Thursday, May 16, 2013

Size


Notre Dame is getting bigger.  That’s one theme of the 2013 offseason.  

It’s getting bigger at wide receiver.  C.J. Prosise (pictured) has been switched there from safety.  The lean high-school punt returner from Petersburg, Virginia and the Woodberry Forest School has become a rock solid, 218-pounder, so much so that he appears shorter than his listed 6’2” height.  

No such optical illusion plagues early enrollee James Onwualu, who, looks every bit of his listed 6’2” height and his Brian Kelly-disclosed (on March 19th) weight of 215 lbs.  It’s hard to believe that he’s chronologically equivalent to a second-semester high-school senior. 

Same with fellow freshman wide receiver, 6’5” Corey Robinson, who already seems heavier than his roster weight of 190 lbs.   

Freshman offensive tackle, Steve Elmer, already is heavier than his listed weight of 300 lbs.  Coach Kelly revealed on March 19th that Mr. Elmer is up to 317 lbs., which would make him the heaviest offensive lineman on the team, essentially as a second-semester high-school senior.  

But Mr. Elmer’s distinction may not last long.  Entering offensive lineman John Montelus of Everett, Massachusetts told Coach Kelly during an in-home visit in January that he now weighs 325 lbs. 

Mr. Montelus may need every one of those pounds if he is to retain the title of heaviest Notre Dame offensive lineman.  Why?  At 6’4” to 6’5” tall, John is vertically challenged compared to 6’7 1/2” Mike McGlinchey.  Who knows how much weight Irish cooking will put on that frame?  

Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern, now 6’6”, 290 lbs. and 6’5”, 280 lbs., respectively, may not be finished growing either.  They like Messrs. McGlinchey and Montelus will enter as freshman offensive linemen in September, joining Steve Elmer.  

Currently committed to entering as a freshman in 2014, Elijah Hood will increase Notre Dame’s size at running back.  He’s already 221 lbs. as a high-school junior.  He may fill out to be a 230-235 lb. college running back--with speed.

In practice he’ll butt heads with Jarrett Grace, who at 6’3” and some 240 lbs. already is two inches taller than the great Manti Te’o, whom he’ll replace.  Six-foot, five-inch Ishaq Williams may play some alongside him at outside linebacker.  Mr. Williams looked reasonably good in the spring game.  

If one of Coach Kelly’s goals is to make the Fighting Irish bigger, he is well on his way to achieving it.  The Irish are getting bigger this offseason!   

Monday, May 13, 2013

Two-minute drill


At the risk of loss of vision and sanity, I went back and studied for about six hours the film of the Notre Dame- Alabama BCS National Championship game.  It was every bit as bad as I remembered.  I don’t know what Coach Brian Kelly saw to say, “...we’re a lot closer than I thought.”  

His entire quote of March 19, 2013 is as follows.

My comments after the game and my comments after I got a chance to watch the film were a 
        little bit different.  I thought watching the game there were some things there that we 
        weren’t in a position yet to even come close to.  But we’re a lot closer than I thought.  On the 
        defensive line, we weren’t pushed around, as many people had talked about.  That was a 
        concern of mine.  

I’d qualify those remarks by saying that Louis Nix III did not get pushed around by Alabama center, Barrett Jones, but the other defensive linemen were manhandled.  Of course, when Mr. Nix was blocked by Alabama guard and 10th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Chance Warmack, he was stymied every bit as much as his line-mates.  

Watching film of Mr. Nix in pass-rush drills during spring practice, I anticipate that the 2013 Irish pass defense could be the best in years.  Why?  Because Mr. Nix can collapse the pocket in the middle, and quarterbacks hate the pocket collapsing in front of them.  

After watching film of spring practice, I’ve done a 180-degree turn on early enrollee, freshman James Onwualu.  He stood out as a receiver:  tall, strong, quick, and sure-handed.  That contrasts with his high-school film which captured him as a good but not spectacular running back.  Last fall, I wondered why Notre Dame was recruiting him.  Not any more.  

