Weekend leftovers: Blue-Gold, Draft, Recruiting, etc.

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If you’re looking for a good place to catch some extended video from the Blue-Gold Game, head over to UND.com where there’s plenty of good stuff. But, if you’re looking for say… five minutes and 36 seconds of highlights, well — you’ve come to the right place.

After watching this, you’ve got to feel good about a few things:
* Michael Floyd on a reverse and getting up the seam.
* Dayne Crist and Kyle Rudolph in sync already.
* Big plays in the run game by Armando Allen, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, and Robert Hughes.
* T.J. Jones putting his head down and running over Darrin Walls.
* The play of Nate Montana and Mike Ragone, two important reserves.
* Manti Te’o. When’s the last time the Irish have had a linebacker this good?
* Steve Filer, who was all over the field.

Not everything was sunshine and rainbows this weekend, and if I’m David Ruffer or Nick Tausch, I’m not feeling too good about what I put on tape this weekend. I also think Zeke Motta stuck out a few times for being in the wrong place or missing a tackle, and that’s never good thing when you’re a safety. As for the battle along the offensive line, I wonder who will grade out better, senior Dan Wenger or rising junior Braxston Cave? While everyone seemed to be happy with the play of the interior defensive linemen, when they’re going against their own centers and guards, there’s a good news/bad news feel to all of it.

* On the NFL Draft front, Notre Dame followed up Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate’s second round selections with Sam Young and Eric Olsen being chosen in the sixth round. Young will go to Dallas, where they are thin on offensive tackles. Olsen will head to Denver, where he’ll join Ryan Harris as he competes to play one of the interior positions on the offensive line. IT’s staggering that Young, who was looked at as one of the elite offensive line prospects coming out of high school fell to the sixth round, especially considering he started every game of his career at tackle for the Irish. There isn’t much good to say about the development of the offensive line under Charlie Weis, and Young might be the poster child of that futility.

No other Irish players were drafted, but both Kyle McCarthy and Paul Duncan were signed by the Broncos as undrafted free agents. Kyle will be competing for a place in the secondary with former running mate David Bruton. The New England Patriots also signed Sergio Brown to a free agent contract. It’s interesting that two teams with direct ties to Charlie Weis — Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels — took fliers on Notre Dame players while the Chiefs, Weis’ actual employer, didn’t.

* I’ll be the first to eat crow on the draft placement of both Clausen and Tate. I expected a team in the bottom of the first round to take a shot on Tate, thinking he’d be a Percy Harvin type weapon for them. As for Clausen, I’m not shocked that he slid down the draft board, but I am shocked that he slid as far as he did. For Tate, I think it’s important that he got selected by a team lacking a true weapon on the outside, and taken by a coach that saw first-hand what he can do with the football in his hands.

For Jimmy (and his family), hopefully this is the slap in the face that may or may not have been needed. Clausen seemed to be a guy that couldn’t get past the terrible first impression that he made on all of us. It’s amazing how many people really dislike this kid, even if they’ve only seen him with a helmet on playing football. The whispers about Jimmy — whether they’re true or not — seemed to dictate reality, and it caused his draft stock to plummet.

An interesting thought, but I’m shocked that nobody mentioned that Clausen was the one elite quarterback from last season that played his way through his final injury-plagued season, captaining a sinking ship with a badly hurt foot, while Sam Bradford — the quarterback with the A+ intangibles — shut it down with a shoulder injury and sat idly as a team with four first rounders, three of the top four picks in the draft, went on to lose five games.

* Fun fact: If you’re looking for your favorite rookie jerseys, new Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen will wear #2. (I wonder if it’s to remind him what round he went in?) New Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate will wear #81. 

Spring won’t answer all of Notre Dame’s questions

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With spring practice mere weeks away, it is tempting to think Notre Dame’s 2019 will be well in focus by mid-April, if not by the end of March. Some positions may find clarity in that timespan, but other wonderings will hardly be put to rest, if at all. Admittedly, that will not stop discussions of those questions in the interim, including in these parts before spring practice even commences.

