Blake Barnett

Mailbag: Barnett, Commitments, Paying Players and more

7 Comments

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.

 

 

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)
Getty
9 Comments

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.

Irish A-to-Z: Grant Blankenship

Notre Dame v Syracuse
Getty
6 Comments

Notre Dame’s junior defensive end has an unclear status entering his third season in the program. Suspended by Brian Kelly this spring after playing minimal snaps as a sophomore, the Texas native already had an unclear path to the field even before you consider his status as a member of the team and student at the university.

After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Blankenship struggled to make progress after adding the mass needed to play on the strong side. With the depth chart at defensive end already in question, Blankenship is a true unknown entering 2016.

 

GRANT BLANKENSHIP
6’5″, 278
Junior, No. 92, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A late-riser on the recruiting scene, Blankenship turned down an offer from Charlie Strong to stick with his commitment to Notre Dame, his favorite program as a child. An early target by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, and he stuck with Notre Dame even after Diaco departed for UConn.

Not highly rated, Blankenship fell outside the 250 recruits on 247’s composite.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, making 12 tackles including one TFL. Didn’t play against Navy or LSU. Made three tackles against Syracuse.

Sophomore Season (2015): Appeared in three games, making one assisted tackle. Played a season-high 10 snaps against UMass.

 

WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEAR

Blankenship’s participation took a step backwards. He looked like a potential redshirt until he played in garbage time. Partial credit, at best. Nobody gave Rochell and Day a break.

It’s too hard to project Blankenship as a 30-snap-a-game contributor. But if he’s forced into action, the experience he got last season will come in handy. More likely, Blankenship will be part of an expanded front seven depth chart, and will make it easier to keep guys like Isaac Rochell and Sheldon Day fresh.

As a second-year player, he and Andrew Trumbetti have a chance to both make big steps forward this season. If either can help a pass rush that needs to win more from base packages, it’ll be huge for the defense. Expect new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore to get this through to Blankenship, who likely derives fuel from being overlooked, something he certainly was last season.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

We’ll know a lot more about Blankenship’s future when the Irish enroll in summer school. If he’s there, it’ll signal that there’s a road back onto the team. If not, it’ll be another washout at defensive end, a position that’s been very difficult to keep together.

At this point, barring some remarkable change to his production or the depth chart, there doesn’t look like much of a road to playing time for Blankenship, at least not with Isaac Rochell on the roster in front of him.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Very unclear.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Blankenship was a part of a different program come next fall or buried on the depth chart at Notre Dame. The one reason for optimism is the position he plays. There’s opportunity at defensive end, especially if you can rush the passer.

Blankenship hasn’t show that ability yet. Part of that came from gaining a ton of weight between his freshman and sophomore seasons. The other part of it was scheme—he was recruited by Bob Diaco to play a different type of end.

Let’s get Blankenship out of the doghouse and back onto the field before we look for optimism.

 

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

 

This week’s episode of Blown Coverage features me pitching John Walters on the perfect three-year solution for Notre Dame’s QB conundrum. And a bunch of other stuff. Enjoy. 

Even with talent drain, Irish can be CFB Playoff contender

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 01: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on from the sidelines during the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at FedExField on November 1, 2014 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
25 Comments

Brian Kelly’s next football team might have less talent than the group that produced seven of the first 103 picks in the NFL Draft. But it might have a better chance to make it to the College Football Playoff.

It’s a trendy thought lately. The kind of thing you do when it’s May and we’re still a long way away from any football this fall.

But there’s good reason to be bullish on the Irish. And SBNation’s Bill Connelly providing the thinking man’s rationale for the optimism last week when he unveiled his preview of the 2016 Fighting Irish.

The entire preview is very much worth your time, but here’s the synopsis:

  • Brian Kelly is an excellent coach. (Sorry complainers.)
  • Whoever wins the quarterback job is going to be really good.
  • An offensive line that’ll reload.
  • Tons of skill talent.
  • A defense trending in the right direction.
  • A good close game team.
  • A schedule that’s more conducive to winning.

Again, go read the article. (You’ll be smarter for it.) But after crunching many of the variables, here’s Connelly’s mighty optimistic conclusion:

There isn’t a sure loss on the schedule. In fact, there’s only one game in which Notre Dame has a worse than 59 percent chance of winning. But operating in close games will be critical. That means finding go-to receivers for the quarterback in times of need, continued quality from Yoon, and a defense that improves up front despite turnover and holds steady in the back despite freshmen on the two-deep.

All of the “ifs” are realistic, and while the defense still has plenty to prove, I’m not going to doubt Kelly after last year. If I had a poll vote — and thank goodness I don’t — I would seriously consider Notre Dame in the preseason top five.

With Notre Dame’s two regular-season losses coming in the final moments of road games to top-five teams, this isn’t the type of “Here Come the Irish” headline that invaded our psyche and ruined the enjoyment of seasons under Bob Davie, Ty Willingham or Charlie Weis, the later still finding his way into the schlock headlines thanks to Notre Dame’s latest tax return release.

