Over the coming weekend, the 99-to-2 series will twice rattle off profiles on players wearing No. 85. Early-enrolled freshman tight end George Takacs was assigned the digits this spring, and Notre Dame captain and fifth-year punter Tyler Newsome was wearing 85 long before Takacs arrived.
That double-up makes it exceedingly unlikely Takacs will appear in any punt coverage situations this season. Someone aside from Newsome would have to be punting in order for it to be legal.
It is unrelated to Notre Dame, but there is never a bad occasion to remember a recent moment of college football history which included strategically giving two players the same number. In the 2009 regular season finale, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier deployed a wildcat formation for the first time of the year. Freshman cornerback Stephon Gilmore took the snaps, wearing No. 5, only 12 months removed from playing quarterback in high school.
When Gilmore stepped behind center, he was replacing junior starting quarterback Stephen Garcia, who also happened to wear No. 5.
While it may be debated whether the ruse confused Clemson or not, Gilmore sparked a game-tying drive and finished with 20 yards rushing on five carries with one pass attempt completed for 39 yards. Garcia finished the day 10-of-21 for 126 yards and three touchdowns while adding 46 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Do not expect the Irish to deploy such trickery. It should merely be hoped both fifth-year receiver Freddy Canteen and junior safety Alohi Gilman do not find themselves on the same kickoff coverage unit, both wearing No. 11.
AN ANNUAL REMINDER: TROY PRIDE IS FAST Competing in the ACC outdoor track championships, the Notre Dame junior cornerback ran a 21.16-second 200-meter dash Thursday evening, finishing one spot and 0.02 seconds away from qualifying for the finals. A night later, Pride ran a 10.50-second 100-meter sprint to finish fifth in the preliminaries, crossing the line seventh in the Saturday final with a 10.56-second performance.
It is that kind of blazing speed which allowed Pride to track down senior running back Dexter Williams on a breakaway race for the end zone in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.
Last week, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly named three captains for the 2018 season. He also said he would hold a team vote for a fourth captain by the end of spring practice. That naturally leads to some speculation as to who could prevail in that balloting.
Kelly indicated “six or seven” players were in the mix after the first tally this spring, the one that made captains out of fifth-years Drue Tranquill, Sam Mustipher and Tyler Newsome. Considering which seniors stand out as productive playmakers, which fifth-years were invited back to contribute and thus create a roster crunch, and who led the offseason “SWAT” teams, a few frontrunners emerge.
The Irish have long had multiple leaders along the offensive line, and fifth-year right guard Alex Bars could join Mustipher as a team-wide captain. Similarly, fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar returned despite not yet being a vital piece of the passing game — instead, Kelly has often cited Weishar’s influence within the tight end group and the offense as a whole.
The returns of rising seniors Te’von Coney and Jerry Tillery, each opting to forgo the NFL draft, certainly made Notre Dame’s defense a force to be reckoned with as far as paper is concerned. Usually, when a player up the middle comes off a strong junior season and opts to return, a captainship may soon follow, but both Coney and Tillery have faced disciplinary issues during their Irish careers. Such could jeopardize a captainship from an administrative standpoint, no matter how a player vote turns out.
Rising senior cornerback Nick Watkins is leading one of those spring SWAT units. Watkins may otherwise be off the possible captain radar, but that position of leadership has been an indicative piece of data the last two years. Exhibit A: Newsome led a group each of the last two years, bringing him to a more prominent role in the locker room than a punter may usually have.
Rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush heads a SWAT team, as well, as a co-leader with Weishar. Naming Wimbush a captain coming out of spring would create some level of expectation of him being the starting quarterback, something Kelly does not intend to establish before August, at the earliest. Of course, Wimbush’s play, or rising junior Ian Book’s subpar play, could force that issue before then.
That makes six candidates. Rising junior cornerback Julian Love (pictured above) could be a seventh. Love has comported himself well both on and off the field in his two years as a starter, and he may not be around to be a captain as a senior.
This is nothing but idle speculation, but it is spring break and the conversation is intriguing, at the least.
Mustipher on new o-line coach Jeff Quinn The verdict on Quinn’s promotion to fill the void left by Harry Hiestand will not be returned until November, at the earliest. Until then, the opinions of Mustipher and the rest of the offensive line are the best clues to Quinn’s interactions with the offensive line. When asked about Quinn on Tuesday, there was no chance Mustipher would offer anything but praise, but some insight can be gained by what praise Mustipher provided.
“He brings a motivational and inspirational energy to the offensive line room,” Mustipher said. “He understands the way the standard needs to be set.”
That is pretty generic to start. Mustipher then spoke of the “privilege” of being part of the interview process, along with Bars. It would seem the two made it clear to Kelly they wanted not only consistency in message and system, but also some investment in that approach.
“We understand that standard of excellence,” Mustipher said. “We wanted a guy that wanted to be here and wanted to coach, and that it meant a lot to him to be here.”
Kizer to the Green Bay Packers Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer was traded to the Green Bay Packers from the Cleveland Browns on Friday for a cornerback, per the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Without a doubt, getting away from the Browns will be good for Kizer, but do not presume he will ever throw many passes on the shores of Lake Michigan.
