Associated Press

Notre Dame’s offensive line shifts while Wimbush improves accuracy, consistency

35 Comments

Halfway through spring practice, Notre Dame’s offensive line remains in distinct flux, albeit an expected one. A week ago, Irish head coach Brian Kelly made it clear he did not anticipate exiting spring with a set front. Instead, he wants to know what his options in 2018 will be.

“I want to know where we are when we leave the spring as to who can play what positions,” Kelly said Saturday. “Who is going to be the next left tackle? Is there a starting left tackle or right tackle? Does [rising junior] Liam [Eichenberg] go over next week and start playing some left tackle?”

Yes, Eichenberg does, it would seem.

Kelly said Eichenberg spent Thursday’s practice at left tackle, with rising sophomore Robert Hainsey moving to right tackle, where he spent his debut season. In that alignment, rising junior Tommy Kraemer moved to left guard from right tackle, where he spent the 2017 season and much of the spring to date.

Of course, fifth-years Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars remain at center and right guard, respectively.

Eichenberg’s solid play this spring has created this whole new set of possibilities, perhaps allowing Hainsey to remain at right tackle where he is both more experienced and even at ease.

“He’s actually a little more comfortable on the right side,” Kelly said. “We know what his strengths are and some things he has to continue to work on, he knows what they are.

“We needed to see a bigger-body guy out there at left tackle, too, and Liam gives us that size and strength that maybe [Hainsey] doesn’t have. Robert has outstanding technique. We wanted to be able to see them both.”

In the remaining eight spring practices, concluding with the Blue-Gold Game on April 21, Notre Dame will almost assuredly roll out another offensive line alignment or two, simply to be sure of who can play where before the summer.

Nick Coleman has spent the last two seasons at safety, but the rising senior has reentered the fray at nickelback this spring. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Secondary shifts, as well
Early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith arrived this winter best-described as a defensive back, rather than constricted solely to cornerback or safety. Up until Thursday, he had toiled amidst the cornerbacks, a position group stocked with both known talent and experience. At safety, neither of those commodities is at a proven abundance.

Due to the “plus situation” at cornerback, Griffith flipped to safety Thursday. In turn, rising senior Nick Coleman spent some time at nickelback, rather than safety.

“[Coleman] is a really good athlete,” Kelly said. “He has some really good strength. I gave him a look two years ago at nickel and he did some really good things. We want to be a little more focused on that.”

Listed at 6-foot and 191 pounds, Coleman stands three inches taller and weighs 13 pounds more than rising senior Shaun Crawford, the presumed frontrunner at nickelback. If Coleman proves Kelly correct, Crawford could spend more time on the outside as a more traditional cornerback, creating quite the pass-protection duo alongside rising junior Julian Love.

“We’d like a little bit more size at [nickel],” Kelly said before listing off Crawford’s undeniable intangibles as displayed in particular in the first month of the 2017 season when he forced three turnovers. “But to have somebody like Nick Coleman who has that strength and size at that position, it just made sense that we’d let them both compete in there at that position.”

Quarterback commentary
Rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush spent spring break working with former Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly and some others, focusing on Wimbush’s mechanics. Throughout the fall, Brian Kelly would acknowledge Wimbush had some improvements to make in that regard, but the fixes were too big picture to be properly addressed during the season. Working through break was an extension of that necessity.

Wimbush worked with that particular group, led by former MLB pitcher Tom House, partly because his head coach knows the process House uses and how it closely parallels Notre Dame’s.

“Brandon has made some great progress with his accuracy, his consistency,” Kelly said. “He did a great job today … where we add a little bit of chaos to the situation. He went through a progression and checked it down to his [running back] for a touchdown. Good poise and presence in the pocket.”

Rising junior quarterback Ian Book’s performance has been less consistent than his quarterback competition counterpart.

“Ian’s been a little bit spotty at times in the morning with his reads,” Kelly said. “Sometimes that’s just focus and concentration on his part, but his feet are light. He’s throwing the ball well.”

Injury update
Rising senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery returned to practice from a concussion suffered last week, while rising sophomore receiver Michael Young is now in the concussion protocol after a hit in Tuesday’s practice.

Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame’s need for ‘consistency’ in the ‘second year’ of these schemes

Associated Press
25 Comments

A year ago, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s favorite buzz words were “process” and “grit” throughout the spring practices. This year, it seems “consistency” may replace them, while the Irish players make it a habit to point out this is their second year in the new schemes brought by the hires of last offseason.

Finding consistency this year should be an imperative, considering the wide gap between Notre Dame’s highs last year — namely, the back-to-back blowouts of No. 11 USC and No. 14 North Carolina State in October — and its lows, particularly the majority of November.

Specifically, Kelly sees consistency as the key for the two quarterbacks competing for the starting job, rising senior Brandon Wimbush and rising junior Ian Book, as lack of such at that position was also a primary contributing factor to that November swoon.

“There was such inconsistent performances at that position,” Kelly said Saturday following the fifth practice of the Irish spring. “We were up and down. We didn’t establish consistent play day-in and day-out.

“That’s going to be the separator: The person who can continue to show every single day that these are the base fundamentals of the position, that I’m going to bring with me and build that consistency.”

Neither Wimbush nor Book has separated himself in that regard to date, though the former has made it a better part of his mechanics, per Kelly. That may sound like a difference without a distinction, but it should be noted, the praise Kelly offered toward Wimbush rings directly contrary to some of the concerns about Wimbush last fall.

“There definitely is a difference in the way [Wimbush] is performing at that position compared to last year,” Kelly said. “If that continues to trend, that puts us in a really good position at quarterback.

“… His [dropback] is consistent, which allows him to get the ball out timely. He was late on a lot of throws last year and, consequently, put himself in bad positions. His accuracy is better, especially on some of the shorter throws.”

Improving Wimbush’s accuracy could be quite a catalyst for Notre Dame’s offense. Last year, he completed only 49.5 percent of his throws, part of why he averaged only 6.8 yards per pass attempt.

That weakness was not lost on Wimbush. No matter how much of a threat he provided with his legs, the inaccuracy put a ceiling on the offense’s potential.

“[Confidence] was a big part of where I was missing and what I wasn’t doing last year in terms of consistency,” Wimbush said. “Sometimes you go a few days, you have great days, and then you can’t come back and have bad days, because everything leads up to that Saturday.”

Consistency might be an obvious necessity for the starting Irish quarterback, whomever it may be, but so is availability, and there is a reason availability is the best ability. Perhaps finding consistency this spring is a corollary of that truism.

‘Year two’
Wimbush pointed to an “immense leap” coming from his second year in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system.

“Obviously, [I] have a better grasp of the offense,” Wimbush said. “I’m thinking more comfortably and things are fluent.”

Book cited the same item for why both quarterbacks are connecting better with the receivers in these first spring practices.

“Year two in the offense, the chemistry has really improved, but we have a lot more work to do,” Book said.

The comfort level goes beyond the offense, even with, perhaps because of, first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea taking control on the other side of the ball. When Lea arrived as linebackers coach under then-defensive coordinator Mike Elko a year ago, the scheme they implemented was quite the change for Notre Dame’s defense. It often showed in practice. Now? Not as much.

“Our guys right now, if you watch our defense now and we go back and watch last spring, we’re looking at it like, ‘Maaan …’” rising junior defensive end Daelin Hayes said. “The overall comfort and confidence in what we’re doing has been huge for us.”

It may have had the most impact on Hayes, himself, now in only his third year on the defensive front after playing linebacker throughout high school.

“It’s showing in my play, how quickly I am able to diagnose and be able to react and just make plays,” Hayes said. “… As the season went on, sometimes being in situations where I was uncertain, and you know how that goes when you play the game and you start thinking too much, that can slow down your level of play.”

Tillery concussed
Rising senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery suffered a concussion Tuesday and remains in the concussion protocol, but Kelly anticipates the fulcrum of his defensive front to be cleared for contact in the first half of this week.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
A worst-case scenario for Notre Dame’s spring, with links to read
Kelly on Notre Dame’s break in spring practices & linebacker options
Love’s press coverage hinges on Notre Dame’s safeties
Notre Dame’s Pro Day showcases Nelson, Adams and Smythe, among others

OUTSIDE READING:
From micro to macro, Clark Lea remains a teacher
Colts GM Chris Ballard visits Notre Dame Pro Day to watch Quenton Nelson
Nyles Morgan starts his comeback from shoulder surgery at Notre Dame Pro Day
Pro Day: Quenton Nelson impresses, Durham Smythe surprises
Notre Dame Pro Day complete results
Toughest opponent records for 2018, with Notre Dame’s at No. 45

Notre Dame names three captains: LB Drue Tranquill, C Sam Mustipher … and punter Tyler Newsome

Getty Images
9 Comments

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made it clear to his roster: Their votes for 2018 captains should not be based on friendships or popularity, on seniority or production, on prestige or position. He wanted the Irish captains to be the players the roster would least want to disappoint or let down.

