Oklahoma Mailbag

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Just over 48 hours to go until Notre Dame and Oklahoma take the field. With thousands migrating to South Bend for the game this weekend, let’s take a dig into the mailbag for a few questions and answers.

(With a special guest making her first appearance at the end of the mailbag.)

irish4006: Do you think we are becoming too predictable with the audibles and the adjustments? It’s been pretty visible in a couple of games where defense will line up, wait for Tommy to change the play and then get in a different formation with :02 on the clock. Tommy goes through with the play anyway for yet another incompletion.

I think there’s something to be said for your theory, though I do think you might be underestimating Tommy Rees’ accuracy, as he is the most accurate thrower in Irish football history.

That being said, there’s two sides to this coin. The Irish’s “Hurry Up and Wait” offense does limit defensive substitutions, though Brian Kelly acknowledged last week that the ongoing chess match doesn’t always benefit Notre Dame’s offense.

Expect to see the Irish take the look they get and go with it a bit more this weekend, and ideally that’ll be with a few more runs against an Oklahoma defensive front that many thought was a weak link.

jerseyshorendfan1: do you think we will see any production out of the slot in this game; also I have a feeling that Bryant may get some work this week after his brief appearance last week. Your thoughts?

One solution in the slot could be Amir Carlisle, who spent a little bit of time out there against Michigan State. A productive slot receiver has been an elusive beast for Kelly and his offense, and while CJ Prosise made a nice catch, there hasn’t been much of anything out of that spot, though who lines up where is probably less important, especially with a youngster like Corey Robinson coming on. That means someone like Chris Brown, DaVaris Daniels or TJ Jones can all line up inside or out.

As for the first of many Greg Bryant questions… I do actually think he’ll get the ball this weekend. As a long time Oklahoma commitment, having a chance to run against your almost team would be a nice motivating factor for this week of practice.

ndcanuck: Looking at the rest of the schedule, if ND loses Saturday does that end any realistic hope of a BSC bowl? If so, does that change the coaches approach to the line up going forward (i.e. playing some freshmen)?

It doesn’t end any hopes, but they’ll likely need to beat Stanford at the end of the season. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a two-loss ND team doesn’t deserve to be in the BCS, especially if their two losses are from September and against Oklahoma and Michigan.

don74: The live blog is fun for a fan but how much of the game do you see when handling comments and commenting yourself? How many times to you need to watch the game to see what went on?

Thanks for this question, Don. Because I don’t think a lot of people realize that it’s tough to manage the chat, watch the game, keep people who can’t watch the game posted… AND make sure people get their comments read/posted.

I’ve gotten a lot better over the past couple of years at watching and live-blogging, but it’s a big reason why it takes me a little bit longer to get my postgame thoughts up — while most writers are spending the game getting their story started, I’m chatting with a few thousands of my friends.

irishaggie: Since 2010 Tommy is 8-1 as a starter at Notre Dame Stadium and has 14 TD’s, 5 INT’s and completes 62% of his passes. In play action he’s deadly. In single set………….hhmm not so much. And when he throws more than 30 passes his accuracy decreases exponentially. Should Andrew Hendrix be used more as the effective runner he is?

IrishAggie, you make quite a few assertions in this question that I’m not necessarily sure I accept as fact. Perhaps the biggest one is that Andrew Hendrix is an effective runner. Outside of the 78-yard gallop against Air Force, Hendrix has never had more than 28 yards in a single game.

On your points about Tommy Rees, I agree that he’s a better playaction passer than most give him credit for, and that’s something that could help the offense going forward. Then again, giving some credibility to the fake would be helpful, and the Irish need their 100th ranked rushing offense to make some steps forward.

ohiond: I was at the Mich. State game. It appeared to me that “time management” issues reared their ugly head again. ND had to burn a couple of time outs early which made the late 1st half red zone very one dimensional. There were a couple of delay of game penalties as well. Why is this happening with a QB that has been in the system for 4-years? Is this more on the coaches or is it Tommy taking too much time checking out of what is called?

I think this is more on Pat Narduzzi and the Michigan State defense than anything from Rees or the coaches. Burning timeouts in the first half are much different than burning them in the second half. I did think there was one delay where Tommy tried to do too much, but that’s BECAUSE he’s been in the system for years, not despite.

irishlee10: How much of Malik Zaire will we see Saturday? And, in what situations?

You will see Zaire wearing a red hat on the sideline. And that’s about it.

NotreDan: Do you think Kelly should take over the play calling from Chuck Martin? If not, why?

