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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

Faxes in: Liam Eichenberg

Liam Eichenberg
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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LIAM EICHENBERG
Cleveland, Ohio

Measurables: 6’6″, 280 lbs.

Accolades: 4-Star, Under Armour All-American, 2015 MaxPreps first-team All-American, 2015 American Family Insurance All-USA Ohio, AP All-Ohio Division I first-team.

Impressive Offers: Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee

Projected Position: Offensive tackle.

Quick Take: Another offensive tackle with sky-high potential, Notre Dame snatched Eichenberg out from under Urban Meyer’s nose, bringing in yet another blue-chipper for Harry Hiestand to mold. More of a developmental project than Kraemer, Eichenberg’s upside could be just as lofty, especially after some time in a weight room and on the practice field.

What he means to the Irish: With numbers at tackle on the light side, Eichenberg won’t be asked to get on the field, but he might start his career in the two deep behind Mike McGlinchey. That could take away a redshirt if things go wrong, but the view from behind McGlinchey is a good spot for him, learning behind another talented athlete who came to campus as a developmental prospect but will enter his senior season (McGlinchey has two years of eligibility remaining) as a legit NFL prospect.

Eichenberg has the same kind of ceiling. He’ll just need to keep improving—something that he’s shown after a strong Under Armour All-American week in Orlando.

Obligatory YouTube clip: