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IBG: Life at halfway and Adios Subway Domer

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Our weekly Irish Blogger Gathering is a little late this week, but I’ve got a good excuse. Or not really a good excuse, but so be it — it’s bye week, people.

That said, I did want to take a brief moment and acknowledge the retirement of noted Notre Dame blogger The Subway Domer. He decided to hang up the keyboard after a great run that lasted almost seven years.

One of the greatest parts of my job is the near daily interaction I have not just with commenters and readers but with the blogging “community” that exists surrounding Notre Dame football. There isn’t a day that goes by — or maybe even an hour — where I’m not checking other peoples blogs, messageboards, Twitter feeds, etc. That very well might be a disease that I’ll one day need to kick, but it’s a really cool group to be a part of, even though as a guy that’s collecting a paycheck to do this, I’m just lucky people want to include me.

In an era where thousands of blogs get started and left for dead after the idea wears off, that Joshua was able to keep the train rolling for so long, and do it in such a unique and funny way, is a testament to how good he is at it. He’ll still be on Twitter, and I hope he’ll still be selling his t-shirts (I plan on wearing my purple faced Brian Kelly T this weekend in Vegas), but the blogosphere will miss him, even if he does bring up a few red flags in language filters all across Corporate America’s I.T. departments.

It was Joshua’s idea to start the IBG and it’ll live on without him. But he’s one of the cool people I got a chance to “know” without meeting, a really large group that I’m happy to call friends, even if my wife does think it’s weird.

Onward to the IBG, where Frank over at UHND.com answered my questions. As usual, here are the other participants in the weekly excitement:

Her Loyal Sons
ND Nation
UHND
Strong and True

As usual, play along in the comments.

1) Who’s your first-half MVP on offense and defense? Rookie of the Year Offensive Defense? 

First half MVP on offense would have to be TJ Jones.  Jones has really stepped into the role of being a #1 receiver for this team and has been huge in Notre Dame’s wins over Temple and Arizona State and had a gutty performance against Michigan after getting banged up early on.  Jones is going to crush his personal bests for catches, yards, and touchdowns and in fact he already has tied his career mark for touchdowns.  It’s scary to think of what Jones may have been able to do this year if he had Everett Golson throwing him the football, but even without Golson, Jones is well on his way to the best season of his career and could easily eclipse the 1,000 yard mark given the level of competition the Irish will face down the stretch outside of Stanford.

Offensive rookie of the year is tough because we’ve seen a couple frosh show flashes of their potential but not much consistency yet.  Tarean Folston, Corey Robinson, and Will Fuller have all made a few plays so far but haven’t been too consistent.  With that in mind, I will go with Steve Elmer here. Elmer’s been a very solid backup in the offensive line rotation and should give Irish fans a lot of hope that the left tackle position will be in very capable hands after Zack Martin moves on the NFL after this year.

Defensively, I’ll go with Louis Nix.  Even though his stats aren’t eye popping and his presence may not be as visible as it was last year, Nix has been doing exactly what he needs to do in this defense – eating up space, occupying blockers, and creating opportunities for plays for his fellow defenders.  With the drop off in production from Stephon Tuitt after his off-season surgery and the big plays the secondary has given up that they didn’t a year ago, Nix’s presence might not be felt as much as it was a year ago, but Big #1 is doing his job very well this year.

Rookie of the year on defense is easy.  Jaylon Smith.  Through the first few weeks Smith showed flashes of his 5-star potential, but against Arizona State it was on full display.  This kid is going to be a big time player for the Irish and is going to make a lot of plays throughout his career.

2) Give me your high-water mark after the first six games? What’s been rock bottom?

Sadly, I think the high water mark might be the first five minutes of the first game of the year against Temple. Notre Dame came storming out of the gates during the first five minutes of the season and it looked like we might finally have a high flying offense on our hands. That ended up not lasting too long unfortunately as the offense has struggled to maintain that level of success since then. Notre Dame hasn’t really had an impressive, start to finish victory where the outcome was never in doubt and has fallen behind quickly most weeks.

Notre Dame’s 4th quarter flurry against Purdue was a lot of fun, but it’s tough to qualify that as a high water mark since it came against a pretty brutal Purdue team and the Irish should have never been in that situation to begin with so it was more a sigh of relief than anything else.

There’s been a few great plays that were exciting at the time, but since the Irish were unable to capitalize on momentum after them, they wouldn’t necessarily qualify as high water marks. I’m thinking of Tuitt’s interception in the endzone against Michigan and George Atkinson’s long touchdown against Oklahoma. Unfortunately Notre Dame never got any closer in those contests than they did at those points though so those moments were pretty short lived.

3) You have a magic potion that improves one specific player on the Irish roster 25%. Who are you using it on and what will that improvement do for the Irish?

My initial reaction to this one was Tommy Rees since I really think this offense is an elite quarterback away from being prolific, but I’m not sure that improving him 25% would turn him into an elite quarterback. Still, if Rees were to just cut down on the mental mistakes and had the arm strength to hit the deep balls that he has consistently under thrown all season – especially in the Arizona State game – this offense would have put up a lot more points this season and the Irish would very likely be 5-1 at worst heading into the bye.

One other name that popped into my head was Stephon Tuitt since I think it’s pretty clear Tuitt is feeling the effects of his off-season surgery and the time he lost in the weight room. He just isn’t the same dominant player that he was a year ago. If he was, this defense would not be giving up points at the rate in which they are right now and the Irish pass rush would not have been one of the worst in the country heading into last week before their 6 sack breakout against the Sun Devils.

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?)

***

 

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)

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
Mark Harrell*, C/G
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.