No, I don’t. Then again, I don’t necessarily believe that Martin calls every play either, as there’s constant communication between Martin and Kelly and the game plan and call sheet are decided by both of them throughout the week.

Chuck Martin is a great coach and has done a nice job with the offense. Right now, it’s still figuring out what it wants to be.

idratherbeinsouthbend: Which tire category should i choose to get the most comfortable ride?

The black ones.

don74: Kelly and Belichick played golf together and decided to visit each other’s programs. Is it just a coincidence that the Irish Offense and the Pat’s Offense is out of synch this year?

You know what else both units have in common? They lost their best playmakers from the season before.

ndfaithful: Do you think OU will bring their own “Play Like a Champion Today” sign?

Good question! That was a fun non-story story last year.

@BretMiller: Why does ND have the tendency to play up/down to their opponents. Never blowout games like a SEC team? Lack of ability or choice?

Well, it’s a little bit tougher to blow out competitive Big Ten programs than it is to beat teams like SE Missouri State, Alcorn State, Samford, or Furman. (A sampling of four random SEC schedules I just checked out.)

There’s plenty of ability in South Bend, but I do think it comes down to choice sometimes. Notre Dame shut it down and played to win against Purdue during the fourth quarter and seemed to do the same thing against Temple as well.

The Irish haven’t been all that good against the spread this year. (I believe they’re 0-4.) But that’s a product of elevated expectations as well, and comes with the territory.

@thelumpedpoison: Will ND wear the green jerseys?

Kelly said no. But it’s a green out, so maybe a trick is in store. But highly doubtful considering next weekend the Irish will be rolling out their alternate uniforms for the Shamrock Series in Dallas. 

@dcarlson_rrt: will we see a different combo on the right side of the o-line? Maybe establish a power run game?

I think the best personnel is in the game. Remember, it took last year’s team a little bit of time to get the ground game established (after the cake walk through Navy). The future is bright for Ronnie Stanley and Christian Lombard will figure out how to play guard.

@okerland: based on last few weeks are the Doubting Thomases coming out of hiding? Will Reesus have to expose the middle of the field (AKA the ribs) to make them believers again?

From your mouth to BK’s ears.

***BONUS QUESTION***

As promised, I had my mom take a shot at mtflsmitty’s question from last week. I don’t think she let you guys down:

@mtflsmitty: Based on your experience reading posts from the characters over the years, please write a short, fictional bio for:
– Historian
– Bern
– Dick
– Nude

Nudeman – He developed his persuasive skills in childhood, growing up either an only child, or the eldest of three. From an early age, he spoke in superlatives – everything was “the best” this, “the worst” that. He may or may not have been treated with Ritalin, for what was then called hyperactivity. A hard-worker and a task-master, he saw success in school and likely on the youth and high school football teams. His frustration with the ineptitude of teammates in group sports led him to excel at golf and tennis. First job, post- or during college: door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. He married his high school sweetheart. Subsequently found work in larger companies with larger accounts, selling pest-removal services, then the best Russian sporting equipment ever, followed by the best new microwave ovens, then the top tech supplies available. He did not partake in his company’s Six Sigma training nonsense.

Dickasman – The youngest of seven children, he was alternately doted on and left to himself. One of his earliest memories was watching his mother suffer a neck injury while exercising to Jack LaLanne on television. He enjoyed kindergarten, but still remembers being chastised for eating glue, as well as failing to properly put away the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe puzzle. He was treated with Ritalin for hyperactivity during his grade school years. He was accident-prone, and in 6th grade he broke his leg while jumping from his roof to a snowbank, during a “snow day” off. He was treated for depression, since he felt isolated from his friends, having to stay in for recess during his 5-month recovery. Nevertheless, he played football on the kick-off squad in high school and was nicknamed “Kamikaze.” He played bass guitar with friends in a garage band, and found work running the light board at various clubs. He writes for several local music scene newsletters.

Bern – The second of four children, he is the son of an attorney and was known for his photographic memory at an early age. As a toddler, he was deeply influenced by the look of wise concern on his parents’ faces as they watched the evening news of the Pentagon announcing their plan to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. This led to an interest in politics, and while he was class president throughout grades 1 through college, he decided on a career in law, specializing in mediation and arbitration. He serves on many boards, met his wife at a fund-raising event, and his friends often call him “Fred” – after the Fred MacMurray sweaters he wears at leisure. The cardigan is replaced by a sport coat whenever he goes out. His persuasive powers are reminiscent of Marcus Welby, M.D. – he of the soothing, calming demeanor that “de-crescendo’s” into an authoritative, no-nonsense message. Of late, he has been known to enjoy, in fact, join in humor of a bawdy nature, once he knows his audience. His hobbies are fly-fishing, boating, and diagramming sentences.

