Michigan v Notre Dame

Irish open spring: Five quick updates from BK

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With Irish eyes already smiling thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, Notre Dame fans got a free double-down with Brian Kelly’s opening press conference before spring practice starts tomorrow.

Kelly, donning a green sweater over a green golf shirt, spoke with the assembled local media over the lunch hour, giving us 50 minutes of long-awaited updates as the spring roster was revealed.

Here are five quick things I found very interesting:

 

Ben Councell is retiring. 

I hinted at this last week, but outside linebacker Ben Councell is not going to pursue a fifth-year. As we looked at the roster-crunch to get to 85 scholarships, Councell was one name that I had heard wasn’t a lock to come back.

Kelly confirmed that on Tuesday.

“He chose not to continue to play. We respected that decision,” Kelly said. “He was offered an opportunity to continue to play. He’s not going to play football anymore. He’s just going to get his degree and move on to the next chapter for him. Ben’s a great young man and we wish him the best.”

Kelly also confirmed Jalen Brown was not returning, while also clarifying that the little used cornerback wasn’t invited back.

 

It’s Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson battling for the open left guard job. 

We’ll get a look at the two redshirt freshmen for the first time. And if Kelly’s comments are any indications, the young players are all that’s been advertised.

After explaining that Nick Martin was returning to center and Matt Hegarty didn’t want to compete for the left guard job, Kelly pointed to the two first-year participants as the top candidates for the vacancy along the offensive line.

“Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars,” Kelly said. “We’ll let those guys battle at the left guard position. That’s going to be fun to watch those two guys battling out at the left guard position.”

While some other players are going to cross-train and add some depth at tackle and center, don’t expect it to be Bars or Nelson. After seeing how difficult that was for Steve Elmer, consider it a lesson learned for Kelly and Harry Hiestand.

 

C.J. Prosise is cross-training as a running back. 

Even though Amir Carlisle was Notre Dame’s starting running back to open the 2013 season, it’s fellow slot receiver C.J. Prosise that’s taking reps at running back.

Kelly confirmed the position tweak for Prosise with Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant the only scholarship backs on the roster until Josh Adams and Dexter Williams arrive this summer.

“He’s been in the running back meetings. He’ll get a lot of work at running back,” Kelly confirmed of Prosise. “Amir will not cross train. He’ll stay at the slot receiver. C.J. will get quite a bit of work at running back.”

After leading the team in yards per catch and showing a ton of explosiveness at 220 pounds, this looks like a smart way to get Prosise more touches while also protecting the depth chart. Expect new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to enjoy seeing what Prosise can do in a hybrid role.

We’ve talked constantly about finding a Percy Harvin (the game-breaking elite talent not the guy who can’t stick on an NFL roster) for this offense. Prosise might be that guy.

 

Fifth-year candidate Chase Hounshell is attempting to reboot his career as a blocking tight end. 

Long assumed gone after struggling with injuries and the defensive line depth chart, get ready to see a new number—and a new attitude—associated with veteran Chase Hounshell.

He’ll be wearing No. 18 and at 255 pounds will compete to be a blocking tight end. And he’s getting that opportunity because he did everything he could to convince Kelly to give him the chance.

“Chase knocked down my door, wouldn’t leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, ‘Coach, I want to be part of this team. I have something to offer,'” Kelly explained.

“We don’t really have a role for you on the defensive line, but we could use a big, physical, blocking tight end. Would you be interested in that role? He said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.'”

With just Durham Smythe’s one catch returning to the position and rising sophomore Tyler Luatua the only big-body that looks the part of a run blocker, experimenting with Hounshell at the position is a win-win for both parties.

If a roster crunch comes, Hounshell will have spent the spring staying in shape and could supply some good tape to a program looking for a veteran player, who could also have sixth-year options considering his multiple shoulder injuries.

Jake Golic finished his career at Cincinnati. Perhaps Hounshell will have the same type of opportunity if it doesn’t work out in South Bend. But credit the veteran for wanting to finish things the right way.

 

Any assumptions about the quarterback position should be thrown out. 

After an offseason where many of us (I’m partially guilty, too) have advanced the storyline at quarterback when we’ve heard nothing out of the parties actually involved, Kelly did a nice job resetting the expectation at the position.

While talking about both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, he laid out his expectations for spring practice, with each player having clear objectives.

