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Mailbag: Leaving early and early predictions edition

May 9, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT

Moshood Adeniji, Stephon Tuitt AP

A good set of questions from you guys. Let’s get to them:

@ontario_bill: KA, with the ascent of Martin his senior year to becoming a 1st round pick, do you think ND guys will see that and be more ikely to stick around? I can’t help but think about the difference 1 more year could make for Tuitt, Nix and Niklas.

I know one person who hopes so: Brian Kelly. After keeping six-star recruits Manti Te’o and Michael Floyd, the odds were in the favor of a few tough coin-flip decisions on whether to stay or go. But in the case of Stephon Tuitt, it sure feels like his decision to go pro cost him millions of dollars.

The farther Tuitt slides down draft boards the less guaranteed money he’s going to get. Sure, he’ll be earning money a full year earlier than he would’ve had he stayed in school. And yes, he’ll be a year closer to his second contract, but the difference in money between a top ten pick and a guy that goes in the middle of the second round is sizable.

If fear of injury were the biggest issue, Tuitt was eligible for an insurance policy that could’ve guaranteed him millions if he were hurt during his senior season at Notre Dame. But to think that jumping to the NFL after a super disappointing junior season (where he put a lot of bad reps on tape for NFL talent evaluators) made sense, he must’ve had someone whispering sweet nothings into his ear.

@mfmitchell88: do you expect to see more up tempo offense with this year’s personnel and new OC?

I do. But then again, we’ve been hearing that every spring since Brian Kelly arrived. But why I think this year will actually be different isn’t necessarily Mike Denbrock or the receiving personnel, but rather the fact that both of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks can run a version of the offense that utilizes the zone read running game.

@steincj36: Any chance we can progress reports on the turf installation? And has there been talk of paint schemes for the field, or will it stay ND traditional?

There won’t be any progress until after graduation weekend, when the natural grass will be torn out and installation will begin. As for the paint schemes — there’s been plenty of talk about it. None of it coming from inside Notre Dame.

But a note on the “traditional” schemes. You’d be surprised at some of the looks Notre Dame displayed in the past. It hasn’t always been hashmarks and diagonals.

irishdodger: Keith, with the least experienced team of the Kelly Era, what are the “musts” in getting this team to 10 wins?

A few musts:

* Win the easy ones: (Rice, Purdue, Syracuse, Navy)
* Win most of the ones they should: (Syracuse, North Carolina, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville)
* Win half of the ones that are coin flips: (Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, and USC)

That alone gets you to ten wins. But for a few less macro “musts:”

* Dictate terms offensively.
* Improve Red Zone scoring.
* Don’t give up any 30+ yard touchdowns
* Fix special teams coverage units.

@TheCaptain11: I don’t know to be pumped for this new defense or scared to death. Which way do you lean?

I’d be more pumped than scared. Just because this will be a completely different version of Notre Dame’s defense, with smaller, faster, more attacking schemes compared to the heavyweight techniques utilized under Bob Diaco. Do I think the group will be better? No, not with the lack of experience up front. But I do think it’ll be more exciting.

But as Owen Wilson said in Armageddon: “I got that “excited/scared” feeling. Like 98% excited, 2% scared. Or maybe it’s more – It could be 98% scared, 2% excited but that’s what makes it so intense, it’s so… confusing. I can’t really figure it out.”

bernhtp: With good coaching and development, you can turn a bunch of three and four star recruits into a very, very good football team, but it seems hard to break into the elite group (i.e., those making the playoffs) without getting your unfair share (3-5) of five stars as powerhouse teams like Alabama do every year. Furthermore, many of the five-star recruits ND has signed, didn’t last (e.g., Lynch, Kiel, Neal, Vanderdoes). Does this limit the ceiling for the program?

That’s a question that probably requires a few months of research, not 45 minutes. But I can’t help but think your knowledge of Notre Dame’s success rate with five-star prospects far outweighs your knowledge of how other program’s five-star players pan out, making this one a little bit tougher to prove. Cruise through the past few Rivals classes. For as many guys that “made it” and played to that talent level, there are just as many that you never heard from again.

I’m of the mind that Notre Dame lands more than its share of five-star players. And I also think that while landing elite prospects is critical to success, the teams that become consistent playoff competitors won’t be doing so on the strength of elite recruits, but rather by the strength of the middle of their roster.

Washouts like Lynch, Kiel, Neal and Vanderdoes sure don’t help a program. But nobody holds a success rate like you’d expect or hope.

mtflsmittyI’m not crying wolf here, and I realize ranking of recruits has plenty of flaws. But I’d like your thoughts on the health of our 2015 recruiting efforts.

A few observations:
- At this point in the 2014 recruiting cycle ND had secured commitments from eight recruits. One 5-star, five 4-star, and two 3-star.
- The 2015 class seems not to be shaping up as well. Zero 5-star, four 4-star, and four 3-star players. Until yesterday, we had gone for five months without anything but 3-star commitments.
- I expect we’ll have a smallish class this year (16-19 recruits). Therefore, I would have expected us to be more selective than usual. I also don’t see us in play with any 5-star guys.

Are we having issues, or am I making an issue out of nothing?