Before diving into spring practice previews, let’s acknowledge the things not to be learned before the summer …

Phil Jurkovec’s development will be neither rapid nor dismal this spring. The sample size of drill-heavy moments should not be weighed too heavily when discussing the rising sophomore quarterback’s progress. Barring injury to rising senior Ian Book, Jurkovec will not enter the summer as the Irish starter. Barring injury to Jurkovec, he will not fall lower than second on the depth chart, either.

What may be most crucial to Jurkovec’s short-term success will be the time he spends in the summer studying film of himself throughout the spring. Those lessons could lead to leaps and bounds before August, not necessarily in the meantime.

Notre Dame will not firmly determine a No. 2 cornerback anytime before August, at least not until fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford gets a chance to practice healthy following a torn ACL last August. Rising senior Troy Pride will be the unquestioned heir to Julian Love’s role as the best coverage corner while rising sophomore TaRiq Bracy challenges rising senior Donte Vaughn (pictured at top) to be Pride’s counterpart.

One of those two may emerge, but Crawford will still get a chance in the preseason. If nothing else, his ability to prove healthy and capable enough to handle nickel back duties could ease the pressure on finding someone to fit there, thus perhaps altering the equation throughout the entire secondary.

Running backs coach Lance Taylor’s impact will not be perceptible, possibly not for quite awhile. Taylor’s work will be seen in positional recruiting — which could conceivably take a cycle or two to actually yield the desired results — and in the usage of the running backs in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s September game plans.

Just last preseason, Avery Davis looked the part of a dangerous utility knife. His work in the red zone in preseason practices foreshadowed coming headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Instead, the quarterback-turned-running back managed just 27 touches for 100 yards and no scores. By November, opposing defensive coordinators’ scouting reports barely mentioned Davis.

If Davis or a rising sophomore (C’Bo Flemister more likely than Jahmir Smith) or even the upperclassmen atop the depth chart impress in the passing game this spring, hold the exhilaration until they do so against a Power-Five foe in September, and preferably not one coming off a season viewed as nothing but a defensive calamity. (No offense, Louisville.)

The Irish will have punter and kicker questions into September. Despite the early enrollment of punter Jay Bramblett and a full offseason devoted to rising junior kicker Jonathan Doerer, replacing multi-year starting specialists is not an undertaking to be taken lightly. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and special teams coordinator Brian Polian will spend more time with the legs than they have in recent years.

Winters in South Bend reduce how much spring work kickers and punters get. The new indoor facility will not be ready for use until mid-to-late summer, meaning every day the Irish have to spend indoors this spring is a day the kickers are unlikely to get more than a few swings in.

Doerer might have an excellent Blue-Gold Game (on April 13), knocking in multiple 40-yard field goals. Bramblett could boom a couple punts with no signs of nerves. Until they show such in pressure situations, their real worth will remain unknown.

Such are the perils of talkin’ ‘bout practice, to quote an 11-time NBA All-Star as All-Star Weekend begins.

Notre Dame’s defensive line recruiting success continues into 2020

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Notre Dame’s recruiting class of 2019 included a defensive line emphasis featuring 5 four-star prospects. That trend has already continued into the next recruiting cycle with the Wednesday commitment from rivals.com four-star defensive tackle Aidan Keanaaina (J.K. Mullen High School; Denver).

The No. 17 defensive tackle in the country, per rivals.com, Keanaaina joins Düsseldorf defensive end Alexander Ehrensberger among the five commits in the Irish class of 2020. Keanaaina holds offers from all the Power Five conferences, including the majority of the Pac 12, led by Oregon and USC, and the majority of the Big 10, led by Michigan and Ohio State.

His anticipatory play is aided by solid tackling form and a wide body. That frame, in particular, should lend itself to further development in a collegiate strength and conditioning program.

