Michigan v Notre Dame

Mailbag, Part 2: What to do with the QBs?


Let’s continue with the mailbag, starting with my guess as to how the quarterback battle this spring ends up.


domehead00: How do you see the quarterback position shaking out this spring?

Am I allowed to say, “I have no idea?”

I won’t take the easy way out here, as I think this spring’s QB race is absolutely riveting. Obviously, the victory in the bowl game displayed what Malik Zaire can do, particularly in the running game. But Everett Golson was critical in beating LSU, especially with some clutch conversions late in the game.

With 15 practices and a new quarterback coach and offensive coordinator, all bets seem to be off. But from a program strength perspective, I think Brian Kelly wants to leave the spring with both quarterbacks feeling like they’re absolutely essential for the Irish to win big in 2015… and both staying a part of the program.

If we’re handicapping this race, Golson has the better grasp of the offensive system and the better arm talent. (Again, the system is something to watch, with Sanford coming in and likely installing a few wrinkles.)

Zaire has a considerable edge as a runner, and also leads in the intangibles category. He’s a better leader (though he needs to learn to stay off Twitter) and he also doesn’t have the scar tissue of the 2014 season that Golson now has, with those turnovers harder and harder to shake off.

Kelly has used spring practice as a motivation ploy and also as a confidence booster. A few years back, we were to believe that Kona Schwenke had pulled even with Louis Nix at nose tackle. Message sent to Nix… and Schwenke.

Short answer: Not sure. Longer answer: I’ve got a hunch that both players will be around this summer and competing until the fall.


grammarnazi69: How does the tight end position shake out to start this year? Who starts, and where do each of the 4 players fit in?

I think we get to know Durham Smythe and Tyler Luatua a lot better. And I expect Smythe to be the starter when the Irish take on Texas in the season opener, with the former Longhorn commit going up against his home state team. The Irish could very well start both Smythe and Luatua, coming out in a no-nonsense, smash-mouth formation.

That being said, get ready to see plenty of Alizé Jones. The freshman is a freaky athlete and this staff isn’t kidding when they call him the No. 1 tight end in the country. Jones can win from the slot right now and do a lot of the same things great players like Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph did.

I didn’t forget about Mike Heuerman. I’m still curious to see how he shapes up as a football player, and whether he’s one of the guys that maybe gets a chance at switching sides of the ball, giving a look at rush end. Heuerman hasn’t been able to stay healthy or keep weight on since he’s come to South Bend. And in a talented depth chart, those things are needed.

There’s no position with more question marks on the Irish roster when it comes to production. But there are plenty of capable bodies to replace Ben Koyack.


hoosiermp33: Do you ever potentially see ND adding a regular series with Hawaii to utilize the option for a 13th game?

No, I don’t. Apologies to Hawaii — and it’s a game that I’d love to get assigned to cover — but if Notre Dame is adding a 13th game, it’ll do something a little bit more out of the box that’ll help their schedule strength.

Right now, Notre Dame schedules knowing they lack a conference title game. So while the part of your rather lengthy question that I cut out talked about TCU and Baylor getting passed over, take a look at some of the opponents those two programs played.

For the first time ever, we saw a cupcake schedule (and no playoff game) come back to bite a program in the butt.


prodigolson: How do you deal with the consistent pessimism? Seldom are comments insightful and enjoyable to read, and instead many are filled with constant negativity by cynics who apparently have been granted college football omnipotence when put in front of a keyboard and given an anonymous username. It’s not the trolls that bother me, but rather the actual fans that can’t see past the last loss, coaching departure, missed recruit, etc. 

I’m not going to lie, it’s a burden. Sometimes people are the worst. I was reminded the other day of a passage from Moneyball, and why Billy Beane said he didn’t make it as a baseball player.

To paraphrase, when Beane was slumping or struggling at the plate, he hated himself. When he was hot and seeing the ball well, that’s what he was supposed to do.

I’m going to write whether the team wins or loses. But after a loss (and more and more, after any column), I’m less inclined to see what’s being said under the fold or at other prominent websites.

I’m also lucky I live a couple hundred yards from the Strand. Lotta walks listening to music helps.

Torii Hunter Jr. joins the Irish baseball team

Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson, Ben Koyack

Notre Dame has its next two-sport athlete. Sophomore wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. has joined the baseball team, UND.com announced.

After making seven catches and scoring a touchdown in his first season on the gridiron, Hunter will participate with both teams this spring. The son of MLB All-Star Torii Hunter, the younger Hunter is fully healthy after a serious leg injury kept him off both fields as a freshman.

“Torii wanted to play baseball again, and we had some roster space, so we wanted to see where this could go,” Notre Dame baseball coach Mik Aoki said in a statement. “People will need to have a little bit of patience. This is a kid that, between his focus on football and a catastrophic injury as a senior in high school, hadn’t touched a bat in three years prior to the last few weeks. He needs a little bit of time to see where this might be able to lead him.”

The baseball team could use the help. After finishing 22-31 last year, including 9-21 in the ACC, Hunter will get a shot to help out in the outfield. And while still fighting to be a part of a talented wide receiving rotation, Brian Kelly is open to Hunter working with both teams this semester.

“This is something we wouldn’t have considered if not for the fact that Torii is an outstanding student,” Kelly said in the same statement. “Coach Aoki and I have the utmost confidence in Torii to be able to handle his duties in the classroom in addition to his responsibilities to both teams.”



Mailbag: Digging into some big changes

BSU Practice

We’re going to break up this mailbag into a few different sections as well. With a lot of changes swirling through Brian Kelly’s football program, there’s plenty to cover on a usually slow February weekend.

