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Mailbag: Season kickoff edition

Aug 29, 2013, 3:12 PM EDT

Rees Kelly

Welcome to the Mailbag.

Consider this a new weekly forum where I try to get to the questions you all inevitably ask me (or each other) in the comments or on Twitter, but have a hard time getting to in the weekly flow of things.

With the season set to kickoff, you could also consider this a column to hold over my head in the future, as I’ll inevitably show how very terrible I am at making predictions, guessing breakout stars, etc.

All caveats aside, I think this will end up being a place where we can have some good interaction and maybe (hopefully?) clean up the comments a bit and turn it into a community resource.

Ready, set go!


@JMset3: Why am I getting up at 3 am worried about Temple, but totally relaxed that my wife is a very 9 months pregnant?

It just means you’re a Notre Dame fan. Two nights ago I woke up from a dream that had TJ Jones fumbling the very first punt return of the season, a mirror image of the USF game from ’11 that set back Notre Dame special teams for two seasons.

So you’re definitely not alone.

@IrishPhog: Will Rees’ arm be able to take advantage of Brown’s speed

That’s definitely a good question. Listening to Chuck Martin talk about Rees, he was really candid about opposing defenses challenging Rees to beat them over the top, which is either Chuck telling the truth or being very smart about daring team’s to put eight in the box.

What’s different with this team than the ’11 team that Rees piloted is the personnel at wide receiver is a lot better. Sure, there isn’t a Michael Floyd, but the entire two-deep at wide receiver is probably better than anything Notre Dame was running out there minus Mr. Floyd.

Being a good downfield thrower and having a rocket arm aren’t the same thing. Rees definitely needs to improve his downfield accuracy, but getting one-on-one matchups with talented speedsters like Chris Brown or human mismatches like Corey Robinson will make the QB look a lot better.

Old Miami QB Ken Dorsey had a noodle arm and it didn’t stop him from throwing down the field.

@ndfanwabashman: At what point does Hendrix see the field this season? How short is the Rees leash?

This is Tommy’s job. I think the leash is fairly long, though he’s not going to be able to have those ugly three interception games that would turn the stomachs of ND Nation. That said, what leads Irish fans to believe that Hendrix will be any safer with the football?

For better or worse, this offense goes the way Rees goes, when it comes to turnovers. The only difference is that there’s a talented group of runners and receivers there to support him that have big play potential.

@irishfanjames: Which FR has bigger impact this year Robinson or Bryant? Which has better overall career?

I think we’re probably over-valuing Corey Robinson at this point of his career, or at least the hardcore ND fans are. Sure, he could become a true weapon at wide receiver, but to think he’s going to be better than Greg Bryant — a five-star running back that could start making an impact from day one — is a little bit of a reach.

I’ve written about it a few times, but Bryant’s recruiting cohorts are scary. Guys like him come in and make an early impact. Even elite WRs, take Dorial Green-Beckham, take a while to get started. Irish fans have every right to be excited about Robinson. But let’s not put too much on his back so early. It’s unhealthy.

@jpeter14nd: Will tarean folston redshirt? You talked earlier about using him on special teams, but will they use a year for that?

My Magic Eight-Ball seems to be cloudy right now. Kelly said all five running backs are going to contribute, but it’s hard to tell if he was talking about Will Mahone, who is out with a high ankle sprain, or Folston.

Saving a year of eligibility wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but if Folston is able to contribute on kick or punt returns (he isn’t listed in the two deep at either spot as of now), then he’s worth using this season.

@kevroe67: Which underclassman will step up this year to be a big contributor going forward unexpectedly?

Good question. Can I tell you in week six? The obvious suspects are Bryant and Jaylon Smith, with Smith being my pick. Though that’s hardly unexpected. Perhaps the biggest surprise could be Steve Elmer already taking rotational reps at right tackle.

@cboudin: How on Earth was Tommy Rees not named a captain? Senior QB with multiple years of starting experience… what gives?

Sometimes a C isn’t needed to be a team leader, but I get where you’re coming from. Let’s just say that Zack Martin was a given at captain. Then TJ Jones makes a ton of sense, especially with the adversity he’s overcome. Do you name three offensive players captains to one defender? Why not Louis Nix then?

