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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.

 

Swarbrick talks improvements to Shamrock Series opponents

Shamrock Fenway
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Notre Dame is taking 2017 off from the Shamrock Series. When it comes back, expect to see an improvement in opponents.

With the remodeled Notre Dame Stadium set to be finished in 2017, playing seven home games is a natural fit. But with the neutral-site series set to return in 2018, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has grand plans for improving the series that’s taken the Irish to some iconic venues, but has lacked much punch when it comes to high-profile opponents.

Speaking exclusively with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Swarbrick laid out some grand plans for the revitalization of the game.

“When the opponent and the venue and the place all contribute to the story, that’s when it works the best,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “I still want to maintain that. The difference will be that many more of them now will be led by the opponent.

“Now it can be, ‘I got this opponent.’ Now where can we go with them that works with what we’re trying to do?”

With Notre Dame returning to San Antonio for the second time in the Shamrock Series and repeating an opponent with Army as well, it’s clear that this year’s game checked off some other boxes when it got decided. Swarbrick acknowledged some of the restrictions that have held him back, with the reboot of Notre Dame’s schedule with five ACC games and other television considerations really limiting the team’s options.

“What we’ve been able to do in the Shamrock Series to this point is limit ourselves to games we already had scheduled that we would move,” Swarbrick told Sampson. “It was a very small range of people that we could do these deals without getting into television conflicts. With more lead time we have the runway we need to make these games, the three pieces of it – geography, venue and opponent – come together a little bit more.”

Rumors of new venues aren’t new. Brian Kelly has discussed Lambeau Field before. There’s been talk of a game in Rome. And rumblings of Michigan’s return to the schedule won’t go away.

Just recently Kelly tweeted out a picture from another venue that wouldn’t be too shabby.

But there’s an opening for another step forward for the program and Swarbrick is the right man to lead the change. He’s already led the Irish athletic department through a move to the ACC and helped navigate the “seismic changes” that resulted in the College Football Playoff. With the ambitious Campus Crossroads project near complete this seems like a perfect next project for the head of Irish athletics to take on.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
via Twitter
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.