matt-balis

Report: Matt Balis set to become new Irish strength coach

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Brian Kelly has found Paul Longo’s replacement. And he comes with an impressive pedigree.

Matt Balis is headed to Notre Dame, per an Irish Illustrated report. After a search that included a handful of candidates, Kelly is bringing in Balis, who most recently directed UConn’s strength program, but also spent four years with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and had two different stints with Urban Meyer. Balis ran Utah’s strength department before going to Florida with Meyer, working under Mickey Marotti in Gainesville. He also served as Virginia’s strength coach after leaving Florida.

That’s not the only move in the strength and conditioning department. Notre Dame is also reportedly bringing in Dave Ballou from IMG Academy, who coordinates the strength department at the high school powerhouse in Florida. A native of Indiana, Ballou will likely fill a vacancy in a reshuffled weight room staff that included Jeff Quinn and David Grimes, two football coaches by trade who had worked under Longo on the football strength staff last season.

While it wasn’t as high profile of a search as the other significant coaching hires Kelly had to make, a handful of high-profile strength coaches seemed to be on Notre Dame’s radar since the decision was made to replace Longo. While some reports connected the Irish with Stanford’s assistant strength coordinator Grant Steen, it appears that the Irish focused their attention on Balis after Bob Diaco was fired. The hire brings in a well-established name in the industry, and likely came with first-hand referrals from both Diaco and Meyer.

Longo, who had served as Kelly’s head of strength since his days at Central Michigan will now serve as a special assistant, a title that Bob Elliott has held the past two seasons. There’s no word on if Elliott will continue in a similar role or retire.

 

Good News: Jaylon Smith’s getting healthy

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with Cole Luke #36 after recovering a fumble against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith looks like he’ll be back to being, well, Jaylon Smith. And that’s good news not just for the Dallas Cowboys, but anybody who enjoyed watching Smith torment offenses in his three seasons in South Bend.

Notre Dame’s former All-American and Butkus Award winner, who was selected by the Dallas Cowboys at the top of the second round even after suffering a major knee injury during the Fiesta Bowl–the last football game of his college career–spoke with the Dallas Morning News and gave an update everybody is excited to hear.

“Yeah, it’s regenerating,” Smith told the DMN, when asked about the peroneal nerve in his left leg. “It’s just a thing that you have to have patience. I’m going to continue to do everything I’m asked and controlling what I can control and we’re going to take our time with it.”

Smith is a little over a year removed from that major knee injury, one that tore both the ACL and MCL tendons in his knee and also caused him significant nerve issues that gave him drop foot, a condition that isn’t always fixable. So while Smith’s tendons were quick to heal, the nerve moves at its own pace.

Even with that worry, the Cowboys took a chance on him. And it’s becoming more clear that their gamble is paying off, with progress clearly being made when the Cowboys removed him from the IR in November. We were told by a source then that his knee was on pace for recovery. But Smith’s most recent update gives you an idea that while there’s still room for improvement, he’s looking really, really explosive, clocked at a reported 4.5 in the 40-yard dash while rehabbing, per the report.

No, the Cowboys won’t be trotting Smith onto the field as they begin the NFL playoff’s as the NFC’s top seed. But it’s scary to think what Dallas can be with a trio of young stars in Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott and NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott.

“I think I could have played and competed at an elite level,” Smith told the Morning News. “But with us coming together and realizing the situation with the nerve coming back, we’re going to be patient and trust God’s timing…

“I’ve accepted the reality I won’t be playing this year,” Smith said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I understand God has a plan. Just having patience. I’ve been thankful to be on this team and to watch my guys go out there and ball. I support and learn anyway I can.”

 

Sources: Rees headed back to Notre Dame as coach

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Brian Kelly talks to Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium on December 28, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Tommy Rees is set to return to Notre Dame. Multiple sources tell Inside the Irish that Rees is poised to join Brian Kelly’s rebuilt coaching staff. He will work with the quarterbacks, though his formal role is still being finalized.

