Darrell Hazell

Hazell eager to take on Irish challenge

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With a primetime start and a team that is still adapting to a new system, Purdue coach Darrell Hazell looks ready for his biggest challenge to date: A Notre Dame team that’s looking to rebound after a difficult loss to Michigan.

In his weekly press conference, Hazell talked about some of the challenges his team with face, and what’ll they’ll need to do to win a game where they’re more than three touchdown underdogs.

A week after his offensive line struggled sustaining their blocks against Indiana State, Hazell talked about the challenge that All-American Louis Nix and the Irish front seven pose for the Boilermakers.

“They’re very good up front. Those guys are very good inside. The nose guard, Nix, he’s outstanding,” Hazell said. “The thing that impresses me about him is to watch him run down and chase the ball at 350 pounds.  You wouldn’t think a guy that big plays with so much energy down the field, but he does a great job.  The other guys on the edge, they’re outstanding as well. So we’re going to have to do a good job of creating some double teams.”

Double-teams? Check. And that won’t just be the strategy for Nix, but also Stephon Tuitt, who was remarkably kept off the stat sheet, even though he made a game-changing play on his endzone interception of Devin Gardner.

Hazell talked about the work Michigan did to keep Tuitt from causing too many problems up front.

“They did a good job of doubling him,” Hazell said. “They ran the ball outside. They got it out of the quarterbacks hands as fast as they can on three step, and if they weren’t throwing three step, a lot of times they were going seven-man protection so he was not getting the rush.”

From a defensive perspective, it’s interesting to hear what Hazel saw looking over the game film of Notre Dame’s loss to Michigan. For those that have accused Bob Diaco of playing too vanilla up front, the Irish were burnt as they tried to get pressure on Gardner, especially on third downs.

“They rely a lot on their front seven. They play a lot of manned coverage that probably exposed them a little bit last week, some of those routes,” Hazell said. “But they’re going to bring the house on third down.  They’re going to twist and bring blitz on third down.  Just watched the third down cut-up reel, and it was a frenzy of blitzes coming from all areas.

“We’re going to have to do a good job on third down of understanding the situation and not getting ourselves in a 3rd and 15 or 3rd and 12, and managing that situation especially early in the game so that the crowd, their part of the crowd, doesn’t get all juiced up.”

Ross-Ade has been a feisty place for the Irish, both with pro-Notre Dame fans and a home crowd that did their best to will Purdue to an almost upset of Jimmy Clausen’s final Irish squad in 2009. And if you thought you’d get through the week without rivalry talk, Hazell also spoke about how excited he was to take part in this in-state rivalry, a game that’s been played for an awful long time. 

“Anytime you get two good universities going against each other that are so close to each other, there are bragging rights,” Hazell said. “There are absolutely bragging rights.  This is a big game for us.

“It’s really fun just to think how long this series has been going on uninterrupted. I’m excited about this game Saturday night.  There is a lot of hype going on right now.  We’ve got to make sure as a staff and as a football team that we put in the preparations that we need to do to help our chances to be successful, and that is the bottom line.”

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.