Historian –  Love the name. A retired military man who grew up in a military family, he spent his developmental years with his family traveling from base to base. An avid Notre Dame fan, he took the 2011 USC loss extremely hard, and seemed to have gone missing of late? Should we be worried? Rumor has it he may have secretly re-enlisted to help instill discipline, focus, and a winning mentality among today’s youth.

Lastly, tell NotreDan to have those drinks while posting, as Nude advised.

 

Friday at 4: 40-yard dashes and absurdity

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Of all the absurd things the football world often obsesses over, the 40-yard dash may be the most useless of them. Yes, it even beats out assigning star rankings to 16- and 17-year-olds, though not by much.

For now, let’s look past the rest of the inane Draft intricacies, such as former Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones feeling pressured to increase his vertical jump by four inches. (He did, jumping to 24.5 inches in Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday.) This scribe does not have an excess of time to spend discussing Jones’s outlandish wingspan if this piece is to post by its intended, though unnecessary, 4 p.m. ET deadline.

The 40-yard dash … No football play begins from a sprinter’s stance, yet it may be the factor most crucial to a low 40 time. Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer posted a time of 4.83 seconds in the NFL Combine earlier this month. For context’s sake, Kizer ran .07 seconds slower than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did as a draft prospect in the 2004 combine.

Roethlisberger has had himself an excellent career, and his ability to shrug off 300-pound defensive linemen is a testament to his athleticism. Put Kizer and Roethlisberger in the open field together, though, and Kizer would presumably have outrun Roethlisberger at any point of the two-time Super Bowl champion’s career. In Indianapolis, however, Roethlisberger did a better job of getting his hips through his first couple strides of the heralded 40-yard dash.

Here, watch Kizer train for the 40, the most-hyped measurement of his combine.

“The ultimate goal is to have yourself in the best position to have your body weight back in those legs so you can create enough torque to get out as quickly as possible,” Kizer said. “A guy who is as long as I am, with long limbs that I have, I’ve got to make sure that my weight distribution is in the best position for me to get out and catch up to some of those quicker guys who are a little lower to the ground.”

What part of that sounds applicable to football? The 40 turns Kizer’s size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) into a negative. He worries about the angle of his knees. After his throwing session at the Thursday Pro Day, Kizer summed up the draft evaluation process even more succinctly.

“This process is very different in the sense that the way you look productive in the combine and in a pro day is very different from what productivity actually looks like out on the field.”

Well put.

More pertinent to the actual game of football, Kizer’s completion percentage in the staged workout could have been higher.

Then again, he was throwing to the likes of former Irish receivers Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle and former running back Jonas Gray. Reportedly, the only contact Gray and Kizer had before the session was Kizer emailing the former New England Patriot the planned series of routes.

The NFL Draft, where Gmail becomes a necessity.

Let’s do away with the 40. If we insist on keeping it, let’s do it twice, once from a standing start and once from a running start. Those would simulate actual football movements: A receiver getting off the line, and a ballcarrier breaking away and trying to outrun the defense.

Asking DeShone Kizer to mimic Usain Bolt is an exercise in futility, idiocy, absurdity.

Cue end of rant.

Why cite the Roethlisberger time? Many, including Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, have readily compared Kizer to Roethlisberger this spring.

The most notable line of that scouting report (scroll down to No. 32) may be its final one, echoing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s sentiments from earlier this week.

“The mystery is whether he can regain his assertiveness,” Burke writes. “If so, he could turn out to be the 2017 class’s best QB. The team that drafts him will be taking a leap of faith.”

A leap. Not a dash.

For more Notre Dame Pro Day results, click here.

And with that, this just may make the 4 p.m. posting. You know what to do.

 

Tranquill continues work with safeties … for now

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Drue Tranquill will see time at the oft-spoken of rover position, just not yet. For now, Notre Dame needs the senior at safety to provide leadership and communication while the rest of his position group gets up to speed.

“We really have to figure out what the coordination is going to be at the safety position,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “How much does Drue play down at rover? How much does he play back [at safety]?”

Only sophomore Devin Studstill returns any starts to the safety position aside from Tranquill’s career total of 18. Studstill started nine games last season.