Having great leadership doesn’t necessarily mean you need every guy to have a title. Rees is the leader of the offense almost by default. It’s his group and the team and staff know that.

Justin Farrell asks: As an ND grad student, and committed irish believer, I want to ask you if you’ve placed your trust in Reesus as the savior to lead us into eternal BCS championship life?

I’m paid to be a little bit more objective than that. But I’m all for people making funny Reesus logos and t-shirts, and as a guy that’s been a long time Rees supporter (while being picked on here), I’d love to look right and have him put together a really impressive senior campaign.

baldyscotsman: Are you buying the Devin Gardner Hype? 

If you’re looking for an X factor on the Irish schedule, Devin Gardner is it. Part of his skillset should scare the crap out of a Notre Dame fan, especially in the house of horrors that The Big house has become.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Gardner, but then again — what are we supposed to hear? We’ll find out next Saturday, but if there’s a reason to DVR the Michigan game against a cupcake like Central Michigan, this is it.

andy44teg: What the heck happened with Elijah Hood?? He seemed like such an RKG….

Good question. But I’m guessing a lot of it is family pressure, hometown pressure, and the general challenges Notre Dame faces when they go into opponents’ back yards and try and pull away their prized recruits.

Trusting reports like this always come with a grain of salt, but I thought this was a particularly telling quote from a report last week when Hood decommitted:

“Sources have informed THI this week that Hood and his family were especially concerned about the distance from Charlotte to South Bend, along with the likelihood that his path to the field and early playing time would be significantly longer at Notre Dame compared to UNC.”

If Notre Dame’s depth chart played a role in Hood stepping away from his Notre Dame commitment, then the program has hit a next level, inching closer to the Pete Carroll/USC, “always compete” model than the “we need you to get to the next level” phase that the Irish seem to have been in for the past two decades.

Hood made this comment about his commitment that I think rang particularly crafted by someone much older and mature than a 18-year-old five-star prospect that once flushed a recruiting letter from Alabama down the toilet.

“This decision will allow not only my family but also my community to continue to be a part of me as I grow not only academically and physically but in faith and maturity as well,” Hood said. “This is entirely my decision based on what I view life and football to be about.”

You win some, you lose some. We’ll find out in a couple years if it’s a big loss or not.

italianirish: What’s the level of panic if Tommy Rees tears an ACL during the first series of the Temple game? Would an injury to him have the biggest negative impact to our final record of anyone on the team?

I think it would. Crazy to think that, but outside of a Zack Martin injury, Rees is probably the most irreplaceable player on the offensive depth chart right now.

shaunodame: Whats your gut feeling on this ‘BK to the NFL’ talk? Is he content here, do you think he seeks another, higher level, challenge? Do you REALLY read all the comments here on your articles?

Nudeman: Keith, can you please give us the straight scoop on BK and his contract?

It has been “imminent” for 5 months now. The season is 3 days away.

If I told you 5 months ago that we’d be 3 days away from kickoff and no new contract, there’d be a collective “WTF?”

Personally I’m starting to believe they are unable to come to terms and he’ll be gone sooner rather than later.

I’m still willing to take BK at his word, especially since he was so unequivocal in his preseason comments that the deal is finished, but the lawyering is not. But you’ve got to think things like Camp Shiloh and new assistant coach contracts are all proof that things are moving along.

There’s been quite a bit of behind the scenes change in the athletic department over the past year so Brian Kelly’s contract is far from the only thing that’s dragging along. But yeah — Notre Dame fans will feel a lot better when the press release hits

All that being said, it’s another new era for Notre Dame. As Kelly said, don’t expect the NFL rumors to stop if the Irish keep winning.

NotreDan: Under what circumstances would we see MZ @ QB? Details please. I guess the other side of the question is… exactly HOW committed is the staff to preserving his redshirt?

They are as committed as they need to be. But an injury to Rees or Hendrix obviously ends that plan.

Hakuna Budi: What happened to CJ Prosise after his spring and why is Chris Brown listed as the starter on the depth chart after Kelly spoke of his lack of consistency in his presser?

