Kendall Moore

BYU Mailbag: Questions answered

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Let’s get into this week’s mailbag, which featured quite a few good questions (and more than a few answers from you guys).

Let’s get to it:

@jfoneill22: On whose behalf am I cheering for an Irish blowout this weekend? Which unheralded senior has earned a few snaps on Sat?

I don’t know if BYU is the team where the bench is going to empty, as some wise guys see this one as a one-point line pointing the Cougars direction, making the Irish a rare homedog.

That said, if I were to guess a senior that might get a chance to make a few big plays, it’d be Kendall Moore. Against a running quarterback like Taysom Hill, Moore could have some chances to knock heads, and it’s only a matter of time before he knocks a football loose.

domer77blowsgoat: In 2012 with Golson out with a concussion Kelly relied on the run game and the defense to get past BYU, i.e. wasn’t going to put the game in Rees’ hands to lose – why the change in philosophy this year as it has cost us at least 2 games and a shot at the BCS?

I get the angle you’re taking here, but I’m not sure I agree with it. Notre Dame lost to Michigan because they gave up 41 points. Looking at the offense the Wolverines are trotting out there now, that’s just brutal.

Put simply, I don’t think Kelly trusts his defense like he did last year, or his running backs. There’s a reason why the Irish can’t settle on a running back rotation and I tend to think it’s a product of nobody giving the staff exactly what it wants.

That being said, I am very curious to see if the Irish lean on the ground game on Saturday, especially with the weather starting to look like a potential winter wonderland. It certainly makes more sense than having Rees throw 35 times.

@BruceND75: Could it be that much of the problem with playcalling is blowback for Rees’s prolific audibling? What % of plays are audibles?

I think anybody who is willing to tell you a percentage of Rees audibles is lying to you, Bruce. Nobody has any idea how often the Irish check the play at the line of scrimmage, but the offensive system is designed to get the team in and out of bad looks. It’s certainly not something that JUST Tommy Rees does, but Notre Dame will likely go back to a situation that’s more a “call it and haul it” scenario with Everett Golson, who has the ability to keep the football and run it.

Ted Wheeler: If the ACC bowl tie-ins were in effect for this season, where would ND likely end up? How much of an improvement would this be over what’s likely an appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl?

Good question. Next year the Irish will need to be within one win of an ACC team to leapfrog them in the bowl lineup. It’s kind of hard to guess where that’ll be without knowing if the Irish are going to beat BYU and Stanford, but here are the ACC tie-ins as of this year, per SI.com’s Stewart Mandel.

Orange Bowl: ACC Champ
Chick-fil-A Bowl: ACC No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl: ACC No. 3
Sun Bowl: ACC No. 4
Belk Bowl: ACC No. 5
Music City Bowl: ACC No. 6
AdvoCare Bowl: ACC No. 7
Military Bowl: ACC No. 8

They’d slot in somewhere in the middle depending, so it isn’t as if the Irish are missing out on that much this year.

Nudeman: Just as a follow up/tag on here … no one is excited about playing a 2nd tier team in a 3rd tier bowl. Keith, is there any chance ND just passes altogether ND stays home? (And yes, I know all the prevailing BS about those 15 practices being so important)

In today’s era of college football, you’d be pretty stupid to turn down the opportunity to develop your team for an additional 10 practices or so. So while traditionalists like Uncle Nudie like the idea of turning down (or turning up the school’s collective nose at) a mediocre bowl, you don’t see coaches volunteer to give up spring practice, do you?

Also — the bowl trip is about more than just the football team, it’s often used to reward school officials and administrators with a few days away from home in a nice locale. That might not happen this year if it turns out being Shreveport or Detroit, but post Christmas in Manhattan doesn’t sound too bad.

irishaggie: Going into this BYU game what have you seen from this 2013 squad that has disappointed you the most in the first 10 games?

Probably the inconsistencies on both sides of the ball. This defense has given up way too many big plays. And offensively, there still isn’t much of an identity. This team hasn’t been able to hang its hat on anything, and that’s been tough.