That void has kept Tranquill working mostly with the defensive backs in the spring’s first few practices, rather than joining the likes of junior Asmar Bilal in the rover grouping.

“We didn’t want to pull our most veteran player out of the back end of our defense with Drue,” Kelly said. “I think it was more about the hesitancy of losing a great communicator in the back end than about the teaching.”

The time will come, however, for Tranquill to move up. Juniors Nick Coleman and Ashton White have moved to safety from the corner position. With more reps, they will not need to rely on Tranquill’s guidance as much. The same goes for, at least in theory, sophomore Jalen Elliott.

“It’s not really a heavy load of teaching for those guys,” Kelly said. “They’re picking it up quite well. We really want to get a chance to see a lot of guys back there.”

Kelly seemed particularly bullish on Coleman’s prospects at the position, provided he embrace the needed physicality. At 6-foot, 187 pounds, Coleman’s build may have been more suited on the outside, but Notre Dame’s plethora of promising cornerbacks provided an impetus to test Coleman at safety.

“The big thing will be Nick’s continuous development in tackling,” Kelly said. “You have to tackle back there. His ball skills are really good. We’ve seen that he’s able to play the ball. He has athleticism.

“We just want to continue to build on his tackling skills. If we go through the spring and say, ‘Well, he’s tackling really well,’ we’ll feel pretty good about the move.”

At that point, Tranquill will likely join Bilal at the hybrid position, which is something of a trademark to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Tranquill will be able to do what he does best: Pursue the ball.

“We all know what his strengths are,” Kelly said. “He’s a solid tackler. I don’t think there’s any safety in college football that wants to get matched up one-on-one with a skilled slot receiver. This would minimize that, when you play him close to the ball as a rover.

“And I think he’s pretty quick off the edge. I think we put him in a really good position in maximizing his skill set.”

Until then, Bilal will continue to be the frontrunner at rover, especially with the first four Irish opponents of 2017 presenting run-heavy offenses.

KELLY ON NICK WATKINS
Kelly was also asked about senior cornerback Nick Watkins, his fit into Elko’s defense and his return from injury.

“He’s very coachable, wants to learn, he’s pretty long,” Kelly said. “What I think Mike [Elko] does really well—and this is what I liked about my interactions with him—is, we all have strengths and weaknesses. He has a great eye of saying let’s take Nick’s strengths and let’s put him in a position where we can really utilize his strengths and put him in a position where maybe we’re not a right and left corner team, maybe we’re a short field/wide field team. Let’s apply him in that fashion.

“Nick’s long. He’s a little bit of a physical player. Let’s go to those strengths. He’s shown some of those attributes early on.”

RELATED READING:
Bilal the first in at ‘versatile’ rover position, others likely to follow
2 Days Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive backfield

Kraemer, Eichenberg compete for RT spot, moving Bars inside, and Bivin to…

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Forty percent of the offensive line is essentially set in stone: fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and senior Quenton Nelson at right guard.

The center position seems to be senior Sam Mustipher’s to lose.

That leaves the two starting spots on the right side of the line for a number of players—both young and experienced—to fight over.

Sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have emerged as the frontrunners for the right tackle spot, moving senior Alex Bars inside to right guard. Bars started all 12 games last season at right tackle.

“Those two [Kraemer and Eichenberg] are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle, and they’re going to battle,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “Today Kraemer was there. Last two practices Eichenberg got a lot of the work. Eichenberg will go back there on Friday. They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Part of the reasoning in giving the two sophomores extended looks this spring is Notre Dame knows what it has in Bars when at right tackle.

“We would prefer to get him in at the guard position, but we know he can play the [tackle] position,” Kelly said.

A starting five of McGlinchey, the three seniors and either sophomore may seem to leave fifth-year lineman Hunter Bivin out in the cold. Not often is a player asked to return for a fifth year only to spend it on the bench. That is even more rare when considering the current Irish scholarship crunch.

Kelly compared Bivin’s role to that of Mark Harrell’s last year. Harrell appeared in all 12 games, starting two, and provided much needed depth and flexibility along the offensive line. Rather than have five backup offensive linemen, position coach Harry Hiestand relied on Harrell to provide support at multiple spots.

“It’s reasonable to assume that Hunter Bivin’s going to be involved in this as well,” Kelly said. “We’ve just asked Hunter to take a seat right now. He’s done that for the team.

“We think Hunter is going to be a Mark Harrell for us. A guy that’s extremely valuable, can play a number of positions. We trust him, but we want to see these two young players [Kraemer and Eichenberg]. Hunter is a guy that can play right or left tackle for us. He’s going to be a valuable player for us as a swing guy.”

