Notre Dame v Air Force

Spring Practice: Practice 11 breakdown


A little Friday practice video gives us a good look at the rapidly improving wide receiver depth chart. After relying almost solely on TJ Jones last season, it looks like the Irish are going to be able to spread the field and pick their poison in the passing game.

Will Fuller looks ready to take a step forward. So does Corey Robinson, who just keeps getting better and better, with hands that look like Velcro. Amir Carlisle and CJ Prosise are intriuging options in the slot, while Chris Brown is another good option on the edge, a player that’ll have to fight for reps when DaVaris Daniels returns to the program.

The move of Onwualu likely confirms the confidence the Irish have in the players out wide. And while they’ll need to fill a really large vacancy left behind by Jones, the team’s MVP last season, it looks like they’ll be able to do it.



0:15Jack Nolan sporting a nice zip up for his intro. Just as important, he reveals that the Irish did indeed get outside for two practices last week. For a team committed to fixing their special teams, it’s likely that both outdoor sessions gave Kyle Brindza and the return men (could that be a potential band name?) a chance at getting some much needed live work in.

Jack gives us the bad news that we’re out of practice reports, so we’re going to be blind until next weekend’s Blue-Gold game.

0:34 — A nice reminder: Set your DVR for Monday, April 7 at 6:30 p.m. ET for a special “Strong and True,” an inside look at spring practice on the NBC Sports Network.

0:46 — Welcome back, Nick Martin. The Irish’s starting center broke down the team for drills on Friday, wearing a helmet and jersey, but not in full gear. Multiple practice reports had Martin running the No. 1 offense when the team went to tempo drills, a nice sign that the rising senior is back and healthy after late season knee surgery.

1:03 — We see the Irish pass rush drills work on stripping the football, with tackling dummies armed with footballs. It’s noteworthy that defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs are all doing the tackling.

1:12 — That’s a good look at Everett Golson‘s fastball, as we go right over his shoulder as he throws a bullet to Corey Robinson on the curl route. Malik Zaire follows it up with a perfect ball to Greg Bryant, who releases late out of the backfield and crosses the imaginary linebackers.

1:19 — A cool drill to enforce staying low has Anthony Rabasa (56) matching up against tight end Durham Smythe (80) in blocking drills.

1:24 — Welcome back, Devin Butler. The rising sophomore cornerback was working out with the Irish in helmet and jersey. Butler took to social media to express his pleasure in getting back on the field three months removed from surgery, something that I’m sure made Brian Kelly happy.

1:28 — After watching (and rewatching) these videos all spring, there’s a distinctly different look to CJ Prosise than the other receivers on this roster. Physically, Prosise is a gigantic guy, with a lower body that looks like it should be on a linebacker.

He does a nice job running a speed out, though juggles the ball before coming up with it.

1:32 — Golson fires downfield to Corey Robinson and Cole Luke is up to the task, breaking up a vertical route.

1:36 — Now THAT’S the Amir Carlisle I thought the Irish were getting. The slot receiver looks mighty dangerous in the open field, cutting back against the grain against the reserve Irish secondary and getting loose.

Carlisle is a high character, highly skilled athlete. He might not be a true tailback, but there’s room in this offense for his skill set, especially as the Irish transition back to a speed/spread attack.

1:44 — If we were making Steve Elmer highlights this spring, not too many reps would take place against Sheldon Day. Day gets inside Elmer’s length and powers the guard back, all but dominating another rep.

Day could catch a lot of teams by surprise next season, wreaking havoc on the inside of the offensive line as he’s allowed to attack up field.

1:46 — Welcome to the party, James Onwualu (17). The converted wide receiver steps into the hole and lays a good stick on Greg Bryant, joined in the backfield by Michael Deeb.

1:48Mike Heuerman (9) breaks an out route off right in front of Elijah Shumate (22). Then Amir Carlisle does the same in front of Eilar Hardy.

1:53 — Good rep by Chase Hounshell (50), who works against Mike McGlinchey before being passed inside to Conor Hanratty. If you’re an Irish fan, you should be rooting for Hounshell, who has had horrendous luck as he’s had to work his way back from multiple shoulder surgeries that have kept him off the field for the better part of three seasons.

1:56 — McGlinchey kicks Ishaq Williams outside, easily deflecting the Irish’s defensive end.

1:57Chris Brown (2) hits the brakes and shakes off Connor Cavalaris before ripping down field on the deep route. You’re going to need some good protection to hit on that throw, but it’s a home run shot that Irish fans have been looking for from Brown since he did it against Oklahoma.

