North Carolina v Notre Dame

Fall camp mailbag: Moving on after bad news

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So the Irish received their first bit of bad news in the 2015 season. Defensive tackle Jarron Jones is lost for the year and the Notre Dame defense will need to collectively replace Jones’ sizable place in the middle of the Irish defense.

I’ll start this mailbag off with a question I’ve seen thrown around the web the past few days:

 

On a scale of 1-to-10, how badly does Jarron Jones’ injury hurt Notre Dame’s defense?

I’m going to put it at a six out of 10. As I look at the defense, here are the player, in order, that the Irish can’t afford to lose. And as you can see, for as good as Jones could be, I don’t think he’s at the top of the list.

  1. Jaylon Smith
  2. Joe Schmidt
  3. KeiVarae Russell
  4. Max Redfield
  5. Cole Luke
  6. Sheldon Day
  7. Jarron Jones

 

You could probably debate this list—and really, it’s one of those arbitrary lists you write just because you have to when a situation like this comes up—but the loss of Jones’ talent and experience was painful, but there’s depth around him to make up for it.

Now getting to that point…

 

mediocrebob: If you had to pick one true freshman defensive player to break out and play a big role , who would it be and why? Offensive true frosh?

Even before this injury, my answer was Jerry Tillery. I just think he’s too talented to keep off the field. Throw in Jones’ injury and Tillery is going to get as much work as he can handle.

Offensively, I think I’m going with Equanimeous St. Brown. I was tempted to list CJ Sanders here, but ultimately, I think EQ is going to take the role of designated down-field threat, following in the long line of greats like Golden Tate and Will Fuller.

 

mattymill: We are always enamored with the new freshmen. I haven’t read the questions above, but I’m sure there are some asking who the breakout frosh will be. I’m wondering who will be the breakout soph that either didn’t play or didn’t contribute much last year? 2012 we had Golson, last year was Fuller. Who fits that bill in 2015? 

Good guess, Matt.

I’ll give you one on offense and one on defense. Offensively, I’ll go with Nic Weishar. He’s lit up fall camp and he is also taking advantage of nagging injuries that have slowed down Alizé Jones and Durham Smythe. It sounds like he’s a ball hawk and it also sounds like he’s developed quite a rapport with Malik Zaire. So keep an eye on Weishar.

Defensively, I’ll say Jonathon Bonner if I’m going with someone who hasn’t seen the field and Daniel Cage if I need to pick someone who has. Both are likely moving one-step closer to the field after the injury to Jarron Jones.

 

coachtemp: Keith, are you concerned as I am with who will actually call plays? After listening to Coach Denbrock, he said all three coaches work well together but he didn’t indicate who would actually be calling the plays. 

Sorry Temp, I just can’t get too worked up about this. I know you’d like Mike Sanford to call the plays on Saturdays but right now he’s been working in Kelly’s offense for a total of nine months. That’s just not enough experience, especially when Kelly is a 20-plus year veteran offensive playcaller and Denbrock is the most experienced assistant on Kelly’s staff.

Listen, I think it’s completely fair to be skeptical as to how this whole three-headed monster is going to work out. But I also don’t think it’s much of a leap to think that a guy like Denbrock and a young coach like Sanford can get along and find common ground. I truly believe him when he says “best idea wins,” and I think that it’ll be nice to see what that looks like.

 

irishfaithful666: After watching the highlights from the magical 2012 season, one thing stood out the most to me. When it was a big third down, with the game on the line one player consistently pulled through. Theo Riddick. Who do you see as the guy this year? Folston, Prosise, or Zaire? Also some big time clutch receptions were made by one T J Jones. Do we have these go to guys that can get it done when it matters most?

I’ll agree that Riddick definitely made his share of big plays. And he was rock solid against USC down the stretch. That said, I think this team is way better equipped for guys who can step up and make a play than the 2012 team was, especially on offense.

In the running game, I think Tarean Folston is a better all-around back than anybody on the 2012 team and C.J. Prosise has speed that nobody on the 2012 offense had. And while I think you might be getting the 2013 season mixed up when you mention TJ Jones, I’d take Will Fuller over Jones already and likely would also trust someone like Corey Robinson on 3rd-and-Need It over any receiver on the 2012 team minus Tyler Eifert.

 

 

 

 

sblxdoc: Why is it so difficult to get an elite pass rusher to Notre Dame? I ask this with complete sincerity, do you think there is a correlation with that position and academics/intelligence? It is so bizarre that we haven’t had this for years.