Because Chris Brown has sprinter speed and the ability to outrun just about everyone in college football. I was a little bit surprised to see Prosise drop off the two-deep, but remember that Kelly uses spring practice for position switches, experimentation and motivation. It wasn’t too long ago that Kona Schwenke “out-played” Louis Nix in spring ball.

There are reps to go around for everyone, and I think we’ll see Prosise. But as a converted safety learning wide receiver on the fly, he’s a raw prospect. And with the freshman group of James Onwualu and Corey Robinson, perhaps Prosise just got caught in the shuffle.

ngoldandblue: Do you think we’ll get a Luke Massa sighting on Saturday (and I’m not talking about a camera shot of the red army)?

Massa is the team’s starting holder. I get the feeling you’ll probably see him seven times on Saturday.

  1. andy44teg - Aug 29, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    No joke, I had a dream 2 nights ago that ND lost to Temple 17-14…Rees played horrible…woke up in a cold sweat…it was a bad night..

  2. nudeman - Aug 29, 2013 at 5:53 PM

    Great feature Keith
    Well done

  3. nudeman - Aug 29, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    And btw, my personal/non insider opinion is that there IS an issue here.
    I’ve done a lot of contracts in my career and can’t ever remember one taking 8 months.

    As our man bern hypothesized the other day, I think the hang up(s) are the buyout if he leaves early and/or a termination clause if BK inter views with the NFL again. A buyout clause is common; the termination clause I’m less familiar with in terms of how prevalent it is.

    There’s no reason, considering BK is already an ND employee, that this should take so long to conclude unless of course there’s a problem agreeing on T’s and Cs.

    Btw… is there anyone here who’s going to a downtown Chicago game watch?

    • blowedout - Aug 29, 2013 at 7:16 PM

      Right on, completely agree. I just hope Kelly isn’t auditioning this year. He’s saying all the right things – much like Mr. Hood

    • knuterocknesghost - Aug 29, 2013 at 8:17 PM

      Thought a few yardsticks may be help stir the speculative pot even further (apologies to those who are already aware of this stuff).

      USA Today reported in November, 2012 that Nick Saban was the highest paid NCAA head football coach at $5.5 million. Mack Brown at Texas received $5.4 million, and Bob Stoops $4.6 million. Urban Meyer $4.3 million and Les Miles at LSU, $3.9 million. Iowa head coach, Kirk Ferentz was paid $3.8 million. Salaries of state schools is a matter of public record, but not so with private universities like Stanford and Notre Dame.

      Per NBC Sports elsewhere, nine NFL head coaches out of 32 make more than $6 million. Sean Payton, who signed a new contract in December, tops the list at $8 million. Bill Belichick made $7.5 million after a few trips to the Super Bowl, but even Eagles coach Chip Kelly is already scheduled to make $6.5 million. Maybe that’s why Brian Kelly was “intrigued” by the Eagles because it looked as though they were going to be stupid with their wallet as it seems they were with Chip Kelly. Not sure if other teams would be that generous to a college coach with no previous NFL experience. Before jumping to the NFL with the Eagles, Chip Kelly was reported by the same USA Today article to have made $3.5 million.

      NBC Sports notes that NFL contracts for coaches are kept confidential, but the general order of magnitude in differences between the NFL are NCAA top head coaches is likely not that far off.
      In January of this year the Chicago Tribune reported that Brian Kelly’s salary was $3.0 million before the new contract extension. My thinking is that Brian Kelly’s dalliance with the Eagles, aside from possibly his hearing the insiders’ rumor that they were about to be stupidly generous (a rumor which Chip Kelly took advantage of), was to shake up Jack Swarbrick. For that reason I agree that Jack’s got plenty of reasons to throw in some of the contract provisions suggested by bern on this blog. And as you say, nudeman, that’s the rub.
      t was and still is a stupid move by BK back in January if he intended to stay at Notre Dame all along. Alex Anzalone, the 4 star Florida recruit and expected heir to Manti Teo’s middle linebacker spot, announced his decommitment from ND around January 10th. All Kelly did was give other recruiters the opportunity to discourage potential recruits by suggesting last year with BK it was the Eagles, this year it will be the Lions, and next year, who knows. Someone said, it will never go away. I agree, but for the reason BK has done nothing to finally quell the speculation. Maybe when the contract is done, he’ll change his tune. But right now, according to BK, finishing off his career at ND wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world. Yeah. Right. That sits real well. That’s the kind of ambivalent response a politician would give. Apparently BK can still draw from his years when he was active in politics.

