Notre Dame’s ineligible running back Greg Bryant looks to still be playing football this fall. And that could mean the end of his time in South Bend.
A tweet from an assistant coach at ASA College in Miami got the internet humming as it appears that Bryant will spend the fall semester in his home state, taking classes at a local college while also playing for the only junior college program in Florida.
Here’s the tweet that set-off a crazy few minutes:
Blue & Gold’s Andrew Ivins was the first to follow that up, reporting that Bryant has enrolled in classes, and also joined team meetings. Yet what that means for his future in South Bend remains to be seen.
Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson has been all over the Bryant story, communicating with the running back’s father, who stated very clearly that he wants his son to return to South Bend and finish what he started. Brian Kelly said he was open to that scenario last week, especially if Bryant was willing to buy in as both a student and football player.
The situation isn’t unprecedented. Quarterback Nate Montana left Notre Dame voluntarily, seeking out playing time at Pasadena City College after being buried on the Irish depth chart. He returned in time for spring practice, and played sparingly in Kelly’s first season, serving as a backup to Dayne Crist before Tommy Rees ascended to the starting job after Crist’s season-ending knee injury.
The connectivity between the ASA program and Notre Dame? Sampson points out their head coach is Ernest Jones, a long-time Brian Kelly assistant who spent time at Notre Dame in an off-field role. Jones was briefly on Bob Diaco’s staff before he resigned from position after he created a firestorm with comments about religion being center stage in the Huskies program.
Up for debate is the timing of Bryant’s return—or whether it’s possible. Ivins mentioned that Bryant was hoping to earn an associate’s degree. Another source mentioned that Bryant would need to spend an entire year at the college, meaning no return for spring semester and practice.
Whatever the case, you couldn’t ask for a better on-field situation for Bryant. Enrolling at ASA allows him to play football, especially for a head coach who’ll likely be running an offensive system similar to the one the Irish utilized. But whether that means he—or Kelly—have closed the door on a potential return to Notre Dame is up for debate. Talking to various people around the program, it feels like a 50-50 proposition.
Brian Kelly will likely comment on this when he’s made available to the media tomorrow, continuing to make a major media story out of Notre Dame’s third-string running back.
Monday’s Leftovers: A worst-case scenario for Notre Dame’s spring, with links to read
Notre Dame will return from spring break today and get back to practice tomorrow, presumably breaking out pads for the first time this spring. Obviously, Irish nightmares of spring practice focus on injuries. Aside from those, though, …
Continuing quarterback confusion throughout the spring would not please anybody, especially if the issue becomes even cloudier than it already is. Of course, there is a not-so-bad version of this: Both rising senior Brandon Wimbush and rising junior Ian Book perform well, making Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long’s decision heading into the fall a difficult one because he actually has multiple worthwhile options.
Then, there is the worst-case scenario: Both Wimbush and Book flail away this spring, culminating with them turning over the ball multiple times apiece in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21. Such disappointments could lead to incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec arriving this summer an immediate and genuine piece of the starting quarterback competition. That would speak worse of Wimbush’s and Book’s next month than it would inherently speak well of Jurkovec’s 2018 potential.
No receivers emerge, either. After the Irish receivers appeared to be a strength last spring, the season brought only inconsistency and little production. If that trend continues this spring, it may not matter who is throwing the ball in the fall.
This might not keep Long or Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly up at night, though, with three more incoming freshmen arriving this summer to shore up the receiving corps, a bandage not available to fix if …
No fourth linebacker provides peace of mind. With both early-enrolled freshmen Jack Lamb and Bo Bauer already practicing, an absence of a strong backup linebacker would have no likely solution this fall. If those two were not around, and both rising junior Jonathan Jones and rising senior Asmar Bilal — not to mention rising sophomores David White and Drew Adams — failed to impress this spring, then the hope could be Lamb or Bauer would arrive in the summer and be an immediate fix.
With them on-campus, a lack of a worthwhile linebacker exiting this spring would foreshadow a lack of rest and injury relief for fifth-year Drue Tranquill and rising senior Te’von Coney.
