South Florida v Notre Dame

Irish report to campus for summer school, workouts

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Summer break is over for the Irish football team.

Returning members of the football team came back to South Bend yesterday to begin preparation for the 2013 season. While all workouts are technically voluntary, every player (freshmen will show up in two weeks) is expected to begin work with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo as the Irish look to put behind them a six month period that took a program that was near the top of the mountain and treated them like Sisyphus.

Two fairly large new questions sit unanswered — what will happen with Everett Golson during this year of academic exile, and the fate of Eddie Vanderdoes. Those two stories have all but covered up a few of the other important objectives that need accomplishing this offseason, so just as a reminder, let’s talk through a few key summer storylines for the Irish.

How to replace Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.

Most of the recent talk is understandably focused on Golson’s departure, but this summer will go a long way towards determining which running back gets the first shot to start in the backfield. All signs point towards George Atkinson getting the first shot. But as we saw last year, Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin aren’t afraid to specialize their players to accentuate their skillsets.

That means seeing if Cam McDaniel can get some looks in the passing game / third down situations, while Amir Carlisle has the shot at being an elusive hybrid slot player. (Let’s not forget about Will Mahone, who has the chance to put himself back on the radar after a good offseason.)

The wild cards in all of this are blue-chippers Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston. Bryant is the highest rated running back the Irish have signed in the Rivals era. Those type of guys are ready made for college action. What that means for a Kelly offense? Well, not much at Notre Dame yet, but maybe Bryant is the rare freshman that takes advantage of the opportunity.

Before he had a fake girlfriend, Manti Te’o was an All-World linebacker.

It bears mentioning that before the Lennay Kekua debacle, Manti Te’o put together one of the finest defensive seasons in college football history. After four years in the starting lineup, the Irish defense will need to find another player to call the shots at middle linebacker.

No, the Irish aren’t shy of big-name players, both Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix will likely hear their names called in the NFL Draft before Te’o heard his, but just assuming Jarrett Grace is just ready to step into Te’o’s hefty shoes is a bit of a stretch.

The Irish have both Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese back on the inside, but it sure sounds like Grace is a good enough player to take Te’o’s job while Fox and Calabrese will keep up their platoon. That’s high praise for Grace, who will need to play up to his reputation if we’re to expect the Irish defense won’t take a small step backwards.

How does the secondary shake out?

The Irish will need to replace both Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta at safety, two guys who will be playing on Sundays this season. It looks like Matthias Farley has filled one spot at safety, but what happens behind him will be fun to watch.

Brian Kelly has essentially rebuilt the secondary since taking over and everybody competing for the safety jobs was handpicked by this staff to play in this system. That means young guys like Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti will battle Austin Collinsworth and Eilar Hardy. Throw in five-star stud Max Redfield, who will be showing up in a few weeks, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to see how Bobby Elliot‘s safeties perform.

At corner, the Irish return a healthy Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell will have a year of valuable experience under his belt. But that won’t hold Lo Wood back from fighting for time whil Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown will do battle with blue-chipper Cole Luke, who is flying way under the radar for a lock down, elite corner prospect.

Will the Irish discover their own offensive identity?

Losing Everett Golson is a tough pill to swallow. But the team has rallied around Tommy Rees, who was one of the offense’s leaders and preparing like it this break even without a starting job. Can the Irish figure out how to tap the very best of Rees — the most accurate quarterback in Notre Dame history — and limit some of the mistakes that plagued the 2011 offense.

Kelly already talked about the need to cut down turnovers and he’s telling the truth when he says that whoever is playing quarterback won’t be allowed to turn the football over at the rate Rees did in 2011 (especially with this defense). But it’s not inconceivable that Rees could put together a season like Tony Pike’s senior season, thanks to a talented group of skill players and an offensive line that should give Rees plenty of time.

Sure, a 29:6 TD:INT ratio is probably asking for too much, but don’t think Rees doesn’t think it’s possible. But it’ll mean a mastery not just of the game presnap, but making those same sounds decisions once the play is live.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”