DaVaris Daniels, Ricardo Allen

Mailbag! (Angry villagers and ASU edition)

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Without further ado, this week’s mailbag.

rossumnminor: Keith is this a second chance and sort of a good thing that OU and ASU are very similar across the board? I.e. another week of similar preparation?

Let’s start this off with a football question. Well done, Rossumn! If you’re looking to actually think about Xs and Os and not complain about playcalling, effort, the alma mater, and all the other garbage that bubbles to the top after a two-loss month, this is a great place to start.

There are a ton of similarities between ASU and OU, though I’d give the edge personnel wise to Oklahoma, though Taylor Kelly might be the best quarterback Notre Dame faces all season. That said, both defenses are built around pressure schemes and work from a 3-3-5, and Notre Dame will once again be seeing a lot of man coverage.

(Speaking of that…)

dudeacow: What happened to Daniels? After a phenomenal start he had a horrendous day vs MSU and was a no-show vs the Sooners. Same thing with Niklas. Where has our receiving corps gone?

It’s times like these where we’re reminded that Daniels is still a relative newbie out there, even though he’s in his third year of the program. There’s no doubt the talent is there to be a productive college wide receiver. But Brian Kelly was candid in his assessment of Daniels, who disappeared at times against both Michigan State and Oklahoma, when he said Daniels needed to do the ordinary things better.

As for Niklas, don’t expect to see numbers like the ones Tyler Eifert put up. Niklas is a valuable cog in the Irish blocking scheme, and while Ben Koyack played a much better game last week, Niklas is too big of a body to not spend a good portion of his time blocking in the running game.

blackirish23: Job vacancies at places such as USC always has a domino effect. Any predictions where some of those dominos may fall, and will some of those pieces be from our coaching staff? I.E. Have you started hearing any rumors?

I am curious to see if Mack Brown survives the season at Texas. Deloss Dodds announcing his retirement makes you wonder if he’ll make one last big decision before saying goodbye. But unlike last year, I don’t think anybody’s star is on the rise like it was for Bob Diaco or Chuck Martin.

Could UConn target a guy like Bob Diaco? Maybe. They terminated Paul Pasqualoni in the wake of Kiffin’s firing. Diaco is a native of the northeast, is a young and charismatic guy (as opposed to Pasqualoni, who was a head-scratching hire), so who knows?

But I have a feeling the Irish will be working with the same staff in ’14 as they are this season.

jerseyirish10: Keith, with your recent article, including the analysis, of the empty set with Tommy Rees, why is BK continuing to use this formation? Clearly, Golson had/has the tools to extend those plays because of the threat to run or pass. As the head coach and OC, why aren’t he and Martin tossing this out and sticking to what Tommy can do? Combined with a stronger conviction to the running game, wouldn’t that provide the more balanced offense and focus on everyone’s strengths?

I feel like I answered this question yesterday. I don’t necessarily think the no-back formation should be thrown in the dumpster, but it certainly shouldn’t be one of the Irish’s most utilized formations.

ndlv: I know that Jaylon Smith is a little bit small, but he has the talent to play any of the LB positions. Why not move him inside and replace him on the outside with a safety like Shumate or Redfield (as they used to do with Slaughter)? This would get more speed and talent on the field. Grace, Fox, and Carlo may have the size for the middle, but they clearly don’t have the speed.

On paper, a move like this makes sense. And perhaps it could be a spring adjustment, because life after Louis Nix could be downright scary at the nose tackle position. But just assuming a linebacker like Smith can succeed inside and a safety has the tools to play outside linebacker is risky business. The last time Notre Dame tried something like that, converted running back Travis Thomas tried to play on the edge of the defense at 220-pounds, and Jon Tenuta’s boys looked like a roller derby team out there.

Getting speed on the field makes sense, especially against spread teams that move quickly. But you don’t hear fans calling for Stanford to swap out their big bodies and stout front line because they can’t run as fast as other defenses. Playing the scheme correctly — like Notre Dame did last year — is a big part of the formula.

a. papadec: Will the pessimistic fans ever shut up?
b. dickasman: Will the optimistic fans (shut up)?
c. c4evr: Will all the level headed, logic driven, reasonable people ever contribute?

a. Of course they won’t. You’ve got to blame somebody.
b. I wouldn’t expect it. You’ve got to have faith.
c. Please don’t leave us. It’s already so lonely.

chadwalters425: Why do you think Notre Dame’s fans are quick to sell their tickets against big game opponents (like Oklahoma this year or Nebraska in 2000) while other schools show solidarity and don’t appear to sell tickets to opposing fans in similar games (see SEC or UGA @ Clemson) in significant numbers? Or am I just biased?

