Tommy Rees

Kelly: Rees needs to “avoid the noise”

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This certainly isn’t the first time quarterback Tommy Rees has felt the fire from Notre Dame’s fanbase. About a year to date after Rees was booed entering the game in relief against Purdue last season, Rees is once again the whipping boy of Irish fans near and far as the senior quarterback’s performance against Oklahoma, 9 of 24 with two touchdowns but three first half interceptions, was a key factor in the disappointing 35-21 loss.

And while the treatment of Rees on social media like Twitter has been pretty pathetic, it’s not something head coach Brian Kelly thinks will effect the quarterback, who desperately needs to rally after back-to-back subpar Saturdays.

“If you’re the starting quarterback at Notre Dame and you can’t handle those things that are inevitably going to come your way after a loss, then you can’t be the quarterback at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “It comes with the business of being the quarterback at Notre Dame.  You have to avoid the noise, when it’s good and when it’s bad.  And that’s just the nature of it.  It comes with being the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

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Here are a few other bits I found interesting after going back over Brian Kelly’s weekly press conference.

* For those back clamoring for Andrew Hendrix, Kelly’s critique of the senior’s play was fairly candid, especially his one throwing attempt, where Hendrix missed a wide open Davaris Daniels running free down the middle of the field.

Kelly talked about the reintroduction of Hendrix into the Irish offense after not taking any significant snaps last season.

“The way we presented it to Andrew is, look, you’ve got to help us win. You’ve got to help us win football games,” Kelly said. “But he’s got to be more effective than he was on Saturday.  He can’t go in there and we get two false start penalties.  We can’t miss a wide‑open receiver.  We’ve got to do a better job on our zone read.”

Rewatching Hendrix on the zone read, he still doesn’t look quite comfortable reading his keys, especially on one play where he kept the ball even with an unblocked defender coming right at him.

But even four years into the program, there’s no substitution for true game action, and on a Saturday where moving the chains is really important, Hendrix is going to need to be able to make the quick read both on runs and especially on pass plays, an area where it would be very helpful if he could show himself to be even moderately serviceable.

* There was plenty of grumbling about the way Bob Diaco and the Irish defense chose to defend the quick throws to the outside by Oklahoma. Sooners head coach Bob Stoops called the quick passing game an extension of their rushing attack, with the designed screens a part of their offensive game plan.

“They got the ball outside a couple of times, but it didn’t go to winning and losing the football game,” Kelly said of the Sooners’ success throwing quick screens. “Winning and losing the football game last week was turnovers and the two big plays.  I thought that by and large we minimized most of those plays to under 10 yards, but we will get attacked on the perimeter, there’s no question, we will have to continue to be on top of our game there.”

This was exactly the game plan last season against the Sooners as well, when Landry Jones completed 35 of 41 passes for 356 yards, but was limited to just seven yards an attempt as the Notre Dame defense put the clamps down as the Sooners got closer to the Irish endzone.

Kelly talked about why he’s willing to give up those short throws, something that’ll likely be very important this weekend against an Arizona State team that put together some “big chunk” plays in the second half of their victory over USC after being somewhat limited early.

“If you break down the game, they did not win the football game by throwing bubble screens and getting it out on the perimeter.  They’re doing it for other reasons,” Kelly said.

“What we need to do a better job in is keeping the ball, staying above the cut when we’re in three deep, not giving up quick slants for 56 yards.  Obviously if we minimize the big plays and the turnovers, we’re talking about a different football game here.”

If people think back to one of the schematic changes the Irish made last season against Oklahoma, they utilized motion to get an inside linebacker to vacate the middle of the field before running Everett Golson up the gut. The Irish chose not to shift their linebackers when motion occurred last Saturday, likely to stop the inside linebackers from vacating the middle of the field, an area that was caught for the back-breaking 56-yard touchdown pass.

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

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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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Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)
Mark Harrell, Sr* (No Starts, fifth-year available)

*Harrell’s departure is not confirmed, though expected.  

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars, T
Colin McGovern,* G/T
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.