In trading oft-injured cornerback Damarious Randall, the Packers not only received Kizer, but they also moved up in both the fourth- and fifth- rounds in next month’s NFL draft. That alone may have been enough incentive to move on from a defensive back who publicly feuded with an assistant coach last season.
Securing a contract-controlled backup quarterback solidified the deal, and it is likely Kizer is never more than a backup for the Packers. Starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers is only 34. He should have another four or five or even more years left in his career. Kizer’s contract, meanwhile, expires after the 2020 season.
If he minds his manners, learns from Rodgers and makes a few cameos in the next three seasons, then perhaps an opportunity elsewhere will await Kizer. Knowing the NFL and its preference for the newest inventory, though, this may be a step toward a career as a backup for the 2017 second-round draft pick.
Kizer finished his rookie season with 2,894 yards, 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions on 255-of-476 passing in 15 games. He added 419 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 77 attempts with nine fumbles sprinkled in.
(Off-topic, but near to the heart: Quarterback rushing statistics do not need to be adjusted for sacks in the NFL.)
Kudos to Oklahoma With the Sunday night reveal of the NCAA men’s basketball bracket, Oklahoma continued a rather impressive streak. The Sooners athletic department is the only one in the country that can claim AP Top-10 finishes in football and men’s basketball tournament teams in each of the last two years. For that matter, Oklahoma actually managed the double in 2015, as well.
‘Inside the Irish’ March Madness Pool Every online community has a bracket pool. On good days, this space is an online community. Thus, applying logic, it should have a bracket pool.
There is nothing at stake except for bragging rights and a chance to embarrass this scribe by finishing well ahead of him. What more could one possibly need?
For the sake of being different, the group will utilize a Fibonacci scoring sequence (2-3-5-8-13-21) with a seed-difference upset bonus throughout the Tournament.
At least with Notre Dame out of the bracket, the group’s results will not be skewed by unrealistic Irish hopes.
Speaking of Notre Dame not making it … The Irish did not have much of a résumé, injuries or no injuries. Looking at analytical measurements, though, Notre Dame appeared to have a much better chance than Syracuse, who squeezed in as the last at-large team. The Irish were the first team left out.
The differences between the two? Well, aside from Notre Dame winning at the Carrier Dome while without their two best players? The Irish have the nation’s No. 28 offense when adjusted for efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. The Orange have the No. 128 offense, offsetting it with the No. 11 adjusted defense.
It was indeed that difference that helped Syracuse to a 55-52 win over Clemson in its March 3 regular-season finale, a credentials-boosting victory the likes of which Notre Dame did not have.
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.
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.
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.
Notre Dame makes Terry Joseph hire as safeties coach official
Notre Dame (finally) announced the long-reported hire of Terry Joseph as safeties coach Tuesday. Most recently the defensive backs coach at North Carolina, Joseph fills the remaining hole left by former Irish defensive coordinator/safeties coach Mike Elko’s departure for Texas A&M. Linebackers coach Clark Lea was previously promoted to defensive coordinator.
“There are a lot of great programs in the nation, but there is only one Notre Dame,” Joseph said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to working with [head coach Brian] Kelly, the rest of the staff and embracing the opportunity to compete on a national stage in pursuit of this program’s mission: To graduate all of its players and win a national championship.”
Prior to North Carolina, Joseph spent time at Texas A&M, Nebraska, Tennessee and Louisiana Tech. With the Irish, his work will be cut out for him. Notre Dame lacks an established safety and could see two new starters at the position in 2018.
“Terry has an excellent reputation as a quality teacher and coach, as well as a committed recruiter,” Kelly said. “He has developed all-conference caliber players at each of his earlier stops. … Our players will certainly benefit from Terry’s teaching in terms of football, but I’m probably more excited to see our players benefit from his leadership skills away from football.”
Along with the announcement, Notre Dame released a video with some words from Joseph in which he makes quite a bold guarantee right from the top.
"You're going to see a defense that's very aggressive, yet disciplined."
“What are the odds of additional coaching changes after National Signing Day?” — irishwilliamsport
The instinct is to say there is no chance, but that would be foolish. It is very unlikely. One of the side effects of December’s early signing period seems to be it moved the coaching carousel’s peak movement up by a few weeks. That showed itself in the assistant coaching staff turnover across the country shortly after Christmas.
The counter to that expedited timeline has been the addition of a 10th assistant coach to each staff. That created 129 new jobs. Some of those were already designated, such as Notre Dame with Tom Rees officially serving as a graduate assistant last season knowing he would be slotted into that 10th assistant spot as soon as it was legal. That “promotion” was so presumed and resulted in so little change, there was never even an official press release. The first people to notice it were probably 2019 quarterback commit Cade McNamara (Damonte Ranch High School; Reno, Nev.) and his parents; once officially an assistant coach, Rees could recruit off campus.
Many of those 10th assistants have trickled upward throughout the Football Bowl Subdivision. It has led to an increase in assistant salary pools and added another layer to the usual coaching carousel.
