FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a call during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA College football game against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. Kelly has agreed to a six-year contract to stay on as coach at Notre Dame through 2021, the school announced Friday, Jan. 29,2 016.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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Kelly stays on offensive in CFB Playoff debate

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There is no offseason in college football. Especially when it comes to the politicking that comes with the College Football Playoff.

As the Big 12 approves a conference championship game to try its best to level the playing field, Notre Dame remains the lone viable CFB Playoff contender without the ability to play a thirteenth game.

And speaking with ESPN’s Heather Dinich, Brian Kelly sounded like a coach who was more than okay with that.

Kelly took a proactive stance when he talked about where the Irish were positioned, taking dead aim at the FCS games that other major conferences are playing, specifically the SEC with its late-season set-up.

Here’s Kelly’s quote:

“I think my 12 stand up against another team’s 11 at any time, and I’m saying 11 because one of those games is really an effective bye week because it’s an [FCS] team,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “Then if they play a championship game, it’s my 12 against their 12, and then that’s where the committee will have to make a decision — my 12 against their 12.

“There are SEC schools that are effectively playing bye games in Week 11,” he said. “If there are any complaints I have with the committee, I don’t know how you reward anybody and keep them out there in the rankings when they effectively take a week off by playing a [FCS] opponent.”

Kelly’s pointing to a late-November weekend that saw No. 2 Alabama play Charleston Southern and No. 8 Florida take on Florida Atlantic, just two of the cupcakes that found their way into the late-season schedules of playoff contenders. (Yes, the Gators needed OT to win, but the point remains.) A late-season game where you can rest the majority of your starters should hurt your case just as much as a conference championship game can help.

This isn’t a new concern for Notre Dame. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick has spoken about the challenges of being independent. He’s also mentioned multiple times that a 13th game isn’t a viable option for the Irish. So that means scheduling aggressively and making sure that the selection committee sees Notre Dame against multiple conferences, something Kelly talked about.

“We want markers against every single conference, and we’ll continue to do that in scheduling,” Kelly told ESPN. “As long as we have markers against each conference across the board — and I mean the top schools across the board — I think that’s the most important thing for a college that’s independent like us.”

Irish A-to-Z: Te’von Coney

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Linebacker Te'von Coney #4 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Buckeyes defeated the Fighting Irish 44-28.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It looked like Te’von Coney had a difficult job when it was only filling the shoes of the nation’s best linebacker. But the rising sophomore’s ascent into the starting lineup was thrown off course when he was injured just plays after Jaylon Smith in January’s Fiesta Bowl, setting off on his own grueling recovery after undergoing major shoulder surgery.

Coney wasn’t a part of spring practice as the rebuilt linebacking corps looked for answers with a skeleton squad. And while Brian Kelly has been optimistic about the players he has recovering from injury, Coney’s real test will be getting back into the swing of things this August, with a rebuilt linebacking corps looking for answers in the run-up to Austin.

The Irish have a talented young linebacker in Coney. Now it’s up to his shoulder to cooperate.

 

TE’VON CONEY
6’1″, 235 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 4, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An Under Armour All-American and consensus four-star prospect. Coney visited campus for Irish Invasion and Notre Dame won a hard-fought recruiting battle over schools like Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, Miami, Auburn and dozens more.

Give an assist to Florida for firing Will Muschamp. Coney looked destined for Gainesville until the wheels came off the wagon. Also give credit to Coney for making the tough decision to leave his comfort zone, a rare Palm Beach prospect to head to South Bend.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 12 games, making 13 tackles including a half TFL. Replaced Jaylon Smith early in the Fiesta Bowl at Will linebacker before severely injuring his shoulder just plays later.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

It’s too early to see how Hilliard will turn out in Columbus, but we had last season pegged pretty well.

I’m not sure how Coney makes his impact this season, but I expect him to play. He’ll be a regular on special teams, and will likely fight his way into the rotation, especially if Jaylon Smith plays on the edge of the defense.

There’s an argument for redshirting Coney, saving a year of eligibility and then allowing him to plug in with Nyles Morgan in 2016. But I just think there’s too much talent here to assume Coney will stay in South Bend for five seasons, so might as well make the most out of the talented rookie.

Bold prediction: Blue-chipper Justin Hilliard may have been the linebacker Irish fans thought was the must-have prospect in the class. But when all is said and done, I expect Coney to be the more productive college player.

FUTURE POTENTIAL

A lot of this potential is tied up in the recovery of Coney’s shoulder. While we spend most of our time worrying about football players’ knees, shoulder injuries tend to be more difficult to recover from, and the timing of Coney’s certainly wasn’t ideal.

At this point, it’s not fair to assume Coney won’t recover fully from surgery. And if he does, there’s a reason the true freshman was the next man in behind Jaylon Smith. There’s athleticism-a-plenty in Coney and his ability to jump into the two-deep also shows plenty of football acumen.

This arrow stays pointed up.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Athletically, Coney feels like the best fit for the starting job. But inevitably, this will come down to how quickly he gets back in the swing of things and how impactful Greer Martini can be in this defense.

A healthy Coney is a starter in this scheme. But his development as a player was put on hold this offseason. Coney’s still a sophomore who missed half a year in the weight room after just 61 snaps—the majority coming against UMass—so it’s hard to say he’s a better option than Martini, acknowledging that the veteran might be playing slightly out of position.

Still, this staff has a major belief that Coney will be an impact player. I’m just reluctant to think it’ll happen in 2016 until we get more information about his shoulder injury.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman

Concussions force Corey Robinson to retire from football

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Corey Robinson‘s football career is over. The Notre Dame student body president won’t play his senior season after suffering multiple concussions throughout his three-year career in South Bend.

Robinson made the news official via a statement released in coordination with the athletic department.

“After much contemplation and prayer, I have decided not to continue playing football due to multiple concussions. I couldn’t have come to this difficult personal decision without the incredible support from so many within the Notre Dame football program. I am extremely thankful to Coach Kelly and his staff for the life-changing opportunity to play football at the greatest University in the world. I will continue to help our team as a student assistant and look forward to a great senior year.”

Robinson was expected to be Notre Dame’s most experienced wide receiver in 2016, but he suffered a concussion during spring practice and missed the remainder with lingering symptoms. After meeting with doctors and specialists over the past three months, the decision to end his football career was made after a final meeting with Brian Kelly last week.

Kelly had this to say in a statement on Robinson’s decision.

“This was an extremely tough decision for Corey. He’s such a committed kid to everything he does — whether it be academics, football, community service or campus leadership initiatives — that he wanted to finish his four-year career on the field. He was so excited to lead a group of young receivers this fall.

“While that won’t happen in the manner Corey initially intended, he will remain involved with the program on a day-to-day basis as a student assistant. He sets a remarkable example for all of our players — not only how to represent yourself on and off the field but also how working hard through adversity can lead to tremendous success.”

Robinson earned Academic All-American honors in 2014 after he caught 40 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns. For his career, Robinson caught 65 balls for 896 yards and seven touchdowns.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Nick Coleman

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Shakur Nesmith #19 of the Massachusetts Minutemen catches a touchdown pass over Nick Coleman #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Nick Coleman found his way onto the field early and often as a freshman, the only defensive rookie to see playing time in all 13 games. Even if he spent most of his high school career as a standout running back, Coleman’s competitiveness—and a need for healthy bodies—made the decision to take redshirt off and compete an easy one.

But that’s only the beginning for the sophomore. With a wide-open battle to replace KeiVarae Russell and the need to fill out a nickel and dime team a priority, Coleman has the chance to showcase his versatility as he makes a play for a larger role in his second full season in South Bend.

 

NICK COLEMAN
5’11.5″, 185 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 24, CB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A three-star recruit who was an All-State running back, Notre Dame identified and landed Coleman early as a defensive back prospect, a move that already looks to be the right one.

