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A look at Kizer’s fall from top pick to possibly the top pick … of the second round

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The NFL Draft consumes football conversation this time of year for one reason: There is not much else going on in the football universe. Similarly, college fans overanalyze each school’s recruiting class throughout January. What else are they supposed to do?

The elongated and unnecessary conversation about former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer’s professional future can finally come to a close in two weeks, less than that if he is fortunate enough to be selected in next Thursday’s first round. (The second and third rounds are Friday night, the 28th. Even the most pessimistic views mentioned here and anywhere else do not have Kizer lasting into the weekend.)

Until then, reviews of Kizer remain pertinent. Fortunately for this space’s sanity, next week will be spent with a stronger focus on next Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. The lack of new material about the current Irish certainly has not slowed the inane exercise of trying to get into the minds of NFL front office decision makers.

For now, though, let’s indulge. It’s a holiday weekend, after all—Indulging is what is done on holiday weekends. Note: None of the below is meant to reopen conversation of Notre Dame’s disappointing 2016 season. That has been done plenty. These comments concern where Kizer may end up in two weeks and why. Discussions of any positive or negative effects Irish coach Brian Kelly may or may not have had on Kizer are moot. Kizer is what he is right now. That, and what he could theoretically become, is all NFL teams are concerned about.

There was a time when Kizer was not only a first-round lock, but likely a pick early in the night, when the draft still holds wide interest. Monday’s rendition of the Ringer NFL Show podcast featured a conversation between host Robert Mays and Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network. Jeremiah aptly summarized the peak of Kizer’s draft prospects.

“I came into the fall with him as my top quarterback,” Jeremiah said. “…I went to the Notre Dame-Texas game. I left the stadium, and I think I wrote about it after the game. I said, I think he’s the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, I think he’s the best quarterback in this draft class. … In my mind, I thought he had a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick. Then it just went downhill quick.”

Before delving into Jeremiah’s examples of Kizer’s slide downhill, let’s jump to now. Where does he stand currently? One SI.com mock draft this week projected he would go No. 13 to the Arizona Cardinals. That’s convenient, considering Kizer commented Tuesday about his visit to the Cardinals.

“It was a pretty routine trip,” Kizer said. “All these different trips are all important for showing who you are as a quarterback, looking forward, once again, to seeing what team ends up taking me.

“Obviously, they’re the No. 13 pick. It’d be an awesome situation if I can go learn behind a guy like [Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer] for a year.”

Both 12 picks and one pick ahead of the Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns also need a quarterback. SI.com’s Andy Benoit sees Kizer’s experience in a pro-style passing system as fitting well with the Browns’ scheme, but likely not so high as the No. 12 pick.

“What if he’s still on the board when they open the second round with the 33rd overall pick? This would be a nice fit,” Benoit writes.

From being in the conversation for the top overall pick to start September to possibly being the top pick of the second round leading into the draft? Downhill does seem accurate.

“You can find excuses in there for him, when you talk about your center is gone, your left tackle is gone, your No. 1 receiver is gone,” Jeremiah said, referring to Nick Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, respectively. “He played an awful weather game, on and on and on, dropped passes, this that and the other. But there’s also plenty of blame you can throw on his shoulders just in terms of locking on receivers, not truly being accurate. He has to shoulder some blame for that.”

Despite all those excuses and criticisms, Jeremiah remained high on one of Kizer’s skills, a rather important skill for an NFL quarterback.

“Then, I just thought, one thing I know about him is he is an outstanding thrower, but the rest of it we can work through,” Jeremiah said. “He is an outstanding thrower.”

Then Kizer went to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, and Jeremiah took to questioning even that one paramount talent.

“I don’t care about connecting on balls down the field to receivers you’ve never seen before,” Jeremiah said. “But there were more than a few curl routes … he was just bailing all over the place. You sit there and go, okay, he’s under 60 percent. That’s not a great predicator for guys going forward.”

Per Jeremiah, only two of last season’s NFL starters had losing records in their final year of college and completed fewer than 60 percent of their passes: Jay Cutler and Trevor Siemian, not exactly high-water comparisons.

Comparisons among his draft competitors are not inherently flattering, either. Pro Football Focus ranks Kizer the No. 17 of 25 quarterbacks in this draft class when it comes to overall passing. He is No. 18 in adjusted completion percentage, No. 20 in the short-range passing game, and No. 18 in both deep passes and handling of blitzes. Aside from handling the subsequent pressure well (No. 4), Kizer does not rate particularly highly in any of Pro Football Focus’s rankings. (There are worse ways to spend three-to-five minutes than reading through this Pro Football Focus chart.)

Pro Football Focus grades only tangible factors, on-field performance. It does not consider the more abstract concepts. Obviously, NFL teams do, and those evaluations are not sky-high, either, as one AFC head coach told SI.com’s Albert Breer.

“He’s got the size, the arm talent, and he’s very bright,” Breer reports being told. “Bu there’s a disconnect there. There are diva qualities there, and he seems to get voices in his head, like he’s fighting who he is. And once the cycle starts, he can’t get himself right.”

All these concerns—perhaps made more apparent by Notre Dame’s 4-8 season, but likely to be discovered at some point in the draft process no matter 2016’s results—have led to Kizer’s slide, maybe all the way out of the first round no matter who has picks where. But what if the Cardinals could find a way to grab him in the second round? Carson Palmer has at least a couple seasons left in his arm, provided he can protect his knees moving forward.

Then Kizer may have a chance to follow a path Jeremiah projected as ideal.

“If you can rebuild [Kizer’s confidence], if you can rebuild him from the floor in terms of some of the footwork that fell off, man, he could be really, really good. He’s what you want from the size and arm talent standpoint.”

Just like with 18-year-old recruits each February, only time will tell how Kizer fares. Two weeks from now, this projection and analysis can fade away into watching that figurative pot of talent, waiting for it to boil.

Editor’s Note: Consider this an entry in the “Friday at 4” genre. It did not seem fitting to post a piece at 3 p.m. CT on Good Friday ending with some vague reference to enjoying the weekend.

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…)