Kyle Brindza, Ben Turk

Irish A-to-Z: Kyle Brindza

18 Comments

Entering his final season in South Bend, specialist Kyle Brindza is a valuable asset for head coach Brian Kelly. The team’s kickoff man, placekicker and punter, Brindza is a one-man special teams unit. And the senior-to-be is one of the best in the country.

Expect Brindza to be a preseason awards candidate, deserved for one of the best clutch kickers in college football. Let’s take a closer look at the Canton, Michigan native.

 

KYLE BRINDZA
6’1″, 236 lbs.
Senior, No. 27

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Rarely is there a battle for the signature of high school kickers, but Brindza chose Notre Dame over Michigan. From Signing Day on, Brian Kelly thought the Irish had found the right guy for the job.

“Kyle, we believe, to be the most talented kicker in the country,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “His versatility, in a sense he can do all the jobs. He can kick off. Obviously extra points and field goals, and he’s an outstanding punter. So he gives us such versatility coming in that he can take all of those positions and compete for all of those positions.”

Brindza’s ability to do that after Kelly inherited a roster bizarrely stacked with scholarship specialists. Charlie Weis had awarded scholarships to Nick Tausch, Brandon Walker and Ben Turk… and former walk-on David Ruffer ended up winning the kicking job and a scholarship.

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Year (2011): Saw time in all 13 games, serving as the Irish’s kickoff specialist. Kicked off 71 times and forced 12 touchbacks.

Sophomore Year (2012): Took over duties as placekicker in addition to kicking off. Made 23 of 31 field goals attempted, surpassing John Carney’s single-season record for makes (21) and attempts (28). Made five field goals against USC to help lead the Irish to victory, including a clutch 52-yarder as time expired in the first half.

Junior Year (2013): Added punting to his duties, seeing action in all 13 games as the team’s primary kickoff man, punter and placekicker. Made 20 of 26 kicks on the year, including a school record three of at least 50 yards. Tied the school record with a 53-yard field goal against Arizona State, the same game where he kicked seven touchbacks. Went a perfect 38 for 38 on extra points. Also averaged 41.1 yards per punt.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

It’s hard not to think that Brindza has pro potential as a kicker after seeing the versatility he displayed during his junior campaign. But even if projecting a college specialist’s pro ceiling is difficult, this much is not: Brindza is a key member of the Irish football team.

At this point in his career, Brindza has surpassed the usual status of kickers and punters — he’s a team leader. That’s come from his efforts in the weight room (not many kickers weigh 236 pounds and sometimes lead the team in special teams tackles) and from being one of the most clutch kickers the school has seen.

Expect Brindza’s number to only get better in his final season. The turf in Notre Dame Stadium will no longer be a shaky sod field. He’ll also have another year of punting under his belt, and the confidence to let it fly with improved cover teams. If Brindza is able to improve on things like touchbacks and net punting yardage (not to mention make over 80 percent of his field goals), he’ll have a chance at getting some postseason award attention and maybe a spot in the NFL Draft.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

After watching David Ruffer fail to recapture the magic he had in his penultimate season, don’t expect Brindza to suffer a similar regression. One, he’s got work to do. Too often, Brindza hooked field goals left, like a golfer who comes over the top of his driver. Brindza’s focus on the fundamentals of kicking and punting will continue, with muscle memory hopefully making the exercise more second nature.

In his fourth season in the program, Brindza is one of the most productive members of the highly touted recruiting class from 2011. He’ll also have the faith of his head coach, capable of talking Kelly into giving him a shot to attempt long-distance field goals that most coaches pass up.

Brindza is coming off a single-bowl record afternoon, where he made five field goals against Rutgers in sloppy Yankee Stadium. With artificial turf coming in at home and growing confidence after making the big kicks before, Brindza’s final season in South Bend should be a good one.

 

 

***

The Irish A-to-Z
Josh Atkinson
Nicky Baratti
Alex Bars
Hunter Bivin
Justin Brent

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
4 Comments

When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)
Mark Harrell, Sr* (No Starts, fifth-year available)

*Harrell’s departure is not confirmed, though expected.  

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars, T
Colin McGovern,* G/T
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
Getty
12 Comments

Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

BVG
28 Comments

We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

***