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.

 

 

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.

Five things we learned: Signing Day 2016

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a call during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA College football game against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. Kelly has agreed to a six-year contract to stay on as coach at Notre Dame through 2021, the school announced Friday, Jan. 29,2 016.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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There were no last minute defections. No roller coaster recruits or down-to-the-wire decisions. Heck, there were no fax machines—with Notre Dame ditching the office dinosaur for a wireless, smart phone option.

Brian Kelly inked another Top 10 recruiting class on Wednesday. And he did so in decidedly uneventful fashion.

“It’s awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career,” Kelly said.

So while Kelly and the Irish staff hold out hope that 5-star talents Caleb Kelly and Demetris Robertson still decide to spend their college careers in South Bend, the 23-man class announced Wednesday was another Top 10 effort and a step in the right direction for a program on very stable ground.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s staff continued to focus on rebuilding the secondary and rushing the passer. 

Yes, Brian Kelly saw what you saw—a group that struggled getting to the passer or to field a nickel or dime personnel grouping. So they countered that in the best way they knew how: By continuing to stockpile talent.

Notre Dame added seven defensive backs and four edge defenders in the cycle. They include safeties Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill and cornerbacks Julian Love, Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn. Perhaps just as important is the impression some of these defenders made in their time on campus, with Kelly pointing to Elliott and Studstill’s work during summer camp really making them must-have recruits.

“Jalen Elliott competed like no player that I have seen since I’ve been coaching in a camp setting,” Kelly said. “Same thing with Devin Studstill. His skill level was of corner-like ability but had the size of the safety, and so our guys went right to them early on, and that was a focal point because we got a chance to see them up close and personal.”

At defensive end, the Irish welcome 5-star recruit Daelin Hayes, getting him on campus as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He’s joined by former Alabama commit Khalid Kareem, the strongside counterpart that is an early candidate to see the field, especially as the staff looks for someone to spell Isaac Rochell for a few snaps. Longer-term prospects include a few speed rushers—Julian Okwara (younger brother of Romeo) and Ade Ogundeji, a long-limbed, below-the-radar edge rusher.

“We’re pretty excited about the potential for some guys in this class that can answer some four-man pass rush needs that we do have,” Kelly said.

 

It may not be the biggest group, but Brian Kelly is excited about his offensive line—especially the guys he pulled from Ohio State’s backyard. 

Three recruits in the offensive line class point to a big 2017 at the position. But the three the Irish did sign—guard Parker Boudreaux and tackles Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer—have Kelly very happy.

“Parker Boudreaux has that physical presence inside like, and I’m not comparing him, but he’s a Quinton Nelson in terms of size and physicality,” Kelly said. “And then two edge guys with Liam and Tommy on the outside. Those two kids are as good as you’re going to find in the country, and couldn’t be more excited to have two kids from the state of Ohio, from two great Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Cincinnati Elder from the state of Ohio.”

Both Eichenberg and Kraemer were priority targets for Urban Meyer and company, with neither wavering after committing to Notre Dame. Kraemer was Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year and an Army All-American. He’ll be able to step into the two-deep immediately, capable of playing up front if the Irish need him. Eichenberg more than held his own at the Under Armour All-American game and has a high ceiling, especially as he learns the game under Hiestand.

It doesn’t take away the sting of the Fiesta Bowl. But it’s a nice consolation prize.

 

Irish legacies Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara may have big brothers who played for Brian Kelly, but they earned scholarships on their own. 

Classmates Jarron Jones and Romeo Okwara will turn over the reins to their younger brothers, linebacker Jamir Jones and defensive end Julian Okwara. The younger duo’s commitments felt all but inevitable throughout this recruiting cycle—even if that wasn’t always the case.

Jones had to come to camp to earn a scholarship. Having played quarterback and tight end as a high school standout in Rochester, the defensive staff had to see how he moved before they could find a position for him to play.

Similarly, Okwara’s journey to Notre Dame shouldn’t be taken for granted. While his older brother leaves Notre Dame the team’s leading quarterback sacker, Julian has a better natural pass rush skill-set than the 2015 team-leader.

“Julian can separate himself in a way because he has an elite initial movement and speed that Romeo has had to try and develop,” Mike Elston said in Okwara’s Signing Day video. “Romeo has the size and the power and the aggressiveness, but Julian can really add value for us right away.”

Kelly talked about how important it was to not just land this duo, but to have them already understand what the journey is that lies ahead.

“We didn’t recruit them because their brothers were here. We recruited them because we thought they were players that fit here at Notre Dame that would be very successful,” Kelly said. “Obviously it helps when their brothers have a great experience here and really enjoy their Notre Dame experience as a student and as an athlete, so that helps you in the recruiting… those kids really fit and can stand on their own two feet.”

 

Even without Demetris Robertson in the fold, Notre Dame’s receiving class is a group to watch. 

You want productivity? Throw on a highlight tape of Javon McKinley. You want an intriguing set of physical tools? Look no further than Chase Claypool. You want a sleeper prospect who out-performed every elite prospect who came to the Irish Invasion camp? Then your man is Kevin Stepherson.

Most of the attention on Signing Day was the fate of 5-star receiver Demetris Robertson. But the trio of athletes that’ll reload the receiving corps is a group that deserves recognition even without an additional infusion.

McKinley provided the day’s only scare when his smart phone struggled to send his signature via electronic fax. Claypool sent his national letter of intent in the day after scoring 51 points on the basketball court. And Stepherson is already taking part in team workouts in Paul Longo’s strength facilities, getting a jump start with the spring semester and 15 practices as the Irish try to figure out what life looks like after Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

After Fuller left campus early on the back of two record-setting two seasons, Kelly said his staff has become more and more comfortable with the fact that his skill players need to develop quickly—especially with the allure of the NFL just ahead.

“If you’re really that good, you may not be here very long, and we hope that you’re here for four years and you stay, but you’ve got to be ready to compete,” Kelly said. “So our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately.”

That’ll happen whether or not Robertson is a part of this group.

 

Amidst significant transition on both the coaching staff and recruiting office, Notre Dame managed a Top 10 class. Expect things to only get better from here. 

Let’s go back to Signing Day 2015. Within 24 hours of Brian Kelly’s press conference, he was dealing with two major changes—recruiting coordinator Tony Alford was out the door to Ohio State and Kerry Cooks was headed to Oklahoma. Two aces on the staff were gone, forcing the Irish to not just replace long-time staffers, but to find new area recruiters for the state of Texas and Alford’s stronghold in Florida.

Kelly brought in first-year college assistant Todd Lyght to work with defensive backs. He tapped the school’s rushing leader Autry Denson to handle the backs and duke it out in Florida. Mike Sanford shook up the offense as Bob Elliott moved into an off-field position. But perhaps just as important as those moves, Kelly turned over the administrative reins to Mike Elston, who moved into a recruiting coordinator position he had filled for his boss back at Cincinnati.

Elston had to reorganize a staff that saw relationships walk out the door and reboot a recruiting effort that saw significant changes behind the scenes. And in short order things got back on track and have progressed to the point that the Irish are ahead of the game, setting junior days and summer camp dates earlier than ever.

For those paying attention, they’ve noticed the improvements. Notre Dame has paid more attention to messaging—staffers more active on Twitter. There have been improvements on Instagram, Facebook and Vine—platforms that might sound like gobbledygook to grownups, but are critical pieces to a year-long recruiting effort. That should help this staff press ahead in 2017, a recruiting class that already has five members.

“With that team that we’ve put together, we’re not going to look back. It’s only going to get better,” Kelly said.

It was Elston that engineered the equipment truck visit to Savannah, a late-game recruiting move that drew a lot of attention to Notre Dame. It was recruiters like Denson who went to Alabama and got a visit out of Ben Davis, a Crimson Tide legacy who gave the Irish a much longer look than anybody could have expected. And it’s no surprise that a former Pro Bowler and first-round draft pick like Lyght was able to reel in a large group of defensive backs eager to learn from a guy who was a clear success story.

“I think each and every year, you hope that this group is the best group you’ve ever recruited,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping for that again.”