Cleveland Plain Dealer

The after Signing Day mailbag: Part Two

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Let’s pick things up with Part Two of our after Signing Day mailbag. (Feel like any good sequel deserves a trilogy, so look for that in a little bit as well.)

Again, sorry not to get to everybody’s questions, but we’ll be doing more and more of these as the offseason goes on.

 

rocket1988:

Keith,
Put on your coach’s hat for a minute.
1) what position is the biggest need in terms of depth to be a consistent 10 win team?
2) which player(s) have an instant impact this coming season?
3) which makes a bigger difference this season, new player or new position coach?
4) if given the chance would you go the route of coaches like Dantonio who redshirt 80-90% of their freshman class?

Rapid-fire responses:

1) I think the Front Seven. We can blame all the turnovers on Golson, but the injuries to the defense and its collapse exposed the youth that was behind the stout front line.

2) Alize Jones. One of the freshmen linebackers. Jerry Tillery. Shaun Crawford (starting slot CB.)

3) I’m not sure I fully understand the question. But in college football, Jimmys and Joes are always more important than the Xs and the Os. Especially position coaches.

4) Does Dantonio really redshirt 90% of his freshmen? I’d like some sourcing there. I’ll dig more into redshirting later in the mailbag. But I think there are some changing dynamics here.

 

ndlv: I know that you don’t put a lot of stock in star ratings of recruits. But, in your opinion, are students who are recruited by schools like ND (with a large fanbase) a touch overrated by sites like rivals and scout in order to sell more subscriptions? Does this make Irish fans (who buy into the star ratings) too optimistic?

You are correct. I don’t put a lot of stock into star rating. I think the big companies (Rivals, 247, Scout, ESPN) can definitely identify the elite players — the top 50, 100 in the country. But after that? It’s a crap shoot.

You are also correct on the impact large fanbases often times play into the star-rankings. But I tend to think it’s the impact of an offer from top schools enhancing a ranking, without the player actually doing anything. (Especially with offers not meaning what they used to mean.)

But I also think a much larger impact these days are the kids that are willing to play the game. Josh Barajas didn’t spend his summer going to 5-star combines or camps. Neither did Jalen Guyton. (This statement applies to probably 10 kids in this class, especially the early commits.)

So when Barajas showed up and impressed in San Antonio, the services essentially got their first look at him, apples to apples, with other elite prospects.

As for Guyton. Show me another receiver in the country that put up 1,700 yards, 22 touchdowns and 82 catches playing the most competitive high school football in the country. That’s a 3-star prospect? It makes zero sense to me. And it’s a big reason why I’m not sweating the stars. They’re all erased after Signing Day, anyway.

The rankings are so much better than they used to be. But when all you have is tape of a 3-star wideout and you see in person a kid at three or four camps, that’s what happens. (Especially considering those kids usually like to give interviews.)

 

irishdog80: Corey Holmes looked like an impressive young WR last year…kind of Will Fuller like, but a little rangier. Does Holmes break through next year after a year in the program? How about at TE? Does Durham Smythe or someone else step up at TE as a weapon?

Who comes off the field for Holmes to get on it? I don’t think you’re giving Fuller enough credit. He’s going to be a preseason, first-team All-American. He just tied the school record, matching Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate for touchdowns. And he did it as a sophomore. (Go check that duos sophomore numbers.)

The arrow is still pointing up for Fuller, who needs to clean up and get more consistent, which he’ll do this offseason. Don’t get me wrong, the staff likes Holmes and thinks he’ll be a player. But it might not be a breakthrough season for him, not with the football going to Fuller, Corey Robinson, CJ Prosise and Chris Brown first.

As for tight end? Right now I think it’s Smythe as a pass catcher and Luatua as a blocker. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Alize Jones… nearly from the start.

 

kcoral: Time for real talk, Keith. Your biggest rival just signed a historically great class. #1 by a big margin over Ala., for god’s sake. Meanwhile, the Irish appear to be out the Top 10. Only Ore has won and played in the championship game/playoffs with out consistently finishing in the top 10. This is 3 years in a row now that ND has had 10 or lower classes. BK himself said ND competes for “national championships.” Knowing what we know about the CLEAR link between elite level recruit and winning championships, is this coming season the only realistic chance ND has in getting into the playoffs for the next 4 years?

Time to go Aaron Rodgers on you, kcoral. R-E-L-A-X.

What do we know about the “CLEAR link” you speak of? Because I know Alabama plays good football and recruits well. Everybody else? The results vary.

The “recruiting champion” belt ranks up there with Preseason No. 1 and the draft day winners and losers in the NFL. (At least for me.)

I look at Notre Dame’s 24 man class and see a group that was expected to be around 17 to 19 at this time last year, but grew to include elite targets like Shaun Crawford, Jerry Tillery (holding on to him is a win), Dexter Williams, Te’von Coney, Equanimeous St. Brown and Alize Jones.