2:04 — On the roll, Zaire throws a perfect deep ball to Will Fuller (7) down the sidelines, connecting for a big play against the back-ups in the secondary.

2:07 — That rush of air you just heard? That was Ben Koyack (18) blowing by Nicky Baratti (29). If Koyack is given the chance to match up with a safety down field, Kelly and Mike Denbrock will like that opportunity.

2:10 — Speaking of open field, getting the ball to Greg Bryant down field might not be safe for Irish fans battling high blood pressure. Bryant eliminates space between him and Eilar Hardy, breaking off his route as Hardy bails out and makes an easy catch.

I’m having a hard time wondering how a defense can defend that play, and think (or hope) this could finally be the year where we see the Irish offense utilize their speed out of the backfield in the passing game.

2:16 — Not hard to see the difference between Cam McDaniel and Bryant. Matthias Farley stays in his backpedal before breaking nicely on the ball, making a great play for an interception.

2:22 — Robinson hits the brakes and makes a nice catch in front of Jalen Brown (21). The senior cornerback could see the field more with Rashad Kinlaw’s dismissal.

2:27Romeo Okwara drops the BOOM! on Hunter Bivin (70). It’s still really weird seeing anybody else wearing Zack Martin’s number, especially in a collision like that.

That’s an impressive rep by Okwara.

2:31 — That’s the Playstation 3 version of Greg Bryant. Wait, that’s the REAL version of Greg Bryant. Great cut and ability to accelerate and get up field. That one looked like it could’ve gone the distance.

2:34 — He might not have all the size in the world, but Justin Utupo (53) is a disruptive player. He might be able to do some damage on the interior of the defensive line, especially taking limited snaps.

2:37 — That’s a lot of power on display by Jarron Jones, pushing Mark Harrell back into the imaginary quarterback.

2:40Isaac Rochell (90) gets underneath John Montelus (60) and pushes the big guard backwards. That’s a solid rep by Rochell, who could play a lot of football this season.

2:43 — Great catch, Chris Brown.

2:46Tarean Folston (25) shakes and bakes Max Redfield (10) split out wide. Folston looks pretty natural split wide as well.

2:50 — One of our first looks at Andrew Trumbetti (98), going up against starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Not bad, kid.

2:56 — Zaire connects with Brown behind linebacker Michael Deeb and beneath the safeties. A nice downfield gain for the offense.

3:00 — Another look at Colin McGovern (62) another good looking rep. He loses his balance a little late against Anthony Rabasa, but recovers nicely.

3:03 — That’s a pattern we haven’t seen too often by Will Fuller. From the looks of it, Josh Atkinson hadn’t either. Nice move to shake open for the easy catch.

3:07 — That’s more like it, Steve Elmer.

3:12 — Even a jersey grab can’t help Jalen Brown against Corey Robinson, who makes a ridiculous circus catch for a big gainer.

Big Bird is going to be a good one.





Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.


Irish suffer first recruiting defection with Donovan Jeter


After five losses, Notre Dame suffered their first consequence of a poor season in recruiting. Donovan Jeter, a four-star defensive lineman, has stepped away from his verbal commitment.

Jeter made the news public on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to send Irish fans into a tailspin.

The sky isn’t quite falling. Jeter called the Irish his top school, likely just getting ahead of the news that he’ll start taking official visits to other schools, something Notre Dame’s recruiting staff has worked well to slow down the past few cycles. Also helping the Irish’s cause is his proximity and connection to fellow Western Pennsylvania prospects David Adams, Kurt Hinish and Josh Lugg.

Still, after making it through last recruiting cycle without a defection, finding a way to win back Jeter is priority No. 1, a versatile defensive lineman who had an elite offer list and picked Notre Dame after basically dismissing them over the summer. The Irish have done it before, getting Stephon Tuitt back in the fold after Georgia Tech sold him on staying home. They won a battle with current defensive coordinator Greg Hudson when he was at Florida State for Aaron Lynch, though Lynch only lasted a season in South Bend.

Usually a decommitment—especially this time of year—isn’t ground for a news story. But as all eyes focus on Brian Kelly and his grasp on the Irish program, this serves as ammo for those looking for cracks in the foundation.


Jeter posted a Tweet that essentially confirmed my speculation. And also should serve as a reminder—DO. NOT. TWEET. AT. RECRUITS.