Brian Kelly

Irish positioned well for the future

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As part of their build up for the upcoming season, ESPN’s Insiders took a look at the health of major programs as they are positioned for the future. While Power Rankings have turned into a staple of just about every daily website, a Future Power Ranking was a cool idea.

The group of Travis Haney, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill, Todd McShay, and Mark Schlabach broke down the odds for team’s success over the next three seasons. Using a weighted evaluation system, the group used the following formula for future success: Coaching (27.5%) Current Talent (27.5%), Recruiting (15%), Title Path (10%), and Program Power (20%).

From the looks of the group’s evaluation, Notre Dame’s 2012 season was hardly a fluke, but rather precursor of things to come.

Even taking into consideration the loss of Everett Golson and the departure of high profile recruits like Aaron Lynch, Davonte Neal and Eddie Vanderdoes, the Irish come in ranked No. 6 in the future power rankings.

Here’s the Top 10:

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. LSU
4. Florida
5. Michigan
6. Notre Dame
7. Florida State
8. Texas A&M
9. Georgia
10. Stanford

Here’s what ESPN had to say about the Irish:

Coaching (8.0): “Notre Dame could not have a better fit at head coach than Brian Kelly,” says Huard. “He’s shown it on the field and off the field. That’s the most important factor for them for years to come, because it’s a unique situation there, with high standards both academically and athletically.”

Current Talent (6.8): The Fighting Irish scored lower in this category than the other teams in the top 10, but their talent level appears to be on the rise. “I don’t think last year was a one-hit wonder,” says McShay. “In voting for these rankings, I ranked Notre Dame as the fifth-most-talented team coming into this season. I’m not saying they’ll be in the national title hunt year in and year out, but their talent level will give them a chance to be a perennial top-10 team.”

Recruiting (8.2): The Irish’s recent recruiting momentum (ESPN’s No. 4 class in 2013) should continue to improve that talent level. Says Huard: “When you stack up Kelly’s recruiting there to some of the other Notre Dame coaches before him, it’s no comparison.” Luginbill adds: “I really believe that for them to compete at a high level, they’re going to need to upgrade in the trenches and go in to the SEC’s backyard to do it. That’s what they did to land their current crop of defensive linemen — I don’t think people have given them enough credit for that.”

Title Path (8.2): The Irish play the most unique schedule of any team in these rankings, but earned high scores because they play a challenging-enough schedule to earn a title game bid, and don’t have an Alabama- or Florida-like obstacle on the slate each year.

Program Power (8.4): With the Irish’s run to the BCS title game last season, it appears that their on-field play has begun to match the school’s tradition and fan support. “‘Relevance’ is always the word we use with Notre Dame,” says Luginbill. “My response to that has always been that they’ll be relevant when the great high school football players around the country think that they are relevant. You create and maintain that relevance by winning.”

Taking a closer look at the numbers, it’s interesting to see where the Irish slot in among the top ten.

Coaching: T-4 (Behind Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, and tied with Stanford.)
Current Talent: T-9 (with Stanford for last)
Recruiting: 8th (only Georgia and Stanford behind them)
Title Path: 4th (Behind Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State)
Program Power: T-4 (Behind Alabama, Ohio State and LSU)

A quick analysis: It looks like the Irish are well respected in the coaching ranks, slotted behind Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and — huh? — Les Miles. But this panel feels like the personnel on the Irish roster still lags behind just about everyone, though it’s interesting to see another underrated team, Stanford, somehow continues to have their personnel so under-appreciated, yet puts up dominant statistical teams even after their coaching change.

Other rankings of note: Future 2013 opponent Oklahoma ranks 14th, with Bob Stoops now being rated with a 6.6 coaching, quite a fall for a guy that was once thought elite (and still is by some Notre Dame fans). And the demise of USC is almost shocking even when you take into consideration their NCAA sanctions, considering the Trojans were the No. 1 team in the country heading into the season. Lane Kiffin and his staff were awarded a really ugly 4.4.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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