Brian Kelly

Sanford trying to quantify quarterback competition


With all eyes on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford has a lot on his plate this spring. Still a newcomer to South Bend, Sanford’s not only got to get to know the quarterbacks in his meeting room, but also help decide who will be in charge of piloting the Irish offense.

Joining Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock in a still-evolving org chart atop the offense, Sanford is tasked with coaching up the quarterbacks this spring, all while evaluating their performances.

And just months after the 2014 season and offensive efficiency nosedived as Golson’s turnovers sky-rocketed, the Irish coaching staff is going to great efforts to quantify every rep taking this spring, all part of an objective evaluation of the most important position on the roster.

Asked about that process on Wednesday, Sanford shed a little light on not just how the spring competition has gone, but how it was being evaluated.

“What we’re doing is quantifying it as much as we can,” Sanford said about the quarterback battle. “Statically, we’re getting graded on every rep and we want those guys to feel like there’s accountability for every rep that they take.

“They’ve done a good job of understanding that and I think we’ve laid out a very clear picture of what we’re trying to get done at the quarterback position but also giving them some feedback about what they’re doing and how they stack up in terms of their quantifiable data that we can give back to them.”

Put simply, every snap matters. And the film is always watching.

Whether it’s seven-on-seven or ones-versus-ones, every rep taken by a quarterback is counted. Not just interceptions and touchdowns, but catches, drops, missed reads, graded, tabulated and evaluated by the coaching staff.

Even situational IQ is scored—with Sanford and the Irish coaches trying to engrain into a position that was doomed by turnovers that every single decision and snap is critically important.

“We’re breaking down all of our concepts and how each quarterback is operating within each concept,” Sanford explained. “And then beyond that, I’m basically quantifying, ‘Did you do your job on this play, yes or no?’ ‘Did you get the job done?’ And if they are, it’s a plus. If they don’t, it’s a minus. And then we give them notes about exactly what corrections could be made.”

Sanford’s utilized this process before, both last season at Boise State and before that at Stanford. It helped add some objectivity to a four-headed running back battle with the Cardinal, and put an added value on practice reps, which led to carries on Saturdays.

As Kelly stated before offseason workouts commenced, the theme of spring practice would be competition. The quarterback battle—while largely staying out of the media this spring—will be one that defines the season.

It’ll also be one of the first position battles that Sanford has presided over. Between Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan at Stanford and fifth-year quarterback Grant Hedrick at Boise State, Sanford thinks the competition has energized the quarterback position group.

“I’ve always been of the accord that I absolutely love when there’s competition. I think competition always is going to breed the betterment of each individual player in that position room,” Sanford said.

While talking up the progress of redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer, Sanford mostly praised his two top contenders. For those wondering if Golson has one foot out the door, Sanford praised the fifth-year senior’s “buy in.” He also raved about Zaire’s athleticism, good enough to play multiple positions.

But after watching the Irish offense fall apart as Golson struggled to keep mistakes from compounding, the analytical approach this spring will take away any mystery. That should go a long way towards clarifying the situation for both players, and ultimately a team and offensive unit that’s looking to the quarterback position to lead the team.

“I think [the evaluation process] helps them in their progression but it also helps them understand that we’re not going to make an arbitrary decision about who’s the starter,” Sanford said. “We’re going to work through the process of deciding that.”


(All quotes courtesy of JJ Stankevitz at CSN Chicago.) 


Irish draft hopefuls audition at ND Pro Day

BYU v Notre Dame

Former Irish football players had their chance to audition for future employers today in South Bend at the Notre Dame Pro Day. It was a reunion of sorts as players from all over worked out inside the Gug under the watchful eyes of NFL scouts.

With Notre Dame only losing starters Ben Koyack, Cody Riggs and Kyle Brindza to the NFL, it’s not expected to be a big year for the Irish in the draft. But also returning to campus to audution were former captain Cam McDaniel, DaVaris Daniels, Jake Golic, Andrew Hendrix, Ethan Johnson, Kendall Moore, Justin Utupo and Alex Welch.

Daniels and Moore are back on campus even after last season’s suspension. They’re joined by Miami RedHawks Hendrix and Welch, who played out their eligibility under former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.

Golic returned to campus after playing at Cincinnati. Johnson is looking to return to the NFL after being a part of the concussion class action lawsuit and a cup of coffee with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Let’s take to social media to get you some results:

Here’s an update on Cody Riggs, who was a surprise to be not among the invites to the combine in Indianapolis, but certainly helped his draft stock by running as fast as you’d have expected.

It appears that Riggs tweaked a hamstring later in the workout, but not before taking a slo-mo leap in the broad jump:


Ben Koyack, who was invited to Indianapolis, but didn’t run the 40-yard dash there, did so in South Bend. Per SID Michael Bertsch, Koyack ran right around a 4.7, with the fastest time listed at 4.68.

Koyack was at the Senior Bowl and Combine and is likely to be the first former Irish player off the draft board, though maybe not as early as previous Notre Dame tight ends.


