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Redfield Moves on to Plan C

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When Max Redfield signed with Notre Dame four years ago, he figured he would spend January 2017 recovering from his rookie season in the NFL.

When he opted not to enter the NFL Draft last spring, Redfield figured he would play in a bowl game the first week of this month and then prep for an eventual pro day.

Instead, the former Irish safety has spent the month attending rehab sessions in the mornings before heading to class at Cal State Fullerton or an internship at a real estate firm.

“I believe everything happens for a reason, and I’ve learned so much from this,” Redfield said Wednesday. “I’ve grown so much from this. I’m extremely thankful for that, but I would obviously have loved to finish my last year at Notre Dame and have the impact on my team that I think would have been profound.”

PLAN A

Redfield, a class of 2013 five-star recruit, originally verbally committed to USC. During the Under Armour All-America Game, however, he changed that commitment to Notre Dame. For context: Two days later the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Notre Dame’s upcoming contest played a part in Redfield’s change of heart.

“Notre Dame was No. 1 in the country at the time, the academics are incredible, and the alumni are international, which is something I really valued,” he said.

“You hear various stories about how not ideal the weather is, location, all that kind of stuff. Being from California, obviously that is something that is on your mind, but for me it was, I’m going to go out and really experience this and go for it.”

Not because of the weather or location, Redfield intended to leave Notre Dame for the NFL as quickly as he could, hopefully with both a national championship and a degree—perhaps complemented by a minor or two—in hand. Looking to graduate in three years, Redfield took 17 or 18 credits (compared to a normal undergraduate load of 15) more semesters than not, including Mandarin Chinese from the outset.

“The coaches did not like that,” Redfield said. “I had to put a decent amount of time into that field of study, but it was something I was extremely passionate in and very determined to do.”

Before his dismissal from the University this fall, Redfield was on pace to graduate with a philosophy degree and minors in Mandarin Chinese and business economics.

“I made it clear I wanted to get my degree as fast as possible in three years flat … and potentially get drafted after my junior year because I thought I had that ability and that potential. I felt my junior year we had a team that could win a national championship, so my plan was to end on a high note, win a national championship, and do everything that I needed to do, including getting my degree.

“Often [the coaches] would make it very explicit they didn’t think it was best for me, even if it was maybe. It obviously wasn’t the best for their agenda and what they wanted for me. It wasn’t something that made us have an adversarial relationship, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t in the back of their heads at all times.”

PLAN B

Notre Dame did indeed come tantalizingly close to a College Football Playoff berth in 2015, losing only two games by a combined four points, both on the road. The 10-2 regular season yielded a Fiesta Bowl date with Ohio State. Redfield licked his chops at the chance to match up with Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott, now a favorite for NFL Rookie of the Year honors.

“It was the biggest game of my life,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a football game. Obviously, the hype around Ohio State was incredible. Playing Ezekiel Elliott was something I was looking forward to for a while. I thought he was overhyped to a certain extent, although he was a great running back.”

One missed curfew later and Redfield’s junior season ended a game earlier than expected. Despite friction with the coaching staff long before that 2 a.m. bed check, Redfield opted to stray from his original itinerary, ambitious as it was, and return for his senior year.

“[The NFL Draft] was something that was on my mind, but it wasn’t a hard decision to make,” he said. “My heart was in coming back for another year. At that point, I felt like I would be leaving my teammates and leaving unfinished business behind.”

REALITY

That business would remain unfinished. Redfield and four teammates—sophomores running back Dexter Williams, defensive back Ashton White and linebacker Te’von Coney, and freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson—were arrested Aug. 19. Redfield was charged with possession of a handgun without a license and possession of marijuana.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly dismissed the senior two days later, saying Redfield was “expected to provide leadership and a positive example to the other members of the team” and “failed in that regard.”

This response caught Redfield off-guard. He expected a suspension for all five rather than being singled out and sent packing.

“That blindsided me. It definitely broke my heart.”

Though he may have disagreed with the severity of Kelly’s actions, he did not disagree with the sentiment. For this misstep, Redfield takes full responsibility.

“It was decision-making that was terrible on my part,” he said. “At that point, I was a leader on the team, and needed to act like a leader in everything I did. Falling into a situation like that, I wasn’t being a leader … That’s something I probably regret most.”

Redfield went home to Mission Viejo, Calif., returning to Indiana for necessary court appearances. To show the court he is moving forward with his life, he joined a rehab program about three weeks ago. His next appearance is scheduled for mid-February.

Redfield enrolled in two philosophy courses at Cal State Fullerton with the understanding they will satisfy his remaining requirements to complete his Notre Dame degree. The Mandarin Chinese minor will come with it, but he will end up two courses short for the corresponding business economics honor.

Presuming he graduates, he should be eligible to play football this fall thanks to the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule.

“I considered declaring for the Draft this year, but I felt it was the best decision for me to come back for another year and prove how consistent I can be on and off the field. Give it a year to put it behind me.”

Redfield would not go so far as to name schools he has been in contact with, deeming it “really premature,” but he did indicate he expects to play at the FBS level in the fall and should know where within a few weeks.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

By no means does Redfield regret attending Notre Dame. Throughout a 30-minute conversation, he alternates between bluntly criticizing the Irish coaching staff and taking some responsibility for the “adversarial relationship.” More than anything, he praises the people he met at the University.

“I love my brothers, and most of the people I came into contact with at Notre Dame were incredible people, as well. I really do cherish all the experiences I had and all the connections I made as well.”

Nonetheless, Redfield entertains the thought maybe he should not have been so enticed by Notre Dame’s undefeated 2012 regular season. Maybe the Midwest location should have been a red flag not because of the weather, but because of the thousands of miles of separation from home.

“I wish I did make a decision closer to my heart and maybe stayed closer to my family,” he said. “Maybe that would have given me more opportunity to stay focused, but I definitely don’t regret it.”

Good News: Jaylon Smith’s getting healthy

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Jaylon Smith looks like he’ll be back to being, well, Jaylon Smith. And that’s good news not just for the Dallas Cowboys, but anybody who enjoyed watching Smith torment offenses in his three seasons in South Bend.

Notre Dame’s former All-American and Butkus Award winner, who was selected by the Dallas Cowboys at the top of the second round even after suffering a major knee injury during the Fiesta Bowl–the last football game of his college career–spoke with the Dallas Morning News and gave an update everybody is excited to hear.

“Yeah, it’s regenerating,” Smith told the DMN, when asked about the peroneal nerve in his left leg. “It’s just a thing that you have to have patience. I’m going to continue to do everything I’m asked and controlling what I can control and we’re going to take our time with it.”

Smith is a little over a year removed from that major knee injury, one that tore both the ACL and MCL tendons in his knee and also caused him significant nerve issues that gave him drop foot, a condition that isn’t always fixable. So while Smith’s tendons were quick to heal, the nerve moves at its own pace.

Even with that worry, the Cowboys took a chance on him. And it’s becoming more clear that their gamble is paying off, with progress clearly being made when the Cowboys removed him from the IR in November. We were told by a source then that his knee was on pace for recovery. But Smith’s most recent update gives you an idea that while there’s still room for improvement, he’s looking really, really explosive, clocked at a reported 4.5 in the 40-yard dash while rehabbing, per the report.

No, the Cowboys won’t be trotting Smith onto the field as they begin the NFL playoff’s as the NFC’s top seed. But it’s scary to think what Dallas can be with a trio of young stars in Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott and NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott.

“I think I could have played and competed at an elite level,” Smith told the Morning News. “But with us coming together and realizing the situation with the nerve coming back, we’re going to be patient and trust God’s timing…

“I’ve accepted the reality I won’t be playing this year,” Smith said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I understand God has a plan. Just having patience. I’ve been thankful to be on this team and to watch my guys go out there and ball. I support and learn anyway I can.”

 

Kelly on the QBs: “Everything is on the table”

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A starter and backup. A timeshare. Alternating series—or snaps.

That quarterback battle between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire? As of today, the possibilities are limitless.

“I have not taken anything off the table. Really. Honestly,” head coach Brian Kelly said, when asked why he wouldn’t play two quarterbacks. “If we go down the roster and look at the playmakers on offense, two of them are on the quarterback side.

“I’ve got to look at all of those and factor every one of them in. For me not to look at every single scenario possible as it relates to the quarterback position, I would not be smart as a football coach. We’ll look at every option and everything that’s available to us to put the best offense on the field. Everything is on the table.”

After spending the spring talking about finding a starter and disappointing one very good football player, this is a far more intriguing comment than maybe any of us will allow.

And why is that?

Maybe it’s the burn we still feel after spending an offseason wondering what the duo of Malik Zaire and Everett Golson could do after their dynamic-duo performance in the bowl win over LSU. Or maybe it’s because we just watched Urban Meyer—still a deity in the eyes of most Irish fans—turn his (regular season) offense into a huge disappointment as he mismanaged a depth chart that was three-deep entering last season and had Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.

But if Kelly has truly backed away from the starter-backup concept and really is willing to play both quarterbacks, what this Notre Dame offense could look like is really an incredible proposition.

Is it Kizer between the 20s and Zaire in the red zone? Is it both guys on the field at once? Is it it a ham-and-egg combo like the near-perfect gameplan we saw against LSU? Or maybe the turbo-speed attack that Irish fans have been clamoring for since the day Kelly got to South Bend?

Both quarterbacks can run. Before Kizer became the team’s goal line and short yardage option, Zaire was ready to be a chain-mover as well and breakaway run threat as well. And gone are the days of worrying what happens when No. 1 goes down. As we saw last year—nothing changes.

Kelly’s certainly not afraid to make an unorthodox decision. Last offseason when he decided to bring Mike Sanford to town, much was made about the offensive coordinator title given to the young assistant, with Mike Denbrock “promoted” to associate head coach.

But that leadership trio went as smoothly as you could ask, taking the Irish offense to new heights, even while breaking in a quarterback who wasn’t accurate enough to hit water from a boat the spring before.

Given an entire offseason to figure out how best to utilize Zaire and Kizer, maybe there’s enough confidence atop the Notre Dame program to go out on that ledge again. Because while it’d certainly be a risk, game planning for both Kizer and Zaire would be a nightmare for opponents.

After day one, it all seems possible. And with Kelly growing more and more comfortable about the competition as it’s finally arrived, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency.

“We don’t have to make a decision until they tell us only one quarterback can play,” Kelly said after the team’s opening practice at Culver Academies. “And that’s right up to Texas.”

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Mailbag: Offensive identity, special teams, and more

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With the spring game just around the corner and the weather forecast looking perfect for Blue-Gold weekend, let’s dig into the mailbag and get into some of your questions.

irishkg07: Do Kelly’s comments about the QB situation and referencing OSU’s issues last season rotating QBs convince you that the Irish will enter ’16 with a singular true No. 1 at QB?

I don’t think that’s what BK was saying. I think he referenced Ohio State from the perspective that they lost their identity amidst the different quarterbacks, getting away from their bread and butter—Ezekiel Elliott serving as a sledgehammer—and ultimately it cost them a chance to play for a national title.

One thing I think Kelly is committed to doing is playing out this quarterback battle. He’s also committed to having an identity on offense, regardless of who’s behind center. That means a commitment to running the football, playing physical and not mixing and matching what the team looks like on offense depending on who is at quarterback.

Will there be a singular starter and a backup? Maybe (and I’m leaning towards probably). But I think both these quarterbacks are too good to keep off the field, and they’ll both play in some fashion.

 

onward2victory: Do you know if the coaching staff is taking any steps to get more fire and passion from the players at game time? Look at the focus and intensity they had vs Texas, just ready to dominate. Never saw it again the rest of the year. Let’s get more time spent on emotions and less on heady technical X’s and O’s.

Onward, you know I love you, but this is one of those statements that have zero basis in truth, nor is it anything we can prove, one way or the other. (You aren’t running for president are you?) I thought the Showtime series did a nice job of looking behind the curtain, and I certainly didn’t think “fire” or “passion” were the issues that plagued this team. Think back to that speech BK gave at halftime against USC. That didn’t get you fired up?

Now the reason I think this question is a valid one is that the Irish have started slow at times, especially on the road and in big games. Defensively, Brian VanGorder talked about that being a focus this spring, and that the staff was doing things to make sure the team started faster. Kelly has long had a series of mental edge exercises the team does in pregame to prepare them. I’m sure they’ll keep tweaking the formula as they search for ways to win.

But will all games be a 38-3 trouncing? No. But I just don’t think effort or passion was an issue with that team.

 

rocket1988: Demetris Robertson. Where is he playing in the fall?

I have no clue. Would be fun if it were South Bend, but bizarre circumstances like this don’t usually end up Irish.

I’ll guess Georgia.

(If you’re interested in the odyssey of Robertson, our friends at OneFootDown did a great piece on his bizarre recruitment.)

 

freshnd: Farley has been a special teams stud the last several years and his presence on the coverage teams will be greatly missed. Who ascends on ST to fill his void?

This is a great question! Notre Dame will miss Farley’s presence on special teams, and I’m curious to see who steps forward into a role like this. A few guesses:

I wonder if it’s someone like Asmar Bilal, a speedy linebacker who can get down the field. Otherwise, maybe it’s Avery Sebastian? He’s a veteran (sixth-year eligible) and might not be a starter, but could be a lock on every unit. Ashton White is a big, physical cornerback who I think might be a good addition to the special teams unit.

With a great punter/kicker battery, making sure the coverage teams are top notch is critical. This has been a big area of improvement and will continue to be a focus, especially with Marty Biagi brought on as a special teams analyst.

 

newmexicoirish: Keith, do you anticipate Kelly relinquishing the play calling to Mike Sanford this season?

I’ve been told by people in the know that it wasn’t Kelly or Sanford, but rather Mike Denbrock that handled the actual play calling. So it isn’t really about BK relinquishing control, he might have already done so.

Don’t expect him to give any more insight into this until he’s ready to, though. He was tight-lipped about the process, other than to say he thought it was going well, and that’s likely how it’ll stay.