      Bern also pointed out other reasons besides contract clauses that should give BK pause. He really would be rolling the dice if he jumped to the NFL and proves to be a bust as bern pointed out. I gotta believe that in his 4th year at ND, BK is fairly comfortable with the job. Not that it’s lacking in challenges, but it’s still one that’s much less likely to lead to a crash and burn.

      • NotreDan - Aug 29, 2013 at 9:58 PM

        One of the better posts I’ve seen here in terms of relevance, thank you.

        Interesting thing for me (and I don’t know BK personally) is it’s probably not about the money, given the (relative) short distance between rank and file NFL coaches and marquee NCAA coaches. Honestly, I had no idea. I thought a jump to the NFL would double pay.

        I guess this also highlights just how much money is in this game where academics are supposed to matter more than sports and money.

      • nudeman - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:48 PM

        Great post.

        I do not understand what the difference is between what BK makes now (~ $3M), what he’ll make with a new contract (~ $4M?) and what he’ll make in the NFL (~ $5-6M?).

        Seriously, WTF is the diff?
        Is it in being able to buy 2 ply vs. 3 ply?
        Like Sheen asked in the Gordon Gecko movie “How many ski boats can you ski behind?”.

        I’m fucking sick of this. Do you want to be at ND or not?
        If so, sign the goddamn contract.
        If not, GTFO.

        Really tired of his “ME” act.

      • brianjack13 - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:21 PM

        Is there any thought that maybe, part of the negotiations are about pushing nd into the present? By that I mean scoreboard, field turf, player exemptions, etc. I know nothing and have no info and don’t disagree with anything anyone here has said, just wondering if this could be part of it

      • knuterocknesghost - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:21 PM

        What head football coaching job, whether in the NFL or college, get’s as much exposure as the head coach at Notre Dame?

        South Bend isn’t a big market, but so what? You get national TV exposure with NBC 5 or 6 games out of the year for the next how many years not counting bowl appearances?

        BK should fire his agent. That much exposure means BK lost out in not having a agent act as the “good angel” on his shoulder encouraging him to project a “likable” persona. Instead, he’s let his aloofness about his tenure at ND run amok, which is hardly something to warm the hearts of the ND fan base accross the country.

        Good luck with parlaying that into $$$ for commercial endorsements like Ara was able to do as a national spokesman for Ford. Today the bucks would be far bigger and there are more venues to tap.

      • knuterocknesghost - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:28 PM

        I suggest the need for Kelly to fire his agent in not reforming his act to avoid his projection of his being an overly self-interested dweeb only because I expect that the appeal to greed likely will hit home sooner than an appeal made to BK about the ND family stuff. He likes spout all the time, and then runs off to Philadelphia. I’m with ya nudeman.

      • knuterocknesghost - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        needed fix … “He likes spout that ND family stuff all the time, and then runs off to Philadelphia. I’m with ya nudeman.”

      • knuterocknesghost - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:37 PM

        Don’t know brianjack. Kelly has been pushing for sometime to have “input” in more decisions regarding his atheletes, and that includes ND Res Life. If that’s true, then Kelly is looking to be the, and I mean the BMOC (big man on campus). Compare that to Ara’s almost humble dispostion towards Father Hesburgh, and how ND’s administration managed Lou Holtz, and you begin to see how BK is thinking that after years of drought, ND’s a pushover and will let him have his way, … will let him be BMOC. Again, nudeman’s feeling’s on the topic of BK can be easily understood when you start looking at the whole BK attitude towards ND. Father Hesburgh would slap him down in a NY minute.