I’ll challenge the “we haven’t had this for years,” comment, considering in 2012 Stephon Tuitt was near the nation’s lead for sacks and nearly broke Justin Tuck’s single-season record. But I get your point in general, though I’ll point out that not every team—not even elite teams—have a speed demon coming off the edge.

(Go look at the Alabama team that knocked ND out in the opening minutes of the BCS title game.)

Sure, there’s been some bad luck at the position. (Lynch transferred, the slew of unproven kids that just took off, too.) But I think if Notre Dame’s defense plays like it’s capable of this season, there’s going to be a defensive end that jumps off the stat sheet for the Irish this season, and I also think Notre Dame is going to flip a big name pass rusher as we get closer to Signing Day.

This defensive scheme should help recruit better edge rushers. But Kelly has mentioned it more than once: Most teams don’t get to the quarterback with just a great pass rusher at defensive end. So expect the Irish to manufacture some of their pressure until they’re able to find the right guy.

 

ndrocks2: Keith is the next ND player on our roster who will get 10 sacks in a season?

If VanGorder wants to turn Jaylon Smith into a 10-sack player, he can be it this season. Otherwise, I could see someone like Okwara exploding during his senior season or possible Sheldon Day, who’ll get some chances to rush the passer from the edge.

Andrew Trumbetti should have that ability come 2016, and I also think we need to see how someone like Jon Bonner does now that he’s activated.

 

@JMSet3: When back on campus do you use Eddy St Bookstore or keep it old school and stick to campus store?

If it’s a game weekend, I’m staying out of both of them. I tried finding gloves during the freezing rain against Stanford and both were complete zoos.

But I’ll be on campus Monday evening and Tuesday for media day, and I’ll probably hit up the book store, just because it’s “more authentic.” But I would point out that the true “old school” bookstore is long gone…

 

padomer: Not entirely training camp related however a suggestion/request…I know you’re probably stretched thin, but have you ever considered a podcast? ISD and BnG are the only ND podcasts I’ve found (and thoroughly enjoy them) but this is probably my first click when it comes to ND news, I think a podcast would be a lot of fun and something the rest of your followers (as well as yourself) may enjoy. Thoughts?

I love podcasts. I’ve thought long and hard about doing one, but more often than not, I’m mostly just a guest on them.

I think the podcasts you mentioned are good ones. I was also just a guest on Irish Sports Radio and I think the guys at One Foot Down and Her Loyal Sons do them, too. But do yourself a favor and check out Irish Illustrated’s podcast. Pete, Tim (and now Tim O.) do a great job and drop a lot of insider knowledge.

 

Report: Justin Brent to transfer

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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.

And in that corner… Introducing Douglas Farmer

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans 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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It’s time to turn over the keys. On a day where our great nation makes a peaceful transition, so does our humble blog.

I’d love to say I was smart enough to time my departure for the same day as inauguration, but as they say, it’s better to be lucky than good. And I was lucky to get the gig, and happy to turn it over to someone who I believe is a better-than-good writer: Douglas Farmer.

Douglas was Editor-in-Chief of The Observer when he was a student at Notre Dame. He’s worked for old media—earning a byline at the Los Angeles Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s worked the ND beat, not just at the school paper, but at Blue & Gold. And now, I’m very happy to say, he’s taking over Inside the Irish, a transition that I think will go wonderfully.

To give you an idea of who Douglas is, I milked one last column gave him the And in this Corner treatment.

Hope you enjoy. And, one last request—Be Nice.

 

Douglas, you graduated from Notre Dame in 2012, and last covered the Irish on a day-to-day basis in the 2014 season. What has you excited to come back to the beat?

Douglas Farmer: Given Notre Dame’s past season, I would say I am most excited to take an in-depth look at how the Irish respond — and perhaps rebound — in 2017. It has been awhile (nearly a decade, more accurately) since Notre Dame has needed to do that, so it is one area of football there is not much institutional knowledge to rely upon.

Aside from that, the general engagement with a fan base so devotedly-interested in its topic is always something to look forward to. Even during a 4-8 season, that fan base does not waver in its curiosity and thirst for information.

 

A nice perk is also getting paid for the addiction that is Notre Dame Football, no?

DF: I prefer to subscribe to Hurricane Carter’s opinion on addictions: Do not be addicted to anything “they” can take away from you.

 

Well put. As I thought about the decision to move on, I came to the conclusion that there’s no perfect time to ever do so. That said, other than the head coach, this is as close to a reboot as you can ask for. Do these next few months get you excited, especially as an almost entirely new staff take charge?

DF: Just had to slip in a reference to removing the head coach, didn’t you?