But for all the talk about the offense being turned over to Zaire or a ride-share program already being implemented, these comments from Kelly about Golson and his future as the team’s starting quarterback struck me.

“First of all, if I’m Everett, I don’t think that he has to accept that he has to share time with anybody,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that notion has ever been floated to him. I’ve never floated that.

“The only thing that I’ve ever said to Everett is that you have to come in here and compete for the starting quarterback position. I never once said to him, You have to come here and share playing time with anybody. You need to come in here and be committed to competing for the quarterback position. That’s all I’ve ever asked him to do.”

Notre Dame, Ball State set to meet in 2018

Pete Lembo
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It looks as if another piece of Notre Dame’s non-ACC football scheduling has come into place. Ball State has announced an agreement to play at Notre Dame Stadium in early September of 2018, likely locking in the Irish’s second opponent of the season.

The in-state battle will mark the first time the two schools have played each other in football.

“The opportunity to play one of the most storied programs in college football in a historic stadium will be very special for our student-athletes and everyone else associated with Ball State football,” Cardinals head coach Pete Lembo said in the release.

While the Irish’s ACC schedule is locked down through 2019, the non-conference pieces are still coming together. With Georgia on the slate in 2017 and 2019 and a rumored matchup in 2018 against Northwestern potentially lost in the ACC affiliation, some type of certainty—even years in advance—goes a long way.

Of course, not too many headlines are generated scheduling a game against a MAC opponent. Especially in the CFB Playoff era. But the relationships between Notre Dame’s athletic department and the leadership at Ball State likely made this an easy deal to finalize.

Former Irish deputy athletic director Bill Scholl is the AD at Ball State. (Correction: Scholl took over as AD at Marquette in January, Mark Sandy now has the job.) Former SID Brian Hardin is now a deputy athletic director in Muncie as well.

In addition to high-profile non-conference games against Texas (2015, 2016), Ohio State (2022, 2023) and Texas A&M (2024,25), the Irish have agreed to play Miami-Ohio in 2017, presumably reuniting the Irish with former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.

 

 

The road to a successful 2015 season is just getting started

USA TODAY Sports
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After Notre Dame’s men won an improbable ACC basketball title, the team and their head coach did little to shy away from their difficulties in the NCAA tournament.

#NotDoneYet adorns every tweet coming from the team’s official account, and likely serves as a mantra for a team that’s shown flashes of brilliance during regular seasons past, but too often became pumpkins in mid-March.

Just as the basketball team goes back out on the highwire as a No.3 seed, Brian Kelly‘s football team is #JustGettingStarted.

With spring practice set to kickoff on Wednesday, and Kelly ready to give his spring state of the union address with the university back from spring break, the ground work has been laid for a 2015 season that will not shy away from hefty expectations.

At least 18 starters return on a football team that could welcome back 2013 star-in-the-making cornerback KeiVarae Russell and still-promising defensive end Ishaq Williams.

A quarterback depth chart that is about to kick off a high-profile competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire largely blinds us from the first dynamic 1-2 punch the Irish have had at the position in… decades?

Defensively, just about every piece of Brian VanGorder‘s unit returns. While standouts Joe Schmidt and Jarron Jones spend spring getting healthy, VanGorder and his rebuilt coaching staff have to prove they’re more like the attacking dominant group that helped the Irish race to a 6-0 start, not the injury-depleted lost cause that turned Northwestern into a winner in South Bend as it hemorrhaged points.

Outside of a restructured coaching staff, there isn’t an influx of new faces charged with changing the results. Frontline seniors like Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day need to be stars. Same the ascending juniors Will Fuller, Tarean Folston and Jaylon Smith.

While we focus on holes at safety or depth concerns at running back, Brian Kelly has built his strongest football team yet. Make no mistake, there hasn’t been a roster this talented in South Bend since Lou Holtz was running the show.

With a roster that still needs to find its way to 85 players, 15 spring practices will have an urgency we haven’t seen around the program since the dark days and skepticism before the 2012 season. Pushed forward by a singular leader like Manti Te’o, that team built itself through spring and summer workouts.

After falling apart at the seams last season—the 2014 team lost more games in November than Brian Kelly had in all his seasons in South Bend combined—success this fall begins with the work being done now.

So while Mike Brey and Co. are (hopefully) #NotDoneYet, the road to 2015 is #JustGettingStarted.

 

 

Notre Dame Mailbag: It’s all about the Quarterbacks

Everett Golson
70 Comments

One question, asked a half-dozen different ways. And it’s all about the quarterbacks.

 

cajunirish: EG is currently taking a needed scholarship and IMHO has been outplayed by MZ. What are the chances EG transfers and frees up that scholarship?

bxirish162: Considering ND’s wealth @ QB -Would ND be better off starting
Zaire and getting reps to other QBs behind him? Golson’s time seems to have passed via multiple causes but passed nevertheless.

irishkevy: All this talk about Malik Zaire as the full time starter at QB makes my head hurt. Say it ain’t so, Brian Kelly & staff have officially lost their mind(s). Please tell me I’m wrong here?!?! Gearing up for the most potential on an ND roster and they’re going to start a QB who’s furthest completion will be a 3 yard pass.

notrebob: Keith,I’m a firm believer in golson,and golson alone,he has to be the starter at least lead dog,without golson ND doesn’t beat LSU I am of the group who say if you have 2QBS you have none what sir say you.

@NastraDumas: Who do you think ND’s offense will be better off with under center this season?Golson or Zaire? Why?

 

While the search for new coaches took up most of February, it’s hard to think of anything over these next two months that’ll take up as much time as the quarterback race. In Golson and Zaire, Brian Kelly has two quarterbacks who have won football games. (In Zaire’s case, football game.)

In 2012, Golson was a risk-averse game manager who protected the football, extended plays with his legs and made a few key big plays as he led the Irish to an undefeated regular season. In 2014, he was one of college football’s best playmakers, but his propensity for turnovers made it impossible for the Irish offense to outscore opponents down the stretch and hold on to win football games.

The love and respect for Zaire comes from a few places. One, he’s the type of football player you can’t help but love to watch. Fearless as a runner, Zaire had no problem carrying the load against LSU. As a leader, his enthusiasm—whether down by multiple touchdowns to USC or flooded with emotions after a bowl victory—is exactly what you want from a quarterback.

It’s just too hard to know exactly what Notre Dame has in Zaire. But we do know that he’s capable of moving the Irish offense on the ground and showed a decent enough touch in his limited opportunities as a thrower.

From a leadership point of view, Golson never turned into the face of the offense. His quiet nature and reserved attitude hardly shout out leader or captain. That’s a real issue moving forward, especially with Zaire being such a natural. Then again, Dayne Crist had all the leadership skills you could ever want, but didn’t have the football acumen to match.

In a perfect world, both quarterbacks stay on campus. Both quarterbacks embrace competition, pushing each other to be better in 2015. And both quarterbacks get a chance to play, compete and help Notre Dame win. It worked for Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. It can work for Golson and Zaire.

Kelly’s reluctance to hand the offense over to Zaire last year says everything you need to know in his belief that he was prepared to lead the team to victory. That just as much on Zaire as it is on Kelly, with the Irish head coach doing what he believed best for the team.

But at the same time, allowing one player to make mistake after mistake without letting his backup get a shot makes little sense. Remember the punishment for Max Redfield? It lasted even after Austin Collinsworth and Drue Tranquill struggled to cover the ground they needed out of a free safety. That’s two sets of rules for two different positions. That’s not good for a football team.

Ultimately, there are just too many variables in this battle to feel like you can have a firm grasp on the situation. They’ll start over fresh with a new quarterback coach and offensive coordinator in Mike Sanford. They’ll be learning some new concepts and evaluated differently. They’ll also have a chance to put last season in the rearview mirror, a helpful exercise for both Golson and Zaire.

I still think Golson is the quarterback who can do the most for Brian Kelly’s offense. But I’m not sure Notre Dame is committed to running that offense anymore.

Not after seeing the Irish roll through LSU in the bowl game. Not after realizing the offensive line can dictate terms and a gameplan that isn’t 100 percent quarterback reliant can take college football’s ultimate prize.

So, in short, I have no idea what will happen.

But man, this sure will be interesting to watch.

Mailbag: Now Open

New Mailbox
72 Comments

Against my better judgment, let’s try this again. With spring practice beginning next week, let’s open up the mailbag.

Football questions welcomed. Brevity appreciated. Trolls ignored.

Drop them below or @KeithArnold.