Keith Arnold

Robert Beal
Rivals / Yahoo Sports

Irish back in the mix for elite DE Robert Beal

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Blue-chip defensive end Robert Beal looked like the one who got away. One of Notre Dame’s earliest commitments in the 2017 recruiting class—and then, their biggest decommitment—was the lone black mark on a recruiting class that’s coming together quite nicely for Brian Kelly, Mike Elston and a hard-working group of assistants.

 

But news broke today that Notre Dame is still in the mix for Beal. The edge rusher will visit campus for the Irish Invasion camp this summer, with Irish247’s Tom Loy the first to break the news:

This according to Loy and Irish247’s Juice:

In the past month, per a source, the family has changed its tune on that. They wanted to “remove some of the stress from Robert” and no longer have his decision depend on which school is able to get his sister into college.

With his sister’s decision no longer playing a role in Beal’s recruiting process, our source says that Beal wanted to reach out to the Notre Dame coaching staff immediately to see if things could be mended and if the staff was still interested in him as a student-athlete. It looks like Notre Dame is very interested, as defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has put in a ton of effort recently to make sure things work out and Beal gets back on campus in June.

 

Getting too worked up about anybody’s recruitment nearly nine months until Signing Day is silly. It’s a big reason why worrying about a recruit like Josh Kaindoh, surprisingly off the board to Maryland last week, isn’t worth the effort until after the Terrapins show just how hard it is to rebuild a program.

But getting back into the game with Beal would be huge. The Georgia-native’s departure from the Irish recruiting class was tough to criticize, especially considering his family’s desire to keep the two siblings united. But as Beal considers a new option to finish high school—Anna Hickey at Irish Illustrated reports that Beal will finish his high school career at IMG Academy—the Irish seem to be back in position to land the pass rusher.

Notre Dame’s got Brian VanGorder on the case, with the Georgia native having a solid relationship already built with the Irish defensive coordinator. And it doesn’t take the head of the Irish defense to see the gaping hole in the depth chart where Beal could fill in, especially as the Irish continue to look for ways to fortify their pass rush.

 

Path to the Draft: KeiVarae Russell

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: KeiVarae Russell #6 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish intercepts a pass intended for John Christopher #7 of the Temple Owls in the fourth quarter on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Part five of the series. See earlier work on Ronnie StanleyWill FullerJaylon Smith and Nick Martin

 

KEIVARAE RUSSELL
No. 74 overall to Kansas City

It was no surprise that KeiVarae Russell finished an impressive Notre Dame career by being selected with a premium pick in the NFL Draft. Just ask him.

From the moment Russell stepped onto campus as a four-star running back with multi-purpose versatility, the Washington native’s confidence was through the roof. And while that’s colored the lens through which we’ve observed Russell both on and off the field, it’s also maybe the biggest reason why he was able to make a training camp pivot to the defensive backfield and find a starting role at cornerback on one of the best defenses in Irish history.

Before the narrative of Russell’s career was overwhelmed by his role in the academic dishonesty investigation that took him off the team along with four other teammates in 2014, it was a development success story. Russell wasn’t an elite recruit, but he was a blue-chip prospect, the U.S. Army All-American picking Notre Dame over USC, Stanford, Cal, Washington and the rest of the Pac-12.

Even better, he carried the “RKG” tag. He was impressive in the classroom at Mariner High, active in the community. In many ways, Russell was one of the first to embody and perfect Brian Kelly’s recruiting model—find the intangibles Kelly used to look for at Central Michigan or Cincinnati, and land the high-end physical talent that’s expected at Notre Dame.

With 26 straight starts to begin his career, many thought Russell’s 2014 season could be his final one in South Bend. And it very nearly was, the shocking academic investigation ended the season for Russell in August before it even started.

A year that could’ve been a coronation was instead a reckoning. The well-chronicled time spent at home in Washington, working in a real-estate office, taking classes full-time, and training. And training. There was no shortage of training videos that came from Russell as he used Instagram as the outlet for his confidence.

That confidence was present when Russell said all the right things upon his reinstatement. It was apparent why it existed in a handful of game-changing plays he made during the 2015 season, clinching victories against USC and Temple with critical interceptions.

But Russell’s performance last season wasn’t what we expected. At times it was somewhat ordinary—Russell giving up underneath throws and passes you expected him to contest. Hardly the dominant, non-stop, high-impact play that Russell certainly expected of himself. But the stress fracture in Russell’s tibia that finally ended his season against Boston College helped reveal why.

 

Hounded from training camp, Russell gutted out the injury. As the team’s medical staff tried to figure out a solution for how best to keep the injury at bay, Russell played on—ending his Notre Dame career on a high-impact forced fumble, a fitting end even if it wasn’t the conclusion to his college career that he wanted.

Instead of wading through the murky NCAA waters in front of him, Russell decided to head to the NFL anyway. The timing wasn’t perfect from a performance perspective, but Russell did what you have come to expect from him, show confidence and talk a great game.

Even though he wasn’t able to workout at the NFL’s scouting combine, he did all the right things. Russell also impressed at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, not fully back from injury but still putting up strong numbers. Some of those physical traits that you didn’t always see on the field in 2015—explainable now that we know about the stress fracture.

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While some wondered if Russell would slide on draft day, the Chiefs made him the 74th pick overall. It solidified the decision Russell made to leave, with a contract that’ll pay him more than $3 million certainly helping.

That personality? It’s already entertaining Chiefs fans, who heard Russell get emotional on draft day after the moment hit him. And the confidence? It shouldn’t be a shock that Russell expects himself to start from day one, replacing free-agent departure Sean Smith and forming an elite duo with Marcus Peters.

Now don’t be surprised when it happens. Russell won’t be.