The deck is stacked for next season. But it’s not like this is getting ready for a solar eclipse. This is the healthiest I’ve seen this program since the end of the Holtz era.

 

runners00: Who is the one kid who will make a significant impact the earliest?

On offense, I think it’s Jones. On defense, I think it’s Crawford.

 

newmexicoirish: How does the #1 rated kicker in the country (per 247 Sports) end up with just a 3* ranking and a fairly underwhelming offer list? There seems to be a disconnect here.

There certainly is. Unless Sebastian Janikowski has a kid coming into college soon, there’s not going to be a 5-star kicker. And the fact that college programs recruit a scholarship kicker ever 3-4 years means that your offer list is going to be much smaller. (Some programs rely exclusively on walk-ons, rewarding them with a scholarship later.)

Yoon is a good one. With a ton on his shoulders. It’ll be fun to see how he performs.

 

flandersst1: What would the ND Nation have done if Brian Kelly had called the pass that Darrell Bevell called in the Super Bowl under the same circumstances in the National Championship Game?

I can only imagine. The blowback for a jet sweep was bad enough. But in the Super Bowl?

Tommy Rees officially joins Kelly’s staff

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Brian Kelly talks to Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium on December 28, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame has made official what Keith Arnold first reported Jan. 2: Tommy Rees will join Brian Kelly’s staff as the Irish quarterbacks coach.

Or, to adhere to Notre Dame’s release, “Tom” Rees will join Kelly’s staff as the quarterbacks coach.

“When I finished my playing career and graduated from Notre Dame, I wanted to do two things,” Rees said in the statement. “First, I wanted to coach, and second, at some point in my career I hoped to get an opportunity to return and do it at my alma mater.”

Rees spent 2016 as an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers, working with coach Mike McCoy to keep afloat an offense plagued by injuries, beginning with receiver Keen Allen’s ACL tear in the first week. Nonetheless, the Chargers finished seventh in the NFL in passing, ninth in scoring and 14th in total offense.

Rees will need that experience working with rising junior Brandon Wimbush, the only quarterback on the roster with any college game experience, though not a single start under his belt.

“I’m very excited to have Tom join our staff,” Kelly said. “He possesses an understanding of the game, and most importantly the quarterback position, that’s unique. He’s a true student of the game and great communicator that will offer immediate dividends toward guiding our quarterback room.”

Rees should not need much time to get up to speed with Kelly’s playbook or system, having operated within it in 46 games over four seasons, including 31 starts. He finished with a 23-8 record as a starter, 7,670 career yards and 61 touchdowns, highlighted by 3,257 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2013 alone. Only Rees, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Everett Golson have ever exceeded 3,000 passing yards in a single Notre Dame season.

With this hire, Kelly completes his retooling of his coaching staff. The newcomers include:
Defensive coordinator: Mike Elko
Offensive coordinator: Chip Long
Special teams coordinator: Brian Polian
Linebackers coach: Clark Lea
Wide receivers coach: Del Alexander
Quarterbacks coach: Tom(my) Rees

Brent’s transfer makes sense for both sides

Justin Brent, Devin Butler
AP Photo/Joe Raymond
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Justin Brent’s pending transfer makes sense on the surface if for no other reason than his complete lack of game action in the last two seasons. A slightly-deeper look, however, explains the move even further.

The rising senior running back had no logical path to playing time at Notre Dame given the performances of some of his peers. Both in the backfield and at receiver, younger players shined this past season while Brent rode the bench.

RUNNING BACKS

– It may have taken four games for rising junior Josh Adams to find the end zone, but he finished the season with 933 yards on 158 rushing attempts, carrying the ball at least eight times in all 12 games. Most notably, Adams finished the season with 350 yards and three rushing touchdowns over the last three weeks. That strong close shows Adams was not worn down in his second season of consistent use (2015: 13 games, 117 carries, 869 rushing yards, six touchdowns) and can be expected to provide the same bellwether output next season.

– Adams’s classmate, Dexter Williams, has not had the same success, but he did provide some relief throughout the season – most notably against Nevada (eight carries for 59 yards) and Syracuse (eight for 80 and a score) – on his way to 212 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries.

Between Adams and Williams, combined with NFL-bound Tarean Folston’s steady output and quarterback DeShone Kizer’s mobility in the past and the possibility of Brandon Wimbush’s in the future, there were not carries for Brent to showcase his potential. This is before even factoring in rising sophomores Deon McIntosh and Tony Jones, both of whom preserved a year of eligibility in 2016, or any incoming recruits.

WIDE RECEIVERS

– Rising junior Equanimeous St. Brown proved worthy of learning to spell his first name in 2016, catching 58 passes for 961 yards and nine scores, but St. Brown looks to be far from alone in the receiving corps moving forward. Classmates C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin each found the end zone this past season, despite competing with senior Torii Hunter, Jr., for both snaps and targets. Sanders finished with 24 receptions for 293 yards and two touchdowns while Boykin caught six passes for 81 yards and a score.