That metric yielded three Notre Dame captains, announced just before the Irish took the field for their first spring practice Tuesday. Fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill will serve a second year as captain, joined by fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and fifth-year punter Tyler Newsome.

While Tranquill’s selection was a certainty and Mustipher’s predictable, electing Newsome with more than 51 percent of the roster’s votes might strike those outside the program as a bit of a surprise.

“For the last two years, [Newsome] has carried the message for our football program on a day-to-day basis relative to traits over talent,” Kelly said, before pointing out the difficulty for a specialist to earn such respect from a wide swath of teammates.

Unlike Tranquill with the defense or Mustipher with the offense, Newsome does not spend practice with nearly half the roster. He is off on a separate field with three or four other players. In fact, while Notre Dame spent the spring debut indoors, Newsome and the specialists headed out to the snow and its lack of kick-ruining ceilings.

Newsome has led a “SWAT” unit each of the last two offseasons. The groups split the roster into eight teams, forcing players to get to know others outside their position groups and creating mutual accountability for performances in the weight room, in the locker room and in the class room. After 2016’s debacle of a season, Kelly split up the spring set of eight teams, putting Newsome in charge of the unit Kelly expected to struggle most. Going against seven other SWAT teams, each led by captains, Newsome rallied his grouping to a spring victory before a summer reshuffling.

“When that opportunity was given to me, I felt very honored,” Newsome said. “… That wasn’t just me, that was the whole SWAT team buying in.”

Sam Mustipher (right) spent the last two seasons starting alongside future NFL draft picks in left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Mike McGlinchey. In 2018, he will not only need to lead the offensive line, but all of the Irish as one of at least three captains. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

That kind of leadership apparently resonated throughout the entire locker room, with Newsome now leading his third SWAT team — each spring and summer sees a fresh start. Tranquill has also led groups the last two offseasons, while Mustipher has taken the lead with a team this spring. Between the three captains, the Irish obviously have the offense and defense covered in Mustipher and Tranquill, respectively, but their leadership styles also differ, per Kelly.

“They play differently, they interact differently with their groups,” he said. “Sam is really big on involvement with his group. Drue is not necessarily. He is engaged, but he is not Sam.

“And Tyler is — he kind of marches to a different tune.”

That different tune has led to inspirational tattoos across Newsome’s upper body with plans of adding a leprechaun image to his punting foot upon graduation. It has also led to a reputation for large amounts of time spent volunteering in the area community. And it prompted a colorful retelling of 17 days spent in the hospital as a 16-year-old following a car crash. Newsome’s tattoos and volunteering can both be traced to that experience, though most of it cannot be heard in the press conference video Notre Dame released. It was edited to remove particular asterisk-requiring words, ones which, in the context, may have even been appropriate.

Mustipher, for one, wanted that different tune as a captain.

“Newsome is Newsome, he’s attacking every single day,” Mustipher said. “He was one of my personal votes for captain because I see the way the guy works every day. He’s insane about his work ethic. He truly wants to lead this team. He wants this team to be successful, and he would do anything for us.”

Tranquill’s praise echoed Mustipher’s.

“When you take a vote of your team and a guy receives over 50 percent and the third-most on the team, that speaks to the character of him,” Tranquill said. “It doesn’t always matter about production. It’s the guy that is going to bring out the best in his teammates, who is going to represent his university the best and really be the face of the program.”

Newsome will fill an interesting role as a captain from the public’s view. Obviously each of these three lead the Irish to some degree and have earned respect from their peers. They will also be the players heard from most this year, joined by a fourth whom Kelly will put up for vote at the end of spring practice.

