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Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame lands a 2019 CB; Auburn hires an Irish AD

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Sanity is a commodity worth preserving. Thus, this space generally keeps any Notre Dame recruiting updates limited to the current recruiting class. Otherwise, two-thirds of these words would revolve around various offers, commitments, subsequent de-commitments, 16-year-old’s decisions and the other endless minutiae of the internet’s third-favorite niche industry.

In other words, discussing high school juniors today is 10 days earlier than usually allowed. Consider this an exception not setting a precedent, but rather granted because of a commitment so closely following this question submitted Sunday morning:

“Big junior day this weekend. Do you think any in attendance may be on commit watch? It seems last year the class of 2018 was already mostly in place, but there are only two commits thus far. Will that change soon?”

— William from Cypress, Texas.

Indeed, William, at least one junior at Notre Dame on Saturday was ready to commit shortly thereafter, with rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett High School; Atlanta) making that decision Sunday afternoon. Wallace chose the Irish over offers from Auburn, Penn State and Stanford, among many others.

“Honestly, I expected to commit at the beginning of [his senior] season, but I know this is the place for me,” Wallace told Blue & Gold Illustrated. “… I loved everything about the campus and the coaches. We met a few players and I like their strength and conditioning program, too. I couldn’t find much wrong about it.”

Securing a cornerback’s commitment so early in the class continues Notre Dame’s recovery from not getting any cornerbacks in the class of 2017, with three signed this cycle and another yet possible before next Wednesday.

William’s memory of a year ago is a bit inaccurate. Of the 21 players who signed with the Irish during December’s early signing period, only five had committed by this point a year ago. Broadly speaking, there tend to be a few key periods for recruits to commit. The earliest do so before their junior football season. Then there is typically a lull until the winter. For the majority of high school juniors, that silence lasts until after National Signing Day, at which point schools finally make the juniors a priority.

For example, Notre Dame secured three commitments the two weeks following National Signing Day 2017. December’s early signing period may have skewed that rush forward a few weeks, leading to decisions like Wallace’s, but it is too soon to gauge that effect of the new recruiting timetables. Either way, a handful of commitments coming to the surface in February would be logical.

— Bet you weren’t expecting to think about Auburn basketball this morning.

With a 25-point win over LSU on Saturday, the No. 19 Tigers won their third straight and 17th of their last 18. The winning streak coincides with the hiring of former Notre Dame baseball star Allen Greene as athletic director. Obviously, the hiring has nothing to do with the winning streak except the spot at the top of the SEC standings underscores the biggest challenge Greene will immediately face at Auburn.

Tigers head basketball coach Bruce Pearl appears to be more than tangentially-involved with the FBI investigation into basketball recruiting tactics, meaning Greene may soon face the unenviable prospect of pondering a coach’s future even as he wins the SEC and gets a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Greene is one of 10 Irish graduates serving as athletic directors somewhere in the Division I realm. Two others just made changes with head football coaches, neither necessarily voluntarily, but the Pearl dilemma will likely be a whole other type of ordeal.

Those other nine:
Gene Smith at Ohio State.
Stan Wilcox at Florida State.
Jack Swarbrick at Notre Dame.
Bubba Cunningham at North Carolina.
Mike Bobinski at Purdue.
Tom Bowen at Memphis.
Danny White at Central Florida.
Bill Scholl at Marquette.
Boo Corrigan at Army.

— Let’s turn to another reader question … “I miss the days when ND was Tight End U. Any chance of rekindling that? — nmmargie

An undeniable return to being considered “Tight End U” in 2018 will likely hinge on current Notre Dame junior Alizé Mack. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Yes, there is a chance. Notre Dame will have six tight ends around in 2018, and based off last season, Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long does genuinely prefer to include tight ends as often as possible. If current junior Alizé Mack can finally realize some of his physical potential, then he should certainly join the four Notre Dame products at tight end already in the NFL.

That number should even rise to five this spring. Durham Smythe caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in this weekend’s Senior Bowl, and would appear to be trending upward as far as NFL draft thoughts may go.

That is not to say Smythe will be drafted, but, at the very least, he will get his shot in an NFL training camp of some variety.

Smythe and Mack combined to lead an under-the-radar productive season for Irish tight ends in 2017. The position group may have been inconsistent, but so was every other aspect of the passing game. The tight ends as a whole caught 45 passes for 476 yards and four touchdowns. They were certainly a part of the offense, even if not featured as expected entering the season.

Admittedly, nmmargie’s point holds merit. Notre Dame essentially abandoned the position in 2015 and 2016, much to Smythe’s detriment. However, the stretch of Ben KoyackTroy NiklasTyler Eifert – Kyle Rudolph – John Carlson – Anthony Fasano does stretch from 2014 back to 2003. Two years of relying on Will Fuller and Equanimeous St. Brown does not ruin that reputation by any means.

