Mailbag: The case of the missing questions

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So apparently I didn’t answer last week’s questions. I think it might be the first ever lost column, because I could’ve sworn I answered them. (Checked my drafts folder and everything…)

Perhaps I have the North Korean government to blame? (Or the guy in the mirror…)

Either way, we’re moving forward. And I’ll scan through a few of your question from last week to make sure I didn’t miss any masterpieces, but thanks for keeping me honest.

Away we go.

 

nicenirish: Keith don’t you owe us all an apology for ignoring the last set of questions?

Don’t you guys owe me an apology for never actually asking question, but rather answering your own question first and then stating it? Or writing a manifesto that lacks a question at all?

But in the spirit of Christmas:

 

FROM LAST WEEK…

c4evr: Is the ND program facing any NCAA penalties for the Frozen 5 or will it just be a university issue? I also remember where Jenkins said the school would vacate victories if players had been academically ineligible during past competition? Was he implying that the school itself would vacate victories or that the school would comply with the NCAA decision?

This isn’t a resolved situation. So while we haven’t heard anything on the record from anyone about any sanctions (self-imposed or otherwise), every time Brian Kelly’s been asked about it he has stated that vacating victories doesn’t sound like it’s on the table.

There was a rumor a few weeks back going around about Notre Dame self-vacating a few scholarships a year. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case when you look at the way Notre Dame is recruiting. And if Notre Dame is imposing restrictions, what should happen at North Carolina? A dozen a year for a decade?

Notre Dame isn’t afraid of self-immolation, even if this doesn’t seem to be necessary. And you could argue that they already did it by holding four guys off the field for the entire season and one for the majority of the season.

Nothing has been officially resolved, and I’m not sure that we’ll ever hear if it is.

 

irishsoccerfirst: I would like your take on the performance of the O-line. No excuses for this group: Consistently strong recruiting every year; no academic issues, no defections to UCLA, Cincy or the NFL; no significant injuries; no new coaching scheme. So, why is our supposed strength such a big fat dud?

Offensive line play seemed to be disappointing this season. Minus Ronnie Stanley, who has put together enough good tape to be considered a fringe first-rounder after one season at left tackle, it’s fair to say the group took a step backwards.

That said, I think lingering injuries to Christian Lombard really hurt them. Same with Nick Martin, who likely made the move because snapping was difficult. In their first true season as starters, Steve Elmer and Matt Hegarty had mixed bag seasons.

Did anybody really think losing Zack Martin and Chris Watt would be easy? Just because a guy has a four-star grade next to his name doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to step in and be a seasoned vet from the beginning. (Just look at Michigan’s offensive line — it’s been a mess, and the Wolverines have recruited a Rivals four-and-five-star All-Star team.)

We’re not coaches. I am not fully capable of grading assignments that I don’t always know. But it’s pretty easy to see that the Irish have struggled on the interior and haven’t always done the best job protecting Everett Golson.

The starting lineup against LSU could return in its entirety. If it does, that’s a very good thing — especially with competition coming from the young pups.

 

okanirish94: Does BK ever script the opening drive? We’ve had some less than stellar play callers on prior staffs who were actually quite good at scripting opening drives. With BK though I can recall multiple games starting off with illegal substitution, delay of game, or timeout on or before the 2nd play.

Scripting plays doesn’t keep you from illegal substitutions, delay of games or timeouts. But the opening of the USC game was super frustrating, and the fact that Amir Carlisle lines up incorrectly makes no sense.

Even in some games where the Irish didn’t win, the opening drive hasn’t really been the problem. The Irish marched nicely against ASU before settling for a field goal. They scored a touchdown in under a minute against Northwestern. Against Louisville (a top 10 defense), the opening drive produced points.

So bang on BK all you’d like, the opening script isn’t necessarily the problem.

 

mayesdays: How do you think the Irish will utilize Schmidt and Morgan next year? Someone else said this, but could this be the most underrated defense heading into the 2015 season?

Let’s pump the brakes on the “most underrated” talk. These guys were good when they were healthy, but they’ve gotta prove they can do it against good competition, because they need to earn back any good will after this last month.

But getting both Schmidt and Morgan on the field together will be interesting. Yesterday, Kelly talked about Morgan’s versatility — he’s capable of playing the Will or Sam as well as the Mike. So Notre Dame’s base defense could utilize Morgan as a first-down defender and then sub-out for a guy like Onwualu in receiver-heavy formations.

