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Kizer on Kelly’s comments: ‘It’s honestly the truth’

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Well, this was predictable. Former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer agrees with Irish coach Brian Kelly that Kizer has more growing to do on the football field. Kizer appeared on ESPN Chicago 1000 FM’s “Kap and Co,” hosted by David Kaplan and Jordan Cornette on Tuesday morning.

Cornette, a former Notre Dame basketball player and current basketball announcer, has publicly criticized Kelly, including during the recent hubbub after Kelly said Kizer “needs more football.” Naturally, Cornette asked Kizer how he felt about his former coach’s opinion.

“It’s honestly the truth,” Kizer said. “I have two more years available [of college eligibility]. I’m only 21 years of age. There is a lot of growth for me. There’s a lot of growth for everyone in this draft. There’s a lot of guys out there who had to make big adjustments as they move into the NFL, and I know it. That’s why I’m not the No. 1 quarterback guaranteed walking into this draft as we speak.”

Kizer nearly came across as appreciative of Kelly’s comments, viewing them as a chance akin to those granted by many NFL teams when they ask about Notre Dame’s disappointing 2016 season.

“For me, that’s just another opportunity for me to acknowledge that yes I do need to grow,” Kizer said. “Yes, when I am meeting with these coaches on the potential teams that I play n, I need to understand that I need to buy into their coaching to become successful, to fill in those gaps, to truly become a pro that I need to become.”

As of Tuesday morning, Kizer had not spoken with Kelly regarding the unnecessarily-controversial comments. That is in part due to Kizer’s busy pre-draft schedule, most recently reportedly meeting with the Arizona Cardinals. That is also, at least in part, because Kizer does not see it as needed. Neither does Kelly, surmises Kizer.

“If it is something that he truly believes or something that could be taken down the wrong path, he would address it with me in the first place,” Kizer said. “As soon as all this chaos created around the couple comments and he didn’t come reach out to me, I quickly understood that it really wasn’t as big of a deal as it could be pushed out to be.

“If it was something which he felt strongly about or something that he was going to address the media and make a big deal, he would’ve warned me before. That’s how our relationship has always been. There would be dialogue before that.”

Such a straightforward approach fits in line with the player-coach relationship and track record Kizer described. Kizer said he went to Notre Dame expecting to be coached a certain way, and that is exactly what happened.

“Off the field with coach Kelly, our relationship was just as it is expected to be,” Kizer said. “That was one where [if] we saw each other, we’d have a couple conversations here and there, but for the most part we were all about business.

“We were just both so competitive that at times you see on the sidelines and you see from an outsider’s perspective at times, we’re going to clash heads. That just comes with the competitive nature of both of us.

“He expects a lot out of me and I expect him to hold me to those same standards. It is what it is. Coach Kelly and I have created a great relationship and it’ll be a lifelong relationship. He was my college coach. He taught me what I know with football right now, and it’ll forever by me platform for whatever success I have moving forward into the NFL.”

The NFL Draft begins April 27. The aforementioned Cardinals have the No. 13 pick. Being a Chicago-based radio show, Kaplan and Cornette repeatedly praised the Bears, stating hopes Kizer may land there. Chicago has the No. 3 pick.

HOW KIZER RESPONDS TO NFL TEAMS’ QUESTIONS
As the media asked Kizer at the NFL Combine, teams have continued to ask him: How did Notre Dame go 4-8 last season? It seems the more he is asked, the more he has realized exactly why these particular teams are so concerned. It is, in fact, the very nature of the draft.

“If you’re going to be a No. 1 quarterback in the draft, you have to be a winner,” Kizer said. “These teams are going to be selecting a guy to turn around their programs right away. The way the draft is set up, obviously the top teams are going to be teams that haven’t experienced success in the last couple seasons, most likely.

“They’re definitely asking questions about how do you go 4-8 with the talent that you have, they’re asking questions about a little bit of accuracy and consistency. My response to them has been, ‘Hey, when it comes to 4-8, the ball is in my hands. I need to become more consistent and more accurate.’ Kind of connect the two dots there, to have a little bit more success at Notre Dame.”

KIZER ON CHOICE TO PLAY AT NOTRE DAME
Kizer’s lifelong goal has been to be a professional athlete. He made his college choice with that dream in mind.

“In my opinion, there’s no other stage in college football that’s as big as Notre Dame’s is,” he said. “You’re not playing for the 100,000 in the Horseshoe. You’re not playing for a statewide following down in Florida for Florida State. You’re playing for an international fan base that’s bigger than anything anyone else could ever play in front of …

“In order to be a franchise quarterback, it’s going to be very similar to that. As far as my decision for playing there, I have no regrets and I think it’s going to be the best thing for me.”

KIZER ON BRANDON WIMBUSH
For two years, Kizer spent untold time with current Irish rising junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. The two shared meeting rooms, practices, travel schedules, etc. By no means would anyone ever expect Kizer to speak poorly of Wimbush, but his praises still stand out for their amplitude.

“I knew I was going to be leaving [Notre Dame] in good hands at the quarterback position,” Kizer said. “He’s just as athletic. He has as big of an arm as I believe I had—he has a bigger arm than I have. The guy can throw the ball 80 yards in the air like it’s no big deal. Intellect, his ability to learn, his ability to take things in and spit them right back at you with recall that’s right on point, it’s exactly the way that brought me some success at the college level.”

Kizer also espoused the benefits of Wimbush’s unique timeline: playing his freshman year, preserving a year of eligibility in his second.

“He’s going to look like a three- or four-year starter in his first game,” Kizer said. “I am very confident in the fact that Brandon is going to go out and do very well, and we won’t skip a beat as the Irish, get right back to winning in the way that everyone knows we should be.”

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…)