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The business decision of ‘the best quarterback in the draft’

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The headline in these parts was—Kelly on Kizer: ‘He’s got all the tools … He needs more football’

Irish coach Brian Kelly would rather it have read something along the lines of, “Coach Kelly sees Kizer as the best quarterback in the draft” or “Kelly sees Kizer as having great character.” Neither would have been an inaccurate description of Kelly’s comments regarding former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer from a Monday afternoon interview on SiriusXM radio.

“Whatever was interpreted, I have a great deal of positive feelings for DeShone,” Kelly said Friday. “I think he’s the best quarterback coming out. I think that everybody that comes to Notre Dame would benefit from another year when they don’t have their degree and could use college football to season themselves. DeShone’s not in that category by himself.

“I think he has great character. I named him a captain. So for that to be seen any other way but positive … but it wasn’t and there’s nothing I can do about it. I think the world of DeShone and I think he’s going to be a great quarterback in the NFL.”

With that straightforward follow-up to the comments from earlier in the week, let’s take another look at some phrases from those remarks. Monday and Tuesday were spent focusing on what Kelly actually did say and mean with context. With that settled, taking a look at periphery points seems the logical next step. Call it a day-two story delayed.

‘BUSINESS DECISIONS’
Immediately following the phrase that turned Twitter into a sniping forum, Kelly explained Kizer’s decision to turn professional with two years of college eligibility remaining.

“The circumstances are such that you have to make business decisions,” Kelly said. “He felt like it was in his best and interest, and I’m going to support him and his decision.”

At any other position, Kizer’s decision may have made poor business sense, but a quick look around the NFL explains the logic for a quarterback. In the span of one drink, 21 starting quarterbacks can be identified as some form of stalwarts (Rodgers, Brady), entrenched veterans (Manning, Flacco) or intriguing prospects (Wentz, Mariota). That leaves 11 teams pondering their future passers.

Again, in the span of a drink, seven more teams can be written off as featuring just-paid question marks (see Mike Glennon; Chicago Bears), balancing injury dilemmas (Teddy Bridgewater/Sam Bradford; Minnesota Vikings), or tolerating serviceable solutions (Ryan Tannehill; Miami Dolphins). Admittedly, some of these designations were given generously, but that was by intention to support the argument.

Finally, and this may necessitate internet access more than a third drink, looking around at the NFL’s backups, perhaps six more worthwhile options present themselves.

With great reach, that makes 35 quarterbacks in the NFL worthy of taking snaps. Note: This less than three dozen includes the likes of Derek Anderson, Drew Stanton and Trevor Siemian. It does not include Brock Osweiler. That is what happens when you are the centerpiece of a history-making deal based on cash considerations.

If Kizer—or any of the other quarterbacks in this draft—can outperform the next 29 quarterbacks, he will set himself up as a backup. That is not a bad gig. If he can outperform four of the current backups (the aforementioned three, plus Jimmy Garoppolo, Paxton Lynch and Nick Foles), Kizer would positon himself to be a starter-worthy NFL quarterback.

That is not an opportunity to pass up. That is an opportunity to chase the moment it is presented. There are simply not enough quarterbacks to provide quality play at the position in the NFL. Teams will back up the armored truck to find someone who can fill that void. Again, look at the Bears.

This is not meant to start a conversation on Kizer’s viability as an NFL starter now or in the future. That has already been debated plenty this week. The only resolution on that debate will come no earlier than five months from now, possibly not until five years from now.

This is meant to illustrate why the business decision may have been a smart one.

‘SUFFICIENTLY SUPPORTED’
Kelly acknowledged other former Irish players who turned pro with eligibility remaining, not just Kizer. For that matter, not just Kizer and show host Brady Quinn.

Quinn began the interview by asking Kelly about Kizer and his pro day. In his response, Kelly brought up the question asked most often of Kizer during this buildup to the draft.

“He’s got to answer the questions that everybody’s asked about being a 4-8 quarterback and certainly, can he lead a football team?” Kelly said. “My response to all that is, ‘Look at what he did as a redshirt freshman when he was sufficiently supported around him with a Will Fuller and a C.J. Prosise and the balance that he had.’”

Kelly, of course, was referring to Notre Dame’s 2015 season and the large number of departures following its 10-3 finish. Kizer made a similar point when he was interviewed at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in early March.

‘INSIDE THE IRISH’ MARCH MADNESS POOL
Here is a public kudos to Dennis, apparently otherwise known as rocket1988 in these parts, for winning the March Madness pool. His entry of “Brey Brey’s Kids” had only one Final Four team correct—the accurately-picked eventual champion North Carolina. Not exactly the strongest performance by anyone involved.

