Keith Arnold

McGlinchey
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PFF ranks Notre Dame’s OL best in the nation

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The loss of Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin, picks No. 6 and 50 respectively, is the most impactful talent drain from the Irish offensive line in recent years. But that hasn’t lowered the expectations for Harry Hiestand’s front five.

While watch lists and media days are taking up most of the attention, PFF College released their ranking of the ten best offensive lines in college football. And even without Stanley and Martin (and multi-year starter Steve Elmer) the Irish are ranked as the best in the land.

Here’s PFF College’s Top Ten Offensive Lines:

10. Florida State
9. West Virginia
8. Auburn
7. Indiana
6. Washington State
5. LSU
4. USC
3. Appalachian State
2. Stanford
1. Notre Dame

There are a few head-scratchers on the list, including the FBS newcomer Appalachian State and Big Ten doormat Indiana. But based on PFF’s analytic approach—and the fact that they grade every snap of every game—this is likely a more worthwhile list than any of the preseason lists finding their way into publication.

Leading the way for the Irish are left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson. Both come into the season with high expectations, as PFF has ranked both in college football’s top 100 players.

Here’s PFF’s analysis on why Notre Dame sits at No. 1:

Despite the losses of Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin to the NFL draft, I believe the Irish will have the premier college offensive line in 2016. Led by Mike McGlinchey  and Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame has the talent to be a dominant group.

I recently took a trip to South Bend to watch practice and workouts and was amazed by offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s efforts to use the “KISS” formula. Keeping it short and simple is what the Irish o-line looks to do, and they do it well. Using an old-school style of running off the ball blended with a modern style zone blocking allows the Notre Dame line to utilize their talent up front to create seams for their talented ball carriers.

Their favorite play — the “outside zone” — is a prime example. The offensive line looks to reach the defenders and if unable, they use the defense’s momentum against them and continue to run the defender creating those seams for the backs. Notre Dame had +61.6 run block rating and +18.1 pass block rating in 2015 and I have no doubt they will be among the top in both categories this season.

Notre Dame will battle two of the other top five offensive lines this season when they take on traditional foes USC and Stanford.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Julian Love

Julian Love
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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Julian Love arrives on campus after a prolific high school career and in possession of a very diverse skill-set. An RKG if there ever was one, Love’s character and pedigree went a long way towards the Irish jumping on the Chicagoland product and making him an early target, before any of the Midwest’s elite programs came calling.

Projected to play defensive back, Love’s athleticism is what got the coaching staff excited—a true football player who did just about everything for a two-time state champion.

 

JULIAN LOVE
5’11”, 175 lbs.
Freshman, DB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Consensus 3-star prospect, Back-to-back 5A State Champions in Illinois, first-team MaxPreps All-American, All-Illinois first team per Chicago Tribune and Champaign News. Had early offers from Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Boston College before picking Notre Dame at an early Junior Day.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

There’s nothing that profiles “elite” about Love, but he reminds me of the same type of football player that the Irish recruited out of Cretin-Derham Hall in James Onwualu. There’s no chance that Love grows into a linebacker, but he’s a born leader who’ll start his career at one position and then the staff will see what makes the most sense after getting their hands on him.

Will it be easy for Love to beat out some of the talented athletes that the Irish staff has recruited at the skill positions? No. But he’ll likely find a niche early, and it feels like it’s been forever—maybe Robert Blanton— since the Irish have had an overachiever roaming the secondary. Maybe Love is the guy that breaks through.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

The limited ceiling that comes with modest offers and a three-star ranking likely serves as fuel for a player like Love. That’s a big reason why I don’t think he’ll redshirt. Like Onwualu, who found a way into the starting lineup at receiver, Love will carve out some role on this team.

The logical one is special teams. Even if he’s a kick-cover guy now instead of a returner, Brian Kelly’s small-school DNA makes him love all-around football players, and while Love certainly isn’t the freakiest athlete of the recruiting cycle, but he might be one of the best football players.

 

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
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer

Irish A-to-Z: Tommy Kraemer

Tommy Kraemer
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It may sound like a broken record at this point, but Notre Dame may have their next great offensive lineman on campus in Tommy Kraemer. The state’s player of the year in Ohio, Kraemer was a nationally recruited tackle prospect that Harry Hiestand targeted and landed early.

With a chance to contribute at right guard and a likely serve as a back-up at both tackle positions, Kraemer could jump the line in a depth chart that’s had some of the finest recruiting in the country over the past five seasons. But that’s a testament to Kraemer’s abilities and the staff’s belief in his football acumen as well.

 

TOMMY KRAEMER
6’5″, 310 lbs.
Freshman, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A Top-50, elite level recruit. Finished at No. 27 on 247 Sports’ composite ranking. The Gatorade State Player of the Year for Ohio, a 2015 Army All-American, MaxPreps first-team All-American, All-Ohio D-I first team, and the 2015 Enquirer Media Ohio All-State first team.

Turned down Ohio State and Michigan before committing to Notre Dame very early in the process.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Comparing anybody to Zack Martin isn’t fair, but Kraemer shares many of Martin’s attributes. He’s not the biggest or most physically imposing, but Kraemer’s Football IQ has the staff comfortable with inserting him into a position battle for a starting job and from being one snap away at a tackle position.

How long will it take Kraemer to find a starting job? What position will he end up at? And can he really be Notre Dame’s lineman of the year for four-straight seasons? (Probably not.) But it would surprise nobody if Kraemer played from jump street and spent four years excelling before a career in the NFL.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

If Notre Dame can redshirt Kraemer, they’d be wise to do so. That’d mean they survived at tackle with Mike McGlinchey and Alex Bars, and also found a starter at right guard from a collection of talent that range from young (Tristen Hoge) to old (Hunter Bivin).

But Kraemer may be too good not to redshirt. If that’s the case, he’ll likely start out on the inside while backing up both tackle spots, knowing that the depth chart on the outside is shakier than it should be after the early departure of Ronnie Stanley.

The value of a redshirt (Martin, Stanley, McGlinchey, Nelson) shouldn’t be lost. Especially if someone else can ascend and play good football at right guard. But Kraemer is a building block for the future. The timing is still just TBD.

 

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
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: DeShone Kizer

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second 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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To say nobody saw DeShone Kizer‘s rise coming is an understatement. Even DeShone Kizer didn’t see DeShone Kizer coming.

Kizer’s journey has long been memorialized, a storyline that would’ve been too cliche for another TV series or movie set in the world of football. Except we saw it happen firsthand thanks to Showtime’s documentary series, with Kizer living the dream, the anonymous backup, who considered giving up the sport last spring, to a starter with an almost certain NFL future. His 2015 season all but upending a depth chart that seemed to just come into place.

Still locked into a competition with Malik Zaire that’ll head into fall camp, Kizer’s impressive debut season makes him the frontrunner to pilot the Irish offense in 2016. It’s a high-stakes decision that might be the most intriguing position battle in the country.

 

DESHONE KIZER
6’4.5″, 230 lbs.
Junior, No. 14, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A four-star prospect who fell just shy of elite, Kizer never earned a coveted offer from Ohio State and Urban Meyer, but did have plenty of other impressive ones, including Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Nebraska and Penn State.

Kizer wasn’t Notre Dame’s first choice at the position. But he camped in South Bend and earned an offer after throwing for the coaching staff, one that looks quite prescient after his sparkling debut season.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserved a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2015): Started 11 games after replacing Malik Zaire against Virginia. Named the team’s Newcomer of the Year after throwing for 2,884 yards and completing 63 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Ran for 520 yards, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Who saw that coming? Needless to say the program took a major pivot when Kizer performed like a seasoned veteran in his first year of play.

With Golson gone, the development calendar for the quarterback depth chart has just been accelerated. And for Kizer, that might actually be a good thing. The battle between Kizer and Wimbush is one that’ll likely dictate the future of the Irish football program, as the starting job feels firmly in the grasp of Zaire.

But if Notre Dame chooses to punt on recruiting a 2016 quarterback—and that currently looks like the case—this is shaking out to be a battle between Wimbush and Kizer to see who inherits the program from Zaire, potentially three seasons from now.

On paper, Wimbush is the flashier prospect and the odds-on-favorite. But if we’ve learned anything over the past decade watching Notre Dame football, a recruiting ranking and prep status means nothing once a quarterback gets on campus.

