Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder

Quick thoughts from Media Day

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With access to Brian Kelly, his assistants and a handful of veteran players, today’s Media Day felt a little different than most. That’s understandable, with the aftermath of unexpected academic suspensions still lingering over the program. With the investigation still on media lockdown, speculation has varied widely, but it’s clear that Kelly is moving forward, the only thing a head coach can do.

With a flight to catch and quote to transcribe, here are a few quick thoughts before heading back to the Inside the Irish HQ:

 

The defensive line is really, really young. 

Listening to Brian VanGorder speak and catching up with Mike Elston, you get the feeling that the potential loss of Ishaq Williams is a killer in that it really gutted any semblance of veteran depth on the defensive line. Kelly now plans to start Isaac Rochell with true freshman Grant Blankenship backing him up. Chase Hounshell? Seemingly buried beneath them.

Andrew Trumbetti won a starting job, though Romeo Okwara will play quite a bit. That’s youth on top of youth on top of youth.

The good news on the defensive line? Sheldon Day is going to be very, very good. Talking to Day, he said his body fat is down to 13 percent, a scary number considering he weighed in at 284.5 pounds today. (He made sure to mention the half-pound.)

Rounding out the two deep is fifth-year senior Justin Utupo and true freshman Daniel Cage, who’ll back up starter Jarron Jones. Staying healthy up front will be critical, but we’re going to see more than just those mentioned, as Jonathon Bonner, Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill all have pass rush ability.

 

Matt LaFleur is an interesting young coach. 

What a great addition the Irish quarterback coach appears to be. He’ll have the ability to work with Notre Dame’s young quarterbacks, and show a little bit more attention to a position group that’s been helmed by the offensive coordinator the past four seasons.

I asked LaFleur a little bit about the translation from coaching the guys playing on Sunday to working with college kids. Considering he was dealing with two rookies in Washington with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, it wasn’t that much of a difference, but it certainly gives him a more moldable piece of clay.

Last thing to watch: Everett Golson didn’t make it through 2012 without missing significant time because of injuries. That makes Malik Zaire one hit away. And that makes the third-stringer two hits away. Whether that makes DeShone Kizer, who I know the staff would like to redshirt, or MontgomeryGummyVanGorder the true third-stringer, remains to be seen. (Or hopefully not, for LaFleur.)

 

Get ready to see an athletic linebacking corps. 

First, Jaylon Smith could have a monster year. He was too smart of a kid to answer some of my questions honestly, but when I asked him if he had a person goal of 100 tackles, he almost gave me a truthful answer before giving me the Crash Davis and talking about accountability to his teammates, something we heard from every player and assistant repeatedly.

But after chatting with his coordinator, position coach Bobby Elliot and strength coach Paul Longo, Smith inhabits some rarified air physically, with a body fat that’s in the 3-percent range and muscles barely contained by skin. Middle linebacker Joe Schmidt could barely talk about Smith as an athlete.

“A specimen,” Schmidt said. “The definition of a specimen.”

Paired with James Onwualu, the trio of Schmidt, Smith and Onwualu is a really dynamic group. Just about every person I spoke to raved about Onwualu, both athletically, but more so as a student of the game.  One staffer called the move to defense, “the best thing that could happen to Onwualu as a football player,” as the wide receiver depth chart wasn’t nearly as friendly as the strongside linebacker job.

As for Schmidt, he didn’t want to talk about his size and I couldn’t blame him. He’s got all that he needs in this system, assuming the defensive line can protect him.

 

Quick Hitters

It appears that Matthias Farley is turning into the Tommy Rees of the Irish defense. Fans might grumble when they see him on the field, but he’s a key part of the defense and a perfect teammate.

Corey Robinson looks like Demolition Man with his blonde hair.

It’s not that he likes it, but you can tell Everett Golson is getting comfortable with the media coverage that comes with the starting quarterback job. His table was packed from start to finish of the 45-minute availability window.

There’s confidence in Nick Martin, he seems ready to lead.

One of the funnier moments: A photographer getting free advice from Longo on his daughter’s training regimen, and Longo talking up the Q-angle for young girls — which he explained was the angle that measures the triangle that’s formed from the hypotenuse of the right triangle made if you connect a female athlete’s hip to her knee.

Longo also talked about the Catapult system that Florida State has gotten a lot of publicity about using, a GPS-like measuring system that tracks athletes and their heart rate. Notre Dame’s soccer team uses it, and Longo’s kicked the tires on the system as well.

Needless to say, the Irish are in good hands with Longo’s approach, and he applauded Jack Swarbrick‘s commitment to sports science.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State
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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.