Brian Kelly BCS

Kelly keeps focus on evaluation in camp’s opening days

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The Irish football team returned to South Bend on Thursday evening, after kicking off training camp with four days in the relative calm of at Shiloh Park. With team building exercises and players bunking up in cabins to build camaraderie and a new team identity, the focus was as much off the field as on during the opening days of the ’13 season.

Relegated to wearing just helmets for the first two days and still without a practice in full equipment, no depth chart decisions have been made in these early days. But that’s not to say that there hasn’t been an agenda. After after four days of crisp, up-tempo practices, Brian Kelly feels like things have gotten off to a good start.

Once again, media hasn’t had access to any practice sessions held in relative obscurity down in Marion, Indiana. But UND.com’s Jack Nolan caught up with Kelly, and got the head coach to open up about the goals of this first week off campus.

“Any time you come into camp, you’re looking for specific things,” Kelly told UND.com. “We’ve accomplished all those things. It’s all football. No distractions here. Our kids really focused on getting better.”

That’s a quote that sounds awfully close to coachspeak, that wonderfully cliche-filled practice of saying nothing while sounding like you’re doing the opposite. But a season after getting to the top of the mountain and needing to replace veteran leaders and All-Americans like Manti Te’o and Tyler Eifert, the identity of the Irish defensive and offensive units, there’s a method to Kelly’s madness.

“We have an expectation of what things should look like… We didn’t just come up with this over night,” Kelly said. “We don’t want to talk about last year. We don’t want to talk about the future. We want to talk about getting better. And we got better these four days here at Shiloh.”

Decisions at key positions like running back and safety will come. The early returns on promising freshmen like Greg Bryant and Jaylon Smith won’t likely be known by the general public until Temple rolls into town later this month, and that’s very much by design. But after four days with a team that spent the summer working at dedicated pace, those all important first looks have taken place, and the staff has begun to discover just what type of roster they have.

“We’re not ready to make any decisions long term, other than we just got a chance to evaluate,” Kelly explained. “Guys are bigger and stronger. We’ve got new players in opportunities now that they weren’t in last year and they’ve got room to grow. And then we’ve got freshman that are coming in.

“This isn’t about setting a depth chart, as much as where we are with an influx of players and guys with new opportunities.”

For all of Kelly’s comments, you can check out the video below. The Irish will be on the field tomorrow in South Bend.

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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.