Mailbag: Barnett, Commitments, Paying Players and more

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In the ultimate “my dog ate my homework excuse,” I just spent three hours answering all of these questions and then WordPress erased it.

So if I missed your question, it had a great answer that was just nuked into the internet’s wasteland.

Let’s get the Blake Barnett stuff out of the way (again):

shaunodame: How solid of a commit is Blake Barnett? There’s a lot of talk on these boards about him but he’s still a long way from signing day 2015. Also, is he scheduled to be an Early Enrollee?

dudeacow: I can answer that question. I was listening to ISD’s Power Hour podcast where they referenced this question and apparently Barnett status is currently (and I paraphrase) “I’m not even listening to other schools. I’m not even thinking of it. I am going to Notre Dame.” Seems pretty solid to me.

dudeacow: And right after I write that I read the news that he’s visiting Oregon. Why don’t you just let the expert answer your question.

bernhtp: Do you see other fallout from Barnett’s de-commitment among other recruits/commits since he was supposedly recruiting others? We saw no effect from Elijah Hood’s flip to NC on others.

Did anybody see Barnett’s departure coming? Not me. But then again, that’s the beauty of recruiting. You never see it coming. After talking to some people behind the scenes, Barnett had been looking around for a few weeks. (After all, you don’t just get on a plane and arrive in Eugene without a plan.)

Does losing Barnett hurt? Yep. This comparison meant something different before the decommitment, but Barnett reminded me a lot of a high school Dayne Crist. Golden Boy Californian, big arm, NFL size, and great wheels.

We’ll see how he turns out, but if the three offers that ND sent out to quarterbacks Travis Waller, Deondre Frenchois and Jarett Stidham mean anything, they’re hardly crying in their pillow and watching rom-coms.

 

mattnef: Where did the word “commit” come from in the recruiting process? This is definitely not the write word. Keith – I think you should start a campaign to pick a better word. “Inclined” “Leaning” not sure what the right term is.

Man, my first answer for this question was way better. But I agree — I don’t like the word commit, especially when there’s nothing hold either side to the agreement. My friends over that The Solid Verbal probably have coined the best version, but I’ve always kicked myself for not doing something clever about verbal commitments on the blog.

What do you think of this:

GOT HIM (For Now): Recruit X.

 

don74: First offensive play vs. Rice. Deep throw to Brown?

I don’t think Chris Brown’s gonna be on the field. (My starting trio at wideout is DaVaris Daniels, Amir Carlisle and Corey Robinson.) While I spent a few days trying to think of something clever to run, I’d just hammer it off the left side with Tarean Folston and take off into tempo offense.

(Come to think of it, last year’s first series went pretty well — a long run for Carlisle and then bombs away with Rees over the top.)

 

onward2victory: In your opinion, is there any reason that Sheldon Day can’t be as good as Aaron Donald? Seems to me that they are a similar size and athletic ability.

Other than the fact he’s not as good?

Day has a high ceiling. The staff loves him and he’s poised for really big things this season. (I’ve already written about it.) But just because two guys are roughly the same size doesn’t make them the same football player. Donald put up absolutely insane numbers last season. He could be the next Warren Sapp.

I’d be happy if Day became the next Trevor Laws.

 

ndlv:Keith, pretend that you have been put in charge of the NCAA (not the boring parts, just making the major decisions). What would you do about the following?

1-Should players get paid? If so, how much?
2-Should players not get paid, but be allowed to make money through other means (e.g., advertisements), like olympic athletes?If #1 occurs, does this benefit or hurt ND?

This is being debated right now in the NCAA vs. O’Bannon case, and candidly, I don’t want to watch any of it. It feels like too many people are tugging at strings on your favorite knit sweater. Things can only go badly from here.

I think starting the debate at “Should college athletes be paid,” is a pretty naive place to start. First off, they are. A scholarship athlete at Northwestern essentially earns $75,000 a year. And he’s capped at a 20 hour work week. That’s if he’s a starter or bench warmer. He’s on a guaranteed one-year deal that is essentially five years if you don’t screw up.

As the cost of education soars, the value in these scholarships only goes up. And while everybody talks about the difficulties making things work outside the confines of the financial aid, there’s also a Pell Grant that nets kids an extra $5,600 a year. I couldn’t earn that in a summer of work, even when I was hauling rebar.