Lastly, and with the broadest view, 89 stays 89. When the spring ends, the conversation will return to how the Irish roster will get down to the NCAA maximum-allowed 85 scholarships, four fewer than currently anticipated this fall. This would be extremely unlikely, although within a discussion of a worst-case scenario, but if summer begins and no outgoing transfers surface, then that scholarship crunch could quickly create unnecessary drama and suspense.
Right now, four spots of attrition is entirely reasonable and even usual. If that is still the number to be lost in late May, those adjectives may shift to avoidable and stressful.
— Last week’s “Leftovers” asked who should be Notre Dame’s fourth captain, a position to be filled by player vote at the end of spring practice. The results tilted heavily toward the defense.
From there, Wimbush, fifth-year right guard Alex Bars and fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar all fell between 5 and 9 percent.
— With spring break over, a quick piece of scheduling housekeeping: Notre Dame will fit in 12 more practices before the spring sessions conclude with the Blue-Gold Game. That will entail practices on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with a brief break for Easter.
— The biggest free agent of the NFL offseason signed with the Minnesota Vikings over the weekend. Kirk Cousins may elicit poor memories for Irish fans, being the former Michigan State quarterback who authored much of the Spartans’ 34-31 victory in 2010, a game more commonly referred to simply as “Little Giants.”
But Cousins’ payday should bode well for someone else from that game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph reached the Pro Bowl this past season thanks to 57 catches for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. With Cousins throwing passes, Washington’s tight ends have put up stat lines dwarfing that the last few seasons. In looking at those stats, the last two years need to include two tight ends, since Jordan Reed has yet to stay healthy through an entire season.
2017: Reed and Vernon Davis combined for 70 catches for 859 yards and five touchdowns.
2016: Reed and Davis combined for 130 catches for 1,219 yards and eight touchdowns.
2015: Reed’s breakout campaign consisted of 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in only 14 games.
Rudolph could, even should, enjoy a career year catching passes from his former nemesis next season.
— Only one program can claim both a Sweet Sixteen entrant in the men’s basketball tournament and a top-25 football team. Who is it? (Answer at the bottom.)
At the end of nearly every fall, one can look back at the praises of spring and see misguided conclusions. Such is the nature of competing against oneself for months at a time. Last year, the greatest misread from Notre Dame’s spring actually may have been the underrating of the Irish defensive line. Its struggles to mount a pass rush spoke more to the offensive line’s dominance than it did the defensive front’s ineptness, but the latter became the view du jour.
Thus, every conclusion drawn this spring should be measured with a great deal of trepidation and a few qualifiers. Nonetheless, certain possibilities this spring would offer the most promise to Notre Dame’s 2018.
Starting with, of course, avoiding any and all injuries in the coming month of practices.
Beyond that, the greatest development would be settling upon a starting quarterback without any remaining doubt. Such a decision is hard to fathom without one of the two main competitors — rising senior Brandon Wimbush and rising junior Ian Book — failing as much as the other succeeding, and that may seem contrary to the search for an ideal 15 practices. However, if that is what it takes to have no quarterback question moving forward, it would be a net positive.
This would require one of Wimbush or Book to show an “adeptness,” to borrow a word from Irish coach Brian Kelly, in both passing and running.
“What I want to know is that our quarterbacks are equally adept at running it and throwing it, and that wasn’t the case [last] year,” Kelly said before spring practices began.
Proving that beyond the shadow of a doubt would hinge on a nearly flawless month to come, which would also be the longest stretch of stellar play seen from either Wimbush or Book. It remains unlikely, but it would be the first step toward an ideal scenario.
A young emergence along the offensive line Splitting right tackle duties last year worked in large part because the rest of the offensive front was proven and experienced. With rising sophomore Robert Hainsey likely at a new position and rising junior Tommy Kraemer taking on more duties (if not also at a new position), finding a single fifth starter would allow this new-look line a full summer to develop the chemistry last year’s already had.
That could come in the form of rising sophomore Josh Lugg or rising junior Liam Eichenberg or from another of the handful of candidates. Whomever it is, identifying him before the summer would bode well for whoever is taking the snaps.
Coney’s command of the defense Rising senior Te’von Coney will step into the role formerly filled by the likes of Te’o, Schmidt and Morgan. Not only will he be counted on to make the most defensive plays and break 100 tackles again, but his command and understanding of the defense will dictate how a number of other players perform, as well.