Also back on campus is McDaniel, who is days away from becoming a father. A fringe candidate to make a roster, McDaniel showed some versatility—needed if he’s going to be a special teams performer on Sundays.


Kyle Brindza did a nice job updating us on his Pro Day. Here’s the former Irish kicker on his afternoon, where he showed off epic strongman skills in addition to a big leg on kickoffs.


In a parallel universe, DaVaris Daniels was catching passes from Andrew Hendrix. The Elkhart Truth’s Rachel Terlep even has proof.

Daniels spoke with media at the event, doing his best to put his suspension and inability to return to South Bend into context.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Daniels acknowledged to The Observer‘s Mike Monaco. “I don’t hold any grudges. I just don’t really like thinking about the situation… it is what it is. At this point, I’m ready for the NFL. That’s my focus.”

Daniels estimates he’s got a little over two semesters left of work to complete before earning his Notre Dame degree. He said all the right things about moving forward and hopefully finishing up his course work, while also taking the high road about the frustrating time where all five suspended athletes waited to hear their fate.

Most importantly for Daniels, at least when it comes to his immediate employment future, is getting his speed and explosiveness back. Various reports had Daniels breaking into the 4.5-range on his 40, a critical threshold for him.


If you’re looking for good news out of South Bend, defensive end Ishaq Williams—currently in football and academic purgatory—was on hand watching the festivities. Williams didn’t speak to any media but sat with his teammates for the festivities, though what to make of that isn’t clear.

While scholarship numbers are tight, Williams could be a great addition to a defensive front that’s looking for more bulk, and it’d allow him to finish his Notre Dame degree after a two semester exile.

NBCSN to televise 86th annual Blue-Gold game

Everett Golson

Just because Notre Dame Stadium isn’t open for business doesn’t mean the Blue-Gold game will be interrupted. After considering off-campus venues like Soldier Field and Lucas Oil Stadium, Brian Kelly will hold his final practice of the spring, the 86th annual Blue-Gold Game, on the LaBar Practice Fields. And it’ll be televised by NBC Sports Network.

Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m on NBCSN. With limited seating options available due to the sheer logistical challenges of housing a spring game on practice fields no equipped with bleachers, Notre Dame won’t be selling tickets to the general public.

Monday afternoon NBC Sports announced that they’d still broadcast the annual scrimmage, giving fans the ability to see the progress made this spring by a promising Fighting Irish squad. It’ll be their first extended look inside the gates of the Irish practice facility.

The game will not only air on NBCSN, but it’ll also stream on the NBC Sports Live Extra App. Brian Kelly will be wired for sound, in addition to several players, along with interviews of current and former players.

After the logistics of this game were up in the air with Notre Dame Stadium undergoing significant construction as part of the Campus Crossroads renovations, finding a way to host this game on campus and still bring it to broadcast is a great final result, not to mention a nice consolation prize for fans used to making the annual trek to the spring game.

Notre Dame will also likely utilize the weekend for another recruiting event.

Redfield and Shumate rising to the occasion

Notre Dame v Arizona State

There’s no contingency plan at safety this fall. While Cal transfer Avery Sebastian will add some much needed depth, the starting jobs as Notre Dame’s last lines of defense belong to Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

The duo held the same jobs for most of the 2014 season as well, until their inconsistent play banished both of them to the doghouse. Yet injuries and depth issues forced both back onto the field. And after a much needed step back during bowl prep, while they weren’t perfect against LSU, each ended the season playing one of their best games.

If the Irish defense is going to excel in 2015, they’ll need to get more from Redfield and Shumate. And is sounds like the veteran duo has responded to the challenge.

“Their development is clearly evident and so much different than where we were at this time last year or anytime during the season,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “We don’t see the missed assignments. We see clearly two guys that have grasped a hold of what we’re doing out there, so they’ve kind of settled into two very solid football players back there for us.”

That’s a necessity for the Irish if they intend to reach their lofty 2015 goals. And it’s also time for both former highly-touted recruits to play up to the potential they brought with them to South Bend.

As we saw with players like Harrison Smith, Zeke Motta and Kyle McCarthy, the lightbulb doesn’t always turn on immediately. And last year’s scheme change clearly took some getting used to, robbing two very good athletes of the first-step quickness that disappears when you’re thinking too much.

But second-year coordinator Brian VanGorder has kept a close eye on the safety position this spring. And at perhaps the most veteran position on the roster, the progress is coming.

“They’ve been real solid, both of them. Way more comfortable, more knowledgable. Not getting a lot of panic snaps from them. Just playing way more confident,” VanGorder said earlier this spring.

“Both of them have very good physical traits… The consistency of the position and the comfort of the position will bring out more of those physical traits that they have and make them both more productive. They’ve just got to keep working.”



Spring Mailbag: Getting physical, Jarrett Grace, and the Defense

Temple v Notre Dame

This isn’t a Notre Dame basketball blog, so I watched Saturday night as a fan only. Man was that a fun basketball game.  (And that’s coming from someone who has sat through maybe one or two complete basketball games in his entire life.)