On that note, this space will refer to Bivin as a fifth-year lineman, as was done above, rather than as a guard or as a tackle, until further notice. In his case, the broader description may be the most accurate.

Spring break out west is fine, but Wimbush better be ready to run

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It will undoubtedly become a habit, at least for the next five-plus months. If Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush sneezes in front of a camera, it just might lead to an uptick in webmd.com traffic. His every football move will certainly be analyzed, nitpicked and discussed at length. Thus, Irish coach Brian Kelly being asked about Wimbush’s spring break should surprise no one.

Rather than find a Florida beach, Wimbush spent his spring break working with private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield in San Diego alongside a handful of other college passers. Kelly said there is value to such a spring break but stopped short of setting any lofty expectations of the effects.

“I have no problem with [Wimbush] working out with George Whitfield,” Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice, the first following spring break and the third of 14 leading into the Blue-Gold Game on April 22. “George doesn’t work on the specifics to the offense. George is really working on the quarterback and throwing the football, moving in the pocket. George is really good at keeping those quarterbacks active and moving.”

Whitfield is best-known around Notre Dame and among Irish fans for working with former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson during Golson’s academic suspension in 2013. Whitfield and Golson spent 10 weeks together, thus granting time for extensive off-field activities such as film study. Far shorter, Wimbush’s time out west appears to have been spent primarily doing drills.

“In those situations, it’s a bullpen session,” Kelly said. “They’re keeping their arms loose, they’re keeping their feet loose. He’s just keeping them active.”

It is hard to construe that activity as a negative, but it obviously lacks certain aspects crucial to Wimbush’s 2017 season. With only five career pass attempts and seven career rushes, Wimbush’s inexperience looms large. Developing the necessary intangibles to account for that may be just as, if not more, important as fitting his throws into tight windows.

“When it comes to the playbook, to his teammates, to his coaches here, Brandon understands that when the rubber hits the road, those are the guys that matter the most,” Kelly said. “He knows when it’s time for Notre Dame football, where the focus is.”

Included in that playbook will be an expectation for Wimbush to carry the ball. To date, Wimbush’s biggest play and possibly only imprint on most Notre Dame fans’ memories is a 58-yard touchdown scamper against Massachusetts in 2015.

Link to 17-second YouTube video which has unfortunately disabled embedding

Note, the play is not exclusively-designed for Wimbush to run. Now a rising junior, then a fellow freshman, running back Josh Adams comes across Wimbush’s front for a possible handoff. Instead, Wimbush makes the correct read and keeps the ball. Why state so clearly it was the proper read? Adams has to evade a Texas defender even though he never had the ball.

Future option plays should present Wimbush with the possibility of throwing the ball, too.

“He’ll be a runner in the offense,” Kelly said. “Do we want him to carry the ball 20 times? No.”

“I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling quarterback power or singular runs. He’s going to have options: hand it off, throw the ball out on the perimeter. You’ll see more of that than you will prescribed quarterback runs. We had a little bit more of that last year with Kizer, but I think you’ll see that he has an option to get the ball out of his hands more so than just prescribed runs.”

Those option plays, in particular, will require Wimbush to have a thorough familiarity both with the Notre Dame playbook and with his teammates’ tendencies.

RITA LEE OR 52-53?
Staying consistent with his comments over the last two months, Kelly once again reiterated the biggest changes new offensive coordinator Chip Long will bring to the Irish playbook will be in its wording. Perhaps going to an extreme example to illustrate his thinking, Kelly pointed to the future.

“We’re going to win next year and Chip is going to be the greatest offensive coordinator in the country and he’s going to get a head job, right?” Kelly asked rhetorically. “Then I’m not going to introduce the Chip Long offense to the next offensive coordinator.”

“It has to have my culture in it … The culture of the offense is still the base offense that I have always run because I have to be able to carry that with me from year to year.”

Within that ellipsis, Kelly gave two examples of possible verbiage changes. Without knowing much more behind them, they do not mean too much out here in the cobwebs of the internet, but they do provide a quick glimpse at what Kelly has been referring to when discussing lexicon since hiring Long.

“If he wants to change Ringo Lucky protection to Ram and Lion protection, go right ahead. If he wants to change certain calls, for example, 52-53 protection is now Rita Lee.”

RELATED READING:
4 Days Until Spring Practice: A Look at QBs (Brandon Wimbush)
Pace of Play: More Snaps Equal More Scoring Chances, Right?