At the same time, it’s a difficult thing to balance the absurd TV contracts and the fact that none of that money trickles down. That the NCAA –and its member schools — got so institutionally arrogant that they’d be cool with videogames, selling jerseys with favorite player numbers or autographed photos when a player gets ruled ineligible, things were bound to come to a head.

I don’t know a single Notre Dame fan who started cheering for the Irish because of Jimmy Clausen, Louis Nix or a lesser player like Kerry Neal or Marcus Freeman. So the idea that we cheer for the proverbial name on the front and not the back shouldn’t be lost in this debate.

The college me would’ve probably dumped a beer on the head of the old man typing this, and I know as a college athlete (not one on scholarship), it felt like we weren’t getting the best part of this deal. But while the idea of letting athletes advertise or be sponsors could make sense, it makes for some mighty murky waters. And it’d only help out .1% of college athletes.

Notre Dame isn’t giving up football, regardless of what happens. So the fact that it’s providing one of the best educations in the country with an elite traditional football experience is a good place to start.

 

twebb2: Hey KA, especially in light of Barnett’s departure, can you explain Kelly’s comment in the off-season about only wanting to carry three QBs? Especially when the depth chart can turn upside down unexpectedly, in an instant (see ND’s 2013 season)?

I must have missed that statement, because Kelly also always wants to recruit a quarterback in each class. And as we saw with the immediate interest from Deondre Francois, Travis Waller and Jarrett Stidham, this spot won’t be too hard to fill up.

That being said, recruiting quarterbacks is tricky. And ultimately, your depth chart is only as good as your QB1. We saw that the past couple years with Tommy Rees at the helm and Everett Golson being taken off the field.

A conversation I had a few months ago with Yogi Roth still strikes me: A quarterback is the only guy in a football program who can get everybody — even the secretaries — fired. So I think Kelly and his staff know how important it is to continue recruiting the position.

 

newmexicolife: Keith what is the status of Ty Isaac relative to his recruitment to Notre Dame? The last I heard he wasn’t able to talk to schools that play against USC because of a policy the school has to that effect. However, I also heard USC missed a deadline rendering the policy moot. Can and is Notre Dame actively recruiting Isaac?

Sorry I was late on this one. Isaac is going to Michigan. ND would’ve probably taken him, but seeing Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston in front of you doesn’t make as appealing of a destination as the backfield Michigan is trotting out there.

 

mediocrebob: What are the chances that if BK doesn’t feel he’s getting it done calling the plays that he reaches out to some of the posters on nbc sports talk “Inside the Irish” to take over the duties for him? If you had to choose one of the anonymous posters on here to lead the Irish offense, who would your choice be, Keith? Why?

How could I choose? No parent has a favorite child, do they?

That said, after hosting live blogs for five seasons, I’m not sure I want any of the crazies that post on that think with their hand on the proverbial trigger.

 

mediocrebob: On a serious note, what are your feelings on the QB “race”? I feel it’s EG all the way as an outsider but you have been up close with these guys. What are your honest thoughts on what BK is creating between EG and MZ?

BK is making sure the life blood of this program is competition. And the fact that Malik Zaire worked so hard to push Golson is a great thing. That being said, I’m with you. There’s little chance that a healthy and eligible Everett Golson isn’t the Irish’s starting quarterback.

 

iamgolden4life: Hey Keith, I was just about to crack a cold one and I got to thinking who might be the best possible recruits to impress @ the “Irish Invasion” on the 20th? Also if you have heard anything on any new recruits who might be attending the camp?

I’m finalizing a talent list of the prospects that’ll be in South Bend and will do a big write-up on it. Needless to say, it’ll be a very elite group and the Irish recruiting staff should be commended for putting it together.

 

irishdog80: Why is Willingham on the Selection Committee for the Playoffs after successfully running Washington into the ground with an 0-12 season and failing in his attempt to lead Notre Dame to an 0-12 season? And can he be impartial to ND?

I think every person on that committee will have a level of bias. And I’m pretty sure that Ty won’t have it out for Notre Dame or Washington, who also fired him.

(The checks cleared, right?)

I think having a former head coach who has actually be inside the game in the last decade is a good thing.