Your host finished back in 40th position. Not so terribly as to fall onto the third page of rankings, but disappointing, nonetheless. To my eye, fortunately enough, I knew no one in the top three.

MY OWN TARDINESS
There is an innate flaw to naming a seemingly-recurring piece after a particular time on a specific day. A week will come when instead of writing the majority of that bit the night before, one instead opts to head to a local establishment to watch a hockey game. Then, a Brian Kelly press conference delays catching up on the needed work Friday morning. Suddenly it is 4 p.m. CT. Posting when most on the East Coast and many in the Midwest are leaving their offices for the weekend runs counter to any acknowledgements to corporate desires regarding page views.

Thus, alas, this will post Saturday morning. I do not aim to make excuses. I am, after all, the one who named the seemingly-recurring piece after a particular time on a specific day. But given the Saturday posting, understand the deviation from a usual “Friday at 4” headline.

If you needed this post Friday afternoon to know what to do Friday at 4 p.m., well, then I profusely apologize. Blame Thursday night’s debate regarding what grouping of quarterbacks should include Ryan Fitzpatrick of the New York Jets. That did require a third drink.

What we learned: Hayes, Book star in Notre Dame’s spring finale

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Time spent on a traditional game wrap of a spring intrasquad exhibition seems misspent. Gold won Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold Game 27-14 led by rising sophomore quarterback Ian Book. The first-string defense (Gold) held the first-string offense to an average of 5.4 yards per play. For context’s sake: Last season Notre Dame gained an average of 6.1 yards per play and held opponents to 5.4.

With that abbreviated recap out of the way, what did Saturday’s pseudo-game environment show about the Irish? If the 20,147 in attendance paid attention, they had the chance to learn a few things:

Daelin Hayes will be ready to hit a quarterback in September
Notre Dame’s quarterbacks were off limits all spring. Bulls might charge when they see red, but the Irish defensive line has had to remember to ease up when they come across a quarterback’s red jersey. If sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes had forgotten that Saturday, Notre Dame might not have any quarterbacks left to play in the fall.

“At the end of the day, we’re on the same team,” Hayes said, dismissing any bitterness about the quarterbacks’ protections. “We have to keep our guys healthy. I wasn’t frustrated, but come September 2, you know.”

Officially, Hayes was credited with three sacks and another tackle for loss among his seven tackles. Admittedly, gauging sacks is tricky when the quarterback does not actually go to the ground. How many of Hayes’ three sacks and the defense’s 11 total would have been evaded if the defender needed to do more than touch the passer? That answer is highly subjective, but discounting Hayes’ numbers would miss the bigger picture.

“We showed [pressure] in as far as the quarterback wasn’t getting really comfortable, not having all day to throw back there,” Hayes said. “I think it’s been huge, buying into that process. Seeing it come to fruition today was huge.”

Senior end Jay Hayes (no relation) notched two sacks and sophomore end Ade Ogundeji came the closest to tackling a red jersey when he stripped junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush from behind. The defensive line has been expected to be a weak point for the Irish moving forward, but the spring performance indicates it has a chance at holding its own. These accomplishments bear further merit considering Notre Dame’s offensive line is widely-considered one of its few spots of expected quality.

RELATED READING: Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

“I think it’s pretty clear Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’d have to watch the film, but it seemed like [sophomore end] Julian Okwara was a hard guy to block coming off the edge, as well.”

Ian Book provides some peace of mind
Book was not spectacular, but he was also far from incompetent or intimidated. In his first action on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, Book completed 18-of-25 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by a 58-yard connection with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson. Meanwhile, junior Brandon Wimbush completed 22-of-32 passes for 303 yards.

Bluntly, one has not needed to follow Notre Dame for very long to fit that “long enough” qualification. Last season’s backup, Malik Zaire, saw competitive action against both Texas and Stanford. In 2015, DeShone Kizer came off the bench to start 11 games after Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury. (more…)

What Notre Dame players should you actually watch? Plus, catch up on reading

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If technology does its part, this will post as its typist meanders toward finding his credential for the Blue-Gold Game to conclude Notre Dame’s spring practice. If technology doesn’t do its part, well, then this will be lost to the cobwebs of the internet. Such as it goes.

This space has spent much of the past week discussing what to look for in the 12:30 p.m. ET exhibition. Worry about the big picture, not the individuals. Fret about the macro, not the micro.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the indivdual players
Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators
Four defensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game
Four offensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game

But, if insistent on focusing on singular players, look to the inexperienced, the names you are unfamiliar with. The 15th and final practice of spring may be no more than a practice in reality, but it is in front of nearly 30,000 fans in Notre Dame Stadium. Some players do not have so much as that minimal experience.

