Notre Dame NCAA college football quarterback Malik Zaire (9) passes during Notre Dame Football Media Day Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)
AP via South Bend Tribune

Decision made, now Kizer and Zaire must co-exist

35 Comments

Brian Kelly made the difficult decision. Now Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer need to figure out how to navigate it.

That’s the challenge for Notre Dame’s two quarterbacks, both certain they’re going to play against Texas, but uncertain how things will go from there. And if you were looking for an interesting second chapter after one of the more surprising media day revelations in recent memory, how two alpha dogs find a way to co-exist is certainly up there.

Sure, Brian Kelly has juggled quarterbacks before. But even his quarterbacks know it’s never been a duo quite like this.

“I believe that this situation is a little bit different than any one he’s ever been in, but I’m curious to see how he figures it out,” Kizer said on Wednesday. “But as long as I trust in what he’s doing and I execute what I’m doing when I’m out there and I’m keeping our team in mind when I’m out there, I think we’re going to be alright.”

That type of diplomacy wasn’t exactly hard to come by, though it was clear neither quarterback believed they deserved to share billing as the Irish’s leading man. Now when both were so sure they had won a job. Not when both have so much self confidence that they’re able to lead this team to its ultimate goal.

Through gritted teeth and emotion that’s always no farther than his sleeve, Zaire answered questions about his head coach’s latest big decision with a lens that clearly kept in full view his eventful last three-plus years.

“I know that if I’m anywhere else, I don’t think the decision should be that hard,” Zaire told CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz. “But I think being at Notre Dame, nothing’s ever easy. That’s why I chose here.

“There’s a lot of opportunity still here for me, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to treat it like a pro. I’ve got to do what I still need to do and remember that it’s about winning games. That’s what I’ve always been about.”

Kelly clearly stepped out on a ledge when he went the unorthodox route of making the non-decision decision, picking two quarterbacks when conventional wisdom speaks so clearly against that. But while he has Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford to lean on when it comes to game-planning and logistics, it’ll be the head coaches job to keep both quarterbacks fully invested.

“I’m sure they are disappointed,” Kelly said. “What’s in their best interest is that they are the starter. What’s in our best interest is that both of them help us win and help us beat Texas.

“That’s in the best interest of Notre Dame football, and I make decisions as the head football coach as to what is in the best interest of Notre Dame football.”

***

John Walters and I talk about all things Media Day in our latest podcast. 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Brandon Tiassum

Tiassum 247
Tom Loy / Irish247
Leave a comment

Another redshirt with an eligibility clock just getting started, Brandon Tiassum used his first year at Notre Dame to reshape his body as he got ready to contribute. Now he’ll look to take those gains to the depth chart, the chance to work his way into a potential two-deep player behind Jerry Tillery after a strong offseason.

 

BRANDON TIASSUM
6’3.5″, 302 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 77, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Tiassum camped at Notre Dame and earned his offer, but he was a three-star guy with middle-of-the-road offers. One of Indianapolis’ best prospects, he was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game and was named a 2A All-State player.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He redshirted. And took the year to get better.

Another redshirt candidate. Tiassum will get what he puts into this season. If that’s a year of working hard on the scout team, battling against one of the finest offensive lines in the country, that can only help him. But if it’s sleep walking through the season, then he’ll be in the same place next spring.

It’s hard not to see a kid with a good head on his shoulders when you see his recruiting video. And while he’s probably one of the more raw prospects in the class, he’s got great upside. So Tiassum fits into the RKG category. And that’s far from a bad thing.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

That senior Isaac Rochell singled out Tiassum this camp as someone who impressed him bodes well for Tiassum. That it took some time for the light to go on should come as no surprise, with a jump from small-school Indiana high school football to a major college program sizable.

If Tiassum is going to be more than a program player, he’ll have to show it to the staff first. As far as recruiting profiles go, he was a borderline prospect from the start, so Tiassum will need to excel as a identify-and-develop project, a moldable prospect whose work ethic seems to matchup with a physical profile the staff likes.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Get on the field and this year is a success. With Micah Dew-Treadway injured and Grant Blankenship off the roster, perhaps there’s a better chance to do that than there was entering camp. But Tiassum right now is a big anonymous body in a jersey. You can like the physical profile and the kind words from Rochell, but he’s a complete wild card.

Realistically, Tiassum is a long way from the field, but he’s got a chance to play if the Irish get a game out of hand or injuries hit. So while he’s certainly moved the needle in the right direction, my expectations are still limited—impressive if he finds his way into the college game.

 

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
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson
Devin Studstill
Elijah Taylor

 

Martini moves to front of pack at Will LB

Navy fullback Chris Swain (37) tries to recover his fumble as Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) and linebacker Greer Martini (48) go after the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
Greer Martini
4 Comments

It appears that Greer Martini has emerged as the starter at Will linebacker. Brian Kelly made that piece of news public on Wednesday (though it likely got buried under another high-profile positional battle) when asked about the depth in his linebacking corps, needing to reload after losing Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace.

Entering the season, Martini was a candidate to play all three spots, likely as a key backup or situational Sam linebacker, where he split time with James Onwualu last season. But after sitting out spring practice recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the junior has impressed the Irish coaching staff.

“Greer has been playing mostly Will linebacker, and he’s done a really good job there,” Kelly said. “Will linebacker is in pretty good hands. And Te’von (Coney) is there, as well.

“But I like where we are with Greer and Nyles and James and Te’von is really a solid guy for us, as well. Gives us a lot of flexibility. I like those four guys a lot.”

As the depth chart emerges, the ascent of Martini felt like something more likely than not. While Asmar Bilal has seen some action with the first string this camp, he’s still an unproven commodity, a young linebacker still learning a position that’s a really critical piece of what Brian VanGorder wants to do. Te’von Coney played 60 snaps last year at the position, mostly in mop-up duty, ending his season just seven plays after Smith ended his with a shoulder injury.

Martini’s never been a Will linebacker in this system, but he knows the job. He’s played multiple positions, excelled as a situational starter against the option—an attack the Irish will face multiple times—and he has the heft needed to play in the trenches.

While he certainly won’t be the type of eraser that Smith was last season on his way to winning the Butkus Award, he’s got a nose for the football and will be an excellent playmaker when the Irish are in their base 4-3 set.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Elijah Taylor

Elijah Taylor247
Tom Loy / Irish247
Leave a comment

A year after redshirting, Elijah Taylor enters a crowded defensive line group looking for playmakers. A year after the front seven struggled to hold up against the run, Taylor is one of many young players who can help Keith Gilmore build a rugged front.

Likely still a ways from the field, Taylor will provide depth behind Jarron Jones and Daniel Cage, though isn’t too far away from being a Next Man In.

 

ELIJAH TAYLOR
6’3″, 285 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 58, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Taylor had a three-star ranking from Rivals, but a four-star offer list.  Notre Dame won Taylor’s signature over Ohio State as well as Florida State, Miami, Michigan State and a handful of other big programs. He was a first-team All-State defender and also a member of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s All-Star team.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Injuries hit and Taylor kept on his redshirt. Smart move.

Unless a rash of injuries hit, Taylor will have the opportunity to learn at his own pace and save a year of eligibility this season. With Jarron Jones healthy and Sheldon Day looking like a lock to stay on the field, finding a way into the three-deep would be an accomplishment, and there’s no reason to take snaps if Taylor isn’t going to see significant time.

The best view of his development will likely come in the spring, as the Irish begin life without Day (and possibly Jones). If Taylor is as strong and athletic as some reports point out, he’ll have a chance to work his way into the mix in 2016.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Most defensive tackles don’t arrive on campus ready to contribute. But Taylor’s ceiling will likely be determined by his ability to play both nose guard and three-technique, with more versatility obviously better. The strength is there. But the athleticism is still a question.

As part of the next wave of talent to come through this defensive line, Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore’s fingerprints on this roster will either elevate this group or make it abundantly clear that the defense has regressed from the Diaco era. Taylor is another one of those developmental targets who need to get better and find a role as the roster rolls over.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

If Taylor can find his way into the rotation, it’s a successful season. Because if Jarron Jones stays motivated and Daniel Cage can shake off a few training camp bumps and bruises, this will be a stout interior.

The defensive tackle group is lacking guys who can step in for Sheldon Day. Jerry Tillery is going to have first crack at that and Jon Bonner is still an option as a guy who hasn’t shown much yet.

I think Taylor is a role player at best—mainly in the trenches. If he can jump ahead of guys like Bonner and Pete Mokwuah, he’ll be a two-deep player. I’d call that a successful season as a redshirt freshman.

 

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
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuah
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson
Devin Studstill

 

Kelly confident Jay Hayes will be healthy for Texas

Jay Hayes Irish 247
Tom Loy / Irish247
3 Comments

Projected starter Jay Hayes has a sprained ankle. The injury was spotted by multiple media reports from Wednesday’s open practice, setting off a few alarms via social media. But Brian Kelly downplayed the severity of the injury and is confident that Hayes will be back and ready for Texas, a key piece of the puzzle for the Irish at weakside defensive end.

“He’s a grade one, high ankle sprain. But not a severe one,” Kelly said after practice. “Been in the boot now, I think this is his third day, fourth day. That’s generally seven-to-ten days, but we’ll take it each day.

“We’ll feel good that we’ll have him ready for the Texas game.”

In his place, fellow junior Andrew Trumbetti took first team reps. Talented freshman Daelin Hayes is expected to spell both, especially in pass rush situations. The former five-star recruit, who spent the spring semester enrolled at Notre Dame but recovering from an injury, has been a pleasant surprise this spring.

If (the elder) Hayes is unable to play against the Longhorns, Trumbetti is a capable replacement. He’s played in 12 games each of the last two seasons, making three starts last year. He’s a lesser run defender than Hayes (who started his career as an interior defensive lineman), but is expected to do more as a pass rusher.