Louis Nix

Friday notes: Additions, Bowls, Coaches and Departures

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Welcome to our first non-game / pre-bowl weekend. While conference championship games play on and bowl assignments will be coming soon, let’s throw some headlines out to get you to the weekend.

* Members of the Irish coaching staff stayed on the West Coast to recruit after the Stanford game. We’ll see if it has a positive influence on a recruiting class that still needs to add a few pieces, but one name that’s been on the Irish’s radar since the beginning of this cycle is tight end Tyler Luatua.

Things have been fairly quiet with Luatua’s recruitment since he took an official visit to Alabama, where his brother Isaac plays. But after watching the Irish’s success at tight end, and with the news that Alex Welch is likely moving on to explore other opportunities, the longer the Under-Armour All-American waits to make a choice the better.

It sounds like Luatua is expected to make a college decision mid-December. Most in the know expect that decision to make Irish fans very happy.

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Speaking of additions, expect official word to come from Notre Dame very soon on stadium renovations. Over at NDNation, Mike Coffey speculated that the renovation/remodel plans could cost as much as $375 million, a staggering number for a building that was expanded and redone before the 1997 season.

But as we’ve detailed more than a few times here, the purpose of this stadium renovation is more than just adding seats, a videoboard, or luxury boxes. It’s filling a larger purpose,with the university hoping to take its most valuable landmark and use it more than six or seven times a year.

Having heard Jack Swarbrick talk about the purpose of the stadium expansion multiple times, one of the more interesting thoughts he’s expressed is that with the expansion of campus over to Eddy Street, the new center point of the university is Notre Dame Stadium. By building classrooms, meeting space and other all-seasons facilities into the stadium, it turns the landmark into more than just a football field, it’s a building the entire community can use.

Thinking back to an old Father Sorin adage, the only mistake Notre Dame made in their last expansion of the stadium was not building it big enough.

Swarbrick hasn’t revealed whether or not the stadium’s surface will be natural grass or artificial yet. But connecting the dots, it’s hard to expect anything other than FieldTurf being installed if the stadium will be under significant change over the next few years.

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Moving on to the bowl game situation, expect to hear something very soon about an Irish bowl game. As I’ve hinted and heard over the past week or two, I still think the Irish will end up in San Diego, with a good game against a Chris Petersen-less Boise State team in the Poinsettia Bowl.

One source told me that former Irish All-American and current San Diego Charger Manti Te’o has already been talking with the program about potential events in the area. It sounds like the Irish and the Hawaii Bowl wouldn’t be a bad fit either, with Te’o obviously having some experience there as well, with Charlie Weis using the Irish’s appearance in the 2008 bowl game to help solidify their spot with the once heralded recruit.

UPDATE — Just when it looked as if San Diego was a lock, I’m hearing that the Pinstripe Bowl is a serious consideration again. The payout to play in New York is much better, and the draw of heading to Yankee Stadium and the Big Apple isn’t too bad of a consolation prize.

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Moving on to coaches, there’s been lots of talk about finding Chuck Martin’s replacement as offensive coordinator. Right now, I peg Mike Denbrock as the guy most likely to move up the ladder and take the job. But if we’re looking at outside candidates, Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch.com put together this early list:

Among the names that could have interest or emerge are UConn interim head coach TJ Weist, Illinois offensive coordinator / quarterbacks coachBill Cubit, Cincinnati quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw, former San Diego State head coach Chuck Long, Indiana quarterbacks / wide receivers coach Kevin Johns, Wake Forest offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke, and former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

Kelly revealed to CSN Chicago that Denbrock would take the reins of the offense for the bowl game, a nice trial period for the duo that’s already very comfortable working together. But I expect Ernest Jones to slide in at running backs coach, Tony Alford to continue as recruiting coordinator, but to take over wide receivers, and Denbrock to coordinate the unit.

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Lastly, while Louis Nix has made nothing official about his decision to return for a fifth year, the Irish defensive lineman posted a photo on Instagram that might be worth 1,000 words.

If that’s goodbye, it’s certainly a really good one.

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.”