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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end

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Editor’s Note: Below the usual 99-to-2 post regarding No. 82 Nic Weishar, you can find a quick Notre Dame story once spun by the great sportswriter Frank Deford. Deford died Sunday at the age of 78.

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 242 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: Weishar currently sits third among the tight ends, behind fifth-year senior Durham Smythe and junior Alizé Mack, though early enrolled-freshman Brock Wright may pass Weishar soon, if he didn’t in spring practice, among the receiving options at the position.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American, rivals.com rated Weishar as the No. 7 tight end in his class. He chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma, among others.

CAREER TO DATE
Wieshar has made three catches in each of the last two seasons and after spending 2014 on the sidelines preserving a year of eligibility. As frustrating as last year’s passing game de-emphasis on the tight ends was for Irish fans and Smythe, in particular, it also deprived Weishar of a prime chance to establish himself as a viable option while Mack sat out the season due to academic issues.

2015: 12 games, three receptions, 19 yards
2016: 12 games, three receptions, 47 yards

QUOTE(S)
If you go back a few years, there are a bounty of quotes raving about Weishar, including Irish coach Brian Kelly calling him “the finest pass catching tight end we saw” on 2014’s National Signing Day. In the last number of months — if granting the premise more recent quotes are also more pertinent — mention of Weishar has often included mention of Wright in the same breath, hence the presumption Wright may be moving up the depth chart quicker than expected, to Weishar’s detriment.

“We can play four of those tight ends as receivers,” Kelly said in March. “We think there’s great versatility. You know Durham Smythe has really made great strides. He’s been very impressive. I think Alizé and Nic Weishar and Brock Wright and all of those guys can be on the field. You can detach them and you can’t say I’m not going to cover them. They have the ability to impact what we’re doing.”

It should be noted somewhere, and here seems as good a place as any, Weishar finished the Blue-Gold Game with two catches for 25 yards with two other targets. Meanwhile, Wright received no targets.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I’m setting the ceiling at 10 catches this season, though I’d be happy to be wrong. While Weishar is again the No. 2 tight end, and there’s a better argument to be made for sharing the ball with tight ends this season than last, it’s still an offense with a handful of playmakers to incorporate before working our way down to TE2.

“I could be underrating Weishar, who has earned more than his share of raves for his hands and reliability as a red zone target. But if you’re picking favorites behind Hunter and trying to find a place in the pecking order for Weishar, I have him below guys like [now-junior receiver] Equanimeous St. Brown and even [now-junior receiver] Miles Boykin before figuring out what Durham Smythe’s production will be.

“The staff will find a way to use Weishar to best accentuate his skills. As of right now, I just think that’s going to be as a guy who gets one or two targets a game, though some of those should come in the red zone.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Keith’s point from a year ago regarding “a handful of playmakers to incorporate before working our way down to TE2” rings even truer when that final position is the No. 3 or possibly even No. 4 tight end. Weishar may have the talent to contribute at Notre Dame, but the chances of learning that become less and less likely with the continued emergence of other options.

St. Brown’s breakout campaign last year, Boykin’s strong spring showing, sophomore receiver Chase Claypool’s intriguing potential and Mack’s return all diminish Weishar’s role in the Irish offense.

If Mack were to flash the inconsistency or immaturity that cost him the 2016 season, suddenly Weishar would be back in the conversation. Offensive coordinator Chip Long has a history of using two tight ends. That makes the third spot on the tight end depth chart less the figurative imprisonment sentence it usually would be. Provided Smythe and Mack both stay healthy and in good graces, though, Weishar’s path to significant playing time in 2017 may have closed.

DOWN THE ROAD
Weishar will have another year of college eligibility after this season. If Mack were to excel in 2017 and then declare for the NFL, there would be reason to offer Weishar a fifth year at Notre Dame. If Mack returns, along with Wright and incoming freshman Cole Kmet, such an offer would seem very unlikely, especially in light of the coming scholarship crunch.

Given Weishar’s oft-praised natural talents, a graduate transfer elsewhere makes the most sense, perhaps to a mid-major in search of a tight end who can contribute in the passing game. Maybe a MAC school will be looking for a tight end after its current senior with 10 career scores to date graduates following the 2017 season. Conceivably, that team could even be coached by someone familiar with Weishar and what he could offer.

Just a thought, nothing more.


ON FRANK DEFORD
In the spring of 2010, toward the end of this scribe’s sophomore year at Notre Dame, Frank Deford delivered the Red Smith Lecture in Journalism. Even an ignorant 20-year-old knew not to miss a chance to hear from a man often referred to as “the world’s greatest sportswriter.” Deford’s lecture bore the title, “Sportswriter is One Word.”

Thanks to the wonders of technology and external hard drives, a seven-year-old transcript was found quickly upon learning of Deford’s death Sunday. Since he was delivering a speech at Notre Dame, he dutifully wove in an Irish story, quoted in full below. The quick, nearly off-handed, tale showcased what set Deford apart. In 1962 he went to South Bend to do a story on the basketball team. He left with a quintessentially-Notre Dame quip about a priest. In the telling of the interim, Deford described the head coach, made a reader/listener laugh and did so without wasting time.

Johnny Dee was the coach, a wonderful guy. I walked into Johnny’s house and, without asking, he immediately mixed up a batch of martinis. He called them martoonis. He insisted on calling me Francis, which I’m not, but after a couple of martoonis, I let it go.

I traveled with the team to Evansville. Also along was the team chaplain, Fr. Tom Brennan, who according to campus legend, rivaled St. Thomas Aquinas in the marks he received for graduate study in Rome. Fr. Brennan described to me fascinating conversations that he reported he had with the devil.

Then, when the game began, almost immediately he started getting onto the officials. Understand, it’s a good cop-bad cop arrangement with Johnny Dee, and the priest is the bad cop.

Finally, the lead ref came over to the bench and threatened to give a technical to the priest. “Father,” he said, wagging a finger at him. “I call the game. You call the Mass.”

I always had a fond spot in my heart for Notre Dame after that.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver

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.