Andrew Hendrix Stanford

Given the chance, Hendrix finally ready for opportunity

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For Notre Dame fans, Andrew Hendrix has felt like an enigma. With the tangible skill-set of a star quarterback, Irish fans have watched and waited patiently for the Cincinnati native to work his way into the starting lineup, where he’d surely be able to utilize his strong throwing arm, powerful running style, and intellect that’ll one day make him a successful M.D. Yet even with a blueprint that looked destined for success, Hendrix only seemed to move farther and farther away from the playing field as his tenure in South Bend continued.

If it weren’t for the spring’s quarterback exodus, Hendrix would likely only be remembered for a two game stretch where he was given a shot to win the quarterbacking job late in 2011. Against Stanford and Florida State, Hendrix completed just 14 of 32 passes for 216 yards, throwing two really bad interceptions in back-to-back losses to close out a disappointing season. Heading into fall camp, Hendrix looked like a fourth string quarterback, another blue-chip quarterback recruit that struggled to pan out.

But all that changed when Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson left school. And to Hendrix’s credit, he was ready to take advantage of the opportunities that finally presented themselves. Now just one play away from running the Irish offense, Brian Kelly talked about the difference between the quarterback who played against Stanford and the one that now sits at No. 2 on the depth chart.

“The difference is, as it related to Hendrix, is that he was a niche quarterback for us,” Kelly explained. “He’s no longer a niche quarterback. I mean, he can run our offense. Last year, the year before, we had to run special packages for him.”

Playing quarterback is one of the most difficult jobs in sports. It isn’t just Notre Dame (Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones, Dayne Crist, Hendrix) that have struggled with high profile recruits. Just take a look at the entire 2010 QB class. And while Hendrix committed to studying his playbook along with his chemistry and biology workloads, he acknowledged that it was a difficult slog for him, especially not growing up surrounded by football.

“There were a lot of intricacies of the game that I didn’t know,” Hendrix said last week. “And I didn’t know that I didn’t know them.”

But Hendrix’s love of Notre Dame was a big reason why he didn’t fret when things didn’t look to be going his way on the field. And while he seemed like more of a candidate to transfer than anybody else on the depth chart, Hendrix was incredibly candid for his reasons to stick it out in South Bend.

“You would probably have to be out of your mind to leave here, in all honesty,” Hendrix said. “At all times, you’re a number of plays away from being the guy on the field. And if you have confidence in yourself, then it’s not hard to stay here. Plus, the school is unbelievable, the people are unbelievable, this organization’s great. It really was never an option in my mind.”

That loyalty is paying off. What looked in all likelihood to be Hendrix’s last season in South Bend could turn into a return in ’14, where he’ll add veteran depth to support Everett Golson. And while Tommy Rees enters the season as the clear-cut number one quarterback, Kelly seemed to fulfill one of football’s funny paradoxes. Now that Hendrix isn’t a niche quarterback, the team will try to make sure he has one on the playing field.

“We’re going to take advantage of some of the things he can do,” Kelly said. “He can run. He’s a physical runner. So we may have some more quarterback runs, but it’s not going to turn into an option game with him in there. He can run our offense. So we don’t have to turn the playbook inside out to put Andrew Hendrix into the game.

“He can do much, much more, and we’re very confident, if he has to go in the game, that he can run our offense.”

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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