I attribute the ability of Notre Dame coaches to project Mr. Onwualu as a wide receiver to the fact that the prospect comes from a Fighting Irish feeder school, Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Previous Raiders who signed with the Irish include MIchael Floyd, Matt Carufel, Ryan Harris, Marcus Freeman, and Rashon Powers-Neal.  

You know the NFL is one tough league when Stanford outside linebacker, Chase Thomas, does not get drafted.  During the four years 2009-2012, Mr. Thomas against the Irish totaled 19 tackles, 13 of which were solo and 4.5 of which went for losses, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one of which went for a touchdown, one pass broken up, three sacks, and eight quarterback hurries.  That’s a career for some guys. 

You also know that the NFL Combine matters when a guy with Mr. Thomas’s statistics runs a 4.91-sec. 40-yard dash, slowest among 23 outside linebackers tested, and doesn’t get drafted.  

Ditto for Pitt’s Ray Graham, who ran a 4.80-sec. 40-yard dash at the Combine, slowest among 27 running backs tested, and didn’t get drafted.  In four years against the Irish Mr. Graham rushed 56 times for 362 yards, 6.46 yards per carry, with two touchdowns.   

Not that he’ll ever know or care, but I soon may owe Notre Dame recruiting coordinator, Chuck Martin, an apology.  After the painfully disappointing 2011 season, I irreverently stated that Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick had turned the most storied program in college football over to the Grand Valley State crowd (Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin), suggesting, of course, that Mr. Martin wasn’t up to the job.  Oh, yeah?  As recruiting coordinator he put together the third-best recruiting class in the country this past February, and at the writing of this post, he is assembling the fifth-best recruiting class in the land for February, 2014, one that currently ranks higher than Alabama’s.  

One of the members of that 2014 recruiting class is Elijah Hood from Charlotte Catholic High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He’s got the thick body and short legs of a power runner yet the breakaway speed of a long-legged wide-out.  He must lead the country in yards after contact.  Most importantly for Irish fans, he looks just like those guys Alabama has been using to win national championships--Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacy.  

Why can’t Notre Dame recruit receivers like 2013 NFL draft sensation and eighth overall pick, Tavon Austin of West Virginia, the 5’8”, 174-lb. wide-out who ran a 4.34-sec. 40-yard dash, second-best overall at the Combine, and apparently wowed NFL scouts with his on-campus wok-outs, and who in 2009 was a four-star, 156-lb. running back at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, MD?  The reason is that few 156-lb. running backs and 174-lb. wide receivers make it in college football.  Only the ones with world-class speed and hands do, and that speed and those hands are tough to confirm when a player is in high school.  Case in point is the young man from Arizona who returned punts for the Irish this year, and who has transferred out.  He looked great in his high-school film as a 5’10”, 175-lb. wide receiver and kick returner, but he looked lost on the field in college.  He’s not alone.  There’s plenty of fast-looking 170-lb. running backs and wide receivers in high school, but few good enough to excel in college.  

Under the heading, “You can’t watch too much film” I now place the comments of John Gruden during ESPN’s coverage of the first round of the NFL draft.  When the Oakland Raiders chose with the 12th overall pick of the draft D. J. Hayden, cornerback from the University of Houston, Coach Gruden opined that he was confident that Mr. Hayden would be a great cover cornerback in the NFL but was unsure of his tackling abilities, because in the one game film that he watched of Mr. Hayden, Mr. Hayden didn’t make any tackles.  Despite playing only nine games due to injury, Mr. Hayden finished fifth on the team in tackles with 61, including ten against Louisiana Tech.  In highlight films on YouTube, he made some textbook tackles.   

In defense of Coach Gruden, he can’t watch 12 game films on all 300 NFL draft prospects.  

Mr. Hayden’s presence on the Houston team this year meant that former Notre Dame commitment and 2012 Houston freshman, Deontay Greenberry, got his money’s worth at practice.  Mr. Greenberry finished second on the Cougars in receptions with 47.  

Mr. Greenberry’s fellow former Fresno star and brief Notre Dame enrollee, Tee Shepard, is not listed on the 2013 Oklahoma Sooners football roster, despite numerous reports earlier this year that Mr. Shepard intended to matriculate in Norman.  

Charlie Weis (pictured) is resurrecting souls at Kansas.  This year’s reborn include quarterback Jake Heaps (Brigham Young), wide receiver Justin McCay (Oklahoma), and linebacker/defensive end Chris Martin (Florida).  All three were highly regarded high-school seniors during Coach Weis’s last year at Notre Dame. 

Coach Weis had the Jayhawks looking good in their spring game, and they will throw the ball.  I expect them to win five games this year, four more than last year.  

Those covering USC football are suggesting that the Trojans could bounce back quickly and effectively in 2013.  

USC’s Nickell Robey looked great at cornerback against Michael Floyd and the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium in 2011, but after declaring early, he didn’t even get drafted this year.  The NFL lists him as 5’7” and 169 lbs.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gunner Kiel's departure and the talent gap


The significance of the departure from the Notre Dame football program of Gunner Kiel is not that we lose a great talent but that we don’t.  He becomes another five-star recruit that hasn’t panned out.  We just can’t keep laying eggs with five-star recruits if we are ever going to close the talent gap with other top teams and win a national championship.  

The formula for winning a national championship is straightforward:  Amass enough talent so that in the three NFL drafts immediately following the national-championship win you produce at least three first-round draft picks and 18 selections overall.  (See http://ndfantofan.blogspot.com/2010/05/can-you-win-national-championship-with.html.)  

Alabama is a case in point.  The champions of the 2009 season produced eight first-round draft choices and 20 selections overall.  The 2011 champions, with one draft to go, already have generated seven first-round picks and 17 selections in total.  The just-crowned 2012 champions produced this year three first-round choices and nine picks all told.  

The Irish were flattered with six picks overall and one first-round choice.  The six picks were a blessing because two of those chosen, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Jamoris Slaughter, were injured, often a curse at draft time, and three others, Manti Te’o, Zeke Motta, and Theo Riddick, tested poorly at the Combine.  How poorly?  Take speed in the 40-yard dash.  Nineteen linebackers ran faster than Mr. Te’o.  Every safety ran faster than Mr. Motta.  Twenty-two running backs ran faster than Mr. Riddick.  Only Braxton Cave among centers, Tyler Eifert among tight ends, and Cierre Wood among ball carriers held their own at the Combine.  Alas, neither Mr. Cave nor Mr. Wood were drafted.  

In contrast, Texas A&M had an offensive tackle, Luke Joeckel, who was chosen second overall and a fast defensive end who was chosen 81st, plus a wide receiver who ran a 4.34 forty and a running back who jumped 43” in the air--and a lightening fast, brilliantly resourceful, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.  Not coincidentally, Texas A&M beat Alabama and we did not.  

The best place to get talent is five-star prospects.  Julio Jones, D. J. Fluker, Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Nico Johnson, DeMarcus Milliner, Cyrus Kouandjio, Hasean Clinton-Dix, and T. J. Yeldon are all former five-star prospects who have been or are expected to be NFL draft picks from recent Alabama national-championship teams.  Messrs. Jones, Fluker, Richardson, Kirkpatrick, and Milliner were first-round selections.  Messrs. Kouandjio, Clinton-Dix, and Yeldon should be down the road.  

It’s hard to see similar talent on the 2012 Notre Dame roster.  Louis Nix III next year might join Tyler Eifert this year as a first-round pick, with T.J. Jones, Zack Martin, Prince Shembo, and Bennett Jackson next year getting chosen somewhere.  

