Blake Barnett

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.

 

 

Spring positions to watch for revelations: DL & WR

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 05: Jerry Tillery #99 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tackles Jerrod Heard #13 of the Texas Longhorns for a loss of yards during the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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If quarterback, rover and the early enrollees could be Notre Dame fans’ springtime Christmas thrills, what positions present as potential spots of coal?

Three former Irish players were invited to next week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis: quarterback DeShone Kizer, defensive tackle Jarron Jones and defensive end Isaac Rochell. Losing two consistent defensive linemen leaves this year’s unit with some questions. Jones and Rochell combined for 100 tackles, 18 for loss and three sacks last season. Notre Dame’s returning defensive linemen combined to total 111 tackles and only 5.5 tackles for loss. To be clear, sacks are not included in that latter list because no returning defensive linemen recorded one. Among the returnees, junior tackle Jerry Tillery (37 tackles, three for loss) and senior end Andrew Trumbetti (26, 0.5) contributed solidly alongside the two NFL prospects.

This dearth of known and reliable linemen is a large part of why the potential transfer of Clemson graduate defensive tackle Scott Pagano is so intriguing. Pagano would immediately be a favorite to start, and if not that, at least rotate in heavily.

For now, though, Pagano remains a theoretical

By the end of spring practice, who already on campus will emerge alongside Tillery and Trumbetti in the Irish front? Senior ends Jay Hayes (10 tackles, 0.5 for loss) and Jonathon Bonner (nine tackles) seem the most-likely candidates … aside from former four-star recruit and now rising sophomore Daelin Hayes. In his debut season, D. Hayes finished with 11 tackles.

Look for senior tackle Daniel Cage (10 tackles, 0.5 for loss) to establish himself as Tillery’s immediate backup this spring, but that spot in the rotation will be up for competition all over again once four-star tackle Darnell Ewell (Lake Taylor High School; Norfolk, Va.) arrives on campus in the fall. His size and quickness should play right into new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s system.

Equanimeous and Who?
Not only did Notre Dame bring in a graduate transfer at receiver in former Michigan wideout Freddy Canteen, but it has also already received the commitments of two four-star receivers in the 2018 recruiting class. The continued emphasis on the position reflects the lack of bona fide game-breakers currently on the roster.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown established himself as the top Irish threat in 2016, and he should shine only further with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush targeting him. Classmates often amplify each other’s success, simply due to the added shared reps innate to joining practice at the same time. With Torii Hunter, Jr., now pursuing a professional baseball career, who will prevent the secondary from focusing all its energies on St. Brown?

Canteen will not be with Notre Dame in the spring, as he does not graduate from Michigan until April. That will give a clear shot for the likes of juniors Chris Finke, C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin, and sophomores Kevin Stepherson, Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool to establish themselves. Did that say “clear” shot? It should probably read, “a chance to separate from the crowd.”

If a genuine threat does not line up opposite St. Brown, his explosiveness will likely be greatly reduced by focused defensive scheming. Wimbush will need another target before 2018.

Of course, here is where one should acknowledge the millennia-tested fact: Coal under pressure becomes diamonds.

2016 Notre Dame’s win expectancy was 7.2
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson named the Irish as his team most likely to dramatically improve its record in 2017. Johnson’s thinking is based, at least in part, on Notre Dame’s second-order win total having been 7.2 in 2016, compared to the four wins the Irish actually walked away with. That discrepancy was the largest in the country.

Second-order win totals reflect how many points a team should have scored and allowed based on offensive and defensive stats. In theory, this shines a light on how luck and chance factored into results. Naturally, losing seven games by one possession will often be reflected by a higher second-order win total.

“Notre Dame’s win-loss record belied a solid, if imperfect, squad that just couldn’t pull out close games…” Johnson writes. “The Irish may not get back into College Football Playoff contention in 2017, but they’re bound to post a few more Ws because of reversion to the mean.”

Admittedly, the small sample size of a football season reduces the applicability of metrics such as second- and third-order wins when compared to baseball and basketball.

Jones becomes Mack
A quick piece of housekeeping: Apparently junior tight end Alizé Jones has changed his name to Alizé Mack.

While Notre Dame’s roster may not reflect that change yet, it is reasonable to expect it will after its next update. The football program has consistently respected the intricacies of players’ name preferences. Tai-ler Jones becoming TJ Jones jumps to mind, for example.

Anyways, hopefully noting Mack’s name change here might reduce some confusion down the line. Probably not. How many readers possibly read to the actual bottom of an article? But hey, in good faith.

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…)