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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.

 

WR Lenzy makes 11th commitment, brings speed to Irish

lenzy
rivals.com
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At what point does an impressive recruiting roll become something more? When does it become a harbinger of things to come, even if not for a few seasons? How many notable commitments in a row establishes a class as special?

If the answer to any of the above is 11 commitments by the end of February, including five within two weeks, then Notre Dame is there following consensus four-star athlete Braden Lenzy’s announcement Thursday evening.

The Tigard High School (Portland, Ore) receiver/cornerback chose the Irish over offers from USC, Oregon and Michigan State, among a litany of others. In all, nine Pac-12 schools chased Lenzy—and a 10th, Washington, had shown interest—per rivals.com.

Lenzy will fit the leading 2018 need voiced by Irish coach Brian Kelly three weeks ago on National Signing Day 2017.

“Elite speed on offense will be a primary goal for us,” Kelly said Feb. 1. “Guys that can change the game on one possession. I think we’ll see that… We want a couple of home run hitters. We don’t care if they’re Darren Sproles’s size. We’re going to come off the board in terms of profile. We want some guys that can change the game on offense with elite speed.”

At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Lenzy is taller than Sproles’s 5-foot-6, but it is still his speed that drew Notre Dame’s interest.

“They made it clear they want me to do kickoff return and use me as a deep threat across the field,” he told Irish Illustrated. “Just being kind of an athlete, similar to what I’ve been doing already in high school, just on a bigger scale with a quarterback that can throw it a lot farther.”

Presuming Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush is that arm in 2018, throwing great distances should not be an issue. Between Lenzy and fellow 2018 commit Micah Jones, covering those distances should be a reasonable request, as well.

Lenzy brings Notre Dame’s class of 2018 to 11, including eight four-stars according to Rivals’ rating system. Current scholarship projections indicate the class will not be a large one, meaning the Irish coaching staff has already garnered the commitments of more than half the class. Once again, though, Kelly’s sentiment regarding recruiting timing should be remembered.

“We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

SWARBRICK’S TAKE ON RECRUITING
Kelly credited Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick with much assistance in securing the country’s No. 13 recruiting class in 2017. A refresher on those comments:

“In a lot of instances, [Swarbrick] had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it’s going,” Kelly said. “There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future.”

Swarbrick did not dispute the factual nature of any of that in an interview with the Indianapolis Star, but he did contest the need for praising what he saw as part of his job, one of the preferred parts of his job, at that.

“I can’t say anything about this year felt all that different,” Swarbrick told Star reporter Laken Litman. “Some asked questions about the future of the program and can we compete for a national championship. And I would talk about the elements of the program we were focused on improving.”

Swarbrick and Litman discussed a number of items in the second-half of the interview released by the Star, including Notre Dame’s facilities, a possible early signing period in football and if the Oct. 8, 2016, game against North Carolina State should have been played. Spoiler: No. Then why was it? Go check it out.

Swarbrick also told Litman he likes to write in his free time.

“I tend to think strategically with a pen in my hand.” Swarbrick added he is currently scribbling away on where he thinks college athletics are headed.

This scribe, for one, would be most interested in skimming those legal pads.

Will Wimbush, Elko and the early enrollees surprise in spring practice?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Fans congratulate Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after he ran for a 58 yard touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.

For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.

Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.

“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.

“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.

In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about… (more…)

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.