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All eyes on The Opening

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Some of college football’s elite prospects are soaking up life in Beaverton, Oregon, hosted by Nike and taking part in The Opening. Never heard of it? It’s the now-annual training combine and 7-on-7 tournament that serves as a mecca to the college football recruiting industry.

(Where else is it acceptable to have team names like “Alpha Pro,” “Fly Rush,” and “Lunar Beast?”)

With the Elite 11 quarterback camp taking place at the same time on Nike’s campus, it’s a very good time to be an elite high school athlete—with Nike swag and recruiting analysts doing their best to woo you as you do your best to look excellent in shorts and Dri-FIT. But it’s also a very good chance to get an apples-to-apples look at some of the top prospects in the country, with SPARQ testing all but taking a hammer to the self-reported 40 times and vertical leaps that come along with the YouTube highlights.

Last year, we saw Notre Dame commit C.J. Sanders stand out during the competition, running a blazing sub-4.4 forty time as he made it to the SPARQ Finals. The Irish have three commitments taking place in the festivities at Nikeville, and the early reports all seem to be positive.

A week after pulling a bus in his commitment music video, Irish commitment Parker Boudreaux is backing up that chutzpah with a nice performance in Oregon. Boudreaux was the top-testing offensive lineman at the camp, running a legit 5.1 forty, while also doing very good things in the strength categories.

At 6’4.5″ and 289 pounds, Boudreaux also silenced the questions about his size and length. And his quickness—his 20-yard shuttle time was the best of any lineman in Oregon and would’ve been the best last year as well—gives Harry Hiestand a nice piece of clay to mold moving forward.

If Boudreaux looked the part of a mauler, offensive tackle commit Tommy Kraemer continues to solidify his reputation as one of the country’s best players. Irish 247 published a glowing review of Kraemer’s first day, and at 6’5.5″ and 308 pounds, it sure looks like Notre Dame landed the tackle they needed to add in this recruiting class.

“I liked Tommy Kraemer a lot,” 247Sports Director of Scouting Barton Simmons said. “He’s enormous and they moved a lot of true tackles to guards because when you have so many elite guys, some of those guys have to kick inside, and Kraemer has been one of those guys that has stayed on the edge and looked really good with his feet mirroring quick defensive linemen and has the wide-bodied frame, it takes a lot of geography for a defensive lineman to actually get around him. He’s not a guy that lets guys bully him also. I think he had complete day.

The third Notre Dame commitment at The Opening is running back Tony Jones Jr. Checking in at 5’11” and 210 pounds, Jones has the physique you want out of a power runner, and there’s definitely room to put on 15-20 more pounds once he gets to South Bend.

Jones ran in the high 4.6s—about what you’d expect—and looked good catching the football, per multiple reports. With 5-star Ohio State commitment Kareem Walker missing his flight and nursing a tweaked ankle, there wasn’t a chance to measure Jones against the elite of the elite, but only the freakish 258-pound Devin White ran better among the big backs, so the IMG Academy product had a good opening day.

The Irish are in the hunt for several other prospects. Most look at Canadian receiver/freak athlete Chase Claypool as a possibility to be the next commitment in Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class.

Claypool will announce his intentions on Friday, but on Wednesday he showed off a unique skill-set that should have Irish fans very excited if he indeed decides to head to South Bend. At 6’5.5″ and 214 pounds, Claypool ran a 4.66, while also vertical leaping 35-inches.

While those numbers could make staying at receiver a possibility, Notre Dame’s looked at Claypool with the potential to play safety. He’s also basically a slightly taller, slightly faster, slightly better built version of last year’s 5-star defensive end Keisean Lucier-South, who the Irish chased but he ended up at UCLA, so the possibilities seem endless. There’s been no better coach at just getting a great athlete to campus and then figuring out what to do with him than Brian Kelly, so if the Irish do reel in Claypool, they’ll be getting a very intriguing gem in their recruiting class.

The Irish are also after a pair of elite linebackers. Once again, Notre Dame is back in Fresno, this time chasing after 5-star prospect Caleb Kelly. While most only remember the ones that got away (Deontay Greenberry, Tee Shepard, Michiah Quick), credit Kelly for acknowledging the past and also saying it won’t effect his decision.

“Fresno isn’t some blackhole,” Kelly told Blue & Gold’s Andrew Ivins. “It has just been that everybody has been close. Everybody in Fresno has liked Notre Dame, I mean Tee Shepard he had a chance to go there, and Michiah Quick he was choosing between Notre Dame and Oklahoma, so I mean Notre Dame has been it, but we just haven’t ended up there.”

At 6’4″ and 219 pounds, Kelly has the length and size you want in a linebacker. While he didn’t run the 40, he tested well in other drills and seemed to reinforce his 5-star ranking. He’s trying to get to campus later this month and will also use an official visit to get a look at Notre Dame.