Obviously, the Pitt loss is as disappointing as it gets. But collectively this team has struggled to get a ton out of its personnel, though I do think a lot of this is injury related (at least defensively).

mediocrebob: What do you know about guys like Hounshell and Springman? Are they healing on time? I know there was talk about Hounshell possibly returning this year. Are they guys the Irish can lean on next year upfront with the departure of Tuitt and Nix?

It sounds like both guys are on track to practice this spring, though BK hinted at an infection slowing down Springmann earlier this fall. There was talk about Hounshell practicing and taking snaps potentially, but that was mostly because of the internal skepticism that he’d be eligible for a sixth year of competition.

Don’t count out Nix or Tuitt just yet, though I do think this is it for Big Lou. But I don’t think it’s outrageous to think that Springmann can fill in capably at nose tackle like Sean Cwynar did and hopefully Jarron Jones does a good job developing.

ndfenian: Keith, I think the injuries to ND’s front seven have been very significant for the 2013 squad. Going into the Pitt game, I counted seven players out for the game, and two playing with significant injuries, and these are all front seven guys that were listed on the preseason two-deep. Are you aware of other programs in recent years that have suffered this amount of injuries to starting players and still had successful (BCS) seasons?

I can’t give you specifics, but I’m certain a rash of injuries happens to other teams, too. (Just not on the team that I follow on a daily basis.) But I don’t think teams just make it to the BCS after losing 11 contributors on defense, and that’s pretty much been what happened to this team.

Injuries stink. But it’s a good reminder of why teams need to build quality depth and why teams don’t give up on guys like Tyler Stockton, Justin Utupo or Eilar Hardy.

charlie617: What current player who will be a senior/5th year next year do you project as having the biggest (positive) impact next season?

I’m feeling good about Kendall Moore. I really think he’s going to have to play a lot of football next year and could step in and do a nice job. He reminds me a lot of a guy like Corey Mays.

Mays spent the majority of his first four seasons in South Bend playing special teams before stepping into the starting lineup and having an impressive fifth-year. He parlayed that into a nice run in the NFL. I could see that happening with Moore, too.

newmexicoirish: Keith, now that the season is winding down, do you expect BK to make some coaching changes for next year? If so, which coaches do you think will be updating their resume?

You aren’t the first person to ask this, but I just don’t see it happening. This is the same staff that carried the Irish to the BCS Championship game. While there’s been some disappointing play at positions like safety and maybe quarterback, I hardly think that’s something that needs addressing at the positional ranks.

Also, people have clamored for a special teams coach to be assigned. I don’t think Scott Booker has done a bad job, and if you want to look at one spot that’s really been crushed by injuries, it’s special teams.

 

 

Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.

Five things we learned: Signing Day 2016

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a call during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA College football game against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. Kelly has agreed to a six-year contract to stay on as coach at Notre Dame through 2021, the school announced Friday, Jan. 29,2 016.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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There were no last minute defections. No roller coaster recruits or down-to-the-wire decisions. Heck, there were no fax machines—with Notre Dame ditching the office dinosaur for a wireless, smart phone option.

Brian Kelly inked another Top 10 recruiting class on Wednesday. And he did so in decidedly uneventful fashion.

“It’s awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career,” Kelly said.

So while Kelly and the Irish staff hold out hope that 5-star talents Caleb Kelly and Demetris Robertson still decide to spend their college careers in South Bend, the 23-man class announced Wednesday was another Top 10 effort and a step in the right direction for a program on very stable ground.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s staff continued to focus on rebuilding the secondary and rushing the passer. 

Yes, Brian Kelly saw what you saw—a group that struggled getting to the passer or to field a nickel or dime personnel grouping. So they countered that in the best way they knew how: By continuing to stockpile talent.

Notre Dame added seven defensive backs and four edge defenders in the cycle. They include safeties Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill and cornerbacks Julian Love, Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn. Perhaps just as important is the impression some of these defenders made in their time on campus, with Kelly pointing to Elliott and Studstill’s work during summer camp really making them must-have recruits.

