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How will new NCAA legislation actually affect Notre Dame?

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The NCAA came one step closer to a number of new rules last week. For the most part, Notre Dame expected the decisions as approved.

The bullet points:

  • Classes of signed recruits may no longer exceed 25 players.
  • Beginning next spring, high school juniors may take official visits in April, May and June.
  • Pending one more approval, recruits may now sign during a December period, in addition to the traditional timetable beginning in February.
  • Tom Rees will technically be a graduate assistant for 2017, not an assistant coach.
  • Following college basketball’s lead, “individuals associated with a prospect” may no longer be hired to support positions.

Now what effect, if any, will those pieces of legislation have for the Irish?

Brian Kelly has never signed more than 25 recruits to a Notre Dame class, so that rule seemingly would have no effect on the Irish. His peak in regards to volume came with classes of 24, 23 and 24 in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Theoretically, the hard cap on signees could filter some talent to Notre Dame. If other schools known for over-signing can no longer do such, their Nos. 26-whatever will have to go elsewhere. The ensuing domino effect could land a recruit with the Irish. In practice, this will be impossible to quantify, but the logic holds on its own.

With 12 recruits committed to Notre Dame in the class of 2018 already and the likelihood of a scholarship crunch limiting the class’s size, the Irish will not be in danger of pushing 25 this cycle.

Next cycle, however, Notre Dame may have better odds with many recruits thanks to the new springtime official visits. Previously, a recruit could not take an official visit until September of his senior year in high school, relatively late in the recruiting process. Beginning with the class of 2019 (presently concluding their sophomore years in high school), recruits may take official visits in April, May and June of their junior year.

Notre Dame can pay for the travel and lodging of an official visit. Suddenly, Kelly will have the chance to showcase the school and campus far earlier in the recruiting cycle. That first—and earlier—impression should only help. For example, next year’s Blue-Gold Game could be a recruiting jewel, displaying some of the pomp and circumstance of a Notre Dame gameday without waiting for a high school’s bye week to match with an Irish home game.

If a prospect enjoys that sampling, it is possible he pays for himself to visit during the season. It certainly seems making that investment is more likely if able to see Notre Dame vs. Michigan on Sept. 1, 2018, or Notre Dame vs. Florida State on Nov. 10, 2018. At least, that is more likely than making that investment to see an intrasquad scrimmage in April.

On this past National Signing Day, Kelly addressed the potential changes in recruiting strategy tied to an earlier signing day. Essentially, he expected no changes in recruiting strategy.

“I think each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it,” Kelly said. “I think some will come off the board at that time. I think we’re getting our hands around it a little bit. We’re expecting some to sign early, but our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual.

“We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

As the new legislation concerns Rees, he was hired with the hopes of being a full-fledged coach this season, but trends indicated a few months of delay may push that to next season. Indeed, Notre Dame can have only nine assistants until the new rule goes into effect Jan. 9, 2018. Irish coach Brian Kelly has said that will not alter Rees’s role as quarterbacks coach.

“For you guys that are counting, we have nine coaches, so he is officially in a graduate assistant’s role,” Kelly said when announcing Rees’s hire at the end of January. “He is fully empowered to coach them. He will have the room. He will coach those quarterbacks on a day-to-day basis, and I have great confidence in his ability to do so.”

Until Jan. 9, though, Rees will not be able to recruit off campus.

That same day, Kelly announced Dave Ballou as an addition to the Notre Dame strength and conditioning staff. Coming from IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla., Ballou could have been considered an associate of IMG players. Per the new legislation, such a hire would not be allowed within two years before or after signing any IMG recruit.

Simply put, IMG is a football talent factory. Closing the door on its prospects for two years would not be worth a voice in the weight room, no matter how sage the voice may be. Before hiring Ballou, Kelly and Notre Dame made sure there would be a retroactive date to the then-proposed rule, and Ballou’s tenure began before that date.

For thoroughness’s sake: Individuals associated with prospects can still be hired by college programs … as assistant coaches. They may not fill support positions. The nine—soon to be 10—assistant coaches are not considered support staff.

With last week’s approval from the NCAA’s Division I Council, all these new rules will need approval from the NCAA Board of Directors in June. Any alterations would come as a surprise.

The Collegiate Commissioners Association, in charge of the National Letter of Intent program, will vote in June to approve the December signing day. Again, any resistance would be unexpected.

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…)