      • knuterocknesghost - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:48 PM

        Half baked speculation by me….. I wonder if Diaco stuck around this long since he knows BK is likely to get “happy feet” at the end of this year and leave ND, and he (Diaco) would want to be around to campaign for the ND job? My sense is that even though he’s not an ND alum, Diaco’s a homer for ND’s “culture”.

      • nudeman - Aug 30, 2013 at 4:47 PM

        We’re all speculating. My enduring feeling is that BK isn’t a long term ND-er.
        If you want to be there you’ve signed the contract by now. And if he thinks going to the NFL will give him MORE control … LOFL.

        Unless it’s Saban, no coach coming from college is going to be making draft day decisions and salary cap decisions. Right now, BK can pick his own team. He won’t be doing that in the NFL

        I love BK as a coach, and think he’d be a great guy to tee it up with and knock back a few pints. I hope he outlasts Ara’s tenure. But I think he’s gone no later than after 2014.

      • shortylongman - Aug 31, 2013 at 1:40 AM

        Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s contract was “finalized” in October and signed in April. There is precedent. The language in Thibs’ responses addressing it are remarkably similar to what BK is saying. If he goes that means we had x number of great years before the departure. That would mean a fond farewell from me. There’s a reason Kirk Ferentz was a hot name in this department and certainly isn’t now. Let’s worry about football on the eve of the season and hope we can resume this conversation when we’ve run out of things to talk about in June.

  4. goirishgo - Aug 29, 2013 at 7:03 PM

    Nice job, Keith! Love the Q&A format.

  5. Hakuna Budi - Aug 29, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    Keith – you rock – great comment on Bryant vs. Robinson – absolutely. They will both be good (I hope), but Bryant will make the initial impact, like Julius Jones his freshman season. Can I brag that I gave JJ his first college beer in 1999 (or so he said – it was a crappy Bud Light in 427 Keenan Hall, lol, in the room of Jamaar Taylor who transferred to A&M – the fabulous fall of 99 … ahhh … lol). But yeah, you’re right on Keither.

  6. blowedout - Aug 29, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Great segment – thanks Keith. Just curious, you’re not suggesting that someone or some university prepped that statement for Hood, right? Just that this mature young man has momentary lapses of judgment, eh? Cool – we’re on the same page there.

  7. NotreDan - Aug 29, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    Pretty dang cool KA, thanks

  8. Hakuna Budi - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    Keith – you’re the name. Nice.

    • Hakuna Budi - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:57 PM

      you’re the man, F me, crap, you get the point

  9. 25kgold - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    USC getting Hawaiian bunched in the face right about now!!!! Could someone please book lane kiffin a first class flight OUT of L.A.???

    • papadec - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:11 AM

      kiffin doesn’t deserve more than being wrapped in a burlap sack and tossed in an empty boxcar headed anywhere but the mid-west. Maybe the hold of a tramp steamer would be better.

  10. irishpuma - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:30 AM

    ???USC is up 20-5 I must be missing something? And I hope Kiffin stays at USC for life!!! He makes the wins much easier.

    • papadec - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:13 AM

      Good point. I hadn’t thought about that – they deserve each other. Forget the burlap sack option.

  11. 1historian - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:18 AM

    There were a few days last week when there were no posts by Keith, and to me it served to accentuate the vast difference between his posts and all the others.

    I spent a few days searching for the right adjective to describe the others, and I came up with this – pedestrian.

    • NotreDan - Aug 30, 2013 at 11:25 AM

      Completely agree with this. I even created an account on B/R to give that a try. Dumb.

    • 1historian - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:57 PM

      I’m here to contradict myself – read the piece on Coach Kelly by Joe Posnanski on the NBC sports site. I’m an old fart and don’t know how to post it or whatever so just go there and read it. It’s really top-notch.

      And keep in mind at all times that one of the the greatest sportswriters of all went to Notre Dame – Red Smith.

  12. 1historian - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    I see that Zaire will not dress tomorrow and that Luke Massa will be 3rd string QB.

    Could/would this be a way to redshirt Zaire? I am not a conspiracy theorist but this might make sense. Massa was recruited as a QB in 2010 along with Hendrix and Rees in the same class, and if tomorrow turns into a rout, which I think will happen, it might not be a bad idea to take a look at him.

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