— Get ready for a Brian VanGorder defense in 2019.

The former Irish defensive coordinator landed that position at Louisville over the weekend. Notre Dame opens the 2019 season at Louisville on Labor Day.

— Need Tuesday night plans? The St. Brown Master Plan:

— Further mailbag questions are welcome at insidetheirish@gmail.com.

Irish A-to-Z: Durham Smythe

AP
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Notre Dame’s tight end depth chart is topped by Durham Smythe. And a season after suffering a hard-luck year, the senior hopes to pick up the slack Alizé Jones’ ineligibility leaves behind.

A capable blocker who also has the ability to get open down the field, Smythe’s hoping to finally put together a season where opportunity meets the senior head on. Entering his fourth year in the program, Smythe’s trajectory is similar to Torii Hunter’s, talent ahead of production thus far.

 

DURHAM SMYTHE
6’4.5″, 245 lbs.
Senior, TE, No. 80

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An early commitment to in-state Texas, Smythe flipped to Notre Dame after getting to campus in January. He was a four-star prospect who also kicked the tires on a Stanford offer before choosing the Irish.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games for the Irish. Made one catch, a seven-yarder against Arizona State.

Junior Season (2015): Started three games, the season-opener against Texas and Virginia before suffering two injuries that ended his regular season. Returned for the Fiesta Bowl, finishing the year with three catches, including a touchdown against Virginia.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He never had a chance to live up to these modest expectations.

If Koyack caught 30 balls last season, I think we should put the ceiling around 20 for Smythe, especially considering the variety the Irish have at the position, not to mention the other weapons that exist in the passing game.

But maybe calibrating Smythe’s season by catches isn’t exactly the fairest way to look at things. Especially when he’ll need to prove he can be a competent blocker at the point-of-attack if he’s going to be the starter at the position.

Everything we’ve heard through spring ball and the early days of fall camp have the staff believing Smythe can handle that role. But with so many new variables in the Irish offensive attack, it’ll be up to Smythe to prove he can stay on the field, and then anything else that comes of it should be gravy.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Some believe that Smythe is capable of being the type of frontline tight end the Irish seem to turn out year after year. I’m more a see-it-to-believe-it type, but there’s certainly a very productive football player here if Smythe can make it through a season.

The loss of Jones might impact Nic Weishar more than it does Smythe, who was always the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 guy as a traditional tight end even before Jones shifted outside to wide receiver in the spring. But even if this position will be an ensemble, Smythe will lead the team in snaps played.

More do-everything tight end than dynamic matchup challenge like a Tyler Eifert or Troy Niklas, it’s no slam on Smythe to not be held to the same freakish standard of that duo. He’s got a chance to be a very good player on a very capable offense.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m sticking with similar projections to 2015 for Smythe, who may be asked to help out more in the running game, but is a rare veteran pass catcher on an offense counting on experience to keep things productive. That’ll likely mean more targets for Smythe as there are plenty of opportunities to go around. Even if he shares the load, it’ll lead to his breakout season, even if it’s a year later than expected.

If Smythe gets to 25 catches and scores a few times, it’ll be a nice year—with a fifth-year all but guaranteed. And if the Irish ground game continues to roll, it’ll be because Smythe did a great job as a versatile tight end, perhaps the most traditional of talents Scott Booker has had at the position since he took over.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon

 

Irish A-Z: Alizé Jones

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Notre Dame’s next great tight end might be their next starting boundary wide receiver. With the retirement of Corey Robinson and a lack of outside receivers ready to contribute, Alizé Jones spent spring transitioning to receiver, a position he was probably built to play in the first place.

Jones came to Notre Dame as a blue-chip tight end prospect, but his skill-set was custom-built for catching passes not throwing blocks. With the goal of getting the team’s best 11 on the field, finding a role for Jones on the outside allows the depth at tight end to pick up the slack in the trenches, with the hope that Jones will thrive as he matches up against cornerbacks.

 

ALIZÉ JONES
6’4.5″, 240 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 10, TE/WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A U.S. Army All-American, a first-team USA Today All-American and the No. 1 tight end in the country, per 247 Sports. Jones picked Notre Dame over UCLA—where he was long committed, and had offers from USC, Georgia, Auburn and plenty of other top programs.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Played in all 13 games, starting five. Jones led all tight ends with 13 catches for 190 yards. His 14.6 yards per catch was the most of any receiver not named Will Fuller.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I feel pretty spot on about this one, even with Durham Smythe‘s season ending after the Virginia game.

All the glowing praise above doesn’t necessarily mean I think Jones is a breakout star. He’ll likely be used situationally, capable of being a jumbo slot receiver (like Troy Niklas and Tyler Eifert were used on occasion), and potentially as a red zone mismatch. (Though we’re still waiting for jump balls to Corey Robinson, so why would Jones hop the line?)

