Mailbag: Special teams, depth, dark clouds and more

41 Comments

Let’s get the rest of the mailbag finished off so we can concentrate on game week. (Feels really good to type that sentence.) Thanks again for some great questions.

 

jommy995: Punt returns. Fixed for good?

Not sure, but you’ve gotta like Notre Dame’s chances if Will Fuller is back there.

It’s worth pointing out that the Irish had their best punt returning season since Golden Tate’s 2009 year, and the Irish led the FBS in blocked kicks. So all that hammering on the Notre Dame special teams isn’t necessarily an updated opinion.

(Also, just a PSA, even though I’m not sure this group needs it. Everybody realizes the rules in college are different than the rules in the NFL on punts, right? It’s much harder to break returns in the CFB than the NFL because of coverage rules. Back to the program…)

With Fuller, Notre Dame has a really dynamic option. And if they choose to go in another direction—even walk-on Chris Finke, as Kelly mentioned earlier in camp—it’ll be a long way from the days of John Goodman giving the one-armed salute before fair catching another one.

 

@jekyllandhyde12: Our recruiting class is not as highly ranked (lots of three stars) this year. Is Alford’s move the main reason for the slip?

Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts needed a reboot when the Irish needed to replace not just Tony Alford, but also quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur (who was recruiting California) and Bob Elliott, who was essentially replaced by Keith Gilmore. Add to that the turnover behind the scenes, with the Irish losing some key help in the recruiting office, and there was definitely some time lost to get situated.

Mike Elston, Notre Dame’s new recruiting coordinator, is doing his best to make up for lost time. And the good news? The Irish are, with offers—especially in the 2017 class—coming fast and furious, and on-campus visits and interest to match.

But I want to challenge your “lots of three stars” comment there, Doc. Because Notre Dame has made an absolute killing recruiting under-the-radar guys under Brian Kelly and this staff believes in its ability to recruit players and stick with their convictions, not worry about a star-rating next to their name.

This year’s class is going to be on the smaller side. It’s also one that’ll be position specific, looking to fill holes at certain spots. But looking at last year’s class, a group that Irish fans thought was just okay, this group looks much, much better than that.

And of course, one last important statement: There’s a lot of time between now and February.

 

ncdomer: With a full roster, why are we still perilously thin and inexperienced at key positions like QB, RB, and S?

c4evr: why, after 5 years, are the Irish still one injury away from disaster at a number of positions?

Ah, I love you guys.

While I don’t feel like we need to go through every transfer or injury to get everybody up to speed, needless to say the quarterback issues have been well covered and Greg Bryant’s transfer has earned more headlines than anything he’s done on the field thus far.

But this football team is one of the deepest in college football and certainly the deepest of the last 15-20 years in South Bend. So if that’s “perilously thin” or “one injury away from disaster,” well that’s just college football.

Nobody follows every team like the one they like the most, but have you checked out what’s going on at Alabama with their quarterbacks? Or how about Stanford, often applauded as one of the elite defensive stockpiles on the West Coast? It might as well be a line change in hockey.

In an era of 85 scholarships, free fifth-year transfers and at a school where the academics ain’t exactly a walk in the park, there’s going to be attrition. But Notre Dame has approximately 83 planned scholarships out there, and however you want to split those up, sometimes it’s going to get a little thin.

 

@mejanaf: What is your biggest concern on this team that could derail the Irish from reaching their goal?

Injuries.

Secondarily, I’d have to say special teams (kicker and punter are first-time performers) and then (very far behind that) Malik Zaire and his inexperience.

 

irishdodger: Based on all the comments by BK & media on current team, is there any excuses for this team to not at least win ten regular season games?

I’ll give you four really good excuses:

Georgia Tech
at Clemson
USC
at Stanford.

So if the baseline is 10 regular season wins, that’s a pretty steep baseline. That said, in an earlier question someone asked what the O/U for wins this year should be. I’d say 10.5.

I just don’t like the “excuse” word, I think that’s too disrespectful to the schedule. But I have high expectations for this team.

 

alsatiannd: KA: Rooting for or against Golson this year? Or, if he’s not Irish, who cares?

Oddly apathetic. For Everett’s sake, I hope the kid at least wins the starting job, otherwise the decision is a complete miscalculation and will really hurt his professional propsects. I also hope his offensive line is better than the nine total returning starts that’s currently projected, because that could be an absolute nightmare, too.

 

whodabigdog: I was lucky enough to get tickets for Fenway and was wondering if you are going? It would be fun to get together for a Samuel Adams or 12. I’m sure we can find a dive like the Boat Club.

I’m still TBD for the second-half of the season, but that Fenway game should be awesome (as long as the weather moderately cooperates). As for a Sam Adams? Twist my arm.

And yes, The Boat Club? If there’s an establishment that’s as disgusting as that place in Boston, I can’t help but think I should at least check it out. Do they serve all-you-can drink light beer for six dollars?

 

@maximumham: odds ND ends undefeated?

Every year, I spend all of August thinking about how Notre Dame can pull that off. So far, my conclusions have been correct just once.

I have no idea what the odds are. But I do think you’ve got to approach it in an incremental process. So let’s see them beat Texas. And then Virginia. And win a dog-fight with Georgia Tech, the scariest game on the schedule in my opinion.

I used to say, “Talk to me in October.” But I certainly think this team has the best shot of any that I’ve covered/watched.