In 2017, running back Josh Adams would provide a measure of offensive insights, left tackle Mike McGlinchey would offer blunt insights into the locker room and Tranquill relayed the emotions of the team by so clearly feeling them himself. Mustipher may pick up McGlinchey’s mantle, and a starting quarterback will serve that Adams role even better when made available to the media. Clearly, Tranquill will still be around to not even think about camouflaging his thoughts.

Newsome, meanwhile, will not serve as comic relief. Rather, he may lend a macro view not oft-seen from a player within the season, let alone from a punter.

“The way I came in looking at it in the summer of 2014 is I’m a football player first and then a specialist second,” Newsome said. “So I came in with the mindset that I am one of the guys even though my position is a specialty position. It is nice to know my teammates also respect me in that same way.”

Kelly on a fourth captain
After Newsome’s 51 percent of the vote, six or seven players finished grouped in a “logjam” for the fourth spot, per Kelly. He showed those vote totals, unattached to names, to the team to explain how close it was. He hopes that motivates the players who think they are at or near that mark to lead this spring. Toward the end of practices, a new poll will be taken of the roster, now keeping the three captains off the ballot, and a fourth captain will be settled upon.

Kelly said 25 players received votes for captain, with no ballots appearing to be made in jest by selecting only freshmen or all of one position group, for example.

“I’ve always said it’s a limited democracy in terms of how you want things to go,” Kelly said. “In this instance, my message this year has been about peer accountability.

“Last year I made the decisions, and they knew that. A lot of things last year were going to be made by me, and we were going to bring the culture back to where it needed to be. … This has clearly been a path of empowering our football team to take this over.”

Position changes, weight loss and quarterback questions welcome Notre Dame’s spring

Getty Images
29 Comments

Position changes? Check, highlighted by two offensive skill players adding to their descriptions without shedding their previous tags.

Strength and conditioning praise? Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offered that as well Monday, noting an emphasis on change of direction bursts.

Positive remarks about the early-enrolled freshmen? Kelly made it three in a row by describing linebacker Bo Bauer as a “tiger” in the weight room and picking out safety Houston Griffith’s skillset as a possible standout this spring.

Obviously, the topic Kelly returned to most as he previewed Notre Dame’s spring practice was that of the Irish quarterbacks. It will be a genuine competition between rising senior Brandon Wimbush and rising junior Ian Book, with Wimbush seeming to have the leg up simply because one or the other needs to take the first snap in the first practice.

“By virtue of a lot of the really good things that Brandon did last year, he’ll go out with the first group,” Kelly said. “But we all know Ian was integral in our last win against LSU, and he deserves an opportunity to compete as well.”

It would not be an honest quarterback competition if Wimbush were to take a noted majority of the first-team snaps, so those will be split between him and Book, although that may be more by day than within each practice.

Throughout last spring, Ian Book knew he was going to be the backup quarterback. This year, the rising junior will be in the mix of a competition to be the starter. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The odds are Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long will still be pondering both quarterbacks after the spring. For now, the focus will be on needed development.

“You always hope that one guy just says, I’m head and shoulders (above),” Kelly said. “If we have that situation, we’re in pretty good position.

“It’s more important that we do a really good job of developing both of the quarterbacks. … What I want to know is that our quarterbacks are equally adept at running it and throwing it, and that wasn’t the case this year. We have to be equally adept, and that’s really going to be the goal of the spring, more so than if one guy separates himself.”

Notice the usage of both. Rising sophomore Avery Davis will still be a quarterback first and foremost, but he will see opportunities elsewhere moving forward. After a year spent on the scout team, spending another offseason watching Book and Wimbush compete would stifle Davis’ development only further. Getting him some time at receiver or possibly on a kick return unit should help counteract that to a degree, and it could perhaps unearth an unexpected fit.

“We want to give him a chance to really continue to develop his skills at quarterback, but when he’s not playing quarterback, we want to see what else he can do for us,” Kelly said. “[Davis is] a very gifted player, and we may try to get him involved in opportunities where he touches the ball other than just in the quarterback position.”

Davis’ part-time move should serve to get him on the field, rather than simply bury him on the depth chart at another position.

“He’s going to be a guy that definitely comes out on the field and helps us next year.”

Rising sophomore receiver Jafar Armstrong will similarly add duties to his workload, but in Armstrong’s case, it is a positional need forcing the issue, not the depth at receiver. The Irish need at least one more running back, and Armstrong will now cross-train there. Kelly compared the intended role to one once manned by Theo Riddick or CJ Prosise.