Schmidt, assuming he returns healthy, is the team’s starting middle linebacker. And Jarrett Grace is taking reps in bowl practice, a great story in its own right. So the Irish depth chart might finally look pretty strong in the middle after being a gigantic question mark heading into 2014.

 

gpatton90:Do you believe that BK will ever truly embrace a run-first, smash-mouth offensive mentality that can set up the rest of the offensive tools he has assembled?

No.

He’s got a system he runs. And it’s not a smash-mouth, run-first mentality.

That said, I get what you mean.

 

tony34343434: Hey Keith, my question is do you think the Irish need to play with more passion. Many on here including myself have commented on that this year. Games like USC, Navy, Northwestern and some others. I do not pretend to know as much football as you Keith but i do not see the fire that some teams bring. Maybe i am just another alum looking for answers.

Tony, I’m usually pretty tough on questions like this, especially with unmeasurable metrics like “passion.” (More passion could be the more cowbell of this blog…)

I tend to think you hit it on the head when you called yourself “another alum looking for answers.”

While I skip past passion, I do think true leadership was an issue on this team. I think the coaching staff named the wrong guys as captain this season. I wouldn’t have put a C on Austin Collinsworth or Cam McDaniel. Probably not on Nick Martin, either.

When the going got rough, Notre Dame’s most logical leaders were either hurt (Joe Schmidt) or part of the problem (Everett Golson, not to mention McDaniels’ disastrous fumble against Northwestern).

 

goirishgo: Where does Die Hard rank on your list of all-time great Christmas movies?

onward2victory: Can we get your top 5 Christmas movies, Keith??

Love Die Hard. Never considered it a Christmas movie. (After all, how exactly were USC and Notre Dame playing? A Las Vegas Bowl we didn’t know about?)

As for Christmas movies… That’s a tough one. Christmas in the Arnold household usually included going to a movie, not necessarily watching them.

I need some extra time on this one. But I’ve seen them all.

 

 

mtflsmitty: Keith, You did ignore a question I posed in August which also received an awful lot of thumbs up from other posters. Since you specifically mentioned ignored questions, thought we may try again:

Can you offer some sense for total readership of Inside The Irish? Unique visitors? Trend lines for unique readers by week/month throughout the season. Percentage of readers who also post comments? Readers by state? All of this info (and more) is available within your a Google Analytics account. Would be interesting.

Smitty, I have no clue. We have a bunch of analytics tools, but I don’t see most of them and I honestly don’t really care about them. I’ve never been told to write for eyeballs, so I just write. Some things take off, some don’t.

On a good day, there’s more than 25,000 readers coming here. On a not so good one, there’s a few thousand.

As of now, there’s been over 25 million views and over 75,000 comments since we switched to WordPress (the first few years weren’t on WordPress). The best ever day? Mid-January, 2013. The column? This piece on Manti Te’o.

 

bernhtp: The arms race stemming from the big big money in college football – the Harbaugh offer, coach salaries more generally, facilities, player living accommodations, etc. – is cranking up. ND is caught between Swarbrick’s pragmatism and a traditional reluctance to compete in this way given our identity and values. What is your prediction on how ND will navigate this?

I’ll believe Harbaugh getting paid eight million a year from Michigan when I see it. But there’s no doubt that the arms race continues to crank up. Notre Dame has done well enough — The Gug is a nice facility, though it’s hardly the Taj Mahal. And assistant coaches are doing just fine — Chuck Martin took a pay cut to take the head coaching job at Miami.

That said, I think the biggest piece of this will be the Campus Crossroads project. It’ll allow Notre Dame Stadium to get up to date — more than doubling premium seating options and likely bringing in a video board to see replays. It’ll also probably include some additional football facilities — maybe a place to eat as a team?

Notre Dame isn’t likely to start spending $1 million on big-name assistants. So that might be the difference from some SEC programs. But Swarbrick has done just fine with the juggling act and I expect that to continue.

 

irishfan4life: Why do you think it took this long for Kelly to look at running a two QB system? Seems like after 6-10 turnovers in 2-3 games he’d look to get Zaire some more experience.

Keith, Has Brian Kelly mishandled the QB position at ND?

I’m bunching these two together. And there was more to second question, but this was basically it.