Smitty — Deep breaths, brother. Get back to me in August. Notre Dame isn’t taking a full freight class, likely capping this group in the high-teens. So while this group might not be shaking out as quickly as some of the earlier efforts Kelly and his staff put together, it’s also a bit more surgical.

almostbrian: Are fans coming into September down to earth regarding expectations? Or with Golson back do they have visions of Championships dancing in their heads? FSU, USC 2.0, Stanford, ASU and Michigan’s one great performance of the year. If they make it to the playoff, I’m dancing. If they make it to the Championship, I’m quite my day job to make and sell busts of Brian “Ditka” Kelley

What the fun of tampering expectations before the season begins? One free tip: Before you get those busts started, make sure you spell check the head coach’s name.

irishdog80: How much of a positive impact will the new turf have on the team both offensively and defensively? Negative impact? During winter weather? In the past, was recruiting negatively impacted by our natural grass field?

Good question. A quick straw poll of players showed almost universal love for the decision to go to an artificial surface. For one, they practice on it already every day. Secondly, it allows the team to actually hold practices in the stadium. And most importantly, it allows the speed and athleticism this roster has to actually be utilized, not held back on a sloppy track.

As for any negative impact, I don’t see it. This isn’t retro 1980s turf that gets slippery (or more slippery than natural grass) in the rain. And nobody was recruiting against Notre Dame Stadium, even if the grass wasn’t up to snuff.

oldestguard: How does a top 10 – 20 football program scout the entire country effectively ? Do they rely on any of the recruiting sites at all ? …or is it strictly in-house ?

I cut down your question a bit, but it’s a good one. Most coaching staff’s utilize some type of outside service. Is it Rivals, Scout or 247? No. But what makes a coaching staff valuable is the relationships they develop around the country. They rely on high school coaches to alert them if they see a great player, and that’s part of the reason they hit the road during evaluation periods, to kick the tires on the well-established prospects and to unearth the guys not yet on the radar.

As for the delicate dance of making offers and accepting commitments, that’s a line that always needs straddling and one that the Irish staff has done a great job on. It’s no secret that Notre Dame has cast a wider net for prospects, but they’ve also had to make sure that they’re able to get in the running for players early, while also making sure they’ll gain acceptance into school.

For the most part, the Notre Dame staff succeeds with honesty. They’ll tell a player where they are on their board, and for the most part kids appreciate the candor. Does it always work out? No. But then again, in recruiting it never does.

  1. getsome99 - May 9, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    Re Tuitt:

    There’s no guarantee that a 4th year would have guarantee him as a Top 10 pick. We’ve seen this backfire on plenty of guys who decided to come back to school for one more season. Tuitt will have every opportunity to contribute right away as a rookie as he continues to develop. A full season in the NFL will be much more beneficial to his development versus another year in college. I don’t see the upside for Tuitt personally to stay in school.

  2. fnc111 - May 9, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    I think ND fans are just disappointed that Tuitt came here and didn’t do that much. Two of his seasons he was non-existent. The Steelers will be the end beneficiaries of his talent. Congrats to him getting rich.

    The reason Bama fans don’t get upset about players leaving early is because their depth is unreal there and said players usually win tons of games and big bowl games before they leave. ND’s studs are leaving early and it’s usually after a disappointing season.

  3. shaunodame - May 9, 2014 at 10:20 PM

    Really feel bad for Louis Nix. I don’t think ANYONE thought he’d go after Niklas. Wow. Congrats to Niklas and Tuitt tho.

  4. getsome99 - May 9, 2014 at 10:51 PM

    Re: Nix

    3rd round picks are pretty much guaranteed a spot on the 53. It’s up to Nix from here to have a great pro career. No shame in being drafted in the 3rd round.

    On the bright side for ND, that’s 4 players drafted in the top 83. We may get 5 in the top 100. Kelly’s doing something right.

  5. ndnphx - May 9, 2014 at 11:09 PM

    Right, getsome. Actually five players in the top 90. Even ESPN took note of that achievement in their coverage. Amazing and impressive.

    Nix teamed with Clowney on Houston’s D-Line? Tuitt whipped into shape by Mike Tomlin? Nicklas a beast in an offensive-friendly scheme, lined up opposite Michael Floyd?

    ‘Domers everywhere in the NFL these days…

  6. getsome99 - May 10, 2014 at 1:09 AM

    I started posting that right as Watt was being picked. A few weeks back, I stated we would have 5 players go in the top 100, possibly 6. Wasn’t sure if it would be Watt or TJ. I still think Jackson, GAIII, and Fox will be selected in addition to Shembo.

  7. ndgoldandblue - May 10, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    “For as many guys that “made it” and played to that talent level, there are just as many that you never heard from again.” Keith, was this a take on Lawrence Taylor’s speech to Willy Beaman in the steam room? Best scene in the movie in my opinion. “Let me tell you something. For every sucker who makes it. For every Barry Sanders, for every Jerry Rice, there’s a hundred n*** you never heard of.”

  8. padomer - May 11, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    It sucks they didnt stay, but what is always good for argument and pride sake is ND player’s success in the NFL. I think for each player drafted, namely tuitt, nix n niklas, they are in the best possible situation to have great pro careers. Bruce Arians will utilize niklas to the max, nix with watt and clowney, and tuitt with the steelers and dick lebeau in general. Good day for ND.

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