Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Justin Thomas

Mailbag: About Schmidt, CJ, the QB (and that open job at USC)

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Thanks for the good questions, everybody. I did my best to pick ones that matched up with a slew of similar ones… and pick ones that I thought I’d enjoy answers.

(Why? Why not, I thought.)

Here goes nothing:

 

IrishDodger: Keith, please offer your opinion on the play of Joe Schmidt. We all love Joe’s story but he seemed to lose a step after his injury and even let Navy neutralize him. I’m afraid he’ll be further exposed this weekend and against Stanford. Why is it the less talented players seem to pick up the defense better than the 4-star phenoms?

I’ve gotten a half-dozen questions about Joe Schmidt’s play and this one from IrishDodger seemed to cover most of the angles. My opinion on his play? It’s been… a mix of very good, okay, and once or twice slightly disappointing.

As I look at Joe’s PFF grade—a website that knows a ton about football and literally grades and charts every play—I kind of see what they see. A disappointing performance against Virginia (I believe I tweeted that Joe overran a few tackles) and subpar play against Clemson, when Schmidt only had one tackle. (A quick plug for PFF. If you are a college football junky you should absolutely pony up the $$ to see their premium stats. It’s an incredible service, and it’ll help your fantasy team, too.)

Some have asked why Joe is playing. That answer is simple: He’s Notre Dame’s best middle linebacker. Brian Kelly said it point-blank in a press conference a few weeks ago and he’d likely say it again.

Dodger, you should know me well enough by now that I’m going to chuckle at your 4-star recruiting mention. Those rankings mean about as much as the gold star I gave myself for an excellent column last week. Just look at Greer Martini. He was a guy that Irish fans wondered why he was even being recruited. Now he’s my odds-on-favorite to be the starter next season.

Is Joe a perfect player? No. Is he a step slower than last year? I’m not sure, but we sure are ignoring the fact that he’s been playing with a cast on his thumb since Game One. Schmidt’s been asked to handle some of the toughest jobs on the field. And if he struggles at times doing that, you can bet that Nyles Morgan will, too.

There’s a lot of good football left in Notre Dame’s captain and leader. And I expect to see it during the second half of the season.

 

wisner74: Keith – C.J.Prosise’s spectacular development at RB is one of the big stories this year, and freshman RB Josh Adams appears to be coming along very nicely. At the same time, ND’s talented D-backfield seems not to be meeting fans’ expectations. What, if anything, do you think that says about the relative performance of two of the new Irish position coaches, Autry Denson and Todd Lyght?

Notre Dame’s secondary is still a work in progress. But Kelly commended Elijah Shumate’s solid play of late on Thursday and expect to see Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell begin to find a rhythm now that the option football is behind them.

Again, fan expectations aren’t necessarily reality. And saying Autry Denson is doing better than Todd Lyght because C.J. Prosise is a freak of nature isn’t necessarily a sound logic jump. But the Irish are still struggling at the safety position, and amidst all the box jumps and Instagram training videos we might have forgotten that Russell didn’t play football or even practice for a full calendar year, so expecting him to go from the shelf to lockdown status was a stretch.

 

ndlv: Keith, you have just been hired as a head coach. Whom do you hire as your defensive coordinator – Diaco or Van Gorder?

I think you do exactly what Brian Kelly did. Hire Bob Diaco.

Diaco is a builder. He took a group that was literally laughed at and made them believe they could be the best defense in America. When Irish fans heard the defense chanting “B.I.A.” you couldn’t miss the snarkiness. Two seasons later, Diaco had the Irish defense leading Notre Dame to the BCS title game. No they weren’t the best defense in America. But I think they were second or third.

All that being said, I think VanGorder gets a bum rap. You could have brought Bill Parcells, Buddy Ryan, or any other defensive guru in football history in last November and I’m not sure they’d have been able to make chicken salad with that group. Notre Dame’s front seven was decimated, and you just can’t defend if you’re getting blown off the ball and playing kids who have no clue what they’re doing.

That’s not to say that VanGorder has been perfect. I do think sometimes his group gets too scheme reliant. This group also has some maddening lapses—big plays that go for quick scores and a softness in the red zone that still scares me. But Notre Dame has played some good defense this year, save a handful of series. And they’re doing it without their starting nose tackle, and primary nickel and dime backs.

 

blushirts88: How comfortable are you with Kizer at QB? Do you feel he can handle this game at home?

I’ve been really impressed, haven’t you? And if you haven’t, maybe you didn’t see Kizer in the Blue-Gold game this spring. He was—and he admitted as much to Jac Collinsworth for our Stay Gold podcast—horrific, and basically hit rock bottom as he wondered if football was even the sport for him.

But his poise has been excellent. He throws a pretty ball and has no problem getting it down field. He has yet to have that “lost freshman” look, and that includes in a pouring rain storm in Death Valley.

He’s missed some throws. He’s forced some others. But his leadership and demeanor is contagious, he’s a really conscientious kid. I think he’s doing more than just keep Malik’s seat warm, he’s creating competition in the ranks and also helping the Irish stay on track to achieve their goals.

 

blackirish23:

KA – 2 Questions:

1. If you could have ONE of our injured players back for the bowl game (hopefully the playoffs), who would it be and why?

I’d want Jarron Jones back and healthy. That’s kind of an easy one for me, though I’d love to see what Tarean Folston would do behind this offensive line.

2. In the process of writing an article, does it ever cross your mind which way the comments thread will go? If so, does it ever affect your writing/wording for the article in any way?

Ha. I can safely say that I’ve never worried about what you guys were going to say. Maybe my mom has, but I know that behind every faceless commenter on the internet who writes mean things, there’s really just somebody who wants to be loved.

(I tell myself.)

 

andy44teg: Hey, Keith, saw on ESPN the other day that BK’s name was possibly out there for replacing Sark. Is that just some blow-hard trying to get interweb clicks or is there any juice to that at all?

I’ve got no clue. But here’s how I view it: There wasn’t a writer in town who wasn’t shocked when Sark no-showed for Sunday practice and created this mess. So if you’re telling me that in the 24 hours between his indefinite suspension and his firing that all these reporters went and hit the phones and started talking to anonymous sources, I’d be really surprised.

That said, Brian Kelly is going to be on every list for job openings until he eventually leaves Notre Dame or decides to retire in South Bend. He’s a successful coach who runs a program the right way, is a professional and has a reputation for building programs—and he’s currently doing it at a really difficult place like Notre Dame.

When BK went and visited with the Philadelphia Eagles, he gave certain people, some Notre Dame fans among them, a lifetime pass to believe he’ll be gone at the first chance he gets. But watching him on Showtime and seeing how he’s grown comfortable in his job, I don’t get the feeling he’s a guy looking to uproot his family. Rather, I think he’s a confident coach committed to winning a title at Notre Dame, knowing that alone will allow him to do whatever he wants.

 

 

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.”