If you predicted Everett Golson to continue to turn the football over, then yes, it was mishandled. But I tend to believe that Kelly knew Golson had to get all the game reps he could (he’s still a guy who is learning, part of why the lost 2013 season stunk so badly) and in practice it was clear that Golson was clearly the best at the position. That being said, I was advocating for a series for Zaire in the first half against Rice.  And even Golson acknowledged that he would’ve pulled himself against USC.

This feels a lot like the end of 2011. Things felt broken. People jumped all over the Andrew Hendrix bandwagon, for adequate play in a lopsided football game. Zaire is clearly a good runner and the better of the two in the zone read, speed game. We’ll see how he throws it against LSU.

 

I’m not calling Zaire Hendrix, and I actually think he’ll be the starting quarterback come 2016. But heading into next season, I still don’t think this is anybody’s job but Golson. He just won’t be given the leash he had in 2014.

 

oldtrollmcgee: Could we get a writer (just one) who covers Notre dame basketball? I know they are not a legitimate title contender, but each year they seem to put out a quality team, and when it comes to tournament time I always see Notre Dame listed as a quality win for other teams. Just a thought.

There are plenty of places to read Notre Dame basketball coverage. The guys at Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold, Irish Sports Daily, Irish Eyes, along with the indie blogs and the South Bend and Chicago Tribunes. Hit the Google, Old Troll.

But it’s not going to be me. I don’t have the expertise to write intelligently about the team. Pair that with the fact that every time I’ve sat down to watch an entire Notre Dame basketball game the Irish have always lost. So I flipped back and forth between the Michigan State and Purdue victories and was shocked when Brey’s boys pulled it off.

It looks like a fun, athletic squad. Call me in March.

 

ylilbnosredna: If ND gets blown out by LSU in the whole game, what (outside of the overrated 15 practices and single game’s worth of experience & p.t. for young players) actual positives will Notre Dame be able to take from the experience?

I guess I don’t agree with the premise of your questions, considering you put the most important thing in parenthesis. Those 15 practices are the whole point!

That said, a blowout is a terrible way to go into the offseason, and everybody inside the program knows that the Irish have to play better. Find a way to pull off the upset? That could change everything heading into spring, the ultimate season saver.

 

irishdog80: which of the freshmen from this year break into the starting lineup next year? Any of the recruits have the potential to be first year starters?

Great question. And probably one I’ll spend all offseason thinking about. Of the guys that played, I’d have said Tranquill before the torn ACL. Right now, I think they’ll find a spot for Morgan.

Offensively it’s a tougher road. If Ronnie Stanley leaves, Kelly raved about Alex Bars on Saturday. And Quenton Nelson will challenge the interior offensive linemen.

As for the incoming group, I’d look at pass rushers or defensive backs. Maybe Shaun Crawford? He just has the feel of a perfect slot cornerback. And don’t forget Justin Yoon. He’ll be the next kicking adventure for the Irish.

 

dudeacow: So Nyles Morgan has basically played 8 halves games of competitive football (if you count the second half of USC)… but he has 43 tackles and three double-digit performances. He had 11 tackles in one half against USC! He doesn’t really know this defense well and yet is racking up tackles so easily. Is he going to turn into one of those 150+ tackle guys who running backs hate and set the tone for a dominating defense in the future?

What, 100 tackles wasn’t enough? You needed 150+ tackles? That puts him in a group of who, Luke Kuechly? Dat Nguyen?

That being said, there’s a reason Morgan made two Freshman All-American teams. He’s going to be really good. It’ll be fun to watch him develop.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 84 (theoretically) Michael Young, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10, 170 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Freshman with four years of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: Young projects as a prototypical slot, or Z, receiver. The Irish currently have two, maybe three, dynamic commodities at the position in—presented in order of top to bottom of a theoretical depth chart—sophomore Chase Claypool, junior C.J. Sanders and sophomore Kevin Stepherson. Stepherson could also be a candidate to spend the majority of his time at the field, or X, position. In offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system, slot receivers are expected to have a working understanding on the field’s duties, anyway.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Young provided consistency for Notre Dame at the receiver position in the class of 2017, as the only other commitment for much of the cycle de-committed in December, leading to the late addition of Jafar Armstrong.

QUOTE(S)
Irish coach Brian Kelly pinpointed the slot as Young’s likely landing spot in his National Signing Day comments.

“As a slot receiver, somebody that can really do a number of things for us inside and out, Michael Young out of Destrehan High School (Saint Rose, La.), great football at his high school in particular,” Kelly said. “We think he has the skills necessary to come in and push and compete at that position.