But Brian Kelly’s consistency has turned proclamations like Connelly’s into a decidedly uninteresting one. And at the same time that we go inch-by-inch through the roster, it’s helpful to see what the Irish look like from a 30,000-foot view—a better vantage point to evaluate progress than the perch most of us inhabit.

So while all previews in May expire by the time the calendar hits August, let’s go through the bullet points (as appropriated by me, not Connelly) just to add to the discussion.

 

Brian Kelly: elite coach. (No question mark) 

Right now, that’s a fairly undeniable assertion. And for those of you who’ll haggle about the definition of elite or harken back to a two-point conversion chart or the selection of the team’s defensive coordinator, this might be the best question to ask yourself: “After Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, who else do you want running your program?”

 

The quarterback battle.

If there’s something that I find reassuring, it’s the fact that Connelly hasn’t lost the plot on this. Whoever wins the quarterback battle will play at a very high level. Or they won’t play at all.

As Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford showed last season, the Irish will coach up a quarterback and get very productive play out of them. (Unlike what happened at Ohio State last year.) And with Brandon Wimbush putting the redshirt on, Notre Dame has one of the country’s most dangerous weapons waiting in the wings.

 

The offensive line should be good again.

Remember all those data-driven pieces about minutes-played correlating to excellent offensive line play? I still believe them. But I also think the Irish will produce a very, very productive offensive line even with three new starters, thanks to two starting NFL linemen on the left side of their center and Alex Bars likely on his way, too.

 

Those skill players? They’ll be good.  

I’m bullish on the ground game. I’m high on the young talent in the secondary. And I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to a receiving corps that I think is still a little more unsorted than I’d guess this staff wants.

Torii Hunter should lead the unit. After that, I’m not sure what to expect.

The move of Alizé Jones to the “W” (boundary side) receiver gives you an idea that this staff is preparing to go forward if Corey Robinson steps away from the game because of concussions. It also might point to an offensive direction that’s more similar to 2012, a physical approach that could put more tight ends on the field and would allow the Irish to lean on a very strong running game and a quarterback who’ll be able to take deep shots down the field.

 

The Defense?

How you improve after losing headliners like Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Elijah Shumate and KeiVarae Russell is hard to comprehend. But I think this unit will have more versatility, as injuries and certain personnel limitations really hamstrung a unit that was maddeningly inconsistent at times.

Can they improve against the run? I think the answer starts with Jarron Jones and Jerry Tillery, two stout guys who’ll hold up in the trenches in front of Nyles Morgan. That’ll serve as the critical building block to the scheme, with pieces added and subtracted to make sure the Irish can be multiple and match-up with opponents on a weekly basis.

I’m punting on this topic (for now), while acknowledging that improvement on this side of the football is critical to success and the biggest unknown heading into the season.

 

Good play in tight games

Remember those heart-stopping finishes in the Weis era? Or that dreadful feeling you got every time a game got close and an opponent mounted a comeback?

For some, it’ll never go away. But under Brian Kelly, the Irish have been a very good close game team—even considering the two tight losses last year.

I appreciate the comparison Connelly made in his piece to a baseball team with a good bullpen. When the Irish have been at their best, they’ve been able to control the game late with solid quarterback play, a dependable running game and a defense that held up.

Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome play an important part in this process, too. The specialist duo will help control field position and make critical kicks, with Yoon putting together a really respectable freshman season and Newsome showcasing a booming leg.

 

The Schedule

I haven’t fully dug into the intricacies of the schedule, but just at face value it’s a much less daunting climb that years past. The Irish get Michigan State and Stanford at home (and under the lights) and replace Clemson with North Carolina State. Army comes back onto the schedule and Navy loses the majority of its team, including star Keenan Reynolds.

There is no shortage of coaching pedigree that Brian Kelly will face. Mark Richt, David Cutcliffe, and some young rising talent like Justin Fuente and Clay Helton in a regular season finale in Los Angeles.

But you can only win the games you play, and you can only play the teams on your schedule. (Thanks, Yogi.) As Connelly mentioned, there’s no “sure loss” on this slate, and I think Notre Dame will be favored every time they take the field next year.

 

Jurkovec’s commitment as solid as it can get

Phil Jurkovec 247
247 Sports
12 Comments

In a sport like college football, not much is certain. Coaching changes, recruiting battles, it is a week to week sport in nearly every sense of the word.

So when coveted 2018 quarterback Phil Jurkovec chose Notre Dame last week, many kept their enthusiasm tempered. Especially with memories of prospects like Blake Barnett fresh in their minds.

But Jurkovec seems to have his priorities aligned. And a recent comment to Matt Freeman of IrishSportsDaily.com should have Irish fans feeling very good about their young QB-in-waiting.

For as long as Notre Dame has recruited, teams have recruited against Notre Dame. And in recent years, the sales pitch has changed—not from worries of a head coach or assistants being fired, but rather the chance that they may leave for greener pastures.

In this case, you have to feel good that Jurkovec seems to understand the realities of the situation. Because even if Brian Kelly is in the NFL or Mike Sanford is running his own program, the Golden Dome will still be standing.

Of course, it doesn’t do anything to guarantee Jurkovec will be in South Bend come 2018, but it certainly points to a kid and family having done their due diligence before making such an important decision.