Greg Bryant succumbs to gunshot wounds, dead at 21

Purdue v Notre Dame
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Ex-Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant is dead at age 21. He had been in critical condition since early Saturday, when he was shot on I-95 in West Palm Beach, Florida, near Bryant’s hometown of Delray Beach.

Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly released the following statement after the news of Bryant’s passing.

“This is such a sad and tragic situation. My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of everyone associated with the University of Notre Dame and its football program, are with Greg’s family at this incredibly difficult time.”

News broke Sunday afternoon that Bryant was brain dead as a result of the shooting that took place in the early-morning hours of Saturday. His family confirmed that Bryant passed away Sunday afternoon as well, ultimately succumbing to multiple gunshot wounds.

The incident is being investigated as a homicide. According to a report from Channell Ramos of WPBF25, a local-ABC affiliate in the area, passenger Maurice Grover is being treated at St. Mary’s Medical Center with minor injuries.

Ex-Notre Dame RB Greg Bryant in critical condition after shooting

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant is clinging to life in a South Florida hospital after being shot overnight. The former Irish running back, who transferred to UAB with hopes of restoring his football career, is reportedly in critical condition in a West Palm Beach hospital.

According to a report in the Palm Beach Post, Bryant was driving a car in the early-morning hours of Saturday when he and his passenger, 25-year-old Maurice Grover, were both shot on I-95. The freeway was shutdown while detectives investigated the scene, reopening the roads at 8 a.m.

While news broke mid-afternoon that Bryant has passed away—spurred on by a tweet from former running back coach Tony Alford—social media messages originating from the American Heritage football account, where Bryant starred as a five-star high school prospect, have him alive and still fighting.

No suspects have been apprehended in the shooting and details are still scarce.

Bryant spent two seasons with the Irish before departing amidst a suspension for violating team rules and academic difficulties. He spent portions of 2015 playing for a junior college program in Miami, before announcing his intention of heading to UAB, who’ll reboot its football program in 2017.

Path to the Draft: Nick Martin

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a six-yard touchdown run by C.J. Prosise against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Part four of the series. See earlier work on Ronnie Stanley, Will Fuller and Jaylon Smith. 

 

NICK MARTIN
No. 50 overall to the Houston Texans

While it feels like Nick Martin’s path to Notre Dame was destiny, it’s worth pointing out that it took until his recruitment’s final weeks to even get him to commit to the Irish. Even with brother Zack fresh off an impressive redshirt freshman season as a starting left tackle, Nick was a solid commit to Kentucky, where the Martin brothers’ father Keith played his college football in the 1980s.

But as Notre Dame’s coaching staff saw the early returns on their inherited left tackle they also saw something worth gambling on with brother Nick. And while it took a while to make an official offer, it didn’t take long to realize it was a very good idea.

So five years and four seasons of captaincy later (not to mention a mantel full of lineman of the year trophies), the Martin brothers leave Notre Dame with a special legacy in place. If you saw that challenge coming at the beginning of the Brian Kelly era, head out and buy a lottery ticket.

A late offer and addition by the Irish coaching staff, Martin flew below the radar in a 2011 recruiting class that was heralded by analysts, but had just as many hits and misses. But on Signing Day, even if fellow classmates Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch were the headliners and fellow lineman Matt Hegarty came in with more pedigree, head coach Brian Kelly saw the traits and demeanor that played out in Martin’s five seasons in South Bend.

“The common theme here with the offensive linemen is their ability to move,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “He’s got really good athletic ability, and he finishes off blocks. He’s got a demeanor again. That offensive line demeanor for us is the way they play the game. And he plays it very, very well.”

Kelly sprinkled a few other lineman buzz words when describing Martin’s play—brawler and athleticism noted—while also throwing in the prerequisite, “his brother’s not bad, either.” And while Kelly was wrong in one regard, Nick didn’t end up playing tackle as projected, the slide inside to center now appears to be the template Kelly and Harry Hiestand have followed on their way to developing interior offensive linemen.

Martin’s ascent followed a traditional path. A redshirt season. Limited time as a sophomore, serving as a backup tackle and special teams contributor in 2012.

But after needing to replace Braxston Cave at center heading into 2013, the move of Martin to center helped bring the look of the line into focus, with his size, strength and athleticism helping trigger the running game. Martin starting the first 11 games of the season at center before suffering a knee injury.

That knee injury wreaked havoc with Martin’s lower-body strength for all of 2014. A hand injury forced him to move from center to guard, versatility that paid dividends as he displayed multi-position ability but also a tremendous amount of toughness playing at less than 100 percent.

Martin’s return to center was a logical decision for the coaching staff. So much so that they understood why Matt Hegarty would transfer as a graduate instead of stick around and back-up Martin or compete for playing time with Quenton Nelson and Steve Elmer. With the two-time captain’s strength back for his final season, even battling a high ankle sprain, Martin played like one of the country’s best centers, the second off the board in the draft behind Alabama’s Ryan Kelly.

That body of work—not to mention the pedigree Martin brings with an All-Pro brother already an anchor in the league—weighed into the decision by the Houston Texans to trade a sixth-round pick to move up a few slots and select Martin.

“I think you know from my history, I put stock in careers, I put stock in leadership, I put stock in a lot of those things and Nick certainly has those,” Texans GM Rick Smith said. “He’s got pedigree, he has an NFL pedigree, so he’s been around it.

“We just really feel like he adds to our offensive line group. He’s a guy that can come right in, he’s a plug-and-play guy, he’ll compete right away we think, so we’re happy to get him.”

Smith quipped that it pained him as a Purdue guy to spend the team’s first two draft picks on Notre Dame players. But as the Texans try to get their offense up to speed with other Super Bowl contenders, they’ll lean on two former Irish stars to make it happen.