“We’re really pleased with the receivers, and those two in particular, how they’ll be able to come in and push the group that we have right now.”

WHAT WE SAID WHEN YOUNG’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
Perhaps comparing Young to Torii Hunter is too easy, and not only because both enjoy the suffix of Jr. Young is known for good hands and quick moves, using his smaller stature against defenders rather than letting them take advantage of him. With quick hands, he has shown no trouble getting off the line.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Notre Dame enjoys depth at the receiver position. It will be difficult for Young to crack that this season. Defaulting to a season preserving eligibility seems too simple an answer, even if is unlikely Young contributes to the offense in a meaningful manner.

Special teams coordinator Brian Polian publicly wished for more options for his coverage units this spring. Young could help fill that void, and while he is spending the eligibility, chip in on offensively in spot duty.

The slot might be the thinnest of the Irish receiving positions, especially if the cloud around Stepherson turns out to be more than idle speculation. At that point, having Young in the rotation could prove useful.

DOWN THE ROAD
Kelly has long enjoyed having a shifty option at the slot. Claypool may prove to be the exception this season, as Notre Dame embraces a size advantage at receiver, but Kelly’s track record speaks for itself. Young could follow in the footsteps of the likes of Hunter, Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise and Theo Riddick.

It is no coincidence three of those relied on the distinct footwork learned as running backs to excel at the slot position. Young’s hands are a known and respected bright spot for him. His breakthrough at some point may depend on the time he spends with receivers coach Del Alexander on his footwork and the other finer tools of the position.


Aside from the five early enrollees, the numbers are not yet known for the Irish freshmen class. That is one of the admitted drawbacks to organizing this summer-long series numerically. But a little bit of educated guessing can garner estimates for those numbers, and those estimates can allow the series to proceed without pause.

How are those estimates crafted? The first step is to take a look at certain NCAA rules. When it comes to an “end,” the NCAA limits them to Nos. 80-99. Looking at the Irish roster, this leaves only so many likely options for Young, hence slotting him at No. 84, though his likely landing at slot may reduce the need to fit in that range of 20

Michael Young, Jr., very well may not wear No. 84, but it is possible, and, frankly, it could be close.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ½, 207 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: While Notre Dame did unexpectedly add kicker Jonathan Doerer to its incoming freshmen class, his specialty is kickoffs. Newsome remains essentially unchallenged at the punter position.
Recruiting: Punters are not often heralded as recruits, but rivals.com did bestow a three-star ranking on Newsome, the No. 6 kicker/punter in his class.

CAREER TO DATE
With former Irish kicker/punter Kyle Brindza handling all the leg-swinging duties in 2014, Newsome preserved a year of eligibility before taking over as punter his sophomore season. With more than 100 boots to his name at this point, Newsome has been an example of consistency.

2015: 55 punts at an average of 44.5 yards per punt with a long of 62 yards. Notre Dame averaged a field position swing of 38.1 yards per punt.
2016: 54 punts at an average of 43.5 yards per punt with a long of 71 yards. Notre Dame averaged a field position swing of 35.3 yards per punt.

Newsome also handled the kickoff duties in 2015, but that was removed from his to-do list last season and should not return to Newsome’s plate this season, especially now with Doerer entering the picture.

2015: 84 kickoffs at an average of 61.6 yards per kick with 21 touchbacks and five sent out of bounds.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“If 2015 was about exceeding expectations, 2016 will be about performing with the bar raised. Newsome’s rookie season was a good one. But there’s room for improvements.

“Expect new special teams analyst Marty Biagi to take Newsome under his wing. The former college punter will likely spend some time refining Newsome’s craft, looking to add hang time to his punts and kicks, and making sure there are more booming moon shots than side-footed shanks.

“Notre Dame doesn’t want to have a celebrated punter – and they won’t as long as the offense performs. But the combo of Newsome and Yoon has the chance to be one of the better special teams batteries in America.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Keith’s final point rings true. Notre Dame does not necessarily want Newsome to excel. If he is getting enough work to truly stand out, that simply means the Irish offense has turned stalling into a routine occurrence.

Whether he gets frequent use or not, Newsome has proven to be a consistent performer, largely immune to the pressure so often found to figuratively cripple college kickers and punters. Expect that steadfastness to continue this season.

