New York Post

Weekend notes: Football just around the corner

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So what did you guys plan for your summer football break? An 83-man (down to 81, thanks to Will Mahone and Nile Sykes) never-ending feature?

If you’re wondering what’s been keeping me up at night, it’s the daily fear that I’ve fallen off pace, with the goal of finishing this feature by mid-August maybe a little bit too ambitious.

But we’re dreamers here at Inside the Irish, so if you can excuse a typo or two (and if you’re still around, it’s pretty clear you can. And yes we are working on it.), it’s a really fun way to learn way more about the 2014 Irish than your buddies.

In case you aren’t caught up, here’s where we’re at. Thankfully, the Irish roster is alphabetically front loaded.

 

The Irish A-to-Z
Josh Atkinson
Nicky Baratti
Alex Bars
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Justin Brent
Kyle Brindza
Chris Brown
Jalen Brown
Greg Bryant
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Amir Carlisle
Austin Collinsworth
Ben Councell
Scott Daly
Sheldon Day
Michael Deeb
Steve Elmer
Matthias Farley
Tarean Folston
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty
Eilar Hardy
Mark Harrell
Jay Hayes
Matt Hegarty
Mike Heuerman
Kolin Hill
Corey Holmes
Chase Hounshell
Torii Hunter Jr.
Jarron Jones
DeShone Kizer

 

There’s still a few more big offseason features planned (gulp), so expect things to heat up around here, especially considering training camp is likely less than two weeks away from starting.

So while we’re getting ready to tackle one more A-to-Z this afternoon and a few over the weekend, let’s take a trip around the interweb, where some interesting articles have popped up this week.

***

Our friends over at Irish Illustrated have some fun features going as well, with senior editor Tim Prister just getting started on his always enjoyable 100 Hunches. Right now we’re cruising through the conference winners, but pretty soon he starts throwing out some gems about the current Irish roster that turn out more often right than wrong.

(We won’t hold picking Alex Wulfeck to win the punting job — or Notre Dame beating Pitt — against him. That’s a big reason why I don’t make predictions.)

Another fun feature from this week is a look back at a few recruits ($) that got away. For a trip down Memory Lane, Prister looks at his film reviews of Tyler Gaffney, Blake Bell, Seantrel Henderson, Anthony Barr and Cody Riggs, proverbial big fish that got away.

We’ll finally get a look at Riggs in an Irish uniform five years after just missing out on him the last go around.

***

If you’re looking for a great benefit to the new College Football Playoff — other than determining the champion actually on the field — it’s that we no longer have to start the season looking at preseason polls. Too often, a school’s reputation heading into the season keeps a team ranked over other squads more deserving.

The only poll that’ll matter won’t be released until October, when the CFP will begin releasing rankings. But the crew over at 247Sports put together an interesting look at what the “consensus” is on Notre Dame’s chances this year, tallying up the rankings from 15 different outlets to lay out the Top 25.

Notre Dame checks in at No. 16. According to 247Sports’ Steve Helwagen. Here’s the Sweet 16:

1. Florida State (14-0 in 2013; 11 first-place votes), 367 voting points
2. Alabama (11-2, 2 first-place votes), 354 points
3. Oklahoma (11-2, 1 first-place vote), 335 points
4. Ohio State (12-2, 1 first-place vote), 315 points
5. Auburn (12-2), 305 points
6. Oregon (11-2), 300 points
7. Michigan State (13-1), 276 points
8. UCLA (10-3), 249 points
9. Stanford (11-3), 230 points
10. South Carolina (11-2), 228 points
11. Baylor (11-2), 221 points
12. LSU (10-3), 217 points
13. Georgia (8-5), 194 points
14. Wisconsin (9-4), 148 points
15. USC (10-4), 146 points
16. Notre Dame (9-4), 117 points

Any worry the Irish have about climbing the polls with wins should disappear, as they are scheduled to face the preseason consensus No. 1, No. 9 and No. 15 teams. They’ll also face off with Arizona State, North Carolina, Louisville and Michigan, all teams that checked in as Top 30 squads.

Difficult schedule? Check.

***

Over at the South Bend Tribune, Tyler James takes a closer look at Notre Dame’s running back commitment Josh Adams. Halfway through his junior season, Adams tore his ACL, significantly changing his career trajectory, not to mention his recruiting ranking.

But Notre Dame was one of the programs that stuck by their offer to the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, and that matter to Adams when he gave the Irish his commitment.

“Notre Dame was one of them that stuck with me the whole time,” Adams told James. “They didn’t give up on me. That was a big factor that they let me recover, improve and get stronger while sticking with me through the process.”

That the Irish stuck with their offer certainly says something about the certainty that’s now associated with torn ACLs, an injury that used to be a far bigger deal. And after talking to some people in the program, while the Irish staff didn’t work him out at the Irish Invasion, they’ve done more than their fair share of due diligence on the injury.

But looking back at the history of Irish running back recruits coming in with a high school injury, and it isn’t too hard to look back at James Aldridge and Armando Allen and see reason for caution.

Aldridge was a five-star prospect who never seemed to get back the elite speed and power that he had in high school before his injury. And while Armando Allen reportedly ran a 4.3 at Miami’s summer camp as a high school junior, a broken ankle when he was horse-collared as a senior robbed him of that explosiveness, never cracking five-yards a carry or a run longer than 30 yards in his Notre Dame career.

But to judge Adams by the past doesn’t make much sense. But if you do, you should likely consider he ran for 2,089 yards and 28 touchdowns as a sophomore.

***

 While four-star wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown might strike fear into writers’ hearts, he’s got one of the coolest stories (not to mention names) in college football.

SI.com’s Chris Johnson has a nice profile on the Irish receiving target from Orange County’s Servite program. St. Brown is trilingual, fluent in English, French and German. He’s also the son of world-class bodybuilder John Brown, who traveled the world pumping iron.

source:

You’ve got to love this part of the article from Johnson:

Brown instructed Equanimeous to begin lifting weights when he was 5 years old, and they currently train together four times a week, on average. Equanimeous says he can bench press 300 pounds and developed an eight pack without ever focusing on abdominal exercises. He also has extremely strong hands, thanks largely to the hundreds of balls he catches each week from the JUGS machine stationed inside his garage.

While Notre Dame’s last Servite product, Troy Niklas, earned some kudos by ripping off his shirt at a pep rally, if Brown does it, he might be lathered and oil and win a medal.

 

 

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
via Twitter
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

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

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

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

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)
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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
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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.