By signing two defensive tackles in the class of 2019, the Irish depth chart reached minimum levels at the position. All six tackles currently on that depth chart should return in 2020, making it less of an absolute necessity to sign a pair this cycle, though that remains more likely than not.

Notre Dame officially announces Lance Taylor as RB coach

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Notre Dame finally confirmed the hire of Lance Taylor as running backs coach Tuesday. Taylor’s addition to the Irish coaching staff was first widely reported last month.

Replacing Autry Denson — who took over as head coach at Charleston Southern — Taylor spent the last two seasons coaching receivers with the Carolina Panthers and was the running backs coach at Stanford from 2014 to 2016.

“I was primarily looking for two things,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “The candidate had to have the right skill set. He needs to be a great teacher and communicator. He also needs to fit Notre Dame, culturally, and Lance, most certainly, possesses all of those qualities. He recruited at an extremely high level during his time at Stanford, and he worked with the very best in the NFL. His ability to bring both of those experiences together makes him a perfect fit for our staff.”

The time at Stanford, in particular, sets up Taylor for success at Notre Dame, having successfully recruited players to an academic institution and then developed them to on-field success. Namely, Taylor recruited Bryce Love and worked with both him and Christian McCaffrey.

RELATED READING: Lance Taylor checks all the boxes Notre Dame needs in new running backs coach

“I’ve been blessed to work at some incredible places in my career, but Notre Dame is truly special,” Taylor said. “I’m honored and humbled to represent this incredible University as its running backs coach. I’d like to thank both Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for this opportunity. I’m excited to get on campus, meet our players and get to work.”

Taylor will have his work cut out for him this spring as the Irish need to replace Dexter Williams. Rising junior Jafar Armstrong is the presumed starter, granted health, with rising senior Tony Jones his primary backup. After those two, Taylor has nothing but raw and unproven talent awaiting him in rising sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister and early-enrolled freshman Kyren Williams, not to mention rising junior quarterback-turned-running back Avery Davis.

No other coaching staff turnover should be expected at this point in the offseason.

Leading candidates to be Notre Dame captains

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Notre Dame has not begun spring practice yet, unlike Labor Day opponent Louisville. (Yes, really, the Cardinals held their first practice under new head coach Scott Satterfield on Monday.) At some point near the beginning of spring practice, though, Irish head coach Brian Kelly will likely name a few 2019 team captains.

Notre Dame narrowed the candidates for the parlor game of guessing those captains by announcing the eight “SWAT” leaders earlier this month, a subset identified as the motivating and organizing forces of offseason activities. Those eight …

— Senior quarterback Ian Book
— Senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg
— Senior safety Jalen Elliott
— Fifth-year receiver Chris Finke
— Senior safety Alohi Gilman (pictured at top)
— Junior right tackle Robert Hainsey
— Senior defensive end Khalid Kareem
— Senior defensive end Julian Okwara

Half of the eight could have eligibility in 2020 — Book, Eichenberg, Gilman and Hainsey — but the better indicators of captainship do not inherently tie to that. For example, it is expected Gilman will head to the NFL following the 2019 season if he plays well enough to warrant that pondering at all. His transfer following the 2017 season was entirely due to professional aspirations. That, along with his competitive attitude very clearly demonstrated during last season’s unbeaten run, makes Gilman a frontrunner in this speculation.

Book, meanwhile, is unlikely to be one of the captains simply because the starting quarterback already serves in that role to some de facto extent. The coaching staff generally prefers to elevate a few others while not taking away from the inherent nature of the quarterback position.

On the other hand, the Irish have had at least one captain on the offensive line each of the last seven seasons. Either Eichenberg or Hainsey seems positioned to continue that, the former with an additional year in the program but the latter with one more season of playing time under his belt.

Presuming one of those offensive linemen joins Gilman, it remains likely Notre Dame names at least one more captain. His rise from walk-on to offensive contributor and multiple-year starter makes Finke uniquely relatable to the entire roster.

Guessing here is, of course, inconsequential, but with spring practice about three weeks away on the horizon, pondering now helps pass that time.