“Jalen Elliott competed like no player that I have seen since I’ve been coaching in a camp setting,” Kelly said. “Same thing with Devin Studstill. His skill level was of corner-like ability but had the size of the safety, and so our guys went right to them early on, and that was a focal point because we got a chance to see them up close and personal.”

At defensive end, the Irish welcome 5-star recruit Daelin Hayes, getting him on campus as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He’s joined by former Alabama commit Khalid Kareem, the strongside counterpart that is an early candidate to see the field, especially as the staff looks for someone to spell Isaac Rochell for a few snaps. Longer-term prospects include a few speed rushers—Julian Okwara (younger brother of Romeo) and Ade Ogundeji, a long-limbed, below-the-radar edge rusher.

“We’re pretty excited about the potential for some guys in this class that can answer some four-man pass rush needs that we do have,” Kelly said.

 

It may not be the biggest group, but Brian Kelly is excited about his offensive line—especially the guys he pulled from Ohio State’s backyard. 

Three recruits in the offensive line class point to a big 2017 at the position. But the three the Irish did sign—guard Parker Boudreaux and tackles Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer—have Kelly very happy.

“Parker Boudreaux has that physical presence inside like, and I’m not comparing him, but he’s a Quinton Nelson in terms of size and physicality,” Kelly said. “And then two edge guys with Liam and Tommy on the outside. Those two kids are as good as you’re going to find in the country, and couldn’t be more excited to have two kids from the state of Ohio, from two great Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Cincinnati Elder from the state of Ohio.”

Both Eichenberg and Kraemer were priority targets for Urban Meyer and company, with neither wavering after committing to Notre Dame. Kraemer was Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year and an Army All-American. He’ll be able to step into the two-deep immediately, capable of playing up front if the Irish need him. Eichenberg more than held his own at the Under Armour All-American game and has a high ceiling, especially as he learns the game under Hiestand.

It doesn’t take away the sting of the Fiesta Bowl. But it’s a nice consolation prize.

 

Irish legacies Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara may have big brothers who played for Brian Kelly, but they earned scholarships on their own. 

Classmates Jarron Jones and Romeo Okwara will turn over the reins to their younger brothers, linebacker Jamir Jones and defensive end Julian Okwara. The younger duo’s commitments felt all but inevitable throughout this recruiting cycle—even if that wasn’t always the case.

Jones had to come to camp to earn a scholarship. Having played quarterback and tight end as a high school standout in Rochester, the defensive staff had to see how he moved before they could find a position for him to play.

Similarly, Okwara’s journey to Notre Dame shouldn’t be taken for granted. While his older brother leaves Notre Dame the team’s leading quarterback sacker, Julian has a better natural pass rush skill-set than the 2015 team-leader.

“Julian can separate himself in a way because he has an elite initial movement and speed that Romeo has had to try and develop,” Mike Elston said in Okwara’s Signing Day video. “Romeo has the size and the power and the aggressiveness, but Julian can really add value for us right away.”

Kelly talked about how important it was to not just land this duo, but to have them already understand what the journey is that lies ahead.

“We didn’t recruit them because their brothers were here. We recruited them because we thought they were players that fit here at Notre Dame that would be very successful,” Kelly said. “Obviously it helps when their brothers have a great experience here and really enjoy their Notre Dame experience as a student and as an athlete, so that helps you in the recruiting… those kids really fit and can stand on their own two feet.”

 

Even without Demetris Robertson in the fold, Notre Dame’s receiving class is a group to watch. 

You want productivity? Throw on a highlight tape of Javon McKinley. You want an intriguing set of physical tools? Look no further than Chase Claypool. You want a sleeper prospect who out-performed every elite prospect who came to the Irish Invasion camp? Then your man is Kevin Stepherson.

Most of the attention on Signing Day was the fate of 5-star receiver Demetris Robertson. But the trio of athletes that’ll reload the receiving corps is a group that deserves recognition even without an additional infusion.