After working as an offensive assistant under Mike McCoy with the San Diego Chargers this year and beginning his coaching career with Pat Fitzgerald as a graduate assistant at Northwestern, Rees, Kelly’s longest-tenured starting quarterback, will now be asked to coach the very same position, tutoring Brandon Wimbush and a depth chart with zero starting experience.

Reached for comment by the South Bend Tribune, Rees denied having any contact with Notre Dame about a potential job. His status with the Chargers is still uncertain, with McCoy being fired shortly after the conclusion of San Diego’s season on Sunday.

A representative for the Irish football program denied any move was imminent, reiterating that no formal interview has taken place. But even if Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick haven’t had a sit down with Rees, no official meeting is needed for either to know what they have in Rees—a young coach quickly climbing the professional ladder who knows Kelly’s offense as well as anybody.

While Rees has yet to serve as a full-time assistant at the college level, he could be a nice presence recruiting during the closing stretch, having played for Notre Dame’s embattled head coach and capable of selling the offense, as well as the program, built by the eighth-year head coach. That adds some urgency to the process, though a numbers crunch may necessitate Rees joining the program in an analyst role, then moving into a full-time role after the dust settles—or the NCAA expands to ten full-time assistants—legislation that’s expected to pass this spring.

Returning from the holiday break and with the NCAA’s recruiting dead period set to end next week, Kelly’s staff is still a bit of a mystery. Mike Elko’s been announced as the new defensive coordinator and Brian Polian will return to coordinate special teams. Memphis’ Chip Long has reportedly accepted the offensive coordinator job, though no official comment has come from South Bend.

The status of defensive line coach Keith Gilmore and analyst Jeff Quinn is still up in the air. Interim defensive coordinator Greg Hudson’s role is unknown as well. Rees’s spot, especially if Kelly plans to hire a wide receivers coach to replace Mike Denbrock, as is expected, may not be technically open without some flexibility from all parties.  A source also indicates a strength coach hire is just around the corner.

As a player, Rees was a three-star recruit who enrolled early in South Bend after committing to Charlie Weis. One of three quarterbacks that Kelly signed in his first recruiting class, Rees ended up playing in 46 games over four seasons, starting 31 times. He is Notre Dame’s career leader for completion percentage and is one of just four passers to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a single-season for the Irish, joined by Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Everett Golson.

Report: Irish to hire Memphis OC Chip Long

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Brian Kelly may have found his new offensive coordinator. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reports that the Irish will hire Memphis’ Chip Long, who worked under first-year head coach Mike Norvell and coordinated the No. 16 scoring offense in the country, averaging 38.8 points a game.

Long’s work in 2016 is more impressive when you consider that the Tigers needed to replace first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch. With junior college transfer Riley Ferguson, Memphis had the No. 14 passing offense in the country and averaged 6.25 yards per play, 35th best in the country.

A first-year coordinator who called plays this season, Long came with Norvell from Arizona State, where he worked under Todd Graham and served as the Sun Devils’ recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. Long has also coached under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. A former D-II All-American at North Alabama, Long earned recognition from both Rivals and 247 as one of the country’s Top 25 best recruiters.

While Notre Dame has yet to comment on the hire, here’s what Norvell said about Long when he announced his addition to the Memphis coaching staff before last season:

“Chip Long is, without a doubt, one of the brightest young offensive minds in the country,” Norvell said. “Coach Long and I have coached together the last four years at Arizona State, where Chip was our recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach.

“He’s going to direct an aggressive, ‘attack-style’ offense that will showcase our playmakers in every aspect of the game. He has been nationally recognized over the last four years as one of country’s top recruiters. Coach Long is originally from Birmingham, Alabama, and has great ties to the region. He has coached in the SEC, Big East, Big Ten, as well as the Pac-12 and is a dynamic addition to our staff.”

Offensively, there are plenty of similarities between Kelly’s ideal offense and the system Long runs. In a near-term fit, the hire is very good news for Brandon Wimbush, a good offense for the first-year starter to take over and learn.

 

Feldman reports that Long agreed to a three-year deal to come to South Bend. Long could fill Mike Denbrock’s shoes as receivers coach as well, with Kelly potentially opting to hire a quarterbacks coach to complete his offensive staff.

Five Irish recruits compete at Under Armour All-American Bowl

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Five of Notre Dame’s recruits are in Orlando, competing at the Under Armour All-American Bowl. Representing the Irish are linebacker David Adams, cornerback Paulson Adebo, quarterback Avery Davis, offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, and tight end Brock Wright.

While I wasn’t smart enough to get the assignment to head to Orlando and breakdown each recruits performance in practices before the January 1st game that’ll be televised on ESPN, here’s a collection of reports that should give you a quick breakdown on their performances:

 

David Adams:

It’s interesting to look at Adams now that we know he’ll be coached by Mike Elko and plugged into his defense—a Wake Forest group that put together a final dominant performance in an upset bowl victory over Temple, a team Notre Dame will open up against next season. While Adams wasn’t recruited with Elko’s 4-2-5 (but multiple) scheme in mind, there’s no doubt that he’ll fit in just fine.

While Adams (and likely many others) might not be as big as his recruiting profile lists, the reviews of his work this week all point to a highly athletic, instinctual athlete.

The two-time first-team All-State player in Pennsylvania earned this review from Jermain Crowell, his coach for Team Armour, according to a Rivals and BlueandGold.com report:

“Really smart football player, really instinctive and high football IQ,” Crowell told Rivals. “He plays downhill. He’s good in pass coverage, good communicator. I like him.”

With some nice depth returning at linebacker for the Irish, Adams shouldn’t be expected to step into the lineup. That makes it possible for him to spend a year learning and adding some bulk to his frame, just like linebacker Jonathan Jones did this season.

 

Paulson Adebo: 

If there’s a Notre Dame prospect who is helping his stock this week, it might be Adebo. Playing receiver in Orlando, Adebo looks explosive as a pass catcher, impressive as a route runner and athlete with top-end speed, something that bodes very well for an Irish secondary that is young and on the rise.

Adebo, whose commitment back in June caught many by surprise, also said all the right things when asked about the status of that commitment to Notre Dame.

“The big thing for me was the actual school,” Adebo told Irish247. “It wasn’t anything other than that. Coaching changes, one bad year, it doesn’t change anything… Just the fact that they were one of the few schools that had a good academic program and a football tradition and team. That’s what sold me on Notre Dame.”

 

Avery Davis: 

No recruit will have more eyes on him than Davis come this fall, as he could enter the season one hit away from the starting job now that DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire are gone. Ready to compete with Ian Book for the backup job, Davis’s athleticism isn’t in question, though his ability to step in and make all the throws necessary might be.

A highly productive high school quarterback at Cedar Hill in Texas, Davis isn’t big, but he’s athletic, and he’s showing plenty of that this week in Orlando, even if it’s also clear he’ll need to do some mechanical work with whatever quarterback coach Brian Kelly brings in to work with his offense. In a recruiting class where the Irish moved on quickly after missing on Hunter Johnson, Davis is doing what’s expected this week.

 

Robert Hainsey:

While it’s hard to get a true feel for offensive linemen before they get to campus, this is the type of review you want to read about incoming freshman. The early-enrollee got this write-up from Irish247’s analysts after one day of practice:

Hainsey is a mauler. His toughness continues to be on display. He needs to learn to finish his blocks all the way through, but all in all, he had a really good day one. I was impressed when I was told that he looks better in pass blocking than run blocking, which isn’t always the case at the high school level. He is always cross-training at tackle and guard this week and has been getting a ton of reps. Hainsey is clearly taking advantage of this week, as he prepares for enrollment at Notre Dame in two weeks.

Hainsey is playing guard right now in Orlando, though it’s not clear whether Hainsey will play inside or outside yet in South Bend. He was IMG Academy’s starting left tackle.

 

Brock Wright:

Another early-enrollee, Wright certainly looks the part of a ready-to-contribute tight end at the college game. A massively large target who already looks like he’ll be able to hold his own as an attached blocker, Wright does just about everything well—a very nice player to add to a tight end position group that has a ton of depth, and will reportedly be coached by Jeff Quinn.

Wright’s size, speed and strength all look up to par—a big reason why he’s considered a Top 100 prospect and one of the nation’s top tight ends.