Louis Nix

Bye week means reprieve for wounded roster

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You won’t hear Brian Kelly make excuses for a roster badly beaten up. But if you’re wondering how wounded the Irish are heading into their final two games, just consider the fact that Kelly isn’t practicing this week with his team.

No pads. No practice. Just meetings, work in the weight room and conditioning. How many times in Kelly’s 23-year head coaching career has that happened?

“This will be my first,” Kelly said Tuesday afternoon.

In case anyone wondered whether or not Kelly had packed in the season and started prepping for 2014, the Irish head coach made it clear that his focus was on finishing this season strong. That means first focusing on sending his senior class out winners at home.

“Our primary focus and the focus of our team is winning our last home game and, in particular, sending out our seniors with a win,” Kelly said. “They’ve got four quarters left in Notre Dame Stadium. They’re going to be a huge part of the history of Notre Dame and helping us to four bowl games, a national championship. We are going to do everything in our power to make certain that our seniors go out winners at their last game at Notre Dame Stadium.”

To make sure the Irish have all that they’ll need to take on BYU, Kelly is backing away from work. While usually a bye week is a time to get developmental players reps they wouldn’t usually get, those players aren’t developmental any more. They’re all that’s left.

“The guys that I would be practicing, we need,” Kelly explained. “They need to play a considerable amount of time for us against BYU and Stanford. We’re just at that point. If I knew going out and practicing two or three days was going to benefit us greatly in the BYU game, I’d be out there right now.

“It’s in my estimation we could have a situation of diminished returns and put us in jeopardy, so we’re conditioning them pretty hard Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday will be the bulk of our work.”

At this point, it’s worth taking a look back at the depth chart against Temple to get a better look at who’s been lost or injured this season, just to understand why this week off is more necessity than anything else.

TWO DEEP DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART

Already lost for the season:

Danny Spond, OLB
Chase Hounshell, DL
Tony Springmann, DL

DE
Sheldon Day — Missed multiple games with high ankle sprain
Isaac Rochell — Currently in walking boot

DT
Louis Nix — Missed Air Force and Navy games with knee injury
Kona Schwenke — Currently injured with high ankle sprain. Out of cast today.

DE
Stephon Tuitt — Healthy after slow start after hernia surgery.
Jarron Jones — Ankle in boot after ankle injury against Pitt.

OLB
Prince Shembo — Hasn’t missed game yet this season.
Ishaq Williams — Rumored MCL tear after low block against Air Force.

ILB
Dan Fox — Lost starting job after nagging injury slowed him down. Hasn’t missed time.
Jarrett Grace — Lost for year against Arizona State with broken leg.

ILB
Carlo Calabrese — Has played in all 10 games.
Kendall Moore — Seen more time since injury to Grace.

OLB
Jaylon Smith — Has played in all 10 games.
Ben Councell — Lost for season with ACL tear.

S
Austin Collinsworth — Played in all 10 games.
Elijah Shumate — Hamstring injury has slowed him last four games.

S
Matthias Farley — Played in all 10 games.
Eilar Hardy — Played consistently since Shumate’s injury.

CB
Bennett Jackson — Started all 10 games.
Cole Luke — Stayed healthy as freshman contributor.

With the body count being what it is, a new group of players find themselves as contributors. Former walk-on linebacker Joe Schmidt, who is playing through a thumb injury. Seldom used junior linebacker Anthony Rabasa is getting time at Cat linebacker. Justin Utupo has gotten more reps in the past three weeks than the previous three seasons. The same goes for Tyler Stockton. Romeo Okwara has become the staff’s swiss-army knife.

Injuries hit every football team. But in a season where things started off going wrong, Kelly and the Irish are intent on weathering the storm whatever way they know how.

 

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.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”