Granted, Coney will have fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill in the middle with him, and Tranquill showed a solid grasp last year, often directing traffic from the rover position, but Coney will be in the middle and efficient pre-snap adjustments this fall will be best coming from there.
Competent safety play emerges The odds are slim Notre Dame will find two excellent safeties this offseason. Given there was not even good safety play last year, finding two stellar starters would require both rising junior Alohi Gilman to be better than advertised and some distinct development from an unexpected source.
More realistically, Gilman may be good, certainly better than options seen last year, and one of those options also takes a few strides forward this spring.
Having some viable possibilities at safety may sound like a low bar to clear, but it would be a marked improvement over the last two seasons and may be the final piece to the 2018 Irish defense.
Anything else found this spring would be icing on the cake. Even if that includes early-enrolled freshman running back Jahmir Smith flashing unexpected speed, rising senior Asmar Bilal showing a complete handling of the rover duties and/or rising sophomore receiver Michael Young not dropping a single pass throughout all of March and April. The Notre Dame coaching staff would certainly welcome each of those daydreams, but such micro performances may be a mirage this time of year.
Bigger picture changes — such as at quarterback, offensive line and the up the middle of the defense — would present a strong foundation for 2018.
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s spring questions focus on four non-QB positions
Notre Dame held two practices before spring break, both without pads. At the most, they set a base line, but much more should be learned in the coming month building up to the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.
Instinct, public opinion and headlines may presume the most-important thing to learn this spring focuses on the competition between rising senior Brandon Wimbush and rising junior Ian Book to be named starting quarterback. The fact of the matter, though, is that duel will almost assuredly extend well into the summer. It is thus not among the items to learn this spring.
Who will “start” at running back, however, may come into focus in the next five weeks. Whether rising senior Dexter Williams or rising junior Tony Jones gains an advantage over the other, both will receive plenty of carries in the fall.
For one thing, Josh Adams is no longer around to take 206 carries for 1,430 yards. If including the dismissals of Deon McIntosh and C.J. Holmes, 279 attempts for 1,831 yards and 14 touchdowns will need to be replaced from last season. That task begins with health, which neither Williams nor Jones had much of in 2017. Thus, the question of who takes the step forward has little previous evidence to provide an answer.
“Most people just see you on Saturday when you have your helmet on and shoulder pads, and wonder why isn’t he in the game,” Kelly said March 5 in discussing Williams. “Well, there’s four other days leading up to it, and his inability to really practice and provide the kind of work necessary to get to Saturdays put him behind a little bit.”
Kelly had similar thoughts regarding Jones, also acknowledging the first season of collegiate contact may have taken a toll on the then-sophomore.
“His strength in work volume is better than it was last year,” Kelly said. “He wasn’t healthy most of the season, as well. Stronger, he’s got a coat of armor on him. His work volume is better.
“Finally, we recognize how important he is and we have to make sure he gets the proper touches within the offense.”
Again, both Williams and Jones will have plenty of opportunities in the fall … if healthy. As much as this is a question of who gets more opportunities, perhaps it should be a wondering of who will stay healthiest, if either.
The Irish have to replace even more at receiver.
Notre Dame’s receivers totaled 113 catches for 1,716 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017. With all of Equanimeous St. Brown (to the NFL draft), Kevin Stepherson (repeated legal issues), Cam Smith (out of eligibility) and C.J. Sanders (outgoing transfer) gone, the Irish lost 61 receptions for 934 yards and 10 touchdowns of that productivity. To put it more aptly, that is 53.98 percent of the receivers’ receptions, 54.43 percent of their yardage and exactly two-thirds of their scores.
That is, well, a lot.
With rising junior Chase Claypool only somewhat involved this spring due to shoulder surgery, even more of a vacuum awaits filling. Claypool leads the returnees with 29 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns.
Enter rising seniors Miles Boykin and Chris Finke and rising sophomore Michael Young. With Kelly identifying Boykin as one of roster’s quickest players in 10-yard bursts, then that trio is not only diverse in size but also a grouping of genuine speed.
