Keith Arnold

South Bend Tribune

Last looks: Tight ends

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After a long line of starters with plenty of experience, Notre Dame’s tight ends all but start over in 2015. Scott Booker’s position group comes in with all sorts of intriguing traits. Unfortunately, none of those are experience.

The closest to filling that role is junior Durham Smythe. Serving as the No. 2 tight end in an offense that didn’t often use one, Smythe made just one catch last season while Ben Koyack led the offense in snaps played.

But a lack of experience isn’t to say the position group isn’t talented. Whether it’s freshman phenom Alizé Jones, Nic Weishar off his redshirt, bowling ball Tyler Luatua or fifth-year converted defensive lineman Chase Hounshell, the ability to mix and match is certainly there if nobody takes hold of the job.

Let’s take our last looks at an intriguing piece of the offense.

 

TIGHT ENDS
Position Coach: Scott Booker

 

DEPTH CHART

TE1: Durham Smythe, Jr.*
TE2: Tyler Luatua, Soph.
TE3: Alizé Jones, Fr.
TE4: Nic Weishar, Soph.*
TE5: Chase Hounshell, Grad Student*

*Denotes additional year of eligibility

 

LEADING MAN

Alizé Jones. Yes, I realize I have him listed as third on the depth chart. But when you look at this position group, there are a lot of intriguing supporting pieces and only one guy who feels like a star in the making. So while Jones is going to have to learn how to block, get a better feel for the system and become a complete tight end before he can truly ascend to this spot, he’s the guy who will eventually be the next great Notre Dame tight end.

 

NEED A BIG SEASON

Durham Smythe Tyler Luatua. I list both of these guys because I think they both have a chance to do very important things for this offense. In Smythe, the Irish have probably the closest thing to a two-way tight end as there is on the roster. He’s the veteran of the group and should have the best knowledge of the system. But after thinking he was ready to make an impact in 2014, Smythe caught just one pass. After being banged up a bit during camp, Smythe didn’t get off to the quickest start, but hopefully he’ll be ready come Texas.

In Luatua, the Irish have a blocker who could be a physical force. He’s also capable of rumbling for some yardage if he’s out in the flat as Malik Zaire’s safety valve. At 255 pounds, he’s a physical presence who can attach to the offensive line or play—gasp!—fullback.

 

THREE BIGGEST FACTORS…

Can anybody establish a rhythm? Brian Kelly mentioned a mix-and-match approach to the position, a logical choice with this type of personnel. But often times the Irish offense gets predictable when they utilize certain players in certain formations, and that feels like almost an inevitability for the tight ends. (Not that I expect to see Jones next to the left tackle on 3rd and 1, but still.)

But beyond giving the defense a tell, it might also hinder someone from breaking out. If that’s Smythe, great. If it’s Jones, wonderful. It could also be Nic Weishar, who has had an excellent camp. When the offense tried to juggle four running backs, you couldn’t help but feel like they lost something. That’s the big worry at a position this deep, too.

 

Can this offense utilize two tight end sets? As a power running team, putting two tight ends on the field could be a formation that really helps power the offense. But as we worry about finding some experience in this group, is it too much to ask to find two guys who can play?

Grad student Chase Hounshell is miraculously still a part of the football program, and might be Notre Dame’s best attached blocker. After using two tight ends against LSU, can this position group develop two fast enough?

 

Who can Brian Kelly trust? There might be all the skill in the world in true freshman Alizé Jones, but if Kelly can’t trust him to do his job, it’ll be hard for him to play. Same with any of the young players in this position group. Last year, Koyack took all the snaps, even if he was limited in space and not the best blocker. But he knew what he was doing and Kelly relied on that experience in the offense. Developing that trust will be key for whoever steps forward.

 

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Can Nic Weishar look as good on the field as he does in practice? When Jones and Smythe were out Weishar put on a show, a difficult receiver to cover, especially in the red zone. Will that translate to the playing field and can the Chicagoland native get into the mix and be a dangerous part of the passing attack?

 

Will Chase Hounshell really find his home at tight end? When you looked at fifth-year senior candidates, heading into spring Hounshell was at the bottom of the list. But give credit to the hard-luck Ohio native who willed his way back onto the team and reinvented himself as a block-first tight end. It’d be quite a miraculous finish to his Notre Dame career if he was able to contribute this season—and that’s without considering he’ll likely be eligible for a sixth year.