If you follow me on Twitter, I was all over the place, comparing John Calapari to the arrogant head coach of the Russian’s 1980 Olympic hockey team and the Wildcats to Ivan Drago himself. Turns out they were Apollo Creed and this was Rocky, not Rocky IV. Bummer.

(I would’ve liked to hear Pat Connaughton’s speech to help end the Cold War.)

That was probably the closest thing to the 2005 USC-ND game I can remember. And in defeat, I think Notre Dame won over more basketball fans than they’ve had in a long, long time. What a fun final month for the men’s basketball team and Mike Brey.

Let’s hope all the people that jumped on the bandwagon stick around for seasons to come.

With that, on to the late edition of the mailbag.


corknd: Long time reader, first time poster. From the press conferences, it seems Kelly has placed a renewed emphasis on being physical along the lines. Kelly also seems pleased with the development of some of his young o-linemen. Do you feel this will lead to some short yardage and goal line jumbo sets a la Stanford, or is this annual rite of spring coachspeak we’re hearing?

Thanks for joining the party, Cork. Pay no mind to some of the village idiots.

Outside of inviting Olivia Newton-John to practice, I’m not sure what else BK can do. In just about every media session he’s had, he’s talked about banging and hitting—and that’s probably the most telling sign as to where Kelly thinks his depth chart sits.

For really the first time since Kelly has been in South Bend, he’s got a depth chart that’s pretty much stocked for spring practice. And he’s acknowledged how much that helps.

While he’s been able to protect key contributors like Sheldon Day, he’s used the added depth to make sure the young nucleus of this team is ready to hold up, especially at the point of attack.

How that manifests itself, I’m not sure. While Irish fans love to reference Stanford’s style of offense, I don’t think that you’re going to all of a sudden see a jumbo, bunch-it-up, short yardage attitude that resembles David Shaw’s. (Also, it’s worth noting: Spend some time listening to Stanford fans talk about Shaw’s 3rd or 4th-and-short playcalling. Not too many of them are fans.)

In Boise, Mike Sanford rode one running back to the tune of 1,800 yards and 32 touchdowns and let his quarterback run the ball double-digit times in eight different games. That’s the same amount as Tarean Folston.

So let’s see what his imprint is on the offense. After seeing Malik Zaire charge into the line against LSU, I fully expect the red zone offense to change for the better.


irishfan4life: Now that we’ve seen a few practices and heard from the coaches, what impact do you think Grace will have on the defense?

That’s a great question. And I think it’s fully dependent on Joe Schmidt’s return to health, as well as how lucky the Irish linebackers are when it comes to staying healthy next season.

Right now, I think the Irish will use Grace in a similar fashion to how they used Cam McDaniel last year. Not a full-time contributor, but a significant (even if it’s limited) role in certain packages.

In the trenches, Grace has the size and length that Schmidt doesn’t. So depending on the opponent, he might be the kind of guy you want in a load-up-the-box scheme.

And of course, it’s all going to depend on Grace’s health—the fact that he’s practicing and going full tilt (when he isn’t sidelined by a concussion, as he was this weekend), doesn’t mean he’s back to 100 percent. Reading between the lines and talking to a few people, it sounds like his recovery is on track but not complete.

Some assumptions I’m making: 1) Jaylon Smith isn’t coming off the field. 2) Neither is Joe Schmidt, if he’s healthy.

But from there, Grace will fill a role, even if it’s a little too soon to know exactly what it is. But with Grace and Nyles Morgan capable of playing the Mike linebacker spot, that’s a good problem to have.


migshields: Keith, this is a very broad and complex question, but which defense will we see in 2015: Rice through FSU or the unit that ended the season? Let’s presume that players like Schmidt, Jones, and Russell all come back at 100 percent.

I think somewhere in the middle, though much closer to the first half than the free fall that we saw when ND was running kids out at nearly every position.

Top 1-11, this defense is going to be very, very good. And I think having a second year in the system—though one that won’t be a complete mystery to opposing playcallers—will be very beneficial to the guys in charge of running it.

That said, the depth is still relatively young and unproven. And it’ll be the next level guys, specifically on the defensive line, who’ll determine how good this defense can be.

Schematically, the biggest keys to success will be finding a base defense that allows the Irish to play well against an up-tempo attack and slowing down the option. It sounds like Bob Elliott is making that the focus of his analyst/special assistant work, and that’s a worthy place to start. But Navy and Georgia Tech sounds like a major handful, with Ken Niumatalolo and Paul Johnson no friends of the Irish.

But if the guys you listed are back and fully healthy? That’s a really good start.


jerseyshorrendfan1: Keith, when is this winter going to end? If it doesn’t end soon, can you put me up in SoCal for a few weeks? I hear your weather has been great. I am a pretty good cook and have a few good stories to tell, but I am told that I snore (although I’ve never heard it). What do you say?

Do you clean up after just-turned one-year olds? Do diapers? And are you willing to sleep on the roof? Maybe send a few sample menus and I’ll run it by the boss.

There are days when living in California is a total drag. But certainly not this winter. Hope spring is here sooner than later for everybody else, because it’s felt like summer here since, well, last summer.