The following year Stephon Tuitt may be a first-round selection, but no one else has yet shown similar potential, including five-star classmate Ishaq Williams.  

One who had was Aaron Lynch, but he has departed.  Mr. Lynch was the second highest-rated four-star prospect in the country in 2011.  His loss hurt.  

Lynch.  Williams.  Kiel.  Notre Dame fans longing for a national championship can only grit their teeth at the inability of top-rated recruits to deliver for the Irish!

Let’s hope that frustrating recent tradition ends with the arrival of four five-star talents in September!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Two-minute drill


By my count, USC will have 70 scholarship players for the fall.  That’s with no attrition between now and then.  Under NCAA’s sanctions, the Trojans are allowed 75.  The normal limit is 85.  

In its freshman and sophomore classes next year, the Trojans will have 26 scholarship players.  Notre Dame will have 39, assuming Gunner Kiel departs.    

Thirty-four players from non-FBS schools were invited this year to the NFL Combine.  Ten or 29% of them were offensive linemen, suggesting again to me that big people develop late.  

In none of the mock drafts that I’ve reviewed has any non-FBS player been taken in the first round.  

At this point anyway there seems to be wide divergence of opinion among pundits in the quality of the quarterbacks.  Some mock drafts have Geno Smith chosen early in the first round.  Others have no quarterback selected in the first round.  Some like Matt Barkley; some not at all.  

The two juniors from Texas A&M, defensive end Damontre Moore and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, look to me as good as anybody.  

The biggest compliment you can give them is that when they played Alabama, they looked like they fit in!  

Let’s give the pro scouts and general managers some credit for making tough decisions.  Against Alabama, Manti Te’o of Notre Dame and John Jenkins (nose tackle), Jarvis Jones (outside linebacker), and Alec Ogletree (inside linebacker) of Georgia all looked terrible.  Yet some thoughtful analysts have each of them going in the first round.  

Notre Dame fans tend to be idealistic and they are inclined to value education, but Kyle Rudolph’s appearance in and MVP performance at the 2013 Pro Bowl tell me how much more quickly athletes develop in the pros than in college.  At Notre Dame Mr. Rudolph was constantly running two-yard patterns on third-and-three (Michigan State in overtime), missing blocking assignments (against Stanford), and performing like the talented but inexperienced player that he was.  No more.  Eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week film study, coaching, and repetition have eliminated the errors and allowed the talent to show.  No way that would have happened as quickly at Notre Dame with a heavy regimen of classes and study.  It’s not disparaging Notre Dame and it’s not advocating a three-and-flee commitment, it’s just reality.  

Another blogger has catalogued the 2012 NFL success of several un-drafted Notre Dame free agents, including Trevor Robinson, who started seven games for the Cincinnati Bengals this year, and Sergio Brown, who just completed his third year in the NFL, this year with 16 appearances for the Indianapolis Colts.  These experiences present the big benefit of Notre Dame matriculation:  Values, discipline, and learning ability.   

Among tight ends at the recent NFL Combine, Tyler Eifert (pictured) was fourth in the 40-yard dash (4.68 sec.), tied for third in the 225-lb. bench press (22 reps), tied for second in the vertical jump (35.5 inches), tied for second in the broad jump (119 inches), tops in the three-cone drill (6.92 sec.), third in the 20-yard shuttle (4.32 seconds), and second in the 60-yard shuttle (11.52 seconds).  

At the same combine, Theo Riddick ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds, Manti Te’o in 4.82 seconds, and Zeke Motta in 4.83 seconds.  Offensive linemen Terron Armstead of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma ran the distance in 4.71 seconds and 4.72 seconds, respectively.  

Mr. Riddick’s vertical jump was only 32 inches.  Messrs. Armstead and Johnson both jumped 34 inches.  Christine Michel of Texas A&M led the running backs with an upward leap of 43 inches.  