 

Lastly, Houston linebacker Jeffrey McColloch opened some eyes when he made the SPARQ testing finals. With a 38-inch vertical and a 4.0 agility time, the 4-star linebacker showed some serious explosiveness along with a 230-pound frame. He also revealed that head coach Brian Kelly has taken on some of the recruiting duties with him.

“I talk to the head coach pretty much every day,” McCulloch told Rivals.

He’ll also make a trip to South Bend later this month, family in tow.

 

 

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore
Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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Receiver Corey Holmes is transferring from Notre Dame. The junior, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, will look for a new program after earning his degree this summer, Tom Loy of Irish247 reports.

Holmes told Irish247:

“It’s just the best decision for me. I’m graduating this summer and I’m just going to find the best fit for me to finish things up.”

Even after a strong spring, Holmes saw little action this season, though he played extensively against USC in the season finale. He had four catches against the Trojans, a large part of his 11 on the year, also his career total.

That Holmes wasn’t able to find a consistent spot in the rotation is likely a big reason why he’s looking for a new opportunity. After opening eyes after posting a 4.42 40-yard dash during spring drills, the Irish coaching staff looked for a way to get Holmes onto the field. But after losing reps at the X receiver on the outside, Holmes bounced inside and out, never finding a regular spot in the rotation, playing behind Torii Hunter Jr. and Kevin Stepherson on the outside and CJ Sanders and Chris Finke in the slot.

Holmes has two seasons of eligibility remaining, redshirting his sophomore season. Because he’ll earn his degree this summer, he’ll be able to play immediately next year. Irish 247 reports that Holmes is looking at Miami, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and North Carolina, though he’ll have a semester to find other fits.

 

Mailbag: All about BK

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17:  (L-R) Sam Kohler #29, head coach Brian Kelly, Grace Kelly and Hunter Bivin #70 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Welcome to a fairly action-packed Mailbag. Why didn’t one of you guys remind me to do these more often?

This one, as the title suggests, is all about Brian Kelly.

 

@chrise384: Do you think that silence from Swarbrick this week means anything or do you think it’s status quo and BK is back in ’17?

I think Swarbrick’s been silent because there’s nothing else to say. He made his comment to ESPN that Kelly would be back in 2017. Why would it benefit him to say anything else?

Kelly also made comments—10 feet away from his boss—that he’d be back and doesn’t want to go anywhere. So other than releasing a 2:37 a.m. tweet reiterating Kelly’s intentions—and essentially calling B.S. on the reports that BK was looking to get out—there’s no reason to respond to the noise, when there’s a ton of work to do and big decisions still to make.

Speaking of those…

 

Domer521: Keith – The banquet is next Friday evening. Do you expect any announcements regarding recruits or DC/assistant coaches before then?

I don’t. For a variety of reasons, I think Kelly is waiting to make any formal moves on his staff until after that evening. And in reality, any college assistant that’s going to come to Notre Dame is probably coaching in a bowl game, and won’t leave his program until after that game is played.

(That doesn’t mean that BK isn’t lining things up. I expect that he is.)

So while the idea of getting a coordinator on hand now might be ideal, the reality of the situation is that you need someone ready to hit the recruiting trail after the New Year, taking the world by storm for that final month and closing stretch until Signing Day.

 

@GhostAKG: Many are saying Charlie Strong for our new DC. Is that good/realistic? And what are some of the names you’ve been hearing more?

I was one of the people to speculate, but the more you think about it the less it makes sense. Charlie Strong is a head coach. And a good one. Any return to South Bend would feel incredibly temporary, with the circus following every job vacancy that opens up—with fans and media speculating, “Is this the one to get Strong back to the head job?”

That’s not a headache BK and company would want to deal with, especially when you consider how much this collective fanbase sweats out coordinator hires or parallel moves.

(Remember when Tony Alford left after Signing Day and it felt like someone died around here?)

Charlie Strong is a good man and a good coach. But that’s the wrong type of hire for ND. I think he’ll probably take a year off to examine the landscape, continue to cash those fat checks coming from Austin, and then get back into it next year.

 

irishwilliamsport:

Keith, I know this is an exercise in futility but I’ll ask a mailbag question… What would you guess BK’s combined job approval rating is among all fan bases ?

You’ve got me. No clue. Does anybody have a good job approval rating?

At this point, I don’t think anybody’s approval rating is all that high at 4-8, to the point that Jack Swarbrick—a guy who might be the most powerful and intelligent athletic director in the country—has seen fans turn on him as well.

I wasn’t quite sure what you were getting at with your question about “all fan bases,” but maybe you were talking about the perception of Kelly both inside and out of the program? If so, I thought Colin Cowherd’s take on Kelly, at least from a national perspective and a guy who watches a lot of college football, is interesting. (It’s a perspective that’s pretty common, I must say.)

 

codenamegee: 

What has Brian Kelly done to make you think he can win a championship at Notre Dame. Looking at his FBS coaching resume his teams have never beaten a top 5 team. I just don’t get why everyone thinks he’s a good coach. Notre Dame is poorly coached (too many mental breakdowns), offense lacks imagination (Running plays are too predictable, no tail back screens, no delay draws, lack of counters and traps). Yet all I hear how Brian Kelly is this great coach or Brian Kelly is a great offensive mind. If he is, he hasn’t showed it since he’s been in South Bend.