 

martyhealy:Keith, One subject that seems to get little coverage during this off season is how the new playoff format with four teams vs the old format of two teams. My thought is that there might be at least 8 to 12 teams with realistic chances vying for the 4 spots in the final week or two of the season. I believe LSU went to the BCS (two team) game 6 or 7 years ago with two losses. Therefore odds would appear that at least one team will likely have two losses. Any thoughts how ND might fit if their is improvement from last year?

I don’t think a two-loss team is getting in unless there aren’t a lot of one-loss teams. But I do think that a team with one more loss with trump a team with one less and it’ll be the first step towards chaos… which will be awesome.

Ultimately, the selection committee is going to force schools to play better schedules. And Notre Dame is well positioned for that to happen. The Irish have the best non-SEC resume that they can ask for. Now they need to win 10 or 11 games and see what happens.

dudeacow: What position does Jaylon Smith play? He apparently moved inside this spring, but in a 4-3 there’s only one inside backer (Mike) and he and Grace (our only definite MLB) are listed at different spots (Will and Mike, respectively [I think]). Has Jaylon actually moved inside? Is he playing both sides of the field? Or has he just been moved to a more pass-rushing and run-stopping oriented position? Where does Nyles Morgan fit in? Also, what’s the difference between the Sam, Will, and Mike backers, and who do you see starting at each position? I don’t expect you to answer all of these, but please give some of them thought.

This is a terribly written question, but I know what you’re getting at. And again, I had a really long answer typed out here that got nuked. But here’s the ultimate rub on Brian VanGorder’s defense: Nobody knows what it is yet.

So calling Smith a Will, Sam, Dog, Cat, Whatever. It won’t matter until we see the Irish take the field.

That being said, it’s clear that Smith is going to shift inside, putting himself into the middle of the action. And it’s also clear that he’s not coming off the field. But I also think that the Irish are going to be running a 4-2-5, not a classic 4-3, with Smith and Joe Schmidt the guys who have trust of the Irish staff right now.

Ultimately, why would Kelly tell us any more? He has the benefit of keeping things secret for the time being.

jerseyshorefan1: Keith, use your prognosticating skills and tell me which of our 2014 opponents:
Gives up the most points to the Irish. Navy
Gives up the least points. Stanford
Gives up the most/least rushing yards. Most: Rice, Least: Stanford
Gives up the most/least passing yards. Most: Purdue, Least: Florida State
Puts up the most/least points. Most: Florida State, Least: Purdue
Puts up the most/least rushing yards. Most: Navy, Least: Syracuse
Puts up the most/least passing yards. Most: Arizona State, Least: Navy
We’ll all take a crack at guessing and compare notes in December and the person with the most right out of 12 wins something. What do ya say?

I spent a solid 10 seconds a question answering those, so how about no… unless I look smart in the end.

 

 

Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

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This space has mentioned a few times the dearth of returning sacks among Notre Dame’s defensive line. It is a pertinent fact—no returning Irish defensive lineman recorded a sack in the 2016 season—but it fails to mention the flipside of that.

Most of Notre Dame’s defensive linemen had few, if any, opportunities to rush the passer in 2016. Perhaps at the top of the list of those who should bring down the opposing passer a few times this fall, sophomore Daelin Hayes has laid claim to a starting rush spot through five spring practices.

“The athleticism is what obviously stands out,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s extremely athletic, he’s fit physically, 250 pounds and very strong.”

These facts are, after all, the reasons Hayes was a highly sought-after five-star recruit according to rivals.com.

“It’s the football knowledge, learning the techniques at the position in which he plays is really the piece,” Kelly continued. “It’s just learning right now for him. This is the time to do it, in spring ball.

“Squeezing down on a tight end when the back is away. Wrong-arming the puller. These are all football terms and schemes that are a bit new to him. We have to be patient with him. He’s an explosive athlete. There’s going to be some mistakes along the way, and I’m okay with that as long as he’s learning.”

Without much depth pushing for playing time behind him, Hayes will have the opportunity to make, and subsequently understand, those mistakes. Seniors Jay Hayes (no relation) and Andrew Trumbetti are mired in competition for the other end spot, while sophomores Julian Okwara, Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Khalid Kareem may have even more development ahead of them than Daelin Hayes does.

Incoming freshmen Kofi Wardlow and Jonathon MacCollister will join the fray in the summer, but for now, the younger Hayes has his chance to impress with his natural gifts while absorbing the intricacies of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s defense.

