Michigan v Notre Dame

Mailbag, Part 2: What to do with the QBs?

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Let’s continue with the mailbag, starting with my guess as to how the quarterback battle this spring ends up.

 

domehead00: How do you see the quarterback position shaking out this spring?

Am I allowed to say, “I have no idea?”

I won’t take the easy way out here, as I think this spring’s QB race is absolutely riveting. Obviously, the victory in the bowl game displayed what Malik Zaire can do, particularly in the running game. But Everett Golson was critical in beating LSU, especially with some clutch conversions late in the game.

With 15 practices and a new quarterback coach and offensive coordinator, all bets seem to be off. But from a program strength perspective, I think Brian Kelly wants to leave the spring with both quarterbacks feeling like they’re absolutely essential for the Irish to win big in 2015… and both staying a part of the program.

If we’re handicapping this race, Golson has the better grasp of the offensive system and the better arm talent. (Again, the system is something to watch, with Sanford coming in and likely installing a few wrinkles.)

Zaire has a considerable edge as a runner, and also leads in the intangibles category. He’s a better leader (though he needs to learn to stay off Twitter) and he also doesn’t have the scar tissue of the 2014 season that Golson now has, with those turnovers harder and harder to shake off.

Kelly has used spring practice as a motivation ploy and also as a confidence booster. A few years back, we were to believe that Kona Schwenke had pulled even with Louis Nix at nose tackle. Message sent to Nix… and Schwenke.

Short answer: Not sure. Longer answer: I’ve got a hunch that both players will be around this summer and competing until the fall.

 

grammarnazi69: How does the tight end position shake out to start this year? Who starts, and where do each of the 4 players fit in?

I think we get to know Durham Smythe and Tyler Luatua a lot better. And I expect Smythe to be the starter when the Irish take on Texas in the season opener, with the former Longhorn commit going up against his home state team. The Irish could very well start both Smythe and Luatua, coming out in a no-nonsense, smash-mouth formation.

That being said, get ready to see plenty of Alizé Jones. The freshman is a freaky athlete and this staff isn’t kidding when they call him the No. 1 tight end in the country. Jones can win from the slot right now and do a lot of the same things great players like Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph did.

I didn’t forget about Mike Heuerman. I’m still curious to see how he shapes up as a football player, and whether he’s one of the guys that maybe gets a chance at switching sides of the ball, giving a look at rush end. Heuerman hasn’t been able to stay healthy or keep weight on since he’s come to South Bend. And in a talented depth chart, those things are needed.

There’s no position with more question marks on the Irish roster when it comes to production. But there are plenty of capable bodies to replace Ben Koyack.

 

hoosiermp33: Do you ever potentially see ND adding a regular series with Hawaii to utilize the option for a 13th game?

No, I don’t. Apologies to Hawaii — and it’s a game that I’d love to get assigned to cover — but if Notre Dame is adding a 13th game, it’ll do something a little bit more out of the box that’ll help their schedule strength.

Right now, Notre Dame schedules knowing they lack a conference title game. So while the part of your rather lengthy question that I cut out talked about TCU and Baylor getting passed over, take a look at some of the opponents those two programs played.

For the first time ever, we saw a cupcake schedule (and no playoff game) come back to bite a program in the butt.

 

prodigolson: How do you deal with the consistent pessimism? Seldom are comments insightful and enjoyable to read, and instead many are filled with constant negativity by cynics who apparently have been granted college football omnipotence when put in front of a keyboard and given an anonymous username. It’s not the trolls that bother me, but rather the actual fans that can’t see past the last loss, coaching departure, missed recruit, etc. 

I’m not going to lie, it’s a burden. Sometimes people are the worst. I was reminded the other day of a passage from Moneyball, and why Billy Beane said he didn’t make it as a baseball player.

To paraphrase, when Beane was slumping or struggling at the plate, he hated himself. When he was hot and seeing the ball well, that’s what he was supposed to do.

I’m going to write whether the team wins or loses. But after a loss (and more and more, after any column), I’m less inclined to see what’s being said under the fold or at other prominent websites.

I’m also lucky I live a couple hundred yards from the Strand. Lotta walks listening to music helps.

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.