Bouncing back from a rough season is the most appealing story line in sports, in anything really. Take a look at any movie you have ever watched (or, in your case, perhaps even been involved in). The hero experiences conflict just before redemption. Now, I am not saying Notre Dame is the hero. I am saying watching the team, the program, try to rebound has me very interested.

The staff turnover is an added wrinkle, and will only increase the work ahead for the program. Before the players can learn the plays, they have to learn the staff. Before that, the staff has to learn about each other.

 

So what’s the plan with the blog? You plan on getting to know the characters below the fold in the comments? Keep the A-to-Z series rolling? Do a better job proof-reading?

DF: I do not intend to outright abandon any institution or established series you have devoted years to. Thus, I would expect A-to-Z to continue in some form. But we will see. That is an easy thing to say when I have not yet reached the misery that must be “Q, R, S, …”

I would like to engage with the readers, but only so far as logic and rational conversation will allow. I have no interest in devolving to who knows what depths. Proof-reading, well, I want to say I will excel at that, but that just sets me up to eat a lot of crow when I miss a letter in April.

 

Smart. Will tell you about the A-to-Z… This roster is a front-loaded one, alphabetically, at least.

DF: All of high school I had a locker next to a Favre. (Not really related.) I understand the luxuries the alphabet can provide.

 

Let’s go rapid fire for a second: Favorite game you saw in person at Notre Dame?

DF: Either the 2012 Stanford game or the 2011 South Florida game. I realize how absurd that latter answer sounds, but that is part of why it stands the test of time. It was such a unique experience. Plus, being allowed to go back to the dorm for an hour at halftime made the whole day more entertaining.

 

Best road game experience?

DF: 2010 Army in Yankee Stadium jumps to the top of the heap, though I suppose technically not a road game. Go ahead and score against me for this, but I am a lifelong Yankees fan. That was a big one for me.

(KA note: The Observer must not have had the $$ to send the editor to Dublin…)

(DF note to KA’s note: I graduated in May 2012. The Observer did manage to send four staffers to Dublin the following September. Sometimes I wonder if I would not have been better off if I had taken two years to get through fifth grade.)

 

Favorite player to watch during your time as a student?

DF: Golden Tate could have walked around the football field as Maximus, for all I’m concerned, given how entertaining he often was. Though Lou Nix also holds a lofty place in my regard.
I lived a door down from Lou for two years, part of the reasoning there.

 

Favorite villain of the Irish from your time watching/following Notre Dame football?

DF: Pete Carroll runs away with the award. His candidacy is enhanced by my Wisconsin-bred Packer fandom.I do not like disliking Pete Carroll. I very much wish I could be indifferent toward him. The Falcons granted me that luxury for nine months.

 

Part of what has me excited about this transition is that I actually thought you’d be a good person to turn the keys over to, as I enjoyed reading your stuff when you were at The Observer and covering the Irish in your post-graduation years. What’s the most exciting part for you about taking over the blog? And what do you look forward to doing with it?

DF: I am most excited for the chance to write, and the chance to write about something on which I consider myself relatively knowledgeable. I look forward to seeing where the blog environment takes me. The open-ended aspect of it presents all sorts of possibilities.

Theoretically, I can be more freewheeling than elsewhere, get in-and-out quicker of some pieces, spend more time on others. I know Notre Dame fans of all varieties — the obsessed, the apathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, etc. — including some who have yet to decide how they feel about Tommy Rees. (Feel positively about him. It’s that simple.)

My sample size is certainly representative of the fan base as a whole. That wide swath is what makes covering Notre Dame enjoyable, and very well may provide the blog some direction and material on its own.

Oh, and I appreciate those kind words, Keith. I’ll Venmo you $20 later tonight.

 

Sliding a final question into my lightning round. What’s your handle on NDNation? (Kidding!)

DF: I will take my right to not incriminate myself, otherwise known as the Fifth.

Notre Dame makes Alexander and Balis hires official

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Notre Dame confirmed the news that Del Alexander and Matt Balis are joining Brian Kelly’s staff. As expected, Alexander will coach wide receivers while Balis was named director of football performance.

The program announced both hires on Thursday.

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

Alexander, who’ll lean on his West Coast roots and familiarity with new offensive coordinator Chip Long, said the following:

“I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country. Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

Balis comes to Notre Dame from UConn, with an impressive pedigree that counts jobs at Mississippi State, Florida, Virginia and Utah. He takes over for Paul Longo, who is taking a leave of absence from the football program, per the official release.

“Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh,” Kelly said. “He’s already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn’t be more excited to have him in place moving forward.”