– Rising sophomores Kevin Stepherson, Chris Finke and Chase Claypool add to the depth at the position. Stepherson scored on an even 20 percent of his 25 receptions for 462 yards. On a personal note, he did not actually reach the end zone on his 53-yard catch-and-dash against Miami, but I will still never forget that particular play because the accompanying roar convinced my nine-year-old niece it was well past time to leave Notre Dame Stadium to watch the game on a television where the noise would not be so surprising.

Finke chipped in 10 catches for 122 yards and two scores, and Claypool caught five passes for 81 yards.

– Again, this listing does not account for players such as rising sophomore Javon McKinley who saw action in seven games but has not yet contributed to the passing game or any incoming recruits. (We’ll get to the recruits later in the week, and even more so next week when, you know, they have signed.)

It should also be noted: Brent enrolled early at Notre Dame, and thus, he has already completed six academic semesters, not to mention time spent in class each summer as is typical of most, if not all, of the football roster. If he does indeed graduate from the University this spring, he will be eligible to play elsewhere immediately thanks to the NCAA’s stance on graduate student transfers. More than that, though, he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Admittedly, such a confluence is rare and certainly adds reasoning to Brent’s maneuver, whether it result in him playing at UCLA, Miami, Arizona State, Indiana, Purdue or Ohio State, as he indicated to the South Bend Tribune were his top choices. Notre Dame does face Miami on Nov. 11.

Lament Brent’s decision if you must, but it was a logical decision by him, and Notre Dame’s shortcomings last season were rarely where Brent would have aided. Nor will the Irish appear to be wanting in those spots in 2017.

Report: Justin Brent to transfer

Justin Brent twitter
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Justin Brent has not seen the playing field since Notre Dame faced LSU in the Music City Bowl back in December of 2014. That now looks like it will be the last time Irish fans see him in a Notre Dame uniform, as well. Reports indicate the rising senior running back will transfer.

Irish 247’s Tom Loy broke the news, soon confirmed by Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson.

A consensus top-100 pick out of Indianapolis (Ind.) Speedway High School, Brent arrived in South Bend with high expectations, but will depart without an official statistic aside from snaps in nine games his freshman season. He recorded no catches, carries or tackles.

 

Thanks Keith, Now Dear Readers…

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 19: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes a hand off from DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 19, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Virginia Tech defeated Notre Dame 34-31.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Dear “Inside the Irish” fans, “Inside the Irish” foes and, of course, my parents –
Dear curious purveyors, my stand-alone predecessor and Tim Raines –
Mostly, dear Notre Dame fans, Notre Dame spectators and college students enjoying any and all hallowed traditions –

Yes, unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, Keith tossed me the keys to this 1971 Volkswagen Beetle known as NBC Sports’ “Inside the Irish” blog. Don’t worry, I know how to drive stick shift.

If I were feeling corny, I would tell you I first reported on Notre Dame football in the fall of 1996, shouting out the garage window to my father as Allen Rossum returned Purdue’s opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. If we are ignoring sentimental childhood stories, however, then it would be more accurate to call 2009’s home-opener against Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada my beginning on the beat.

Over the last few days I reached out to a few of you readers whom I know, asking why you enjoyed Keith Arnold’s coverage. So as to keep them honest, I neglected to tell them I would be stepping into this spotlight today.

Repeatedly, I heard buzz words such as readable, reasonable and realistic. Those will be my goals, as well. My predecessor at The Observer no longer dabbles in journalism, but I still trust his view on most things. His response strikes me as an admirable objective.

“We are smart, informed sports fans with an irrational passion for ND football, and appreciate writers who share those traits but are professional enough to step back from the irrationality and put things in perspective… We like a realistic take, not a knee-jerk reaction.”

On that note, you will not see me give a recruiting update with my every breath. You will also not see me dispense as much cinema advice as Keith did. I am simply not the film-nik he is, though I am listening to the “La La Land” soundtrack as I write this. You will find jazz increases your words per minute rate.

I will often speak of gambling terms, but not to encourage the vice. Rather, I find those odds to be a thought-provoking and informing means of evaluating things. Today, various books strongly expected President Trump’s inauguration speech to last longer than 15 minutes. Thus, I figured it would last longer than 15, but not by all that much since such was the over/under mark set. I could step away from the computer and watch it without losing too much of my day. It lasted 16:18.

I will try to be conversational, especially in these Friday letters/news-dumps/updates/recaps, should they become a recurring piece.

I intend to keep many, but not all, of Keith’s recurring features, as daunting as many of them seem. If I am to make this place my own, some will have to change. It’s okay, we’ll get through that together.

So ask questions, state your wonderings and pitch story ideas. This very format was a seed watered by one of you early this morning. Admittedly, prior to suggesting this he referred to me in terms I refuse to post publicly, but old drinking buddies have earned that right.

It’s late Friday afternoon. Grab a drink, and don’t you dare leave it unfinished.

– Douglas.