‘Blind Faith’ gives first time fan the Notre Dame experience

Stanford v Notre Dame
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Monday UND.com premiered the short film “Blind Faith.” Directed by Notre Dame graduate Greg Kohs, the documentary follows a blind eighth grade boy making his first visit to Notre Dame Stadium.

A student at the Indiana School for the Blind and Impaired, Mitchell and his family have bonded over Notre Dame football since he was a small child. Kohs and his crew captured Mitchell’s first game at Notre Dame Stadium, where he took in the Stanford game with his mother and father.

This first digital short in a three-part “First Time Fan” series, this is worth your time.

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Golson and Zaire will share time against LSU

Rice v Notre Dame
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Brian Kelly will play two quarterbacks against LSU, with both senior Everett Golson and sophomore Malik Zaire getting an opportunity to take on the LSU in the Music City Bowl. After a regular season where Golson served as the starter all 12 games with Zaire only seeing significant action against USC in the finale, both will be utilized in the Irish’s offensive game plan.

“I think both of them can help us win,” Kelly said Monday evening. “I want to play them both because I think both of them have different traits and we need to find a way to win the game. I think both of them can help us win.”

How they do that remains to be seen. After juggling multiple quarterbacks during his three seasons in Cincinnati, Kelly has mostly been a one-quarterback coach. But with a month between the one-sided loss to USC and a battle with the SEC’s top defense, Kelly and the offensive staff laid out a plan that should allow each quarterback to play to their strengths.

“We’ve got a plan in place in practice that I feel very comfortable with and we’ll continue to evaluate that as we go through our practices,” Kelly said. “I think as we get into the game there are skillsets that each one of them has that are a little bit different that we’ll utilize in the game. They both have strengths and we will call upon those strengths during the game. I’m confident that I can manage both of them during the game.”

Kelly identified those skills. For Zaire, the ability to run zone-read could help against a Tigers defense that’s stingy against the pass. For Golson, it’s the ability to create and make every throw on the football field, especially against a defense that’ll mostly utilize man coverage.

“I think you try to get a feel for it,” Kelly said, when asked about the balancing act. “But there are some things that we clearly know one quarterback does a little bit better and we’ll go to those strengths regardless of the situation.”

The platoon strategy came about in an interesting way. While some assume Kelly is only begrudgingly playing Zaire after putting up with so many mistakes from Golson throughout the season, it was only because of Golson’s buy-in these past few weeks that he’s sharing reps at all.

“There wouldn’t have been a competition,” Kelly said, hinting that he nearly turned the offense over to Zaire for LSU.

How well this quarterback shuffle works or how long it’ll go on remains to be seen. While the defensive collapse has been the main culprit for the Irish’s four-game slide, Kelly still pins a lot of the team’s woes on the offense not being able to carry the weight.

So he’s not closing the door on this competition dragging into next season.

“I’m open really to anything at this point,” Kelly said. “We want to put the best football team, the best offense that we can on the field. Ideally, you’d like to have one, but if we’ve got two, then that’s what we’ll do.”

 

 

 

 

Stanley still undecided on NFL future

Notre Dame v Syracuse
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Notre Dame junior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley walked off the stage Friday night with the team’s Lineman of the Year Award. He’s still uncertain if it’s the last time he’ll take part in the season-ending festivities in South Bend.

Stanley has requested an evaluation from the NFL’s college advisory committee, joined by Sheldon Day, Everett Golson and Nick Martin. It’s the same process that’s led players like Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and Kyle Rudolph to leave early while Zack Martin, Michael Floyd and Manti Te’o decided to return to school.

So while most of the talk over these next few months will be surrounding the stay-or-go decision in front of Stanley, the junior told Tim Prister at Irish Illustrated that he’s not ready to make any decision.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on finals and our next game,” Stanley told Prister. “I’m not even thinking about making a decision any time soon.”

While Stanley continues to show up as a top-rated offensive line prospect as college football’s silly season begins, it’s not all universal praise for the first-year left tackle. In a story at BlueandGold.com, ESPN’s Mel Kiper thought Stanley could be a Top 10 pick… if he waits to come out after next season.

“He needs another year,” Kiper said, according to Lou Somogyi. “I didn’t see the consistency week to week. Some games he had some struggles in pass protection, there were other games where he played really, really well. Flashing it and being consistent is different.

“In another year he could be a top 10 pick. Would he be that this year? No. I think he would probably be a late first or second round pick …[maybe] mid-second round. He’s got to go back.”

That opinion was echoed by former NFL personnel man Greg Gabriel. When talking to Prister, Gabriel was fairly emphatic that Stanley would do himself well by returning for another season.

“I think he’s a mid-round pick on talent. He’s athletic, but I don’t think he’s strong enough, I don’t think his technique is good enough and there’s lackadaisical play. There’s not a consistent, aggressive approach.”

Gabriel cited the benefits Zack Martin derived from not only returning for his senior season, but a fifth year as well.

“Let’s put it this way: (Stanley) ain’t no (Zack) Martin,” Gabriel said. “There’s not that down after down effort and tenacity. He doesn’t finish, and Martin is a perfect example of that. He was a fifth-year guy and got better all the time.

“Somebody could take (Stanley) high for what he could be, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to succeed and that doesn’t mean it’s right to leave. Guys get fired by making picks for what a guy could be.”

After making the move to left tackle this spring and starting every game there while the other four linemen up front mixed and matched, Stanley’s got more than a few fans at the next level. That’s understandable when you consider Stanley’s athleticism, not to mention the length and reach that has so many tantalized by his natural ability.

But after watching Tuitt, Niklas and Louis Nix all decide to leave South Bend without completing their eligibility and slide outside the Top 50 picks, it’s a datapoint that should give Stanley pause when seeing his player evaluation.

An even bigger one? The lack of impact that trio has made on Sundays.

Only Tuitt has started a game, with just 11 tackles on the year, and those starts came after injuries hit the Pittsburgh defensive front. Niklas made just three catches before going on the season-ending I.R., the same place where Nix has spent the entire season.

Stanley has a decision to make before January 15, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft. And it doesn’t sound like one that’s going to be made in a hurry. Stanley told Prister he’ll wait until after the bowl game — a good test against a talented LSU front four.

Stanley is a key piece to Notre Dame’s plans in 2015. So while the Irish coaching staff is out trying to solidify a strong recruiting class, they’ll likely turn their focus to their own left tackle, trying to hold on to a lineman who has shown that the sky is truly the limit.

 

Counting down the Irish: Looking back

Will Fuller, Nick VanHoose
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This August, a group of people who spend way too much time watching and writing about Notre Dame football got together to put together some preseason rankings on the roster. In doing so, we (I’m definitely included) put in writing what so many of you (especially in the comments) already thought was true: We don’t know what we’re talking about sometimes.

But a look back at the Top 25 list is a fun exercise. So this week we’re going to spend some time looking at some hits, some misses and some clues as we spend the week re-ranking the roster.

Notre Dame’s offensive player of the year? Will Fuller was only good enough to come in at No. 25 on our list, fifth best among pass catchers. Only three voters gave Fuller a vote, with me giving him his highest ranking at 14th, while predicting a 1,000 yard campaign. The Irish’s defensive player of the year? Everybody saw Jaylon Smith coming, he was at No. 1 on six of eight ballots.

While nobody was thinking that Ronnie Stanley had the makings of a first-round pick after the 2014 season, we did have him as the team’s No. 1 offensive lineman. And even though Cam McDaniel was named a team captain and an opening day starter, the running back was ranked third-best on our list, with our group of experts identifying Tarean Folston as the team’s best back. (ND Tex at HLS had Folston No. 1 on his board.)

The suspensions that ultimately cost KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris DanielsIshaq Williams  and Kendall Moore their seasons? It took two of the team’s top seven players off the field, and three of the team’s top 20. And for those who believed Brian Kelly when he said the team had the deepest roster he’s had at Notre Dame, Fuller was No. 25, and Team MVP Joe Schmidt checked in at No. 24.

As we await the Irish and LSU to do battle on December 30, let’s look back at the best and worst of 2014, and see how well we did in August with our hunches.