DOWN THE ROAD
Unless Doerer begins punting in practices, in addition to his possible kickoff duties, Newsome should take comfort in the fact that the Irish coaching staff did not pursue a punter in the class of 2017. If nothing else, that indicates they expect him back in 2018, and they appear to be comfortable with that. Newsome is low maintenance, and that should not be undervalued.

Could he catch Notre Dame off guard and leave early? When is the last time a kicker or punter not named Aguayo declared for the NFL before his eligibility expired? (No, really, go ahead and do the research. Much appreciated.) If a non-football opportunity presents itself such that Newsome considers leaving for it, one would think that opportunity would still be around a semester later on. He isn’t a linebacker worried about his long-term health, so there should be less motivation to cut short his college football experience.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end

Friday at 4: A holiday with reason to be remembered

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This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and it has its mainstays. Some weekends will hinge around the parade up Main Street. At some point, everyone comes across a hot dog or hamburger during the long weekend. A beer or pop inevitably accompanies that grilled good.

Gathering college friends may even add a whiffle ball and bat to the grocery list.

Between innings, during one of those many social breaks, take a moment to remind yourself why Monday is a federal holiday, why it is a long weekend.

It isn’t just because the weather has finally turned as desired and now white pants are socially acceptable.

It is — as we all know but do not always take the time to recognize — because it is Memorial Day, a chance to remember all those people who died while serving the United States’ armed forces.

That obviously includes some former Irish football players, but they are merely a representation of the larger item.

Rather than continue on for who-knows-how-long with this point, let’s take this opportunity to deliver some Notre Dame-related tidbits. As it pertains to Memorial Day as a whole, either you already grasp the importance of taking a pause and understanding the significance of so many lost in service, or you don’t. This space is not going to be the piece that changes the latter’s view.

Looking through some of the internet’s depths, it appears at least 19 former Irish football players are among those who should be remembered Monday, including 17 from World War II, most notably 1942 captain George Murphy. In 2004, ESPN published a worthwhile story on a football game Murphy helped organize among Marines in the southwest Pacific.

Those 19 are among the approximate 500 alumni who died in World War II, the Korea War and the Vietnam War. The Clarke Memorial Fountain — more commonly known as “Stonehenge,” directly west of the campus library, more commonly known as “Touchdown Jesus” — commemorates alums lost in each of those three wars, as well as those alums lost in times of peace.

Of course, it should be noted many other World War II veterans — and simply by logic, many other World War II casualties — passed through Notre Dame. The naval training established on campus is the impetus to the Navy football series continuing to this day. In addition to the usual students, about 12,000 officers trained at Notre Dame in those days.

Campus features two other prominent acknowledgements of this country’s conflicts. The statue of Rev. Corby in front of Corby Hall depicts him delivering a blessing and absolution to troops during the Battle of Gettysburg. It is a copy of a statue standing where Corby stood back in 1863.

Perhaps most famously, an entrance to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart bears the etching of “God, Country, Notre Dame.” Partly since he titled his autobiography with those four words, many tie them to Rev. Ted Hesburgh. “God, Country, Notre Dame,” in fact, predates Hesburgh’s arrival to campus. The Basilica’s eastern entrance was constructed in 1924 as a World War I memorial. During World War II, 20 years later, the accompanying statues of St. Joan of Arc and St. Michael the Archangel were added above the well-known phrase.

Lastly, it has become something of a Notre Dame tradition to bemoan the selection for commencement speaker each spring. Forgotten amid the misguided vitriol and inaccurate historical claims is a recognition of one of the first University commencement speakers. Nowadays, he, too, would certainly draw some magnitude of controversy.

During the Civil War, Gen. William T. Sherman — yes, he of Sherman’s March — moved his family to South Bend. His children attended Notre Dame, and Sherman delivered the 1865 commencement address. That ceremony took place June 21, in short order after Sherman accepted the surrender of Confederate armies in the Deep South in April of 1865.

Sherman urged the graduates to “perform bravely the battle of life.”

Perhaps that is the message to remember this weekend. Perform bravely the battle of life. At least 19 Irish football players did, as well as more than 500 Notre Dame alums, and so many more, of which each of us assuredly knows of one personally.