You are biased. Unless you watch a whole lot more football than I do, and keep your eye on StubHub or the secondary ticket market on a daily basis, this seems to be one of those prime examples of Notre Dame fans only griping about what’s in front of them.

You realize that Nebraska game was 13 years ago? Wide receiver Corey Robinson was five years old then. That Oklahoma fans paid dearly to buy tickets in the corner of the upper bowl doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen anywhere else. (And opponents do get an allotment of tickets to purchase. It would’ve been different if the Crimson was scattered all around the stadium.)

I spent an entire football season on the road in ’08, going to the biggest games of the year all around the country. Every place I went, I saw a large showing from the visiting team. At a place that was treated like the Cathedral of college football for traditionally proud groups like Nebraska and Oklahoma, you have to expect that to happen when come play Notre Dame.

No team had a higher per-ticket price than Notre Dame this season. That’s certainly not driven by just the opposition.

jerseyshorendfan1Do all the idiotic questions here jeopardize the continuation of the mailbag feature?

No way. I kind of like this feature.

upthera44: Is there any update on Greg Bryant’s supposed knee injury?

There probably will be one tonight when Kelly talks with the media. I would hate to think the vigil would be over come October.

nudeman: Why does Brian Kelly perpetrate the myth that “if he turns the ball over, he won’t play”, then keep playing Tommy Rees?

In defense of Rees, this hasn’t been happening on a continuous basis, though I did say that last Saturday was probably the worst game of Rees’ career since the USC game his freshman season. And if you thought Andrew Hendrix looked comfortable back in the pocket running the Irish offense, you saw something different than I did.

I’m working on some things for the Pregame Six Pack that digs a little bit deeper into Rees’s struggles.

@NDEddieMac: Why do ND fans always whine about inconsequential (stuff) during football season?

To make themselves feel better?

Everybody can sound intelligent when they talk about ambiguous things like tradition or making sure the team stays on the field to sing the alma mater. (By far the dumbest “tradition” that’s really not a tradition at all, in my opinion.) But not everybody can talk about the challenges of facing press coverage or linebackers making proper run fits. So it’s just more fun to sound like the old guy that walked uphill to school both ways.

Now get off my lawn!

chadwalters425: Do you think Todd Graham is just renting his place in Arizona and can get out of his lease to go to Los Angeles in the next four months?

I got a good laugh out of this one… Could you imagine?

Swarbrick talks improvements to Shamrock Series opponents

Shamrock Fenway
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Notre Dame is taking 2017 off from the Shamrock Series. When it comes back, expect to see an improvement in opponents.

With the remodeled Notre Dame Stadium set to be finished in 2017, playing seven home games is a natural fit. But with the neutral-site series set to return in 2018, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has grand plans for improving the series that’s taken the Irish to some iconic venues, but has lacked much punch when it comes to high-profile opponents.

Speaking exclusively with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Swarbrick laid out some grand plans for the revitalization of the game.

“When the opponent and the venue and the place all contribute to the story, that’s when it works the best,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “I still want to maintain that. The difference will be that many more of them now will be led by the opponent.

“Now it can be, ‘I got this opponent.’ Now where can we go with them that works with what we’re trying to do?”

With Notre Dame returning to San Antonio for the second time in the Shamrock Series and repeating an opponent with Army as well, it’s clear that this year’s game checked off some other boxes when it got decided. Swarbrick acknowledged some of the restrictions that have held him back, with the reboot of Notre Dame’s schedule with five ACC games and other television considerations really limiting the team’s options.

“What we’ve been able to do in the Shamrock Series to this point is limit ourselves to games we already had scheduled that we would move,” Swarbrick told Sampson. “It was a very small range of people that we could do these deals without getting into television conflicts. With more lead time we have the runway we need to make these games, the three pieces of it – geography, venue and opponent – come together a little bit more.”

Rumors of new venues aren’t new. Brian Kelly has discussed Lambeau Field before. There’s been talk of a game in Rome. And rumblings of Michigan’s return to the schedule won’t go away.

Just recently Kelly tweeted out a picture from another venue that wouldn’t be too shabby.

But there’s an opening for another step forward for the program and Swarbrick is the right man to lead the change. He’s already led the Irish athletic department through a move to the ACC and helped navigate the “seismic changes” that resulted in the College Football Playoff. With the ambitious Campus Crossroads project near complete this seems like a perfect next project for the head of Irish athletics to take on.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
via Twitter
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.