 

Are there enough footballs for the tight ends? Everybody expects the running game to play a bigger role this season. Notre Dame’s receiving corps is as deep and talented as it’s ever been. Assuming guys like Smythe, Weishar and Jones have the skills to get involved in the passing game, how exactly are they going to find footballs for them?

 

Brian Kelly on Dan Patrick Show

TheDanPatrickShow
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Brian Kelly was on the Dan Patrick Show this morning and the Irish head coach got his last weekend without a game started by chatting it up with the popular radio host. While Kelly didn’t make any headlines in the interview, he did conduct it from his desk with a Showtime crew hanging a boom mic over his head, part of life with a documentary film crew following him around.

Here’s the segment of Kelly, where he and DP discuss Deflategate, the evergreen question of joining a conference and quarterback Malik Zaire.

Last looks: Offensive line

Purdue v Notre Dame
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Just about everybody expects Harry Hiestand’s offensive line to be a dominant unit. But after months of preseason hype, they now need to prove they can do it.

On paper, the Irish look to have their strongest and deepest offensive line since Lou Holtz stacked the deck. With a first-round left tackle in Ronnie Stanley, one of the country’s best centers in captain Nick Martin, the mix of experience and elite recruiting should help power the Irish offense to new heights, even with a first-year starter at quarterback.

Before we turn our attention to Texas, let’s take a last look at what we can expect from the offensive line.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE
Position Coach: Harry Hiestand

 

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

LT: Ronnie Stanley, Sr.*
LG: Quenton Nelson, Soph.*
C: Nick Martin, GS
RG: Steve Elmer, Jr.
RT: Mike McGlinchey, Jr.*

LT: Hunter Bivin, Jr.*
LG: Alex Bars, Soph*
C: Sam Mustipher, Soph.*
RG: John Montelus, Jr.*
RT: Mark Harrell, Sr.*

Additional Depth:

Colin McGovern, Jr.*
Jimmy Byrne, Soph.*
Tristen Hoge, Fr.
Trevor Ruhland, Fr.

*Denotes additional year of eligibility available. 

 

LEADING MEN

Ronnie Stanley Nick Martin. Stanley has a chance to be Notre Dame’s first top ten pick in over 20 years. So while some are wondering if the captain snub is still stinging, there are bigger prizes out there for Notre Dame’s left tackle. Stanley needs to dominate from Day One, soon to find out that your draft stock looks much better when you come from off the radar than when you start a season with a bullseye on your back.

As for Martin, we’re still waiting to see what he looks like completely healthy. And if Martin is indeed beyond the knee and thumb issues that plagued him last season, he can anchor the point of attack, making the interior of the offensive line a great asset for the Irish.

 

NEED A BIG SEASON

Steve Elmer & Mike McGlinchey. There hasn’t been a better looking right side of the Irish offensive line in a long, long time. Both Elmer and McGlinchey are prototype NFL players, each possessing sky high upsides and the ability to both maul and out-athletic defensive linemen.

Now they’ve got to do it. Both have a tendency to get their bodies out of position, with Elmer taking some ugly snaps last year and McGlinchey learning on the fly what the right tackle position is all about. But after a few seasons of the Irish running most of their ground game behind Zack Martin and Chris Watt, if Elmer and McGlinchey can hold their own, balance will return (and maybe even shift) with a strong right side.

 

THREE BIGGEST FACTORS…

Can this group dominate in the ground game? We saw a nice performance against the SEC’s best statistical defense in the bowl game. But too often over the years has Notre Dame’s rushing attack been plain pedestrian. Blame some of that on Brian Kelly. But blame some of it on an offensive line too comfortable kicking back into their pass blocking stances.

There’s no room for a slow start, with things only kicking into gear in November. Nor the schizophrenic performances, where the ground game will be just shut down some Saturdays. This unit has known its positions and depth chart since spring. Now they need to start September fast and go out and dictate terms.

 

Can they deal with blitz pressure and pick up the slack for Malik Zaire? Notre Dame’s offensive line took a big step backwards in pass protection last year, with the number of sacks allowed ballooning after Everett Golson returned and Tommy Rees graduated. That’s not because Rees is a better scrambler than Golson (obviously), but rather because Rees helped get the line into the right calls when pressure was set to come.

Zaire is seeing things for the first time in 2015, and while he’s a better runner and scrambler than Golson, he’s not going to be able to run through blown blitz assignments, nor make the right call every time, especially when he’s seeing things for the first time. So if opponents stack the box and try to confuse a young quarterback (not a bad strategy), it’s up to a veteran offensive line to ID the situation, make sure they’re on the same page with Zaire, and get the offense in a position to succeed.

If opponents bring pressure and this line can pick it up, the passing game is primed to make some very big plays down field. But they’ve got to be on the same page with the quarterback.

 

Who is the next tackle in? Notre Dame’s depth on the interior of the offensive line looks stout. But I’m less bullish on the tackles behind Stanley and McGlinchey. While he’ll likely be listed as a co-starter with Quenton Nelson at left guard when the official depth chart is released next Tuesday, Alex Bars is probably the next man in at both tackle spots and potentially both guard spots as well.

Getting improvement out of Hunter Bivin and Mark Harrell this fall camp was critical, but in reality, that depth chart you see up top? Throw it out. Hiestand needs to develop someone else capable of playing on the edge, comfortable enough to block in space and take on edge rushers. Who that’ll be after Bars remains to be seen.

 

THREE RANDOM THOUGHTS

How will Quenton Nelson do? The Irish’s first-year starter is sandwiched between elite players, but he’s playing a very important guard position on this offensive line. Your offensive line is only as good as your weakest link, so it’s up to Nelson to prove it won’t be him. (It certainly won’t be him from a strength perspective.)

 

Does it matter that Zaire’s a lefty and his blind side is protected by McGlinchey, not Stanley? I’m not sure that it does, nor am I sure that it’s necessary for Stanley and McGlinchey to switch sides so the more traditional pass protector is watching Zaire’s back.

But, if you were to ask me to guess a potential shift, this is the one I’m leaning towards, especially since Stanley started his career at right tackle and McGlinchey is still learning how to use that gigantic body of his for good not evil (in OL terms, not superhero terms).

 

Will the aggressive attitude continue? In the Music City Bowl, this offensive line looked like a transformed unit, finally playing like the aggressor. Can that continue, especially with Zaire the new face of the offense?

Too often this offense got soft in critical situations—short yardage, red zone, punch-it-in-and-go-for-it opportunities. That’s not Zaire’s M.O. It’s also not what we expect from this starting five. It’s still too early to figure out who the dominant defenses are that Notre Dame will face. But we’ll get a nice litmus test against Charlie Strong’s Texas D next weekend.

Williams loses NCAA appeal, college career over

USC v Notre Dame
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Ishaq Williams’ college football career is over. Notre Dame’s exiled defensive end, who sat out last season as part of a two-semester suspension for his role in the “frozen five” academic dishonesty investigation, has lost his NCAA appeal for reinstatement. Brian Kelly shared the news on Thursday after practice

Williams will remain on campus and is on track to earn his degree from Notre Dame. But the NCAA will not allow Williams to practice with the team, though he’ll keep his locker and be allowed to use the team’s workout facilities. He has professional aspirations, and the former five-star recruit will likely get a shot to catch on with an NFL team.

“The silver lining here is he is in school and we’re very optimistic that he’ll be able to finish his degree here in the short term,” Kelly said, per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago.

Kelly remained hopeful throughout the appeals process, though it always seemed a long shot. And while we’re not fully educated on the proceedings, Williams’ who would’ve been a fifth-year senior this year had he been allowed onto the field, wrote his own appeal to be allowed back onto the field.

In the end, while the details remain murky—not to mention incredibly frustrating—we finally know one thing for certain: Williams’ football career at Notre Dame is over.

Brian Kelly names five team captains for 2015 team

2015 Team Captains
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The votes are in and Notre Dame’s football team will be captained by five players. Graduate students Matthias Farley, Nick Martin and Joe Schmidt will be joined by senior Sheldon Day and junior Jaylon Smith as the captains of the 2015 Irish.

It’s the first time since 2007 that the Irish have had five captains named. Both Martin and Day are returning captains, just the 20th and 21st players in the program’s history to hold that role twice. Last week, Brian Kelly mentioned that ten candidates were approved by the faculty board for the vote, a large group that says quite a bit about the leadership on this team.

We’ll dig more into this later, but for now, some quick reactions via social media: