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Barnett’s gone: What’s next for Notre Dame at quarterback?

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Blake Barnett made it official Wednesday night, stepping away from his Notre Dame commitment. Via a statement made on Twitter, Barnett said the following:

“I am officially de-committing from the University of Notre Dame and opening up my recruitment. I want to thank the University and the coaching staff for allowing me the opportunity to attend such a prestigious university.”

Reached via text by Jake Brown of Irish Illustrated, Barnett said he was no longer considering Notre Dame, making his commitment to Oregon seemingly inevitable. After committing to the Irish last November, Barnett went from being rock solid to the Irish 48 hours ago to dropping the school completely.

“Notre Dame has stayed recruiting me,” Barnett told Rivals all the way back on June 2. “They stayed on it because they know schools come around especially this time of year when recruiting starts to pick up. They have to be aggressive sometimes, to be honest.”

You can never say never in recruiting. But at this point, expect the Irish to make some quick moves as they reevaluate their quarterback options. After scouring the internet the past 24 hours, let’s walk through some of the other options the Irish staff might consider exploring.

 

Travis Waller
Servite (Anaheim, CA)

Long considered a favorite of Oregon’s, the smart money is pointed to Waller as Notre Dame’s next choice at quarterback with Barnett likely heading to the Ducks. Mike Denbrock and the Irish coaching staff have spent a ton of time at Servite, so they should know Waller.

At 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, Waller has offers from Alabama and more than a few other elite programs, and while he’s a lesser-rated quarterback than Barnett, he’s in the same stratosphere. Expect the Irish to head back to Troy Niklas’ alma mater to check Waller’s interest.

 

Deondre Francois
IMG Academy (Orlando, FL)

Considered by many to be a Florida State lean, BlueandGold.com’s Tom Loy tabs Francois as a potential target for the Irish. With offers from the Seminoles, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Miami and a whole slew of others, Francois hardly feels like a consolation prize.

At IMG, Francois is working with former Heisman Trophy Winner Chris Weinke, which likely has people thinking that Florida State is a foregone conclusion. But Weinke played his prep football at Cretin-Derham Hall, a school with great connections to Notre Dame, so we’ll see what happens.

 

Brandon Wimbush
St. Peters Prep (Jersey City, NJ)

Wimbush is committed to Penn State, the quarterback of choice for James Franklin’s first full Nittany Lions recruiting class. But there’s a lot of things that are great fits for the Irish and Wimbush, especially the Jesuit-based education, dual-threat skill-set, and the Irish friendly Garden State.

Wimbush literally committed to the Nittany Lions less than a month ago, so it’s hard to tell if this is just a dart thrown against the board. But the Under Armour All-American has an impressive set of offers and would likely listen to the Irish staff, especially considering Christian Hackenberg’s stable place at Penn State.

 

Brady White
Hart High (Santa Clarita, CA)

Catching up with the South Bend Tribune, Tom Lemming tabbed Arizona State target Brady White as a guy that Notre Dame could kick the tires on. While he’s listed as a pro-style quarterback, White’s got the type of mobility Todd Graham likes, and both Graham and Brian Kelly tend to see the same type of virtues in quarterbacks.

White just notched an invite to The Opening and is still alive in the Elite11 competition. He committed to Arizona State in early May, just after landing an Oregon offer. The Sun Devils have a commitment from quarterback Bryce Perkins from local powerhouse Chandler, but Perkins also projects to succeed at either wide receiver or another skill spot if he can’t play quarterback. Who knows what that means, but White could accept an Irish house call.

 

Sheriron Jones
Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley, CA)

Multiple ND-centric sites are saying Jones is on Notre Dame’s radar, so who am I to say that he’s not. At almost 6-3 and with a 4o-yard time dash that’s a reported 4.6, he’s the type of dual-threat guy that on paper makes sense. With offers from Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and Arizona, he’s got the pedigree  and ability according to other coaches that run a similar style to Notre Dame’s.

It’s crazy to think that after losing out on Barnett, the Irish could throw out offers to 4-5 kids within a 50 mile radius of Barnett. But that gives you an idea of just how important holding your ground in Southern California really is.

 

Somebody Else’s Quarterback

Let’s be serious. There’s no love lost in recruiting. So if the Irish go chase after somebody else’s quarterback, Irish fans will be just fine with it, even though there’s all sorts of grousing about Barnett’s decision to turn his back on South Bend after spending the past eight months pledging his undying support for the Irish.

(That’s recruiting, folks!)

But expect to hear from Matt LaFleur and Mike Denbrock as the Irish work to get as many promising quarterbacks on campus as possible, with the Irish Invasion camp now less about Barnett interacting with other commits, but now about a possible audition for intriguing prospects.

Other names floated by those that cover recruiting more closely than me: Lamar Jackson of Boynton Beach, Florida, current Washington commit Jake Browning, Boise State commit Brett Rypien, Georgia commit Lorenzo Nunez.

(Heck, is Bubba Starling sick of hitting .188 in A ball yet?)

 

Sit This Cycle Out

It might not be a bad idea to sit this recruiting cycle out at quarterback. With a limited class size, the Irish still have Everett Golson for both this year and next, four years of eligibility for Malik Zaire and four years for DeShone Kizer.

Barnett was likely pitched at Oregon the idea of watching Marcus Mariota work his way to the top of the NFL Draft and then compete for the starting job immediately. That’s not the case at ND, where three scholarship quarterbacks are still on the depth chart for Barnett’s freshman year.

Getting a gap in there might not be the worst thing in the world, though Kelly has talked about wanting to take a quarterback every recruiting cycle. That’s mostly to protect for transfers, which is essentially what Barnett’s subtraction weeds out.

This also might be a good time to hit the 2016 prospects hard, doing their best to close rising junior Jacob Eason or fellow SoCal elite signal caller Malik Henry.

 

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
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Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”