Will they solidify their standing as the leaders at the position, along with Claypool, or will offensive coordinator Chip Long be desperate for the arrival of a trio of incoming freshmen this summer, not to mention early-enrolled freshman Micah Jones or finally-healthy rising junior Javon McKinley?
No production was lost at safety this offseason, but that is not inherently a good thing.
Someone will start at safety in the Blue-Gold Game. Perhaps it will be rising sophomore Jordan Genmark-Heath and fifth-year Nick Coleman. Maybe rising junior Alohi Gilman will confirm a year’s worth of reviews this spring and earn the nod, joined by returning starter and rising junior Jalen Elliott.
It will not be rising sophomore Isaiah Robertson after his move to rover. Removing him from contention is about the only piece of clarity at safety thus far, and that cloudy view may remain until late August, quite frankly.
Whoever starts at safety to close the spring will have pole position to maintain that honor when incoming freshman Derrik Allen arrives to present an additional challenge.
Of the three position groups discussed thus far, safety is truly the one with the most unknown. Early-enrolled freshman cornerback Houston Griffith could line up at safety on April 21 and it would not be all that much of a shock. It would simply mean the dismal play offered by last season’s roster had not developed into something better.
Another early-enrolled freshman could be the answer to the question of, who will be the fourth linebacker?
Rising junior Jonathan Jones is likely the backup to both fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill and rising senior Te’von Coney. If injuries were to pillage the rover possibilities, Tranquill would then move back to his former position and Jones would step into Tranquill’s place. And yes, Kelly confirmed Tranquill’s move to a more traditional linebacker role.
“You can write that down and get used to it,” Kelly said.
A number of other names could be plugged in where Jones’ appears in that paragraph. Early-enrolled freshmen Jack Lamb and Bo Bauer could both surpass Jones. Lamb and Bauer were such-heralded recruits, a jump past Jones and sophomores Drew White and David Adams could be just a confirmation of those reviews, not necessarily an indictment of the upperclassmen’s potential.
The final option, which would not be clear even if it came to be reality in the long-run, would be rising senior Asmar Bilal becoming the backup for both Tranquill and Coney despite also likely starting at rover. With similar logic to Tranquill possibly filling in for an injured rover, it could be determined relying on rising sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah or Robertson at rover with Bilal filling in at linebacker would provide the best fix of a lineup.
These are the things spring practice is intended for. A year ago, the questions hinged on new coordinators and new schemes. Even with the departure of Mike Elko to Texas A&M, the promotion of linebackers coach Clark Lea to defensive coordinator ensured consistency in scheme and message. Thus, the questions this spring hinge on a few positions, most notably these four.
Last week, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly named three captains for the 2018 season. He also said he would hold a team vote for a fourth captain by the end of spring practice. That naturally leads to some speculation as to who could prevail in that balloting.
Kelly indicated “six or seven” players were in the mix after the first tally this spring, the one that made captains out of fifth-years Drue Tranquill, Sam Mustipher and Tyler Newsome. Considering which seniors stand out as productive playmakers, which fifth-years were invited back to contribute and thus create a roster crunch, and who led the offseason “SWAT” teams, a few frontrunners emerge.
The Irish have long had multiple leaders along the offensive line, and fifth-year right guard Alex Bars could join Mustipher as a team-wide captain. Similarly, fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar returned despite not yet being a vital piece of the passing game — instead, Kelly has often cited Weishar’s influence within the tight end group and the offense as a whole.
The returns of rising seniors Te’von Coney and Jerry Tillery, each opting to forgo the NFL draft, certainly made Notre Dame’s defense a force to be reckoned with as far as paper is concerned. Usually, when a player up the middle comes off a strong junior season and opts to return, a captainship may soon follow, but both Coney and Tillery have faced disciplinary issues during their Irish careers. Such could jeopardize a captainship from an administrative standpoint, no matter how a player vote turns out.
Rising senior cornerback Nick Watkins is leading one of those spring SWAT units. Watkins may otherwise be off the possible captain radar, but that position of leadership has been an indicative piece of data the last two years. Exhibit A: Newsome led a group each of the last two years, bringing him to a more prominent role in the locker room than a punter may usually have.
Rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush heads a SWAT team, as well, as a co-leader with Weishar. Naming Wimbush a captain coming out of spring would create some level of expectation of him being the starting quarterback, something Kelly does not intend to establish before August, at the earliest. Of course, Wimbush’s play, or rising junior Ian Book’s subpar play, could force that issue before then.
That makes six candidates. Rising junior cornerback Julian Love (pictured above) could be a seventh. Love has comported himself well both on and off the field in his two years as a starter, and he may not be around to be a captain as a senior.
This is nothing but idle speculation, but it is spring break and the conversation is intriguing, at the least.
Mustipher on new o-line coach Jeff Quinn The verdict on Quinn’s promotion to fill the void left by Harry Hiestand will not be returned until November, at the earliest. Until then, the opinions of Mustipher and the rest of the offensive line are the best clues to Quinn’s interactions with the offensive line. When asked about Quinn on Tuesday, there was no chance Mustipher would offer anything but praise, but some insight can be gained by what praise Mustipher provided.
“He brings a motivational and inspirational energy to the offensive line room,” Mustipher said. “He understands the way the standard needs to be set.”
That is pretty generic to start. Mustipher then spoke of the “privilege” of being part of the interview process, along with Bars. It would seem the two made it clear to Kelly they wanted not only consistency in message and system, but also some investment in that approach.
“We understand that standard of excellence,” Mustipher said. “We wanted a guy that wanted to be here and wanted to coach, and that it meant a lot to him to be here.”
Kizer to the Green Bay Packers Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer was traded to the Green Bay Packers from the Cleveland Browns on Friday for a cornerback, per the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Without a doubt, getting away from the Browns will be good for Kizer, but do not presume he will ever throw many passes on the shores of Lake Michigan.
In trading oft-injured cornerback Damarious Randall, the Packers not only received Kizer, but they also moved up in both the fourth- and fifth- rounds in next month’s NFL draft. That alone may have been enough incentive to move on from a defensive back who publicly feuded with an assistant coach last season.
Securing a contract-controlled backup quarterback solidified the deal, and it is likely Kizer is never more than a backup for the Packers. Starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers is only 34. He should have another four or five or even more years left in his career. Kizer’s contract, meanwhile, expires after the 2020 season.
If he minds his manners, learns from Rodgers and makes a few cameos in the next three seasons, then perhaps an opportunity elsewhere will await Kizer. Knowing the NFL and its preference for the newest inventory, though, this may be a step toward a career as a backup for the 2017 second-round draft pick.
Kizer finished his rookie season with 2,894 yards, 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions on 255-of-476 passing in 15 games. He added 419 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 77 attempts with nine fumbles sprinkled in.
(Off-topic, but near to the heart: Quarterback rushing statistics do not need to be adjusted for sacks in the NFL.)
Kudos to Oklahoma With the Sunday night reveal of the NCAA men’s basketball bracket, Oklahoma continued a rather impressive streak. The Sooners athletic department is the only one in the country that can claim AP Top-10 finishes in football and men’s basketball tournament teams in each of the last two years. For that matter, Oklahoma actually managed the double in 2015, as well.
‘Inside the Irish’ March Madness Pool Every online community has a bracket pool. On good days, this space is an online community. Thus, applying logic, it should have a bracket pool.
There is nothing at stake except for bragging rights and a chance to embarrass this scribe by finishing well ahead of him. What more could one possibly need?
For the sake of being different, the group will utilize a Fibonacci scoring sequence (2-3-5-8-13-21) with a seed-difference upset bonus throughout the Tournament.
At least with Notre Dame out of the bracket, the group’s results will not be skewed by unrealistic Irish hopes.
Speaking of Notre Dame not making it … The Irish did not have much of a résumé, injuries or no injuries. Looking at analytical measurements, though, Notre Dame appeared to have a much better chance than Syracuse, who squeezed in as the last at-large team. The Irish were the first team left out.
The differences between the two? Well, aside from Notre Dame winning at the Carrier Dome while without their two best players? The Irish have the nation’s No. 28 offense when adjusted for efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. The Orange have the No. 128 offense, offsetting it with the No. 11 adjusted defense.
It was indeed that difference that helped Syracuse to a 55-52 win over Clemson in its March 3 regular-season finale, a credentials-boosting victory the likes of which Notre Dame did not have.