Pregame Six Pack: Blue & Gold (and a certain Irish victory)


It may count the same as the other fourteen practices allotted by NCAA rules during the spring, but there will be plenty of eyeballs on the last official workout of the school year for the Irish. With a national broadcast on NBC Sports Network kicking off at 1:30 p.m. ET, a spring spent mostly working away from the eyes of media will be opened up for all to see in high definition, tightening the microscope on a Notre Dame football program that’s had a roller-coaster spring.

From position changes to unexpected departures, a quarterback battle that’ll likely last deep into August, and a wide receiving corps in desperate need of reinforcements, plenty has happened since the Irish ended the 2011 season with a disappointing loss to Florida State.

To get you up to speed, the pregame six pack will give you six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings, as we prepare for a football game where the Irish are certain to win.


While the focus should stay on the players on the field, the most intriguing football player on campus is still Aaron Lynch.

Brian Kelly isn’t in the business of talking people into staying. In his first days as coach at Notre Dame, he wished wide receiver Shaq Evans well, unwilling to re-recruit a talented player to a team where he wasn’t committed to playing. While mystery still surrounds cornerback Tee Shepard‘s departure, Kelly didn’t blink when Shepard went home to Fresno, looking more and more a lock to never set foot on campus again after being one of the Irish’s most steadfast (and important) recruits.

A week ago, Kelly addressed the media without flinching, announcing that rising star defensive end Aaron Lynch “has quit the football team.” While he remains on campus finishing the semester before deciding where to take his prodigious talents, it appears that Kelly is fine with living the credo “next man in.” But that doesn’t mean his family is.

Thursday evening, Alice Lynch, Aaron’s mother and an active presence on Twitter, took to the popular social networking website to seek the help of former Irish defensive end Justin Tuck. “Please go to Zahm Hall and tell my son Aaron what a bad decision he is making by leaving ND. Thank you.”

The message spread like wildfire across the web, and certainly confirmed the suspicions of many that the younger Lynch is making a unilateral decision, one that wasn’t run by his mother, teammates, or coaches. That Lynch’s mother would reach out of Notre Dame’s best NFL player, a defensive end that battled culture shock in South Bend to become one of the best ambassadors of the university playing professional football, shows both the power of social media, and the lengths Lynch’s mother is willing to go to talk sense into her son.

Former Irish player Spencer Boyd took to Twitter today to announce Lynch would be joining Skip Holtz‘s South Florida team this summer, and there were other reports that Lynch would be visiting Tampa for a visit this weekend. But the fact Lynch’s mother would reach out to Tuck, who is serving as an honorary captain this Saturday, gives you the feeling that the final chapter in Lynch’s Notre Dame career may not have been written in ink.


With the depth chart at wide receiver dwindling, it’s time for Daniel Smith and Davaris Daniels to step up.

As the Irish enter the first year of life after Michael Floyd, they’ll walk into Saturday’s scrimmage with a depth chart more than a little short. With incoming freshman Justin Ferguson and Chris Brown not coming to campus until summer, even at full strength, it was tough to field a complete depth chart at the outside receiver positions.

Add to that some untimely injuries this spring, and the lack of receivers was a big reason Kelly decided against a traditional scrimmage that split the roster in half. With fifth-year senior John Goodman suffering a minor ankle injury that’ll likely keep him out of the spring game and Luke Massa suffering an ACL injury that’ll likely keep him sidelined into next season, the Irish are down to four scholarship players at the outside receiver positions — a number that just isn’t enough in a spread offense.

But the shortage should benefit two players that were persons of interest this spring: rising junior Daniel Smith and soon-to-be sophomore Davaris Daniels. Both have been under close watch by Kelly, and both seem to have performed up to task.

After bearing the brunt of some candid comments by Kelly, Daniels — who has already been pronounced one of the most dynamic athletes on the roster by the head coach — turned in a steady week of practice and has the staff feeling like he’ll be ready to go come fall.

“This last week, DaVaris Daniels really stepped up his play and became a guy that we can feel comfortable now saying that he’s going to help us win games next year,” Kelly said. “That’s a really important thing.”

After battling a difficult depth chart and some injury woes in his first two years in the program, Smith, a South Bend native that’s yet to make much of a difference on the field, made it through spring practice unscathed and ready to use his 6-foot-4 frame for some good.

“Daniel is important to us,” Kelly said this week. “We need him to come up and be a consistent player for us, and it’s been about injuries for him. He’s got the injury bug and it looks like he’s kicked it because he made every spring practice and he hadn’t been able to do that in his previous time here. So a really positive step for Daniel Smith this spring.”

TJ Jones returns the most snaps at the receiver position, and we’ll see if he can make a leap as an upperclassman after battling through a challenging season off the field last season. We’ll also see walk-on Andre Smith getting some reps, as the North Broward Prep, Florida prospect has done some nice things this spring.