Playing at Bishop Gorman, arguably the top high school program in the country, will work both ways for Jones. He’s played national competition, but he’s also played in an offense that scored points by the bushel. So while he was used mostly as a jumbo receiver during a 41 catch, 900+ yard senior season, that’s not what’ll be needed to be successful at the next level.

Jones will play. But as we’ve seen with Kelly, he wants to trust his tight ends to hold the point of attack, making Smythe the candidate for most snaps. But behind that, I think Jones finds a way to impact the Irish offense, especially if Mike Sanford is as creative as we’re told.

This is a very, very exciting prospect, and perhaps the most readymade offensive player in the freshman class. But before he can be a star, he needs to be able to do everything that makes the tight end position the most versatile in the Irish offense.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Jones maybe isn’t the freak that the Irish had in Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. But at 6-foot-4.5 and 240 pounds, he’s certainly a load. While his freshman season may not have been the breakout some expected, he did average a hefty 14.6 yards per catch, a number that lets you know that he’s capable of wreaking havoc when he gets his chance.

Opportunity plays a big part in projecting a future, and there’s no more open window than the one Jones now looks through. Jones very well may have switched to boundary receiver even if Robinson decided to play, but there will certainly be more reps available without Robinson.

Is Jones primed to be a star? He could be. I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to compare him to three tight ends that came off the board in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, but nothing Jones did last year should deter you from thinking he could be that type of impact player.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Jones could turn into Notre Dame’s No. 2 receiver in 2016 if he takes this opportunity and runs with it. That could mean a huge uptick in numbers, with 40 to 50 catches not out of the realm of possibility.

While size and match-up issues haven’t necessarily turned Irish receivers into targets, Jones could also pick up some of the slack in the red zone, knowing that the Irish offense desperately needs to improve their efficiency in the scoring zones, especially without quick-strike scorers Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise. Matching Chris Brown’s four touchdown catches seems like a logical next step for Jones.

In many ways, Jones is one of several unknown quantities that’ll help determine whether or not the Irish are a playoff contender or just a team with some nice young talent. While much of his productivity will likely be determined by the team’s offensive identity and philosophy, he’s another key piece to an offensive puzzle that doesn’t have a lot of experience but has plenty going for it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Chase Claypool

Rivals / Blue & Gold
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Very early in the recruiting cycle it became clear that Chase Claypool was one of the most intriguing prospects in the country. And when Notre Dame landed him, they signed one of the biggest wildcard athletes in the recruiting cycle.

What that means? We’ll find out when he hits the field in August.

Notre Dame’s Canadian import is a dynamic prospect, likely to start his career as a wide receiver. But the lanky and raw athlete could end up anywhere, a Swiss Army Knife of a football player who is just figuring out a game that could lead him to the secondary, tight end, outside linebacker or defensive end.

 

CHASE CLAYPOOL
6’4.5″, 218 lbs.
Freshman, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A consensus four-star prospect, Canada’s top prospect. Chose Notre Dame over Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and more. A Blue-Grey All-American Bowl participant. Invited to The Opening.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

When it comes to potential, it’s hard for me to be more excited for a prospect than I am Claypool. He’s got all the tools necessary. He’s a raw athlete who hasn’t come up playing football. And he’s been used in a number of positions and played a ton of sports coming up—keeping specialization out of the equation… until now.

That’s what has me so excited. And also, his new head football coach.

“He’s so raw that we’re going to be able to create a player that can play so many different positions for us,” Brian Kelly said on Signing Day. “So we’re really excited about him.”

Claypool ran in the low-4.6s in Oregon when he was at The Opening, a more-than-solid number that matched up well with other elite big receivers. Assuming he can hold on to—or (more likely) improve—that speed, all while adding weight during his time in Paul Longo’s strength program, he could be a freaky, freaky football player.

Regardless of position.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d love Claypool to spend the summer cross-training on both sides of the ball. It’s not unheard of for a long and lean guy like Claypool to gain 15 pounds over three months, and if he does that he’ll be close to 235 pounds, enough weight to come off the edge and chase the passer.

Of course, I did watch his highlight video. This is a kid who averaged more than 49 points a game on the basketball court and comes to South Bend a very moldable piece of clay. (No pun intended.)

Getting on the field as a freshman shouldn’t be the most important piece of the development puzzle here. But if there’s a chance to make an impact early, it shouldn’t stop him.

It’s hard not to think about what the Irish staff did with Troy Niklas as a freshman, filling a hole at outside linebacker while utilizing a guy who just looked and played differently. Then he switched to tight end as a sophomore. Maybe they can do the same with Claypool.

Then again, wide receiver isn’t the deep spot on the roster that it was last season. And contributing as a freshman isn’t necessarily as far-fetched as it was the past few years. It won’t take long to see how Claypool’s talent translates to the next level. If he’s ready to take the leap forward, this coaching staff will find a way to maximize his abilities—at any position.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage

 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.