Tommy Rees, Amir Carlisle

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.

 

Path to the draft: Ronnie Stanley

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Your name didn’t have to be Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock to understand that from the moment Jaylon Smith stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame he was destined to be an early-round NFL draft pick. But as the dust settles on the Irish’s impressive 2016 draft haul, a look back at the developmental process of the team’s seven draft picks serves as a wonderful testament to Brian Kelly and the program he has built.

Notre Dame’s draftees come in all shapes and sizes. Fifth-year seniors like Nick Martin. Three-and-out stars like Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller. Consistent four-year performers like Sheldon Day and one-year wonders like C.J. Prosise.

But each followed a unique path to the NFL, one that was fostered by a coaching staff that allowed each athlete to develop at their own pace and ascend into a role where an NFL team thought highly enough to select each player in the first 103 picks of the draft.

Let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane, as we connect the dots from recruitment, development and playing career as we look at Notre Dame’s seven success stories.

 

Ronnie Stanley
No. 6 overall to Baltimore Ravens

The first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 draft, Stanley’s recruitment saw the Irish find their first bit of success at Bishop Gorman High School, leading the way to Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones. A four-star prospect who hovered between a Top 100 and Top 250 player depending on the evaluation, Stanley was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game, a second-tier game that all but signified his status outside of the elite, at least on the recruiting circuit.

That’s not how Notre Dame’s coaching staff felt about him, though.

“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said on Signing Day in 2012.

Stanley proved early that Kelly wasn’t blowing smoke. He saw the field in 2012’s first two games, earning reps against Navy and Michigan before he suffered an elbow injury that allowed him to save a year of eligibility.

But even offseason surgery didn’t prevent Stanley from stepping into the starting lineup, flipping to right tackle and playing 13 games in a very successful sophomore campaign across from first rounder Zack Martin.

Even though Stanley was blossoming into one of college football’s best players, we still openly wondered who would slide to fill Martin’s left tackle spot. (That’s how it goes with offensive linemen, their work only truly appreciated by those with either inside information or a coach’s eye of evaluation.)

In his opening comments before spring practice in 2014, Kelly named Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey as candidates along with Stanley, so it wasn’t necessarily a lock for the staff yet either. But it took just a few practices for the Las Vegas native to solidify his spot on the left side.

Stanley’s first season at left tackle was so solid that some wondered if there’d be two. While some of the online analysts saw Stanley as a potentially elite draft pick, the NFL Advisory Board came back with a second-round grade, perhaps all Stanley needed as he made his decision to stick around for his senior season. Still, Notre Dame took no chance. Kelly, Harry Hiestand and Jack Swarbrick traveled to Las Vegas to sell Stanley on the virtues of a final season in South Bend.

It worked. With a healthy offseason and weight-room gains needed, Stanley stuck to the script and played a mostly anonymous 2015 season. That was a very good thing—only along the offensive line can All-American honors and being named Offensive Player of the Year be considered ho-hum.

Add in the vanilla off-the-field life, and an elite academic profile that’s a comfort to teams investing millions in a potential cornerstone, Stanley’s placement as a Top 10 pick should have never been in doubt. While he lacked the dominance at Notre Dame that we saw from Zack Martin, he possesses athleticism and a body that Martin wasn’t given—a big reason the Cowboys shifted him inside to guard from day one.

Picked instead of Laremy Tunsil amidst a bizarre scenario that’ll go down as one of the draft’s cautionary tales, John Harbaugh talked openly about his relationship with Harry Hiestand and the comfort that came from Notre Dame’s offensive line coach as they pulled the trigger on Stanley. And Stanley, almost epitomizing that faith that the Ravens showed, all but embodied that when he told Joe Flacco in his first visit to Baltimore that he celebrated his selection by heading back to his hotel room and going to sleep.

Counted on by Baltimore to be a key piece of the puzzle as the Ravens look to rebuild an offensive line tasked with protecting a franchise quarterback in his prime, now it’s up to Notre Dame’s highest draft pick since Rick Mirer to continue his ascent.

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.