While Kelly’s declared the playbook open, don’t expect to see all the new wrinkles.

Talking with coaches the past two years, the Blue-Gold game was one of the least efficient practices of the season. In Brian Kelly’s first year, the offense ran about as vanilla as it could possibly go, with Irish fans dazzled at a quick pace, and more than fine with seeing the same three running plays. On defense, Bob Diaco made sure his unit didn’t run a single alignment that they’d use during the season.

Last season, Kelly and company were happy to get out of the workout unscathed, with defensive starters pulled quickly, Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees both protected and pulled quickly, and the second half given to Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, not to mention the breakout performance of Aaron Lynch.

With four quarterbacks that need to see live bullets, and new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin running the show, Kelly has reversed course on what he’s trying to get out of the spring’s final workout.

“We’re going to show,” Kelly said. “Everybody has film on us. So we’re going to run our offense and our defense, and our quarterbacks are live, all four quarterbacks are live. They need to be live, they need to be part of it.”

Making his quarterbacks live is a luxury the Irish didn’t have in Kelly’s last two spring games, both featuring Crist rehabilitating a major knee injury. And while each quarterback will be treated like any other ball carrier, don’t truly expect to see all the new wrinkles come out, especially with Martin and Kelly completely revamping the personnel groupings.

One new play in particular to watch for? The “Fly Sweep” that West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen used to shred Clemson’s defense with in the Orange Bowl. (For the genesis of the play, here’s a great rundown.) We’ve already seen the play in practice videos, meaning Martin and Kelly won’t be afraid to show it again. With talented slot versatility with guys like Robby Toma, Theo Riddick, incoming freshman Davonte Neal and even Cierre Wood, don’t be surprised to see this come into play on Saturday.


Jamoris Slaughter will only be adding to his versatility.

After dropping down into the box last season to play outside linebacker against Air Force, the defense found one of its most versatile weapons in safety Jamoris Slaughter. After losing most of his junior year with a nagging foot injury suffered in the opener against Purdue, Slaughter showed his value by moving seamlessly from the back of the defense to the front seven, working well taking on both pulling guards and speedy receivers, filling in for field linebacker Prince Shembo, who struggled playing out of position for most of the year.

With field cornerback a major concern with Lo Wood and Josh Atkinson battling it out for the job across from junior Bennett Jackson, don’t be surprised to see Slaughter working in at another spot, optimizing one of the Irish’s most flexible players. What looked like an experiment at cornerback earlier in the spring is now clearly cross-training.

“I don’t think it’s an experiment,” Kelly said. “He’s in there if we need him. If we get into a bind or we lose a guy or two, he can go in there. I remember when I played baseball, I carried two gloves: a catcher’s mitt and a first baseman’s glove. That’s kind of what we’re doing with Jamoris. He’s our safety, but he’s got to be ready to go if we need him.”

There’s no cornerback help coming in the fall, with Shepard gone and the Irish unable to bring in any other recruits after players like Yuri Wright and Anthony Standifer had to be taken off the recruiting board. While Cam McDaniel has shown promise in his 14 practices learning a new position, getting the cornerbacks off the field healthy is of the utmost importance, as is making sure Slaughter can play anywhere. With the coaches confident that Zeke Motta and Austin Collinsworth can handle safety reps, adding another dimension to Slaughter’s game will only help.


It’s a recruiting reunion on campus this weekend for the Irish.

In years past, the Blue-Gold game has been a showcase weekend for the Irish coaching staff as they unofficially welcome handfuls of recruits to campus. That’ll stay the same this weekend, though most recruits coming to campus have already given their pledge to the Irish.

Nine of the ten verbal commitments to the Irish will be in South Bend this weekend for the Blue-Gold game. Offensive linemen Hunter Bivin, Steve Elmer, Mike McGlinchey and Colin McGovern will all reunite after seeing each other at the Irish’s last junior day. They’ll be joined by cornerback Devin Butler, defensive end Jacob Matuska, wide receivers James Onwualu and Corey Robinson and quarterback Malik Zaire. The only commitment that can’t make it this weekend is New Jersey cornerback Rashad Kinlaw.

The Irish hoped to get an appearance from uber-recruit Jaylon Smith, but the Fort Wayne product — who was timed running a 4.4, and dazzled at his regular outside linebacker/defensive end position before taking reps as a 6-foot-3, 230-pound shutdown cornerback at an Adidas combine recently — will be playing in a seven-on-seven tournament.

But fear not, Irish fans. Notre Dame has its own secret weapon working on Smith. None other than the school’s most popular athlete, All-American point guard Skylar Diggins. After Smith tweeted out candidates like Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and USC, Diggins — for all of her 230,439 followers to see — tweeted back at Smith, “Irish. Easy.”