“The Blue-Gold Game, specifically, is a time for us to emulate a game-like situation,” senior safety/linebacker/rover Drue Tranquill said. “Especially for guys like freshmen, second-semester guys coming in, it’s a great opportunity for them to get that game feeling, but also continue to take steps in the process to get better.”

The question on the tip of your tongue is a fair one. If you are unfamiliar with the names, how are you supposed to focus on those players? How are you to know who fits the appropriate tunnel vision version of perspective?

Let’s turn to Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mentions from Wednesday–primarily, sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara, sophomore long snapper John Shannon, senior kicker Sam Kohler, sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem and sophomore safety Jalen Elliott.

Obviously, that is just a sampling. Less obviously, this post’s purpose may or may not be to link to previous reading material and remind you of the vague but pertinent purposes to today’s endeavor. It is neither be-all nor end-all. It is simply another opportunity to gauge what may come down the line.

But hey, how about a prediction? Per Kelly, the first-team offense and second-team defense will be in blue, against the first-team defense and second-team offense in white.

PREDICTION: Blue 37, White 21

HOW TO WATCH
As a recurring reminder, the Blue-Gold Game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, as well as streamed online at ndstream.nbcsports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

Friday at 4: Four offensive positions to watch in Notre Dame’s spring game

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There are two common ways of looking at the annual spring game.
It is the last action involving Notre Dame football readily available for public consumption until Sept. 2, 133 days away.
Or it is an exercise rife with contradiction exacerbated by hype, yielding little-to-no reliable intelligence.
Like much of life, the most accurate assessment falls somewhere between those two views.

If junior running back Dexter Williams breaks off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs, does that mean he will have multiple big plays in 2017? Not at all. It does mean he will likely have more opportunities for them, though. Just like in spring’s previous 14 practices, the Irish coaches will take what they see and apply it moving forward.

The past—and as of Saturday evening, the Blue-Gold Game will qualify as the past—does not dictate the future, but it can influence one’s approach to it.

Aside from Williams (see the second item below for more on him and the running backs), what other players/positions could influence their future roles the most with their performance to close spring?

BIG PASSING TARGETS: Alizé Jones and Co.
In this instance, big is meant literally. Notre Dame has an embarrassment of riches of tall, long, physical tight ends and receivers. Junior Alizé Jones earns specific mention here due to his inaction last season. Irish fans and coaches alike have a better idea of sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and junior receiver Miles Boykin. They have 2016 film to look at.

Jones, however, sat out the season due to academic issues. His on-field performance largely remains a question mark, but if he combines this spring’s praise with his 6-foot-4 ½ frame holding 245 listed pounds, that could turn into an exclamation point.

“He’s a perfect fit,” new Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said Friday. “That’s why I recruited him like crazy when I was at Arizona State. He’s a prototypical [tight end], a guy who can run, who can catch.

“The biggest thing about Alizé is he’s taking great pride in his blocking ability right now, his presence of being an end-line guy, his protection and his overall physicality. When you think like that, you’re going to become a better receiver.” (more…)

Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators

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You didn’t hear? Notre Dame plays Notre Dame tomorrow. Here, let’s make this easy.

WHO? Notre Dame’s first-string offense against its first-string defense, and the Irish second-string defense against the second-string offense.
WHAT? It’s called the Blue-Gold Game, but there are two flaws to that title. One team will be wearing white, not gold, and while it is structured as a game, it is really nothing more than the 15th and final spring practice.
WHEN? 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 22, 2017 A.D. Yes, I am worried you might mistake this as occurring more than 2,000 years before the time of Christ.
WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, but if you can’t make it there, tune in to NBC Sports Network.
HOW? Oh, not going to be at a TV? NBC still has you covered at this link: ndstream.nbcsports.com or on the NBC Sports app.

With those essentials out of the way, let’s pull a few quotes from this morning when new Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long and new defensive coordinator Mike Elko addressed the media. Hopefully, these might provide some general context for what to learn from tomorrow.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the individual players

Elko on how much of his defense he has successfully installed this spring:
“We’ve gotten close to 50 percent of all of it up and running. We’ve spent a lot of time defending this offense this spring, so we’re going to have to spend some time defending the offenses we play moving forward. That’s probably where a lot of the learning curve has to come.”

Elko on the most notable defensive improvements:
“We’re disrupting the football better. We’re leveraging the football better. We’re playing harder.”

Elko on what fans should look for from the Notre Dame defense Saturday:
“I hope they see a defense that is flying around. I hope they see a defense that is disrupting the football. I hope they see a defense that has their eyes in the right spot and is executing at a high level. All those things that we’re preaching aren’t going to change tomorrow. It’s not going to be different. It’s not going to be different when we line up against Temple.” (more…)