Hayes is not a complete unknown. While Okwara made four tackles last season in 11 games and Kareem appeared in four games, Hayes saw action in every contest, finishing the season with 11 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

“He’s an athlete,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said last week. “He’s on the edge in a two-point stance. He’s not a trained, put-your-hand-on-the-ground defensive end. He played running back in high school. He can see things better in a two-point and can diagnose quicker. He’s able to be more productive.”

It may be accurate to mention no returning Notre Dame defensive linemen tackled a quarterback for a loss last season, but it is more precise to also include the Irish have possibilities of changing that trend.

SPEAKING OF THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Notre Dame is nearly as thin at defensive tackle as it is at end. Junior Jerry Tillery leads the way with senior end-converted-to-tackle Jonathan Bonner lining up next to him thus far. Their reserves: Oft-concussed senior Daniel Cage, senior Pete Mokwuah and junior Micah Dew-Treadway with junior Elijah Taylor out for the spring with a foot injury.

Theoretically, junior Brandon Tiassum is also in the mix, and three freshmen (Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailo-Amosa and four-star Darnell Ewell) will join the group in the summer.

And maybe, just maybe, perhaps, possibly … Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano could walk onto campus alongside those freshmen. Pagano visited Notre Dame the first week of March, and was due to look at Oklahoma and Arkansas the next two weekends, respectively. Instead, Pagano reportedly cancelled both of those visits Monday.

Pagano does still have a visit to Oregon scheduled for April 21. Until indicated otherwise, it may be prudent to presume Pagano hopes to land as close to his Hawaiian home as possible.

RELATED READING: 1 Day Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive line

Recruiting success continues with OL Dirksen, class’s 12th commit

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Even in the doldrums of spring practice, Notre Dame’s recent recruiting success continues. Rivals.com three-star/scout.com four-star offensive lineman John Dirksen offered a verbal commitment to the Irish on Saturday, bringing the 2018 class to 12 commitments.

The 6-foot-5, 290-pounds Dirksen (Marion High School; Maria Stein, Ohio) joins consensus three-star prospect Cole Mabry (Brentwood H.S.; Brentwood, Tenn.) as the offensive linemen thus far among the 12. In three of the last four years, Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has pulled in four recruits, with 2015’s two (Trevor Ruhland, Tristen Hoge) as the exception. This recruiting cycle could again bring a limited offensive line haul, given the likely limits on the class’s size.

While any and all current class of 2018 team rankings should be taken with many grains of salt—there are 318 days between today and National Signing Day, after all—Dirksen’s commitment solidifies the Irish hold on the No. 3 class, per rivals.com. Other recruiting services place Notre Dame even higher.

Dirksen chose Hiestand and the Irish over offers from Michigan State, Iowa State and Boston College, among others.

 

Holmes out for spring; Jones & Jones shining

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Notre Dame’s spring continued over the weekend, and is all too often the case with football, that led to an injury. Early enrollee running back C.J. Holmes will probably miss the rest of spring practice due to a separated shoulder, Irish coach Brian Kelly announced following Saturday’s practice.

“We’ll get an MRI and know a little bit further on Monday once that calms down a little bit,” Kelly said. “We’ll get a picture of that and see. He had an open repair on that same shoulder his sophomore year in high school.”

Behind three backs, including two with experience, Holmes was unlikely to see playing time in the backfield in 2017.

Of those three backs, sophomore Tony Jones, Jr., is the unknown after preserving a year of eligibility last season. In limited practice viewing, however, Jones has only impressed. He has caught Kelly’s eye, as well.

“He’s 225 pounds, can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, [is] assignment correct, and can run elusively and can get into the second level,” Kelly said. “What does that equal? He’s a pretty good back.

“Obviously he was noticeable today in his play and he got some work with the first group as well. He wasn’t just getting second-team reps.”

Jones may be getting some first-unit exposure, but expect him to remain behind junior Josh Adams in the depth chart. Considering Jones’ style is somewhat comparable to Adams’, whereas junior Dexter Williams presents something of a change of pace, Williams should see more action than the sophomore, as well.

