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Leftovers & Links: A Notre Dame Mailbag to pass the spring

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Over the next few weeks of spring practice, the extent of new Notre Dame material will be 10-15 minutes from Irish head coach Brian Kelly each Saturday followed by a few minutes with select players. In other words, not an abundance of fresh content

Such is the tradeoff of Kelly making more than half of the 15 spring practices available for media to watch; he limited availability to assistant coaches, thinking “this year was one where it probably needed a little bit more evaluation than talking to people.”

There are pros and cons to such. Choosing to view it as a broadscale advantage, let’s open up the figurative phone lines for the next few weeks. Comment below, send emails to insidetheirish@gmail.com, pester @D_Farmer or @NDonNBC on Twitter. Some examples of such …

Is Phil Jurkovec ready to win a national championship? Every third email from Internet, U.S.A.

No, Jurkovec is not ready to win a national championship, at least not as the starting quarterback. In fact, Kelly said exactly that as recently as Saturday. “We’re really high on him. He’s not at a championship level yet, but we can win with him. We’ll get him to the point where he can win at a high level.”

And that is the greatest need from a backup quarterback, be able to win a game or two on short notice.

What does Jurkovec need to do to be able to win a national championship and get drafted above Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in two years? — Every fourth email from Online, Irrational.

Again, let’s turn to Kelly’s thoughts from Saturday … “He’s seeing the field a lot better, and there’s a learning curve there for him. Consistency in throwing the football — he gets a little bit low with his mechanics. His elbow drops and has a tendency to push the ball. He’s cleaning that up and it’s going to come with repetition.”

Those troubles are natural in all but the rarest of young quarterbacks. Jurkovec’s physical talents are apparent, though inconsistent. That inconsistency most likely stems from a mental uncertainty. Once he trusts his instincts, quickly recognizes defenses, anticipates routes, then Jurkovec’s natural gifts should shine. That comes with time and the aforementioned repetition.

He will not leapfrog Lawrence before the 2021 NFL draft, barring the most unexpected of developments, but by then Jurkovec could be the title-caliber quarterback desired.

When will Notre Dame return to being Tight End U? — Reasonable Fan from Poorly-Framed Questions, Everywhere.

The cynicism around the successors to Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert has been a bit unfair in two regards. Those talents were rare, body types ready for the NFL long before their peers. Secondly, it is not like the Irish tight ends have disappeared entirely. Durham Smythe was drafted last spring just as Ben Koyack was two before that. Alizé Mack should be next moth. They may not have put up the stats some would hope for, but the most-common fact pointed to as proof of “Tight End U” is the number of players drafted, and that has continued.

But the production at the position may be about to return, and not just because rising junior Cole Kmet has cut short his spring baseball duties with left (throwing) elbow discomfort after recording 27 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA in 18.2 innings and eight appearances. Presuming that elbow concern becomes into nothing more serious, Kmet’s development has pointed toward a gridiron breakthrough for a bit now.

“He’s going to catch a lot of footballs,” Kelly said Saturday. “He’ll be a guy we’ll actually game plan and certainly look at how he touches the football each week. We didn’t do that last year.”

Kelly did not specify if that last thought pertained to Kmet or Mack, but logic says both. If that changes in 2019, along with the continued emergence of Kmet’s classmate Brock Wright, then Notre Dame’s linebackers may be back in vogue as somewhat demanded by that reputation of Tight End U.

How good was Rob Gronkowski? Wasn’t he just the beneficiary of Belichick and Brady like everybody else? — A question nobody would ask, except this writer, wanting to point out the following comparison …

Rob Gronkowski, from 2010 to 2018: 115 games, 7,861 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns.

Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert, Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack and Durham Smythe from 2011 to 2018: 248 games, 5,955 yards and 66 touchdowns.

In all seriousness, maybe Arizona should be considered Tight End U for a bit. Then again, in his two seasons with the Wildcats, Gronkowski “only” managed 75 catches for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns in 22 games.

What game this season will have the easiest storyline to hype? — David Robbie from Albuquerque, N.M.

The easiest? That’ll be Sept. 14 vs. New Mexico. By no means will that become the biggest, though, given the Lobos’ performance in recent years under former Irish head coach Bob Davie. New Mexico began its spring practices last week, a bit later than most teams, and Davie had little choice but to acknowledge the back-to-back years of 3-9 records, including 1-7 in each season’s conference play.

“We are up against the wall a little in the fact that it hasn’t gone well the last two years,” Davie said on Friday. “The motivation of this team, through whatever dynamic that is that motivates a team that hasn’t played well the last two years, that’s a strength.”

Arguing last year’s losses are a positive moving forward is a bit of a logical leap, but not an unexpected one. Similarly, Davie spun inexperience as a good thing, because that is not experience in losing.

This will be the Lobos second season converting to a spread offense, having worked in the triple-option before that, under offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, who previously spent six seasons as the co-offensive coordinator under Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.

While jumping from the triple-option to a Rodriguez-inspired spread scheme presumably takes more than two years, one cannot help but think a fourth middling season could finally end Davie’s now eight-year renaissance in the southwest.

Again, these were all examples of the emails now expected at insidetheirish@gmail.com.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Notre Dame searches for RB ‘consistency,’ sorts out its defense
Options develop for Notre Dame’s third starting WR, one presumably with speed
Notre Dame Pro Day goes well for Julian Love, perhaps not as much for Dexter Williams
Drew White out for spring throws Notre Dame linebacker corps into further flux
Fitting the Notre Dame defensive puzzle: Now Moala and Simon shift

OUTSIDE READING
Malcolm Perry reinstated as starting quarterback as Navy prepares for spring camp
At least one proposed change to targeting rule unlikely to pass NCAA muster
By passing to win, Oklahoma and Notre Dame went from outcasts to visionaries ($)
World, meet Ja Morant. Ja, show the world what you got ($)
Colgate PG Jordan Burns personifies program’s underdog identity