Well, first off—and this is a biggie—he played for one. So let’s not ignore that. And he was maybe one play away from getting invited to playing for another last year, a game-winning, last-second field goal against Stanford knocking the Irish from the playoff.

Now I get that playing for one isn’t the same as winning one. And when it comes to comparing this program to Alabama’s, frankly I don’t think Notre Dame has a chance to get to that level until Nick Saban retires… or the NCAA finds something illegal in his program. So if that’s the bar you’ll set, I’m not sure he can get there. And I’m not sure Notre Dame is willing to do what it takes to get there. And frankly, that’s something I’m okay with—especially as you

Last point for you—have you really heard anybody calling Brian Kelly a good coach lately? Is anybody following Notre Dame saying Kelly’s done a good job this season? Has the coach himself even said that? Have I?

Listen, I get it. Losing seasons are terrible. They are really painful and this one came out of nowhere, making it worse. Then throw on top of that just how close the games were—each week a decision here or there, or a blown assignment or missed opportunity sometimes the singular difference between a win and a loss.

That all adds up. And it certainly will carry into next season, a direct reflection on the coach’s job status, regardless of the length of his remaining contract.

 

irishdog80: Can Brian Kelly truly survive and thrive as head coach at Notre Dame or is his best opportunity a fresh start at a new school or pro team?

I don’t think Kelly would’ve stayed if he didn’t think he could thrive. He could get another job if he wanted one. And I don’t think Swarbrick would’ve let him stick around if he didn’t have comfort that the football program—a team that he spends more time around than anybody outside the players and the coaches—was in good hands, and that this was a bad season, not a bad program.

That’s a really good question though, Irishdog. We’ve seen Bob Stoops rally. We’ve seen David Shaw bounce back, though neither pulled a four-win season. And for now, I think Kelly can, too. But it’s worth pointing out that the rumor everybody seemed to be fired up about, three-win & nine-loss Mark Dantonio, would be a huge coaching upgrade over Kelly is funny, considering Dantonio just took a College Football Playoff team and drove it off a cliff.

 

 

irishcatholic16: With reports that Brian Kelly is seeking job opportunities outside of Notre Dame then shortly after saying that he’s committed to Notre Dame along with him bolting Cincinnati in the same fashion (saying he would stay then leaving), do you think he will lose the trust of his team and could we see more decommits as a result? Will the team trust him knowing that he isn’t fully committed?

I have no belief that those reports are true. And I have no reason to think that Kelly’s team—seven years in—would have their trust of the man leading the program hinging on reports from national media pundits.

Are we still talking about the way he left Cincinnati? Because it sure looked to me an awful lot like every coach leaves their program—Tom Herman just the latest example of a coach left in an unwinnable situation, with the media ready to pounce by asking unanswerable questions.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that Kelly’s agent was talking to teams. He was. He’s the same guy that reps Herman, and a handful of other top-shelf coaches. But that’s what agents do. They talk about their clients, 99% of the time without the client ever having any idea he’s doing it.

 

 

bjc378:

I’ll ask the obvious question. Sorry, I didn’t listen to the podcast.

Do you (still) think BK should be the Irish coach next year? If so, how long of a leash do you give him next year and what changes would you demand? If not, or if he decides to coach elsewhere, what’s your wish list look like?

No apology necessary, first off, on the podcast. It’s supplemental, but listen for John Walters’ wisdom, it’s basically like telling your friends you subscribe to Newsweek.

As for BK, yes I do think he should be the coach next year. I don’t think Notre Dame is a program that should fire someone for a single bad season—period. I didn’t like it when they did it to Ty (in retrospect it was the right thing to do), and I wouldn’t like it if they did it to Kelly, a year off a ten-win season and a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

(Also worth noting, they don’t do it in hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, or any other sport.)

As for the leash? That’s hard to say. I think we’ll know quite a bit about this team at the end of next September. They’ll have played Temple (the potential AAC champ coached by one of the nation’s underrated head coaches in Matt Rhule), Georgia, Boston College, Michigan State and—don’t laugh—Miami (Ohio), who has got it going now under Chuck Martin. So if that month goes sideways and the season does too, I won’t have any problem with Swarbrick trying to upgrade and make a change.

As for the wish list? No clue. Not at this point. I’ll take Jon Gruden off of it, so cross him off before anybody asks me. And any other NFL head coach.

But I’d start by looking at someone like Willie Taggart, a young Harbaugh protege who coached at Stanford and has now done good work as a head coach at both Western Kentucky and USF.

Drue Tranquill named first-team Academic All-American

Drue Tranquill
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Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.

 

Postseason Mailbag: Now Open

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the start of their game against Army in a NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on November 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.

Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.

 

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If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters.