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4 Days Until Spring Practice: A Look at QBs (Brandon Wimbush)

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While DeShone Kizer spent today at the NFL Draft Combine hoping to secure a first-day selection at the end of April, Notre Dame’s remaining three quarterbacks presumably focused ahead four days to the beginning of spring practice. (Look for a summary of Kizer’s combine performance in this space by the end of the weekend, if not the day.)

“Three” does not include incoming freshman Avery Davis. Davis should be looking ahead to prom or some other leisurely activity. Live life, young fella, your time to buckle down is coming soon enough.

“Three” does include senior Montgomery VanGorder, junior Brandon Wimbush and sophomore Ian Book. With hopes of not stepping too heavily on the toes of Wimbush’s summer entry in the “A to Z” series, what should spring practice bring from those three?
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Mailbag: Fact-checking & answering some reader comments

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The mailbag is a mainstay of any sportswriter’s inventory these days. The readers do the hardest work for the writer, delivering an idea to write about. In that respect, it is just this side of lazy. Call it efficient.

It nonetheless serves a few purposes. A properly-executed mailbag answers pertinent questions, encourages reader engagement and corrects a few inaccurate facts. Mailbags were fact-checking before “fact-checking” became a piece of politics and punditry.

Focusing on answering questions and demonstrating that all those comments are noticed, let’s do the modern version of a mailbag: Let’s respond to comments left in the depths of “Inside the Irish” from the last few weeks. Editor’s Note: These comments were edited for brevity and clarity, but their content and context was not adjusted.

Rbmat: Two tight ends used effectively would be music to many ears. Force defenses to bring the safety down to respect the run … and take away the pressure from your young quarterback. Please, Douglas, tell me our new OC hates the spread.

I cannot tell you that, Rbmat. If anything, look for new offensive coordinator Chip Long to use athletic tight ends in a way that somewhat increases the spread offense. Take junior Alizé Mack, for instance. His athleticism should allow him to line up not only on the line but also in the slot or perhaps even out wide, forcing the defense to either cover him with a linebacker in open space or with an undersized defensive back.

Irish coach Brian Kelly has said Long will maintain an up-tempo offense. Matchup problems like Mack are best exploited in a spread environment.

That can still aid the run game. If Mack is lined up off the line in any manner and a linebacker remains with him in coverage, then one less linebacker is in the box keeping an eye on junior running back Josh Adams or whichever unproven back proves to be his stablemate.

To be clear, Mack is merely an example for these purposes. Who the tight end or two could be will begin to reveal itself March 8.

nudeman: No one will benefit more from a rejuvenated, overhauled strength and conditioning program than the offensive line. Unlike the defensive line, there is some real talent on the offensive line. ND’s offensive performance last year tailed off as the game progressed and I think the OL was just poorly conditioned. Do I recall correctly that they scored something like 22 points in the fourth quarter in the last games? That’s putrid.

That stat is correct, and certainly concerning, but there should be at least three notes added to it. One of those games was the 44-6 rout of Army. That was, in fact, the score entering the fourth quarter. Notre Dame did not need to fret about adding any points. Another of those was the 50-33 victory over Syracuse. The Irish led 47-27 entering the final frame. Again, no need to worry. Lastly, one of those eight games was played in a literal hurricane. Criticizing an offense for not scoring enough in those conditions falls somewhere in the category of missing the forest for the trees.

If looking at the other five games, the Irish scored a total of 125 points with 19 coming in the fourth quarter. Logically, one might expect about 25 percent of a team’s points to come in each quarter. (There are flaws to that logic, but it will hold well enough for this exercise.) In those five close, weather-appropriate games to close the 2016 season, Notre Dame scored 15.2 percent of its points in the fourth quarter. Should that number be higher? Yes. Is it abnormally low when factoring in the small sample size? Not necessarily.

ndnphx: Regarding that “win expectancy” stat: I tend to believe Kelly’s ND teams have underachieved in win expectancy every year but 2012. Is there a way to research previous years and see if that is the case? I’d wonder if it really is a matter of “luck and chance” or if a trend emerges.

Thanks to the good people over at footballoutsiders.com, there is indeed a way to research previous years, and a trend does emerge. When Notre Dame wins nine or more games, luck and chance played a role in some of those victories. When the Irish lose five or more, luck and chance factored into some of those defeats. In other words, the exact trend one would expect to emerge, does emerge.

As a refresher, the “win expectancy” ndnphx references is second-order win totals, which reflect how many points a team should have scored and allowed based on offensive and defensive stats. In a season where seven losses come by one possession, a second-order win total higher than the actual win total should be expected.

The small sample size of a football season reduces the applicability of metrics like this. There is never a chance for things to balance out, and by the next season, the team’s makeup could be entirely different. Second-order win totals, however, can still present a broader view of a season, rather than focusing on each game’s one or two make-or-break, 50/50 plays.

2016 actual record: 4-8 – second-order record: 7.2-4.8
2015 actual record: 10-3 – second-order record: 10.0-3.0
2014 actual record: 8-5 – second-order record: 8.5-4.5
2013 actual record: 9-4 – second-order record: 7.8-5.2
2012 actual record: 12-1 – second-order record: 10.1-2.9
2011 actual record: 8-5 – second-order record: 8.1-4.9
2010 actual record: 8-5 – second-order record: 9.0-4.0

irishwilliamsport: I don’t know if it still holds true, but every five-star guy Nick Saban had at one point at Alabama turned into a first-round draft choice.

It never held true. Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in time for the 2007 recruiting class. Among the 24 signees that February, none were five-star recruits according to rivals.com. The following year, Saban netted three: receiver Julio Jones, athlete Burton Scott and offensive lineman Tyler Love.

Jones went on to be the sixth-overall pick in 2011 and dominates opposing secondaries like no other threat currently in the NFL.

Scott transferred to South Alabama after two seasons in Saban’s program. In his senior year with the Jaguars, the safety made 84 tackles with one sack, intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles. He was not a first-round draft choice.

Love, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound recruit, graduated from Alabama with two championship rings and a year of eligibility remaining. He played in 14 games over his career. He was not a first-round draft choice.

The point here is not to criticize irishwilliamsport, but rather to make it clear not everything stated in the comments is accurate.

rocknek9: Irish coming to California twice in one year in 2018, I don’t know if I ever remember that. Both in SoCal. Douglas, could you research that?

Two of 2007’s three victories came in California: A 20-6 victory over UCLA in Pasadena on Oct. 6, and a 21-14 win against Stanford in Palo Alto on Nov. 24.

As for two games in southern California, I researched as far back as through 1989 so I could simply yet definitively say, it has not happened in my lifetime.

bjc378: So long as we’re talking dream scenarios for next season, how about Notre Dame wins its first six games, then comes out against a top-five USC in the green jerseys? Brian Kelly has yet to use them, and I’d like to see those again. Mr. Farmer, do you like the green jerseys or what? It’s time for you to take a side.

As long as all parties are properly attired and the colors are easily distinguishable, I have no opinion whatsoever about the color of any team’s jerseys.

It should be noted, Notre Dame has worn a shade of green six times under Kelly. Five of those came in Shamrock Series games (’10, ’11, ’13, ’15 and ’16), and the sixth was a throwback version worn at Michigan in 2011.

Sure, those are different than the green jerseys bjc378 presumably references, but those occasions may have diminished the want, motivation or need for Kelly to trot out that version of an alternative.

irish1993: Is it April 22 yet?

No, not yet. There are only 184 days until Sept. 2, though.

Now then, this posted at 4 p.m. ET on a Friday. You should know what to do.

5 Days Until Spring Practice: A Look at RBs

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It is a matter of concern when only one tested running back returns, but that concern is somewhat mitigated when that back has proven himself both durable and consistent over the last two seasons.

Josh Adams has not missed a game in his career, and last season the junior carried the ball at least 10 times in all but one game—the 17-10 loss to Stanford in which quarterback DeShone Kizer and running back Tarean Folston combined for 19 attempts. Adams finished with eight rushes. Expect that usage to only increase, especially without Folston around to provide Adams spells of rest.

Assuredly, running backs coach Autry Denson hopes junior Dexter Williams or sophomore Tony Jones can allow Adams to catch his breath, but neither has proven that ability yet. Jones spent last year on the sidelines, fourth on the depth chart and preserving a year of eligibility. Williams, meanwhile, tallied only 39 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns, his most-prolific output coming in Notre Dame’s 50-33 win over Syracuse when he finished with eight attempts for 80 yards and a score.

In many respects, Williams could provide a better complement to Adams than Folston did last season. It should be noted here, Folston may not have been at his peak after tearing his ACL in 2015’s opener. Either way, he was not the bruising yet agile runner last year he shined as in 2014.

Williams, known for his speed, could force defenses to change gears whenever he steps in for Adams. At least, that is the theory.

Early enrollee C.J. Holmes, also a regarded blazer, will force Williams to perform in order to earn that dynamic role.

There will be carries available for whomever fills the position directly supporting Adams, but expect the starter to be the bell cow. Adams increased his rushing attempts by 41 last season in one fewer game and is already on pace to finish in the top three of Notre Dame’s career rushing yards leaders. The record-holder? None other than Denson with 4,318 yards. Adams currently stands at 1,768, including the 835 in 2015 that set the Irish freshman record.

Nothing would please Denson more than to see Adams enter his senior season with a viable chance at breaking his coach’s record. Doing so would likely also indicate an overall improvement on last season’s team rushing production. As noted in Wednesday’s look at the offensive line, Notre Dame finished with 2,123 rushing yards on 410 attempts for an average of 5.18 yards per carry when removing sacks and the yards lost from them—the NCAA counts sacks as rushes, despite how they can inappropriately distort rushing statistics.

Certainly, the offensive line’s performance will greatly affect the Irish rushing attack, but this quartet of running backs will inevitably receive the praise if the ground attack were to flourish. That will start with Adams. The question is, no matter how durable and consistent Adams may be, who will provide the needed influx in conjunction with him?


The primary impetus in determining the Notre Dame depth chart at running back will be production in the rushing game, but another factor should develop into a notable aspect this season.

When discussing the hiring of new offensive coordinator Chip Long, Irish coach Brian Kelly noted Long’s inclusion of the backfield in the passing game, in more than a blocking capacity.

“I wanted the offense to look a specific way,” Kelly said. “Chip gives me, clearly, something that I saw that will resemble what I see through his offense. It’s going to be the inclusion of the backs and the tight ends in the passing game.”

In his one year as Memphis’s offensive coordinator, Long’s running backs caught 51 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, Adams, Folston and Williams combined for 33 catches for 275 yards and one score.

Looking closer, though, one notices the snaps Long will reward a back with if the ball carrier has demonstrated a penchant for catching the ball. While Memphis’s leading rusher, Doroland Dorceus, caught 10 passes for 77 yards and a score, three other running backs caught as many or more passes:

Darrell Henderson – 20 catches – 237 yards – three touchdowns
Patrick Taylor, Jr. – 11 catches – 37 yards
Sam Craft – 10 catches – 126 yards – one touchdown

If, for instance, Jones establishes himself as a passing game threat but Williams is indeed the more dynamic runner, Jones very well may end up at quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s side on many third downs.


Josh Adams 2015: 117 rushes – 835 yards – 7.1 average – six touchdowns
Josh Adams 2016: 158 rushes – 933 yards – 5.9 average – five touchdowns

Dexter Williams 2015: 21 rushes – 81 yards – 3.9 average – one touchdown
Dexter Williams 2016: 39 rushes – 200 yards – 5.1 average – three touchdowns


Positional Group Spring Preview Schedule:
Wednesday: Offensive Linemen
Thursday: Tight Ends/Receivers
Today: Running Backs
Saturday: Quarterbacks
Sunday: Defensive Backs
Monday: Linebackers
Tuesday: Defensive Linemen
Wednesday, March 8: Spring practice begins

ND releases 2017 home game times and channels as well as the ’18, ’19 schedules

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Notre Dame will play two prime-time home games in 2017. Both the Georgia (Sept. 9) and the USC (Oct. 21) contests will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC, per Notre Dame’s schedule announcement Thursday. The complete 2017, 2018 and 2019 schedules are listed at the bottom of this post.

Of the seven Irish home games this season, only one other will deviate from a standard 3:30 p.m. ET kick. The Miami (Ohio) game scheduled for Sept. 30 will start at 5 p.m. ET and be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. Why? According to the Notre Dame release, the time and television slot will “enable the contest to be televised on NBCSN between a NASCAR event and Presidents Cup golf action.”

The NASCAR XFINITY Series does indeed have a race scheduled for 3 p.m. ET at the Dover International Speedway in Delaware, and it is not much of a logical leap to think NBC will take advantage of the Presidents Cup being stateside only once every four years and air the Cup on its primary channel.

Road game time slots and broadcast channels all remain to be determined, and many may stay that way until only a week or two before each kick.

As has been known for some time now, there will be no Shamrock Series in 2017 with Notre Dame instead opting to showcase the newly-completed Campus Crossroads project. The release refers to this as a “one-year break.” When discussing the following two seasons’ slates—neither of which has a Shamrock Series game scheduled yet—the release adds, “One home game in either 2018 or 2019 may be relocated to an off-campus site as part of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series scheduling initiative.”

Perhaps this syntax-nik is parsing those words too closely, but it says either/or, and does not include a reference to both.

Vanderbilt will fill the previously-open slot in the 2018 Irish schedule, visiting Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 15 to complete a three-game Irish homestand to start that season.

The 2018 home schedule includes notable opponents Michigan, Stanford and Florida State. The flipside of that shows itself in the 2019 schedule, when Notre Dame is set to travel to Louisville, Georgia, Michigan and Stanford.

2017 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE
Sept. 2 – Temple – 3:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Sept. 9 – Georgia – 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Sept. 16 – at Boston College – TBD – TBD
Sept. 23 – at Michigan State – TBD – TBD
Sept. 30 – Miami (Ohio) – 5 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Oct. 7 – at North Carolina – TBD – TBD
Oct. 14 – BYE
Oct. 21 – USC – 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Oct. 28 – NC State – 3:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Nov. 4 – Wake Forest – 3:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Nov. 11 – at Miami (FL) – TBD – TBD
Nov. 18 – Navy – 3:30 p.m. ET – NBC
Nov. 25 – at Stanford – TBD – TBD

2018 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE
Sept. 1 – Michigan
Sept. 8 – Ball State
Sept. 15 – Vanderbilt
Sept. 22 – at Wake Forest
Sept. 29 – Stanford
Oct. 6 – at Virginia Tech
Oct. 13 – Pittsburgh
Oct. 20 – BYE
Oct. 27 – at Navy in San Diego
Nov. 3 – at Northwestern
Nov. 10 – Florida State
Nov. 17 – Syracuse
Nov. 24 – at USC

2019 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE
Sept. 2 – at Louisville
Sept. 7 – BYE
Sept. 14 – New Mexico
Sept. 21 – at Georgia
Sept. 28 – Virginia
Oct. 5 – Bowling Green
Oct. 12 – USC
Oct. 19 – BYE
Oct. 26 – at Michigan
Nov. 2 – Virginia Tech
Nov. 9 – at Duke
Nov. 16 – Navy
Nov. 23 – Boston College
Nov. 30 – at Stanford

Thursday reading: Jenkins discusses athletics expectations; Pride speeds; Analyst joins Elko

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Amid the current and coming construction across campus, Notre Dame hosted town hall meetings last week to address faculty and student concerns as well as provide an overall update. Last Thursday’s rendition focused on athletics, according to the independent student newspaper, The Observer.

University President Fr. John Jenkins discussed his primary goals for the Irish athletic department as a whole.

“The first thing is integrity,” Jenkins said. “That’s absolutely critical for everyone at the University, but because athletics is so prominent, it’s critical. What I mean by that is, compliance with NCAA regulation and other regulations, but also to act in a way that you can be proud of and Notre Dame can be proud of you.

“Second, we’re about these kids, our students … and help[ing] them to grow as people—educationally, morally, spiritually—and grow into responsible adults.”

Jenkins’s third standard involves winning championships, but he emphasized it cannot come at the cost of the first two tenets.

“If we do the third and not the first two, we’re not Notre Dame.”

The town halls yielded some relatively-detailed updates on construction, which will certainly be of interest for those intending to visit campus this spring, fall or even next year. Once more, the necessary link.

Troy Pride showcases speed
Irish sophomore cornerback Troy Pride, Jr., ran the 60-meter and 200-meter dashes at the ACC Indoor Championships over the weekend. Keeping in mind track is Pride’s secondary focus for much of the year, his qualifying for the finals in the 60-meter with a time of 6.77 seconds should be granted much respect.

Pride finished eighth in the finals at 6.83 seconds. For context: Florida State sophomore Darryl Haraway won the conference title with an official time of 6.66 seconds. Pride’s 21.75-second finish in the 200-meter was not enough to reach the finals, though it was Notre Dame’s fastest. Haraway won that race, as well, in 21.07 seconds.

Pride started three games and appeared in eight in the 2016 season, finishing with 12 tackles and one fumble recovery.

Elko, Diaco will have hype to meet
More than only Irish eyes are eager to see how new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko fares in South Bend. SI.com’s Colin Becht ranked the Elko hire as the No. 8-best coordinator hire in college football this offseason.

“[Elko’s] multiple packages should allow him to adapt to the Fighting Irish and help them make quick progress,” Becht writes.

Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s arrival at Nebraska ranks two spots higher than Elko’s arrival.

“Bringing in Diaco and his 3-4 defense was a fantastic move to jumpstart a Nebraska defense… Although his three-season tenure as UConn’s head coach was lackluster, the Huskies’ defense was hardly the main issue.”

To Becht’s latter point, even in last year’s 3-9 season, the Connecticut defense finished No. 65 in the country in both scoring and total defense, allowing 28.1 points and 410.8 total yards per game.

Santucci reunites with Elko as analyst
Notre Dame added Tyler Santucci to its staff as a defensive analyst. Footballscoop.com first reported the hire Wednesday, and Santucci’s Twitter appears to confirm the move.

Santucci worked as a graduate assistant under Elko in the 2014 and 2015 seasons at Wake Forest, focusing on the rover position in Elko’s defensive scheme. He most recently spent a season at Texas State as the outside linebackers coach.