It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who as given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Solier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Charles Michael Province, U.S. Army

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 86 Alize Mack, tight end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 245 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: The artist formerly known as Alizé Jones, now Alizé Mack, co-headlines a talented tight end corps along with fifth-year senior Durham Smythe. Due to Smythe’s edge in experience—and therefore further coaching trust in his reliability and blocking acumen—he may start the season ahead of Mack, but Mack will have plenty of opportunities to change that in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s two tight end-dependent system.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American, Mack originally committed to UCLA before opting for Notre Dame.

CAREER TO DATE
Mack saw action in all 13 games of his freshman season, making enough impressions to set future expectations high. His most notable statistic from that season may be his average of 14.6 yards per catch.

Mack spent last season on the sidelines, though he was allowed to participate in practice, due to academic issues.

2015: 13 catches for 190 yards

QUOTE(S)
Mack’s return and subsequent progress was an oft-discussed topic this spring. His freshman season showed glimpses of his athleticism and playmaking ability. Irish coach Brian Kelly made it a point to acknowledge Mack’s development as a blocker since he was last seen in a competitive environment.

“You can’t cover him, he just has that kind of talent,” Kelly said in March. “The one thing that stands out to me in the few days [of spring] is he’s committed himself to being a blocker and playing physical. If he continues to do that, we’re going to find ourselves with a lot of tight ends on the field.”

Long echoed those sentiments the day before the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s a perfect fit, that’s why I recruited him like crazy when I was at Arizona State,” Long said. “He’s a prototypical [tight end], a guy who can run, who can catch.

“The biggest thing about Alizé is he’s taking great pride in his blocking ability right now, his presence of being an end-line guy, his protection and overall physicality. When you think like that, you’re going to become a better receiver.”

If Mack earns that trust as a blocker, then Kelly and Long can play him in any situation, only furthering the mismatches presented.

“I don’t know how you’re going to defend him,” Kelly said the week of the spring finale. “There’s not a safety or a linebacker—if you start spreading him out, maybe a corner can get a hand in there and deflect the ball, and maybe he doesn’t run the route quite the way a receiver would—but he’s going to be very difficult to defend.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Jones could turn into Notre Dame’s No. 2 receiver in 2016 if he takes this opportunity and runs with it. That could mean a huge uptick in numbers, with 40 to 50 catches not out of the realm of possibility.

“While size and match-up issues haven’t necessarily turned Irish receivers into targets, Jones could also pick up some of the slack in the red zone, knowing that the Irish offense desperately needs to improve their efficiency in the scoring zones, especially without quick-strike scorers like Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise. Matching Chris Brown’s four touchdown catches seems like a logical next step for Jones.

“In many ways, Jones is one of several unknown quantities that’ll help determine whether or not the Irish are a playoff contender or just a team with some nice young talent. While much of his productivity will likely be determined by the team’s offensive identity and philosophy, he’s another key piece to an offensive puzzle that doesn’t have a lot of experience but has plenty going for it.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Obviously Keith’s projections for Mack were skewed both by the ineligibility and by the name change. That does not mean they would have been wrong.

Notre Dame’s second-leading receiver last season, Torii Hunter, Jr., caught 38 passes for 521 yards and three touchdowns in only nine games. It does not take much of an imagination to see Mack producing at a similar pace—though in a very different role than the 6-foot, 195-pound Hunter—over a full season, perhaps something along the lines of 55 catches for 750 yards and four scores.

That would rival, but not exceed, junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown’s output from a year ago (58 catches, 961 yards, nine touchdowns). St. Brown’s dynamism from all positions on the field makes it unlikely Mack outpaces him for top receiver honors, but the two can aid each other by forcing secondaries to split their focus.

More than St. Brown receiving an appropriately high number of targets, the biggest hurdle between Mack and impressive statistics will indeed be his blocking and overall attitude. The Irish have other options at tight end (see below: No.  89, Brock Wright) to contribute to Long’s preference for two tight ends. If Mack does not earn the playing time in all aspects of the game, he will not receive it.

DOWN THE ROAD
The excitement around Mack this spring may have exceeded realistic expectations. In that regard, Mack is set up for perceived failure in 2017. If he matched the above theoretical stat line, some would lament the fact that he scored only four times.

Taking a longer view of his potential, a stat line like that would make Mack seriously consider the NFL after this season, if only because of that buzzword of potential. Some team might draft him on the second day simply to have the opportunity to find out what he becomes. It is more likely Mack comes back for another year, with Smythe gone, but, frankly, it seems unlikely to think he will use the final season of eligibility lost to academics last year.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver