Ezekiel Elliott

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with Cole Luke #36 after recovering a fumble against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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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

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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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

DeShone Kizer, Kevin Kavalec, Harold Landry
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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.

Prosise blazes with a 4.4 forty at the NFL Combine

Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise (20) runs past Georgia Tech defensive back Jamal Golden (4) for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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The NFL may have added a few hundredths of a second to C.J. Prosise‘s 40-yard dash. But even if the reports of a 4.40 turned into a 4.48, the former Notre Dame running back certainly opened some eyes with his speed in Indianapolis.

Those that have watched Prosise the past few years certainly saw this coming. Whether it was running away from LSU in the Music City Bowl or the handful of game-breaking touches he had in 2015, Prosise’s speed was always such an intriguing part of the 220-pounder’s game. Now stacked up against top backs like Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott, Prosise more than held his own.

Prosise’s big day also included a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 121-inch broad jump, besting Elliott in both categories but finishing behind Henry. Prosise will wait to bench press until Notre Dame’s Pro Day, giving him more time to let a shoulder heal that’s still not 100-percent since injuring it against Pitt.