Matt Cashore - US PRESSWIRE

Offseason cheat sheet: Offensive line

17 Comments

With offensive line coach Harry Hiestand entering his second season in South Bend, he’ll be welcoming in a new wave of talent, with five freshmen offensive linemen replenishing a depth chart that had gotten mighty thin. While most of that group won’t be ready to play any time soon, the starting five might be the best offensive line the Irish have had in well over a decade.

With two All-American caliber starters on the left side of the line and a third returning starter in Christian Lombard, the only thing that needs to be sorted out is who starts at the final remaining spot on the right side of the offensive line. After being forced to play as a true freshman, Ronnie Stanley looks like he has the inside track on that job, pushing Lombard inside to guard to let the 6-foot-6 sophomore man the tackle position.

That experiment might not last, with guys like Conor Hanratty and Steve Elmer having something to say in those proceedings. But with preparation for Temple already started, the best five look to be in line to start.

POSITIONAL OVERVIEW

The Irish aren’t out of the woods yet from a depth chart perspective. While it won’t be as painful as it would’ve been last season, injuries to any of the starting five will take some significant reconfiguring.

Already this camp we’ve seen freshman Steve Elmer slide inside to left guard to fill-in for starter Chris Watt, who has missed a few practices. Hanratty’s training camp neck injury was also the impetus for kicking Lombard inside, allowing Stanley to get a running start at the tackle position.

For the first time in a long time, there seems to be some legitimate depth along the line. For too long, replacement level players have been a big step back for the Irish. That might still be the case at a few spots, but guys like Harrell and Hanratty are great gap-bridgers for the young freshman class, where Bivin, McGovern, McGlinchey and Montelus all join Elmer as having huge upsides.

ROSTER READING

LT — Zack Martin, Sr. #70
LG — Chris Watt, Sr. #66
C — Nick Martin, Jr. #72
RG — Christian Lombard, Sr. #74
RT — Ronnie Stanley, Soph. #78

OL — Hunter Bivin, Fr. #57
OL — Kevin Carr, Sr. #67
OL — Steve Elmer, Fr. #79
OL — Conor Hanratty, Jr. #65
OL — Mark Harrell, Soph. #75
OL — Matt Hegarty, Jr. #77
OL — Bruce Heggie, Sr. #51
OL — Scott Kingsley, Fr. #73
OL — Mike McGlinchey, Fr. #68
OL — Colin McGovern, Fr. #62
OL — John Montelus, Fr. #60

CRYSTAL BALL

Expect the Irish offensive line to be more dominant this season than last, where they managed to average 200 yards of rushing and receiving during the regular season. Listening to the Irish coaching staff, they believe they have the top left tackle in college football in Zack Martin, which is saying something considering they scout elite prospects like Taylor Lewan each year. Chris Watt isn’t far behind, either.

While replacing a three-year starter in Braxston Cave at center isn’t an easy task, athletically Nick Martin is a better fit for what the Irish are trying to do up front and he’s seamlessly moved into the starting spot. If Stanley can get quickly up to speed, Lombard is already a better guard than Mike Golic was last season.

Last season, the Irish sometimes struggled in pass rush situations with Everett Golson, many times because the young quarterback wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing. Nobody is going to confuse Tommy Rees for a more elusive player than Golson, but the line will do a better job protecting Rees because everybody up front will be on the same page as the quarterback.

Even with a running back depth chart that’s uncertain, expect Notre Dame to take a step forward running the football this season as well. If everybody can stay healthy, there won’t be games where the ground attack lapses like last season.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
Getty
1 Comment

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)
5 Comments

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)
Getty
9 Comments

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)
Getty
2 Comments

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.”