McKinley provided the day’s only scare when his smart phone struggled to send his signature via electronic fax. Claypool sent his national letter of intent in the day after scoring 51 points on the basketball court. And Stepherson is already taking part in team workouts in Paul Longo’s strength facilities, getting a jump start with the spring semester and 15 practices as the Irish try to figure out what life looks like after Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

After Fuller left campus early on the back of two record-setting two seasons, Kelly said his staff has become more and more comfortable with the fact that his skill players need to develop quickly—especially with the allure of the NFL just ahead.

“If you’re really that good, you may not be here very long, and we hope that you’re here for four years and you stay, but you’ve got to be ready to compete,” Kelly said. “So our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately.”

That’ll happen whether or not Robertson is a part of this group.

 

Amidst significant transition on both the coaching staff and recruiting office, Notre Dame managed a Top 10 class. Expect things to only get better from here. 

Let’s go back to Signing Day 2015. Within 24 hours of Brian Kelly’s press conference, he was dealing with two major changes—recruiting coordinator Tony Alford was out the door to Ohio State and Kerry Cooks was headed to Oklahoma. Two aces on the staff were gone, forcing the Irish to not just replace long-time staffers, but to find new area recruiters for the state of Texas and Alford’s stronghold in Florida.

Kelly brought in first-year college assistant Todd Lyght to work with defensive backs. He tapped the school’s rushing leader Autry Denson to handle the backs and duke it out in Florida. Mike Sanford shook up the offense as Bob Elliott moved into an off-field position. But perhaps just as important as those moves, Kelly turned over the administrative reins to Mike Elston, who moved into a recruiting coordinator position he had filled for his boss back at Cincinnati.

Elston had to reorganize a staff that saw relationships walk out the door and reboot a recruiting effort that saw significant changes behind the scenes. And in short order things got back on track and have progressed to the point that the Irish are ahead of the game, setting junior days and summer camp dates earlier than ever.

For those paying attention, they’ve noticed the improvements. Notre Dame has paid more attention to messaging—staffers more active on Twitter. There have been improvements on Instagram, Facebook and Vine—platforms that might sound like gobbledygook to grownups, but are critical pieces to a year-long recruiting effort. That should help this staff press ahead in 2017, a recruiting class that already has five members.

“With that team that we’ve put together, we’re not going to look back. It’s only going to get better,” Kelly said.

It was Elston that engineered the equipment truck visit to Savannah, a late-game recruiting move that drew a lot of attention to Notre Dame. It was recruiters like Denson who went to Alabama and got a visit out of Ben Davis, a Crimson Tide legacy who gave the Irish a much longer look than anybody could have expected. And it’s no surprise that a former Pro Bowler and first-round draft pick like Lyght was able to reel in a large group of defensive backs eager to learn from a guy who was a clear success story.

“I think each and every year, you hope that this group is the best group you’ve ever recruited,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping for that again.”

 

Faxes in: Liam Eichenberg

Liam Eichenberg
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LIAM EICHENBERG
Cleveland, Ohio

Measurables: 6’6″, 280 lbs.

Accolades: 4-Star, Under Armour All-American, 2015 MaxPreps first-team All-American, 2015 American Family Insurance All-USA Ohio, AP All-Ohio Division I first-team.

Impressive Offers: Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee

Projected Position: Offensive tackle.

Quick Take: Another offensive tackle with sky-high potential, Notre Dame snatched Eichenberg out from under Urban Meyer’s nose, bringing in yet another blue-chipper for Harry Hiestand to mold. More of a developmental project than Kraemer, Eichenberg’s upside could be just as lofty, especially after some time in a weight room and on the practice field.

What he means to the Irish: With numbers at tackle on the light side, Eichenberg won’t be asked to get on the field, but he might start his career in the two deep behind Mike McGlinchey. That could take away a redshirt if things go wrong, but the view from behind McGlinchey is a good spot for him, learning behind another talented athlete who came to campus as a developmental prospect but will enter his senior season (McGlinchey has two years of eligibility remaining) as a legit NFL prospect.

Eichenberg has the same kind of ceiling. He’ll just need to keep improving—something that he’s shown after a strong Under Armour All-American week in Orlando.

Obligatory YouTube clip: