Ed Wide

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

22 Comments

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
40 Comments

Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”

Back to the basics as Notre Dame heads to training camp

BK Tom Loy
Tom Loy / Irish247
18 Comments

Brian Kelly is a sports fan. And he channeled an adage heard from coaches of every kind when he talked about what it would take from his young team to reach their goals.

“This football team is one that’s going to have to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well,” Kelly said Friday. “If they do the basics, the ordinary things, and do them well, it’s going to be a good football team.”

It may be a Crash Davis-approved cliche, but it’s true. Those ordinary things tend to make quite a difference. In baseball parlance, that’s making the routine plays in the field, taking quality at-bats at the plate and throwing strikes from the mound.

In football terms? That’s doing some of the things that… weren’t all that easy for Kelly’s ten-win 2015 squad.

Last year’s Notre Dame team was talented enough to be within 30 seconds of having a very good argument at being the fourth team invited to the College Football Playoff. They did that with a rash of injuries that devastated the depth chart. But those ordinary things got in the way.

Now without some of the best talent we’ve seen in South Bend since Lou Holtz and Vinny Cerrito were in town, Kelly’s asking his team to get back to the basics—and to master them this time around.

It might be too much to ask. Then again, it might be just the right thing to ask.

In Kelly’s first two seasons in South Bend, every time it looked like the team was ready to run at the pace Kelly wanted, they stumbled. Self-inflicted errors ruined two seasons. The ordinary things.

In 2012, a throttled back attack—one that leaned heavily on a stout defense that played fundamentally sound—was good enough to win each and every Saturday the Irish took the field. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t all that pretty. But it was effective.

No, Manti Te’o isn’t walking out of that tunnel. But neither is a first-year starter at quarterback. Or skill talent that relied on a converted wide receiver to move the chains as a runner and a great tight end to be the team’s No. 1 receiver.

This roster may certainly lacks the defense that was one of the nation’s—and school’s—best. So while it may be short on start power, it’s heavy on depth and talent, with two great quarterbacks and enough talent to win a lot of games—assuming they don’t find ways to give them away.

That last part is a big reason why Kelly took great pains to build a new identity with this football team. It’s a part of the reason why a system reset was needed, cultivated by an ornery coach in January who sought out new leaders to take charge and control their own destiny.

Good programs don’t rebuild, they reload. That’s what Ohio State’s doing. That’s what Alabama’s doing.

It’s even the expectation at places like Michigan State and Stanford, two teams that’ll come to South Bend with new quarterbacks and rebuilt depth charts. So while there are plenty of holes that need plugging on the Irish roster, that’s what the great programs do.

“Everybody in college football goes through this process of retooling,” Kelly said. It’s getting those that have waited for their opportunity ready to play, and I like where we have evolved to.”

It wasn’t easy. Kelly’s cracked the whip as he molded this group, all while taking long hard looks at the tactics and schemes deployed by Brian VanGorder as well as his offensive staff.

It’s only day one. Everybody wins the opening press conference. And life without Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day is a lot easier when you’re at a podium than on the sideline.

But if you were expecting any change in expectations from a head coach now trailing just Rockne, Holtz, Parseghian and Leahy in wins at Notre Dame, think again.

“We only have one goal and that is to be one of the four teams to be selected for the playoffs,” Kelly said. Everthing that we look towards is to be one of those four teams selected in the playoffs.

Irish A-to-Z: Shaun Crawford

Crawford BGI
Blue & Gold / BGI
1 Comment

Notre Dame’s nickel back never made it to the field in 2015, with freshman Shaun Crawford lost for the season after he tore his ACL in August. It was an unceremonious end to a freshman season with great expectations, with Crawford impressing everybody who saw him compete in his first days on campus.

Crawford’s absence set back the Irish defense, hamstringing the secondary and putting Todd Lyght’s unit into a scenario where they felt their best option to fill his job was Torii Hunter—a converted wide receiver. That so much was hoisted onto the shoulders of Crawford tells you quite a bit about what the Irish staff thinks about the diminutive Ohio native, especially heading into his sophomore season.

With a starting job open opposite Cole Luke, Crawford has the chance to be more than just the team’s nickel back. And after seeing him compete this spring less than eight months after knee surgery, Crawford looks like a key piece to the defensive puzzle.

 

SHAUN CRAWFORD
5’8.5″, 180 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 20, DB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Under Armour All-American, top-100 player per Rivals. First-team All-State, Ohio state champion. Offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and plenty other elite schools.

Crawford’s height was the only thing holding him back from a 5-star grade. And he got mighty close even at five-eight (and change).

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Did not play after tearing his ACL in August camp. Medical redshirt saves year of eligibility.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Crawford was ready for whatever the Irish staff planned to throw at him last year, if only the knee injury didn’t stop him.

Greg Bryant’s reported four-game suspension likely opens a door for Crawford to get a shot at returning punts for the Irish in addition to battling for snaps in nickel and dime coverage packages.

Crawford’s instincts are part of what makes him such a dynamic football player. While physically there’s not much he’s going to be able to do about getting matched up with a 6-4 receiver, Crawford could also be part of the solution at safety, especially if something goes wrong with Plan A and Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

Throwing too much on the shoulders of a freshman defensive back is never wise. But it would be smart to give Crawford a specific assignment—like the Irish did with Elijah Shumate during the 2012 title run—and let him go to work.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The sky is the limit. The staff believes Crawford is an immediate impact player. I’m a believer as well—even if our only data point is a spring game where Crawford managed to wreak havoc, even while wearing a non-contact green jersey.

In today’s pass-heavy football, Crawford’s ability to play on the inside and against slot receivers is a key skill. While he’s not going to grow into the lengthy outside cornerback that can matchup all the time with lanky receivers, Crawford can do plenty of other things at an elite level that make him a really, really impressive prospect.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think it’s only a matter of time before Crawford is a starter on this defense. I’m confident he’s already one of the team’s best 11 defenders, regardless of if he’s categorized as a starter or nickel back.

The battle to start on the outside opposite Cole Luke will be interesting. Devin Butler’s foot injury likely turns this into a three-horse race, with Nick Watkins having to rehabilitate a broken arm this summer and Nick Coleman still very raw. Crawford’s best spot might not be on the outside, though he could be a compelling boundary cornerback. But he might be too good to pull off the field, especially if Watkins isn’t able to ascend to the starting job.

I’m not going to get wrapped up in what Crawford is called. I think he’ll be a guy that stays on the football field for as many snaps as possible, knowing that his playmaking ability and nose for the football will make him invaluable in Brian VanGorder’s scheme. I expect him to be one of the team’s leaders in filling up the stat sheet, an instantaneous upgrade from Matthias Farley at his best—when he had a quietly productive 2015 season in the slot.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney

 

Concussions force Corey Robinson to retire from football

Notre Dame v Florida State
Getty
8 Comments

Corey Robinson‘s football career is over. The Notre Dame student body president won’t play his senior season after suffering multiple concussions throughout his three-year career in South Bend.

Robinson made the news official via a statement released in coordination with the athletic department.

“After much contemplation and prayer, I have decided not to continue playing football due to multiple concussions. I couldn’t have come to this difficult personal decision without the incredible support from so many within the Notre Dame football program. I am extremely thankful to Coach Kelly and his staff for the life-changing opportunity to play football at the greatest University in the world. I will continue to help our team as a student assistant and look forward to a great senior year.”

Robinson was expected to be Notre Dame’s most experienced wide receiver in 2016, but he suffered a concussion during spring practice and missed the remainder with lingering symptoms. After meeting with doctors and specialists over the past three months, the decision to end his football career was made after a final meeting with Brian Kelly last week.

Kelly had this to say in a statement on Robinson’s decision.

“This was an extremely tough decision for Corey. He’s such a committed kid to everything he does — whether it be academics, football, community service or campus leadership initiatives — that he wanted to finish his four-year career on the field. He was so excited to lead a group of young receivers this fall.

“While that won’t happen in the manner Corey initially intended, he will remain involved with the program on a day-to-day basis as a student assistant. He sets a remarkable example for all of our players — not only how to represent yourself on and off the field but also how working hard through adversity can lead to tremendous success.”

Robinson earned Academic All-American honors in 2014 after he caught 40 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns. For his career, Robinson caught 65 balls for 896 yards and seven touchdowns.