Floyd’s NFL decision not so cut and dry

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It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.

From the first Saturday Michael Floyd stepped on the field at Notre Dame, he looked the part of an NFL wide receiver. Whether it was the freshman records he set in touchdowns, receptions and yards, the pure ball skills that make him a red zone match-up nightmare, or the NFL-ready physicality, everybody that’s watched Floyd play these last three seasons knew there was a very real chance that Floyd only spent three seasons in a Notre Dame uniform.

So as the Irish go through their last-minute preparations for the Sun Bowl, the Notre Dame coaching staff and the Irish faithful are bracing for the very possible reality that Michael Floyd will be playing his last game in an Irish uniform this Saturday.

Let’s take a look at some of the key factors in the decision that lies ahead of Floyd.

THE DRAFT

Let’s deal with the elephant first. Any decision Floyd makes should be based on what he’ll likely get monetarily to forgo his final season at Notre Dame, and all of that is contingent on where he’ll go in the NFL Draft.

Both Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph have asked for evaluations from the NFL Advisory Board, trying to get a better grasp on where they’ll be selected if they enter this spring’s draft as underclassmen. There’s a general consensus among pundits that Floyd’s among the top-five wide receivers in this year’s draft, though he’s closer to the bottom of that grouping than the top, which could mean just about anything when it comes to hearing his name called.

Over the past six years, there have been 21 wide receivers taken in the first round. Three times, six wideouts have gone in the first, once none did. It isn’t hard to do the basic math and understand that Floyd’s far from assured that he’ll hear his name called in primetime this spring. With that type of variance in the first round, let’s take a closer look at the type of wide receivers that heard their names called in round one.

One of Mike’s assets is his physicality. He’s 6-foot-3, almost 230-pounds and on film looks every bit as physical as his size dictates. That said, Floyd isn’t likely to clock in with a blazing 40-yard dash time, making it’ll a little easier to group him with a segment of past round one wide receivers. Without elite speed, it’s pretty easy to look at the past few years and say that if Floyd is going in round one, it’ll be the bottom half of the round, a place where guys like Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Bowe went, receivers similar to Floyd in both size and speed.

Of course, it isn’t hard to look back at the recent history of Notre Dame skill players in the draft and wonder what that means for Floyd’s future. Whether it was Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen’s tumble down the board or someone like Brady Quinn, there’s a very real issue of Irish players being over-hyped on draft boards when they make their decisions. To Floyd’s credit, he’s taking the patient approach, and waiting to hear from the advisory board before he makes any decision.

“Right now it doesn’t come into my head,” Floyd said. “A lot of people ask, and my answer doesn’t change for anybody. I still say I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

As if the decision wasn’t hard enough, Floyd and the rest of the underclassmen will have to monitor the NFL’s stalemate for a new collective bargaining agreement, a negotiation that could have major implications on the rookie wage scale and whether or not there’s even NFL football in 2011. There’s a lot of bluster out there right now on what may or may not happen, but for a junior making a jump to the next level, there’s an unprecedented amount of uncertainty.

THE LEGACY

Floyd’s role in Irish lore likely doesn’t play a part in his decision to return to the Irish for his senior season, but if he does, you can all but pencil Floyd at the top of every career mark in the school’s receiving record books.

Right now, Floyd sits fifth in receiving yards and third in receptions in school history, marks that’ll be easily shattered if Floyd comes back for 2011. Floyd is only one touchdown catch behind record holder Jeff Samardzija with 26 on his career, one where he’s missed nine games because of various injuries. (Something NFL teams certainly notice.)

Those injuries and a turbulent three seasons in South Bend all will frame the legacy Floyd leaves behind at Notre Dame. Like his former teammates Tate and Clausen, it’s hard to argue against their statistical brilliance in their short careers. But Floyd would walk away from the Irish after just a so-so season individually, on top of a transition year for a team that clearly struggled to find an offensive identity.

The idea of a legacy for a 21-year-old college athlete is a dizzying proposition, and any status you’ll earn with an rabid fanbase won’t do anything to help pay the bills for both you and your family. (Unless you go the route of guys like Cam Newton, Reggie Bush, and Terrelle Pryor.) The Irish have been snakebit all the way back to Justin Tuck’s early departure, and Floyd’s return would be the first high-profile senior season since Brady Quinn’s.

THE FUTURE

Floyd returning to school likely means he thinks he can boost his draft stock after a resurgent senior season. And if that’s the decision he ultimately makes, it’s pretty easy to support it. Floyd’s averaging a career-low in yards-per catch, and his 10 touchdowns isn’t much of an improvement on his previous two seasons when you consider the games he sat out with injuries. Entering the 2010 season, Floyd was the primary focus of every defense that faced the Irish and his three 100-yard games are less than he put up his freshman season, where he had four.

In 2011, Floyd would return to an offense that loses only Chris Stewart from the Sun Bowl starting lineup, and welcomes back two quarterbacks with significant minutes triggering Brian Kelly’s spread attack. He’ll have Theo Riddick anchored in the slot, John Goodman and TJ Jones playing on the edge along with some talented freshman and Tyler Eifert (or potentially Kyle Rudolph) occupying defenses at tight end. Add to that equation a competent running game and it isn’t hard to see why Floyd could buoy his draft stock with a prolific senior season in an offense that’ll evolve in season two of Brian Kelly’s tenure.

***

Still, if Friday is the last time we see Michael Floyd in an Irish uniform, he’ll leave behind a standard of hard work and dedication for his teammates.

“Michael Floyd is somebody that impacted our entire football team,” Kelly said. “He set a standard from my perspective, of how you want champions to practice and prepare. What he leaves is a standard I can point to moving forward: That’s how you prepare, that’s how you practice. Look at Michael Floyd.”

While it’d be fun to have Michael Floyd in the blue and gold for another autumn, you can’t blame him either way.

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.