Blue-Gold performance is no indicator for future earnings.

There are plenty of reasons to watch the Blue-Gold game on Saturday. (First of all, it’s your last chance to watch the Irish on TV until you’re up at dawn to see them playing Navy in Dublin.) But take anything that happens on the field with a grain of salt. A great performance in the Blue-Gold game is just that: A great performance in a spring scrimmage. For every performance like Aaron Lynch had last season, there’s one by Kyle Budinscak, who racked up five sacks during the 2001 spring game. (He never had more than three sacks in a season.) Cierre Wood’s big 2010 Blue-Gold game was a sign of things to come, while Junior Jabbie‘s breakout 2007 performance is noting more than a fun footnote in Irish lore.

With live quarterbacks, ones-versus-ones, and legitimate competition at several key positions, there’s plenty you can glean from the only up-close look at the Irish we’ll get until Dublin. But a terrific (or terrible) performance by anyone — quarterbacks included — may be big news to us, but only one of many data-points to coaches.

Saturday will be a fun one and will likely give a few hints at what’s to come. But if you’re expecting to reach any conclusions, you’ll walk away disappointed.





The Commitments: Wide receivers


Part three of our series recapping the recruits ready to sign letters-of-intent with Notre Dame next Wednesday. Previous installments include running backs and offensive linemen.

The shadow that Michael Floyd‘s graduation will leave over the Irish offense likely won’t clear in just one season. (Consider even Floyd’s No. 3 jersey won’t even be in uniform next year, with transfer Amir Carlisle sitting out the 2012 season thanks to NCAA transfer rules.) But like the Irish coaching staff did last year, they evaluated their roster deficiencies and took dead aim at them. And with the Irish’s 2012 slate of receivers — even if it doesn’t grow in the next week — they’ve done an excellent job bringing in impact players that can help jump-start the evolution of Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin’s spread offense.

Floyd’s departure leaves Notre Dame with no true game-breaker at wide receiver. Theo Riddick, who Kelly thought would be his answer at the slot has been anything but, and could potentially spend his final season in blue and gold at running back. The only receiving nightmare on the Irish roster is a tight end, with All-American Tyler Eifert the team’s best option through the air. Yet there’s reason to believe this offense can take strides forward, even while losing their best player. Redshirts Davaris Daniels and Matthias Farley will have their first shot at filling the void, but come summer they’ll be joined by three impressive incoming recruits, each with some game-breaking athleticism that is in short supply on the current roster.

High School: Hanahan High — Hanahan, South Carolina
Measureables: Six-foot-two, 175-pounds
Other major offers: Arkansas, Clemson, Illinois, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Fun Fact: Broke South Carolina’s oldest state record with a 51-foot, 2.5 inch triple jump during his junior year.
On choosing Notre Dame: “Towards the end of the visit I was just thinking to myself that this could be a place I could go and shine,” Brown told “There were a lot of positives about it.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: Brown might be one of the most under-the-radar players coming into Notre Dame. A collarbone injury robbed Brown of a large chunk of his senior season, but his speed and athleticism (his junior year triple-jump would’ve been eight inches shy of the Big East champion’s jump last year) will be a great blessing to go along with his six-foot-two frame. The Irish battled Steve Spurrier for Brown’s signature, and while it’ll take some time in the weight-room for Brown to be physically ready, the Irish won’t have many athletes with Brown’s ability in uniform next season. A true wildcard in the recruiting class.

High School: Flanagan High — Pembroke Pines, Florida
Measureables: Six-foot-two, 205-pounds
Other major offers: Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF, Wisconsin
Fun Fact: One of the most impressive WRs at The Opening, the Nike’s invite-only scouting combine.
On choosing Notre Dame: “I liked them because of the education — that’s first and foremost,” Ferguson told the Sun Sentinel. “Once I got there, the coaches showed me a lot of love. They were really interested in me and told me it was the program that could benefit me the most.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: Ferguson is well put together physically, which could lead to early playing time. He reminds me a lot of a young David Givens, the highly-touted Irish wide receiver that didn’t hit his stride until joining the New England Patriots. Ferguson is a more natural receiver than Givens though, and while he might not be a true burner, he’ll be a tough assignment in the open field, whether starting at the slot or outside.

High School: Washington Union — Fresno, California
Measureables: Six-foot-three, 185-pounds
Other major offers: Alabama, Cal, LSU, UCLA, USC, Washington
Fun Fact: Named Mr. Football in California after breaking yardage and 41-year touchdown catch state record.
On choosing Notre Dame: “We agreed since we were little we were going to the same college,” Greenberry said of playing with cousin Tee Shepard, an early-enrollee cornerback.
What he’ll bring to the offense: Having watched Greenberry a handful of times during his senior season, you start to think he’ll make a difference the minute he steps on campus. With jump-ball skills that rival Michael Floyd’s, Greenberry’s prodigious stats — crushing California records while leading his team to a state championship — match the physical attributes he brings to the field. It’s hard to find a receiver that’s got better game tape than Greenberry, and he’s seen his recruiting profile sky-rocket since exiting his junior year with only four scholarship offers. If there’s an offensive recruit that’s the most important on the Irish board, it’s Greenberry.