So while the preference is to keep a redshirt on Wimbush, it’s Kizer’s job to stay in the No. 2 slot, knowing that future battles will take place from now until after the Zaire era is over.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I think Kizer’s a first-rounder waiting to happen. You don’t take a skill-set like the one he has—NFL frame, big arm, more than capable runner and disposition of a CEO—and not see the sky as the limit.

Kizer’s next step needs to be more than just winning a job. (If I were a betting man, he’d be where I’d put my money, even if I’m a tremendous fan of Zaire’s game, leadership and competitiveness.)

Another season working with Brian Kelly and Mike Sanford should have Kizer excelling, building on his debut campaign with better numbers, more accurate passing and better decision making. The good games and epic comebacks showed a QB who was unflappable in the big moment. But the room for improvement is evident, especially considerable struggles in the red zone and some difficulties against good defenses.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m uncomfortable calling this quarterback race in mid-July, mostly out of respect for both competitors. But if Kelly is truly picking one guy to pilot the offense, I think he’ll choose Kizer.

If he does, he’ll likely be rewarded for that decision. There shouldn’t be regression in Kizer’s game. And even if he lost America’s most dangerous deep weapon, there’ll be plenty of fireworks coming from the Irish offense, whoever catches the passes.

While mock drafts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on (and who prints things these days?), Kizer is a draft eligible quarterback who will likely put up monster numbers. Add to that his NFL body and intangibles, and it’s not unrealistic that Notre Dame fans might be playing a stay-or-go game with Kizer after this season. We’ve long speculated that the QB losing this starting job might leave via transfer. But it’s not crazy to think the NFL might be calling, reopening the starting job for another battle.

 

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
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem

 

Irish A-to-Z: Khalid Kareem

Khalid Kareem
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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Notre Dame looks to have landed a future building block in the trenches in defensive lineman Khalid Kareem. At 270 pounds and just a semester into his relationship with strength coach Paul Longo, Kareem has the chance to have positional versatility while also providing a potentially dominant pass rush option.

A one-time Michigan State and Alabama commitment who ended up picking Notre Dame, Kareem was one of the Midwest’s premier defensive linemen, the kind of player you don’t often see picking the Irish.

 

KHALID KAREEM
6’3.5″, 270 lbs.
Freshman, No. 53, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A Semper Fidelis All-American, Kareem was a consensus Top 250 recruit, the MLive.com’s Detroit Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-State player in Michigan.

He had offers from Michigan State, Ohio State, Stanford and was a one-time Alabama commitment before picking Notre Dame and enrolling early.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

In a weird way, Kareem’s recruitment seemed to have undersold his value. Some of that could’ve been the fact that his separation with Alabama was reported to be mutual, and the fact that he walked away from a commitment from Michigan State before that.

But it’s hard to discount what Kareem did on the football field, exploding as a national prospect with a 19 sack junior season along with 85 tackles. While he didn’t duplicate those insane numbers as a senior (he still put up 36 TFLs and 16 sacks), he arrives in South Bend with some absolutely prolific stats in his high school career and a physical skill-set to back it up.

Whether he stays on the edge or slides inside to three-technique, Kareem has a high football IQ and talent at chasing down quarterbacks. Both of those things are tremendous assets and much needed as Brian VanGorder’s defense continues to look for ways to get pressure on quarterbacks.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Kareem sees the field this year, even if it’s just in a supporting role. He could be some much-needed depth behind Isaac Rochell, who could be used in multiple positions to help maximize his abilities.

There is so much to like about Kareem’s skill-set and his opportunity once Rochell graduates. If he continues to grow he can slide inside and provide a havoc-wreakor in the trenches. If he can keep his speed, he’s got a chance to be a starter as a sophomore when Rochell moves on to the NFL.

Maybe it’s because he enrolled early or because his recruitment had some roller coaster elements. But for all the groaning and grumbling about a lack of defensive ends in recruiting, if all goes according to plan the Irish could’ve landed two elite starters at defensive end for multiple seasons (out of the state of Michigan, no less) with Kareem and Daelin Hayes.

 

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
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.