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Irish A-to-Z: Conor Hanratty

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When Notre Dame offered legacy lineman Conor Hanratty, many raised an eyebrow. With sons of former stars like Tregg Duerson and Jake Golic doing little with the full ride many perceived as a nod to their famous predecessors, Hanratty had the profile of a player whose best attribute was his father, former Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty.

But after working his way up the depth chart, the Connecticut native showed that he earned his way onto the Irish roster. And in 2013, Hanratty played a valuable role as a reserve on an Irish offensive line battered with injuries.

Entering 2014 as a key backup at guard, Hanratty looks like another valuable contributor on Harry Hiestand’s offensive line. That’s all you can ask for from an offensive line competing for a job with this loaded depth chart.

 

CONOR HANRATTY
6’4.5″ 309 lbs.
Senior, No. 65

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Hanratty was a three-star prospect who didn’t make it on the national radar playing in New Canaan, Connecticut. But he had some interesting offers, including opportunities to play at Boston College, Cal, Clemson, Florida State, Iowa and Stanford before closing his recruitment early by picking Notre Dame in April.

Those are the type of offers that go to a big-time prospect, not a guy with just a big-time father. On Signing Day in 2011, Kelly talked about some of the traits that he and his staff saw when offering Hanratty, things we’ve seen in his limited action so far.

“What we liked about Conor was somebody that we believed over a period of time as we developed him he was going to be a really good football player for us. We liked his tenacity. He really got after people,” Kelly said.  “He’s going to have to get stronger, going to have continue to work hard. Those are the things that we think we can teach him. He’s got some of those unique, innate abilities.”

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2012): Played in six games as a reserve offensive lineman, seeing action on special teams as well as in a backup role. Played against Navy, Michigan, Boston College, Wake Forest, USC and Alabama.

Junior Season (2013): Played in the final six games, making four starters at right guard in place of an injured Christian Lombard at right guard twice and then in place of Chris Watt against Navy and in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.

 

UPSIDE POTENTIAL

For as much as we rave about the ability of rising sophomore Steve Elmer, Hanratty took multiple starts from him once Lombard went down. And with both Lombard and Chris Watt injured late in the year, Hanratty and Elmer saw the field together, a telling sign that Hanratty had worked his way into the long-term plans of Harry Hiestand and Kelly.

Hanratty doesn’t appear to be the type of player that was readymade for college football. But plenty of programs develop their front line, and it was interesting that Wisconsin was one of his offers, as they routinely take players and spend a few years getting them ready with training table and weight room time.

Far from the most physically impressive lineman on the roster, Hanratty still has traits that work at either guard position, where he’ll likely spend this season as the primary backup. And if Mike Golic was able to spend time in an NFL training camp, Hanratty is certainly capable of that, giving him the leg up in a crowded depth chart to start once Lombard departs after this season.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

In all likelihood, Hanratty is the next man in at guard for the Irish in 2014. But he’s also probably the sixth lineman, with Steve Elmer the first to kick outside to tackle if someone goes down there as well. So that puts Hanratty in a valuable position, the No. 1 replacement for Lombard and Elmer, while also getting onto the field if anything happens to Ronnie Stanley or Mike McGlinchey.

With depth like this, it’s worth seeing how Kelly and Hiestand split snaps. Do they make sure 2013 contributors like Hanratty and Matt Hegarty stay in rhythm, taking regular snaps and subbing in? That’s harder to do at center than guard, especially with Nick Martin locked in and healthy.

Hanratty is likely what life will look like going forward at Notre Dame. With the Irish recruiting up front among the best in the nation, it should routinely take two or three years to make it to the starting lineup. That makes for a longer development cycle and wait for players, but will serve the team better in the long run.

 

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Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
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Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”