(Pro Tip: If you haven’t gotten anything done for Valentine’s Day yet, use your lunch break… not your drive home.)

Thanks everybody for the questions. Keep an eye out for more of these later today or over the weekend.


nateprez4irish: Assuming Kelly’s “ultimatum” to have his coaches competitively paid and money is not a factor, what do you make of the recent carousel? A show of weakness in the ND program for reaching the playoffs, strength of other team’s programs, attrition (although ill timed for so many to leave at once) and move up in opportunity, or a combination of all?

First off, money is always a factor. It is for you, it is for me, it is for a coach making $500,000 or $5 million. So in your first sentence alone, I think you’re throwing two things at me that I don’t necessarily agree with.

Kelly’s ultimatum is a fictional edict likely concocted on message boards and in chat rooms or comments sections. Every coach wants to have their assistants paid competitively. And maybe Kelly’s dalliance with the Eagles helped make that happen, but it was already in progress.

Notre Dame pays competitively. They didn’t used to, but they’re just fine in the general scope of assistant pay — while not getting into the bidding war on million dollar coordinators.

(Of course the beauty of it is that we’ll never truly know for sure what these guys are getting paid because the school doesn’t need to release the information.)

If we’re looking at the three departures, I think different factors were at play for all three.

With LaFleur, he prefers the NFL game. He is not the recruiting type, and that part of the game didn’t seem to be where his heart and energy was. Add that to the fact that he had a chance to reunite with Kyle Shanahan, and go coach with his brother in Atlanta, all while probably get a significant pay upgrade to move back to the NFL, and there you have it.

Kerry Cooks was passed over for the defensive coordinator job. After being a co-coordinator he was essentially demoted to running the secondary. Cooks came to Notre Dame looking for a fresh start after spending significant time at Wisconsin. He’s likely looking at Oklahoma as a similar opportunity to build his resume and earn his way to a coordinator job.

It also sounds like he got a nice little raise. Add that to the fact that he and his wife are both from Texas, and there’s no trumping geography.

Alford’s move is connected to him wanting to be a head coach. And he thinks working under Urban Meyer will help with that. And I agree with him. But I’m more than a little skeptical about his “assistant head coach” title, Larry Johnson (defensive line coach) has the same title for defense. Add in Ed Warinner as offensive coordinator and another co-offensive coordinator and there are too many cooks in that kitchen.

But Alford and Meyer have known each other for a long, long time. And I’m sure there was no easy time to leave for Alford, but after losing out on the Colorado State job (his dream job, I’m told), he’s doing everything he can to be ready for the next time they hire a head coach.

(That got long.)


tburke9601: Do you think a recruit should be allowed out of his LOI if the school he signs with has a coaching change after signing day?

No. But I think it’s a really crappy thing for a staff to do–especially if your personal position coach is recruiting you and then they leave without notice.

Here’s the thing. Nobody has to sign on Signing Day. Nobody even needs to send in a Letter of Intent. But there’s no question this year has sparked a massive change in their calendars, and it seems like just about every big staff is making significant changes after the faxes come in, and that’s a little grotesque.

I’m not sure how many times others have said it, but it’s worth repeating (again and again): Don’t pick your school because of the coaches. They will inevitably come and go.


djduvall84:Is there any chance ND could steal a PROVEN elite recruiter and get a position of need filled in the same person? I’ve heard multiple reports of different people but none are proven elite recruiters. Shouldn’t that be a top priority?

That’s a good question. And I do think BK needs to find someone who has some connections in the state of Texas, otherwise that’s going to be an uphill battle moving forward.

All that being said, I’m not sure anybody called Tony Alford a proven recruiter before he came to Notre Dame. And if we are to assume Todd Lyght and Mike Sanford are both coming on staff, I really like these facts:

a) Lyght was a two-time All-American at ND. He was a first-rounder, Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl winner, too.
b) Sanford recruited California for Stanford and Boise State and came up on the West Coast. He also served as a recruiting coordinator, too.

There are certainly guys that are considered proven elite recruiters out there. But some of those guys built that reputation the wrong way and aren’t great institutional fits at Notre Dame.

Outside of the LaFleur hiring (and I guess VanGorder still technically needs to prove it), I think Kelly has shown himself to have a great network and has done a very good job bringing in new talent. So let’s see what happens and let’s see how these new hires do before judging them.


uptheera44: Now knowing about Sanford, how do you rate his ability as an OC and as a recruiter? Is he more of the former and less of the latter as I am sensing or is he also a proven recruiter?

onward2victory: Are there any substantiated claims that Sanford is being brought in to be groomed as the next HFBC at ND??

Only knowing what I’ve read and heard, he’ll be a dynamic add to the staff. He’s a little bit like Notre Dame’s version of Lincoln Riley, who Kelly kicked the tires on last year, and who just went to Oklahoma to run Bob Stoops’ offense.

But Sanford has more of a ground game in his DNA, and from what I’ve been told he didn’t come to Notre Dame to just let Kelly call the plays and run somebody else’s system. So after watching some of Boise State’s offense and knowing he spent two seasons at Stanford, perhaps Sanford is the type of guy you want to mesh with Kelly.

As for life after BK, who knows? Bu I don’t think you’re hiring a 33-year-old offensive coordinator and then telling him you’re grooming him to be Kelly’s successor. That’s the type of thing that gets made up on the internet and used as rationale by fans of Ohio State (where Sanford didn’t want to go) or Vandy (turned them down, too) as excuses for Sanford not picking their program.

Jack Swarbrick has built a reputation on making sound, solid decisions. Promising the job to someone in their early 30s wouldn’t be one of them.