MORE PRAISE FOR ALIZE JONES
Junior tight end Alizé Jones—rather, Alizé Mack, per his Twitter account—has taken the lead in spring’s race of who reaps the most sound bite accolades. In complimenting Jones, who missed last season due to an academic suspension, Kelly also managed to laud new offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“I think Chip is doing a terrific job with [Jones],” Kelly said. “He’s got a good relationship. He knows how to rise him up when he needs to and scold him when he needs to. Alizé needs a little bit of that.

“He’s virtually un-coverable in certain areas of the field. I don’t care at any level. You can’t cover him. He just has that kind of talent. The one that I think stands out to me in the few days is he’s committed himself to being a blocker and playing physical. If he continues to do that, we’re going to find ourselves with a lot of tight ends on the field.”

Presumably, Jones would join graduate student tight end Durham Smythe in two tight end sets. It should be remembered, Long has historically shown a preference for such formations, and with Notre Dame’s plethora of options at the position, Long’s tendencies have no need to change. For that matter, Long had some praise for Jones this weekend, as well.

“Alizé can be as good as he wants to be,” Long said Friday. “…He’s growing up each and every day. Great joy to coach, and that whole group is. He doesn’t want to let that group down. There’s no question he can be as good as he wants to be.”

Friday at 4: 40-yard dashes and absurdity

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Of all the absurd things the football world often obsesses over, the 40-yard dash may be the most useless of them. Yes, it even beats out assigning star rankings to 16- and 17-year-olds, though not by much.

For now, let’s look past the rest of the inane Draft intricacies, such as former Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones feeling pressured to increase his vertical jump by four inches. (He did, jumping to 24.5 inches in Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday.) This scribe does not have an excess of time to spend discussing Jones’s outlandish wingspan if this piece is to post by its intended, though unnecessary, 4 p.m. ET deadline.

The 40-yard dash … No football play begins from a sprinter’s stance, yet it may be the factor most crucial to a low 40 time. Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer posted a time of 4.83 seconds in the NFL Combine earlier this month. For context’s sake, Kizer ran .07 seconds slower than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did as a draft prospect in the 2004 combine.

Roethlisberger has had himself an excellent career, and his ability to shrug off 300-pound defensive linemen is a testament to his athleticism. Put Kizer and Roethlisberger in the open field together, though, and Kizer would presumably have outrun Roethlisberger at any point of the two-time Super Bowl champion’s career. In Indianapolis, however, Roethlisberger did a better job of getting his hips through his first couple strides of the heralded 40-yard dash.

Here, watch Kizer train for the 40, the most-hyped measurement of his combine.

“The ultimate goal is to have yourself in the best position to have your body weight back in those legs so you can create enough torque to get out as quickly as possible,” Kizer said. “A guy who is as long as I am, with long limbs that I have, I’ve got to make sure that my weight distribution is in the best position for me to get out and catch up to some of those quicker guys who are a little lower to the ground.”

What part of that sounds applicable to football? The 40 turns Kizer’s size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) into a negative. He worries about the angle of his knees. After his throwing session at the Thursday Pro Day, Kizer summed up the draft evaluation process even more succinctly.

“This process is very different in the sense that the way you look productive in the combine and in a pro day is very different from what productivity actually looks like out on the field.”

Well put.

More pertinent to the actual game of football, Kizer’s completion percentage in the staged workout could have been higher.

Then again, he was throwing to the likes of former Irish receivers Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle and former running back Jonas Gray. Reportedly, the only contact Gray and Kizer had before the session was Kizer emailing the former New England Patriot the planned series of routes.

The NFL Draft, where Gmail becomes a necessity.

Let’s do away with the 40. If we insist on keeping it, let’s do it twice, once from a standing start and once from a running start. Those would simulate actual football movements: A receiver getting off the line, and a ballcarrier breaking away and trying to outrun the defense.

Asking DeShone Kizer to mimic Usain Bolt is an exercise in futility, idiocy, absurdity.

Cue end of rant.

Why cite the Roethlisberger time? Many, including Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, have readily compared Kizer to Roethlisberger this spring.

The most notable line of that scouting report (scroll down to No. 32) may be its final one, echoing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s sentiments from earlier this week.

“The mystery is whether he can regain his assertiveness,” Burke writes. “If so, he could turn out to be the 2017 class’s best QB. The team that drafts him will be taking a leap of faith.”

A leap. Not a dash.

For more Notre Dame Pro Day results, click here.

And with that, this just may make the 4 p.m. posting. You know what to do.