght reveals a man whose DNA is football, with coaching taking root after a world-class career.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:49 AM EST
Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher is now in charge of coaching the position. Autry Denson’s return to South Bend comes at the perfect time, with Brian Kelly looking to find the right coach and personality to replace Tony Alford on the coaching staff.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:20 AM EST
Notre Dame’s new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore was introduced yesterday, a reunion for Gilmore with former boss Brian Kelly and former college teammates Brian VanGorder and Paul Longo.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:52 AM EST
After weeks of speculation, Brian Kelly has announced his coaching staff for the 2015 season. The result is four new assistants, a few new assignments and the homecoming of a handful of former Irish stars.
Mar 1, 2015, 7:47 PM EST
Before Brian Kelly introduces us to his new coaching staff tomorrow, let’s finish the mailbag. More here on what to expect from Mike Sanford, “committing” to the run, and stopping the option.
Feb 28, 2015, 2:48 PM EST
Well crew, I’ve gotta say… I’m a little underwhelmed by the mailbag question. And in the 150+ comments of people screaming at each other about mostly stupid stuff, I think I speak for everybody when I say:
Feb 27, 2015, 12:40 PM EST
Former Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., died Thursday night on campus. Father Ted was 97. He said his final mass on Thursday, the day he passed away.
Feb 26, 2015, 3:24 PM EST
Gone are Cody Riggs and Austin Collinsworth. Returning is a safety position that’s struggled, another transfer, a young cornerback on the rise, and (hopefully) an exiled potential star.
Welcome to the Notre Dame secondary. New coaching, same scheme, different players, and one of 2015’s great unknowns.
Feb 25, 2015, 2:34 PM EST
As we get a few extra weeks to prep for spring practice, let’s open the mailbag.
Feb 24, 2015, 6:56 PM EST
A position that looked like a huge question mark entering the 2014 season ended the year with an embarrassment of riches. After watching Will Fuller emerge with a record-setting sophomore season, the loss of DaVaris Daniels and departure of TJ Jones didn’t do anything to slow the Irish passing game down.
Feb 24, 2015, 1:34 PM EST
None of Notre Dame’s coaching changes are official yet. But more arrows point to North Carolina defensive line coach Keith Gilmore joining the Irish staff in the same role.
Feb 23, 2015, 12:43 AM EST
There might not be a deeper unit on the roster than the offensive line. After a lack of depth made it nearly impossible to practice at full speed heading into the 2012 BCS title game, Notre Dame enters the 2015 season with a two-deep most teams would pay for.
Feb 20, 2015, 10:48 AM EST
Whether it’s the Siberian Express rolling through most of the country (sorry, guys) or the grand reshuffling taking place on Brian Kelly’s coaching staff, Notre Dame announced a delay in the kickoff of spring practice.
Feb 19, 2015, 11:44 AM EST
After an incredibly impressive run at the position, Notre Dame enters spring practice with nothing but question marks at tight end. After Brian Kelly watched Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert, Troy Niklas and now Ben Koyack churn through his program, he’ll spend spring trying to figure out what exactly he has at the position.
Feb 18, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
On Tuesday, a flurry of reports had Brian Kelly focusing in on the final pieces of his reshuffled coaching staff. They include two likely additions, one transition, and a position shift.
Feb 18, 2015, 11:18 AM EST
A few days after safety Avery Sebastian announced his intentions, Notre Dame made the commitment and graduate transfer of the former Cal safety official. Sebastian will enroll in graduate school and join the team in June.
Feb 17, 2015, 4:12 PM EST
After missing out on a running back in the 2014 recruiting cycle, a once crowded depth chart now only features Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. Two backs that once worried about having to find snaps will now have all the work they could ever want, with the majority of spring spent doing everything they can to stay healthy.