“[Armstrong is] going to be a guy that I think can touch the ball coming out of the backfield, but can also give us some work at the running back position,” Kelly said.

Kelly did note the summer will see three more receivers arrive on campus, so while Armstrong may be somewhat needed for depth there right now, reinforcements are on the way.

Other positional changes of note
Rising junior Jamir Jones will move to drop end from linebacker. Kelly forecast the move last season as arguably inevitable as Jones’ body continued to grow.

Rising sophomore Isaiah Robertson and rising junior D.J. Morgan will both move to linebacker from safety, presumably candidates at rover as Kelly confirmed fifth-year Drue Tranquill will move to a more traditional linebacker alignment.

Robertson gained 12 pounds from his weight entering the 2017 season, now at 207 pounds, while Morgan added 11 to get to 220, both signs of linebacker preparations.

Dexter Williams (Getty Images)

On Dexter Williams
One other impossible-to-ignore weight change would be rising senior running back Dexter Williams losing 12 pounds. That may be the effects of a second year listening to strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis, it could be renewed dedication to fitness, or it could simply be the positive result of Williams staying healthy.

“This year he’s been healthy,” Kelly said. “He’s made really positive strides in his volume of work, his ability to sustain over a longer period of time. If there was one area where I really feel good about what he’s been able to do is that he’s broken through some barriers as it relates to his volume and his workload.”

Three captains this morning
Kelly will announce three captains at practice this (Tuesday) morning. For the record-keeping of those in the predictions business: As a captain in 2017, Tranquill is a mortal-lock to be one again. Fifth-year center Sam Mustipher emerged as a leader last year, notable considering the two captains then already on the offensive line. Thus, Mustipher will likely join Tranquill.

From there, the likes of rising senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery or rising junior cornerback Julian Love would seem the obvious candidates.

On ‘Speed School’
Balis’ winter workouts included what Kelly described as a “speed school.” Whereas the NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash is often lampooned as pointless and hardly a football activity for the majority of players, a quick 10-yard dash is pivotal to gridiron success, especially coming off a change in direction. Kelly and Balis identified 1.5 seconds as the mark to get under for a 10-yard dash off a change of direction.

Apparently, only rising junior cornerback Troy Pride could reach that when speed school started, not surprising considering Pride routinely picks up ACC honors in indoor sprints during the winter.

Now, seven others have joined Pride. Kelly relayed this while praising rising senior receiver Miles Boykin, identifying him as one of those seven.

Limited this spring
Early-enrolled freshman tight end George Takacs needed cartilage surgery, so he will be out this spring. Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar and rising sophomore tight end Brock Wright will both be limited following shoulder surgeries this offseason, each likely in a non-contact jersey. Rising junior receiver Chase Claypool (shoulder) will have similar restrictions, as will fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner as he recovers from wrist surgery, having played much of last year’s end with a broken wrist.

Monday’s Leftovers: Brian Kelly on Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, facing LSU, & the early signing period

Getty Images
72 Comments

The second half of Notre Dame’s schedule finished the season with a 51-22 overall record and featured four ranked opponents, not to mention an under-the-radar Wake Forest team and Navy’s triple-option attack. For six consecutive weeks, the Irish had another distinct challenge awaiting them every Saturday.

Thus, the month-plus off between last week’s loss at Stanford and the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 against No. 17 LSU is a welcome reprieve for No. 14 Notre Dame.

“We probably got a little tired at the end with the six weeks in a row of really tough, quality competition,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “It was a long year for our football team, starting back in January.”

Kelly then clarified he was not referring to a physical exhaustion. The diminished November should not be tied to a new strength and conditioning regimen. Rather, Notre Dame tired in a less tangible manner.

“There were no questions about where we were physically as a football team,” Kelly said. “Emotionally and mentally, we had a long year.

“I remember addressing the team the Monday of the Stanford week with so much on the line — a 10th win and a New Year’s Six [bowl game] — and it looked like they were in biology class. They were staring at me like, really? There was no juice, there was no excitement. They were tired mentally.”

As he has for much of the year, Kelly put the onus on himself. While recruiting over the last week, he said he spent much of the travel downtime pondering how to lighten that load and pace better in 2018.