High School: Hanahan High — Hanahan, South Carolina
Measureables: Six-foot-two, 175-pounds
Other major offers: Arkansas, Clemson, Illinois, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Fun Fact: Broke South Carolina’s oldest state record with a 51-foot, 2.5 inch triple jump during his junior year.
On choosing Notre Dame: “Towards the end of the visit I was just thinking to myself that this could be a place I could go and shine,” Brown told “There were a lot of positives about it.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: Brown might be one of the most under-the-radar players coming into Notre Dame. A collarbone injury robbed Brown of

Irish recruits representing at “The Opening”

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If you’ve been clamoring for more coverage on “The Opening,” Nike’s foray into the 7-on-7, recruiting world/hype machine, there’s plenty of places on the internet that’ll satisfy your needs. (My personal favorite right now is the Nike official website, where they show actual laser-recorded 40-yard dash times, which helps get rid of some of the fake 40 times and dispel the speed myths that get readily perpetrated.)

While something about the televised, Nike-ization (new word) of the whole thing makes me feel a little slimy, I’d be doing you all a great disservice if I didn’t mention the impressive showing that Irish recruits are having in Beaverton, Oregon.

Irish commitments Justin Ferguson, Deontay Greenberry, Mark Harrell, David Perkins and Tee Shepard have taken their talents to Niketown, and the recruiting world has taken notice. As he’s done throughout the offseason, Greenberry has been a handful in seven-on-seven, and reports out of the combine are confirming that the Irish will be bringing a big time ball-skills guy to campus. Shepard has looked good at both corner and has shown some athleticism at wide receiver as well, measuring in at a legit 6-foot-1, 180-pounds. Harrell measured in at 6-foot-5, 267-pounds (and ran a very lineman like 5.57 40), and Justin Ferguson has looked smooth from a variety of reports.

All that being said, if Irish fans want to be excited about anyone, look no further than South Bend’s own David Perkins. Blazing to an electric 4.50 forty and leading the camp in the powerball toss, Perkins was a national finalist in the SPARQ competition, a cumulative scoring system that takes into account size, speed, 40-time, shuttle run, vertical leap and powerball. It’s pretty clear that the Irish coaching staff didn’t make their scholarship offer to Perkins based on proximity and instead found an elite athlete that could easily see the field at multiple positions.

The Irish are targeting over 20 guys at the camp, with familiar names like Armani Reeves, William Mahone, Sheldon Day, and Zach Banner all making noise. Still, in a combine that’s attracted some of the nation’s best talent, Notre Dame made its presence felt.

“A lot of people are trying to show us love now,” Greenberry told ESPN. “Back a few years ago, people weren’t really high on Notre Dame. But now they see me and Tee representing the school and performing at a high level, and it’s a different reaction.”

Perhaps Shepard had the quote that should have Irish fans most excited.

“It’s exciting because once ND comes back up, it’s over for everyone else,” Shepard said. “We’re going to compete for championships and beat the best every week.”

Report: WR Justin Ferguson commits to Irish


While he won’t formally announce his intent until Monday evening, the Miami Herald’s Larry Blustein is reporting on Twitter that wide receiver Justin Ferguson is committing to the Fighting Irish.

Ferguson would be the Irish’s sixth commitment, joining Tee Shepard, Taylor Decker, Ronald Darby, Scott Daly, and Nicky Baratti. Ferguson spent the Blue-Gold game with the five committed athletes in South Bend a few weeks ago.

After that visit, Ferguson had this to say about the Irish:

“They’re definitely one of my top choices right now,” Ferguson told “I did some research on it too and I think it’s between Florida and Notre Dame for me right now.”

If the news from the Herald is true, the commitment is a big one for the Irish, who face an uncertain depth chart after next season with Michael Floyd departing, John Goodman and Deion Walker not necessarily guaranteed fifth years, and a position grouping looking for established playmakers.

Ferguson, from Pembroke Pines, Florida, just minutes north of Miami, has offers from programs like Florida, the hometown Hurricanes, UCF and Wisconsin. The 6-2 wide receiver has good speed, a pretty impressive junior season highlight tape, and the kind of size that makes you think he’ll be a great outside receiver in head coach Brian Kelly’s system. Ferguson moved to South Florida from Philadelphia, where he put up big numbers as a sophomore.

More news certainly to come tomorrow, but the commitment would be a great one for the Irish, who might count on Ferguson early.