Coleman had offers from Michigan State along with a handful of lower-tier Big Ten programs before picking the Irish in mid-June. On Signing Day, Brian Kelly praised Coleman’s versatility and athleticism.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Played in all 13 games, making five total tackles and breaking up two passes. Played 43 total defensive snaps, including a season-high of 25 against UMass. Graded out as a +1.4 player on PFF College, the third-highest ranked player in Notre Dame’s secondary.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Not too shabby.

He might not be highly rated, but I love the type of football player Coleman was in high school. So while I could see him redshirting and saving a year of eligibility, I could also see him becoming a sponge and contributing in the secondary and on special teams this year.

If Drue Tranquill found a niche in this secondary as safety in sub-packages, it’s worth considering that Coleman could do something similar in a coverage capacity. While classmate Shaun Crawford looks the better bet for that assignment, Crawford’s an intriguing and versatile athlete worth keeping an eye on.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Coleman’s trajectory may have just been impacted by Crawford’s injury last year and the training injury Devin Butler suffered this week, pushing the sophomore into a rotational job—if he hadn’t already been in position to win one. There’s a ton to like about this young cornerback, especially considering he did most of his damage as a high schooler at running back and is still learning the craft of his position.

Coleman checks off a lot of the boxes you want in a cornerback. He’s tough, he plays with confidence, and as a freshman there wasn’t much “scare” in his game. Of course, over-achieving as a mop-up contributor and special teamer is much different than being asked to step into a regular role in the secondary.

The 2016 will go a long way in determining just how good Coleman can be.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I wouldn’t be surprised if Coleman enters camp as a name Brian Kelly points to as an ascending player. That might be a motivational tactic to help boost Coleman’s confidence (or send a message to the others competing for time at that position), but it also could point to a breakout season for a young player that has the ability to be an impact player.

Avoiding the big mistake is job one for Coleman. In his most expansive playing time, Coleman was on the wrong end of a long touchdown against UMass. Nobody cares if you play the slant aggressively if you’re getting beat for six points over the top.

Coleman also needs to stay in the mix as talented true freshmen like Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn arrive, along with redshirt Ashton White. He also should look to find a niche, there’s nickel and dime work available even if he’s playing behind Shaun Crawford and Nick Watkins.

Ultimately, Notre Dame needs at least three good cornerbacks to be a competent secondary. Coleman already seems comfortably in the top four, and I think he’ll establish himself as a solid rotational player during his sophomore season.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool

 

 

Number changes begin roster shakeup

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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With freshmen on campus and summer workouts beginning, Brian Kelly’s 2016 football team is beginning to take shape. And while it’s hardly the type of news that moves the meter, a few returning Irish football players will be wearing different numbers than the last time we saw them.

Blue & Gold’s Lou Somogyi got his hands on the jersey changes. They are:

Asmar Bilal, No. 22 (previously 27)
Shaun Crawford, No. 20 (previously 14)
CJ Sanders, No. 3 (previously 9)
Equanimeous St. Brown, No. 6 (previously 86)
Devin Studstill, No. 14 (previously 13)
Nick Watkins, No. 7 (previously 21)
Brandon Wimbush, No. 7 (previously 12)
Dexter Williams, No. 2 (previously 34)
Malik Zaire, No. 9 (previously 8)

If we’re really digging deep into these changes, the only move that’s really interesting is Zaire’s move from No. 8 to No. 9. That number was taken by Sanders last year (on offense, Jaylon Smith had it previously) and Mike Heuerman previously.

The other moves feel logical, the result of a young player getting a chance to select a number they liked after a player departed from the program. Sanders and St. Brown took over jerseys from Amir Carlisle and KeiVarae Russell respectively. Williams takes Chris Brown’s number and Crawford takes over for C.J. Prosise. Studstill’s move likely comes because Tyler Luatua returns to the program and both could participate on special teams.