Some of the weariness was indeed physical. Kelly acknowledged junior running back Josh Adams will “benefit greatly” from the layoff before facing an opposing defense again.

The Irish will fit in 15 practices preparing for the bowl game, beginning this weekend before sending the team home for three full days at Christmas. Notre Dame will then reconvene in Orlando, Fla, on Dec. 26. Allowing the team time at home for the holiday is arguably the greatest perk of landing in the New Year’s Day game rather than the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28.

“It’s great that we can get some work in here, then get a break for our players during Christmas so they can spend Christmas home with the family and then meet back up at the bowl site,” Kelly said. “Playing on New Year’s Day is really good for our football team.”

Some things in this world never change, such as LSU having high-end talent. Luckily [for Notre Dame] some things do, and Leonard Fournette (No. 7) is no longer the Tigers’ leading rusher. Instead, start learning the name Derrius Guice. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
— Of course, facing the No. 17 team in the country is a stiff yet welcome challenge. While this is hardly the same version of LSU that the Irish faced in the 2014 Music City Bowl (a 31-28 Notre Dame victory), Kelly sees one key aspect of the Tigers program that has not changed.

“There’s a lot of similarities in terms of the body types that they bring to the table, but the schemes are a little bit different,” Kelly said, then noting offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, both widely-respected in the coaching ranks. “What Dave does on defense is different, and then certainly what Matt does, he has kind of opened up the offense a little bit.

“More schematically, they are a little bit different, but the kind of athlete LSU is attracting, still great players on both sides of the ball.”

Senior captain and linebacker Drue Tranquill echoed Kelly’s comments regarding mental fatigue, citing last season’s 4-8 debacle as having a tangible effect in its own way.

“Any way you dice it up, it was a long season,” Tranquill said. “Having not gone to a bowl the season before, you start your preparation for the next season earlier, and we got after it in winter conditioning and spring ball and fall camp and into this season.”

To hear Tranquill describe “knowing the stakes of each game” in the second half of the season, one might wonder if a loss in mid-October may have allowed Notre Dame to play looser in November. Obviously, that is nothing but ponderings unless there really are infinite universes with each and every possible permutation of existence occurring within one of them.

Notre Dame senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill will have a decision to make regarding returning for a fifth year or heading to the NFL Draft. (Getty Images)

— Kelly declined to name which players requested feedback from the NFL regarding their draft status, but Tranquill said he was among the group. The feedback usually comes in shortly before the bowl game.

“What I can get better on, what they perceive as my strengths or weaknesses,” Tranquill said he hopes to learn. “… I don’t know that [it] necessarily will [affect his decision]. Obviously it’s feedback and you’ll take all the feedback you can get.”

To anyone skeptical of Tranquill’s chances in the Draft, there may be a point, but it should be remembered this is a player who has suffered two major knee injuries in his career. If he has a chance at an NFL career, he should not put it off for a year, especially not when he will already have an engineering degree in hand.

— A change to bowl preparations this year, the Irish coaching staff has to focus on recruiting even more in December than ever before thanks to the first early signing period, held Dec. 20-22. Notre Dame’s coaches have always spent the week immediate after the season making in-home visits. That may be more of an emphasis over the next three weeks, as well. That should, theoretically, allow for a more proactive January.

“It’s busier now,” Kelly said. “What it will do is it will allow us to focus on [current high school juniors] a little bit more in January than we’ve had in the past.

“We expect, if our players are committed, they’ll sign in December. If they’re not committed, they won’t … which frees up that time I’m normally on the road in January chasing these guys down for a February signing to really focus on [next year’s class], then the remaining spots that we have left.”

— Kelly indicated if one of the 18 current Irish commits were to not sign in December, he would see it as a sign the player needs more wooing.

Long-time commitment and consensus four-star running back Markese Stepp (Cathedral High School; Indianapolis) came to that decision even earlier, announcing he was reopening his recruitment over the weekend.

Notre Dame still has consensus three-star running back Jahmir Smith (Lee County H.S.; Sanford, N.C.) in the class, not to mention a well-stocked depth chart already on campus.

— This is perhaps a thought to be explored further following the season, taking into consideration where teams land in the final AP or Coaches’ polls, but with LSU becoming the seventh currently-ranked opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule, it seems safe to presume it has been some time since the slate featured so many, including three currently in the top 10.