Obviously, the effects of the early signing period as they pertain to coaching changes will be seen every year. This assistant coaching influx, though, is a one-time occurrence.
Nonetheless, the Irish coaching staff has seen enough turnover in the last 14 months to think it is set for at least the next 10.
“He’s completely changed our culture.”
Notre Dame also released a video highlighting the contributions from strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis on Tuesday. This is a hype video and little else, but when noted straight-shooter Mike McGlinchey offers the above bolded quote, it stands out. The two-time captain has not paid anyone lip service in the last two years. McGlinchey giving that type of credit to one individual stands out as praise of a particularly honest brand.
The Irish undeniably faded over the regular season’s final third, but wholly rectifying the mistakes in the team’s strength and conditioning likely needed more than eight months of an offseason.
Entering the season, Notre Dame’s defensive line may have been the biggest positional question on the roster. Entering bowl preparations and the subsequent offseason, the Irish front is now the unit with the fewest questions around it.
“Will someone step forward and make an impact at defensive tackle?
“… Junior Jerry Tillery and senior Jonathan Bonner are the presumptive starters at the moment. Tillery has shown the talent necessary to provide the desired effect, but it has been on display inconsistently at best. …”
Tillery was the most-established lineman in a group returning zero sacks from the 2016 season. Note: That is not an exaggeration. No defensive lineman still on the Irish roster recorded a sack a year ago. In April’s Blue-Gold Game, a pass rush was visible, but it was taken with a large grain of salt due to the red jerseys worn by the quarterbacks.
The summer departure of senior tackle Daniel Cage due to health reasons did not help the lack of confidence in the defensive line’s depth, experience or talent pool.
WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
Let’s start with that stat. The Irish managed 22 sacks this year, led by Tillery’s four and up from last season’s 14 total. Fifteen of this year’s quarterback takedowns came from the defensive front. That alone marked improvement, but it hardly illustrates the reasons for optimism moving forward.
The aforementioned preseason practice ponderings pointed to the three freshmen defensive tackles — Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Darnell Ewell — as possibilities to supplement Tillery. Ewell arrived at Notre Dame the highest-rated recruit of the trio, but it was Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa who contributed greatly this season while Ewell preserved a year of eligibility.
Joining the youth movement, sophomore end Khalid Kareem broke out, surpassing classmate Julian Okwara as a notable threat for seasons to come and possibly pulling even with sophomore Daelin Hayes.
In all these instances, with the arguable exception of Hayes, their stats are worth mentioning, but they do not encompass how many snaps these young players handled, almost all of them competently. (Hayes stands out in a good way: His stats are better.) As a whole, they transformed the defensive line from a position seemingly lacking both talent and depth into the source of the Irish defense’s strength.
In 2016, Notre Dame allowed 182.4 rushing yards per game (No. 72 in the country), 378.8 total yards per game (No. 42) and 39.0 percent of third downs to be converted (No. 60). This season, the Irish have given up 153.2 rushing yards per game (No. 48), 366.7 total yards per game (No. 44) and successful third downs only 33.5 percent of the time (No. 28). Clearly, each metric improved in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s first season with the Irish.
Jr. tackle Jerry Tillery: 52 tackles; 8.5 tackles for loss; 4.0 sacks
So. end Daelin Hayes: 28 tackles; 6.5 TFLs; 3.0 sacks
Sr. end Andrew Trumbetti: 27; 4.0; 0.5
Sr. tackle Jonathan Bonner: 27; 3.5; 2.0
Sr. end Jay Hayes (no relation): 26; 3.5; 1.0
So. end Khalid Kareem: 18; 5.5; 3.0
So. end Julian Okwara: 16; 3.5; 1.5
Fr. tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa: 12; 1.5; 0
Fr. tackle Kurt Hinish: 7; 0.5; 0
Of the above nine-man rotation, only Trumbetti has used up all his eligibility. His was a successful and productive senior season, but not so much so there should be any concern about the combination of Kareem and Okwara seeing more playing time and suitably replacing him.
Both Tillery and Bonner have decisions to make. Each has another year of eligibility remaining. Tillery’s size alone makes him an intriguing NFL prospect. If he were to declare for the NFL Draft, it would be conceivable he be a mid- to late-round pick. Bonner, meanwhile, has said he does not intend to pursue a fifth year, but those things can change when a coach expresses an interest.
As far as forward-looking unknowns, though, the Notre Dame coaches undoubtedly have strong ideas of what to expect in both instances. This is not a position group hinging on a player making some dramatic leap in spring practice to fill an unforeseen hole in the roster. The two Hayes and the bevy of first-year contributors created an established commodity, one Elko will lean on in 2018.
On top of that, add in Ewell. A full season in a collegiate weight room brought the tackle enough development he was being featured in strength and conditioning highlight videos by season’s end. He will play next season, with or without Tillery and Bonner, and he could quickly reestablish himself as the lead force in his class.
A season ago, it was normal to doubt if enough defensive linemen could earn playing time for the Irish. A fall with a nine-man, youth-heavy rotation proved that answer to be a yes, a certain and resounding yes moving forward.