As surprising as Mr. Motta’s time in the 40-yard dash was, his performance in the bench press was even more startling.  He lifted 225 lbs. 11 times, impressive for mortal 213-pounders, but 17 repetitions fewer than the leader among safeties, Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse, and last among all 18 safeties tested.   

The explanation isn’t long arms (which require more work for each rep) because Zeke’s were measured at 31.38 inches.  Maybe he’s a purist who insisted on stopping the weight on his chest before beginning each rep instead of using a bounce-and-go technique, but I doubt it.  In competitive power-lifting contests, bounce-and-go lifts don’t count.  

Oh, well, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore only banged out 12 reps in the bench press, and he weighed in at 250 lbs.  My guess is that Mr. Moore still will go in the first round.  

At least Cierre Wood ran a 4.56-sec. 40-yard dash.  

Among offensive linemen, Braxton Cave’s 5.33-second 40-yard dash wasn’t bad (12 ran slower), and neither was his broad jump of 98 inches (10 jumped shorter), but his arm length of 32.08 inches will hurt him, as only one candidate was measured with shorter upper appendages.  Short arms let opposing linemen get to your body easier.  It was the death in the pros of 1985 Outland Trophy-winning nose guard Mike Ruth.  

D.J. Fluker’s arms were measured at 36 3/4 inches, tops among offensive linemen.  Those long arms will help him in the NFL reach the outside speed-rushers.  

Irish fans saw a good one this year when Ezekiel Ansah visited with BYU.  The 6’5”, 271-lb. defensive end ran at the Combine a 4.63-sec. 40-yard dash and a 4.26-sec. 20-yard shuttle, the latter tops among defensive linemen.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rationalization




“We settled down at halftime and played much
more like we had played all year in the second half.”

- Brian Kelly in an interview with the South Bend Tribune
 talking about the BCS National Championship game


No, we didn’t.  

Despite Coach Brian Kelly’s protestations to the contrary, Notre Dame did not play in the second half against Alabama as it did all year. 

In the second half against Alabama, the Irish gave up 14 points.  Only once in 12 regular-season games did the Blue and Gold give up as many as 14 points in one half.  That once was to BYU on October 20th, a game in which the Golden Domers shut out the Cougars in the second half.  

After intermission against Alabama, Notre Dame permitted 97-yard and 86-yard touchdown drives.  Against Navy and USC, the Irish surrendered 75-yard touchdown drives, but every other touchdown march against Notre Dame this year was for less than 60 yards.   

In the last 30 minutes against Alabama, the Crimson Tide entered the Notre Dame red zone once and scored a touchdown on its only visit.  Prior to the Alabama game, Irish opponents had entered the Notre Dame red zone 33 times and scored only eight touchdowns, a 24% success rate.  

After the break, Alabama won the battle for time of possession, 18:27 to 11:33.  Prior to the contest with Nick Saban’s forces, Notre Dame’s biggest deficit in second-half time of possession was 16:46 to 13:14 with Michigan.   

In the last half against Alabama, Crimson Tide ball-carriers averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the Irish.  For the year, including the Alabama game, opposing runners averaged 3.5 yards per rush against the Blue and Gold.  

Yes, Notre Dame tied Alabama, 14-14, in the second half, but prior to the battle with the Crimson Tide, the Irish won 19 of 24 halves of football on the year.  The Irish tied the first half against Purdue, lost the second half to Michigan, and lost the first halves to Stanford, BYU, and Pittsburgh.  Otherwise, they not only won each game, they won each half of each game!

Against Alabama the Notre Dame defense recorded no sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, and no quarterback hurries, either in the second half or in the game.  In contrast, during the regular season the Irish amassed 34 sacks, 16 interceptions, nine forced fumbles, and 45 quarterback hurries.  

In the back half against Alabama, Notre Dame running backs averaged 1.3 yards per carry, ignoring an 11-yard sack, whose lost yardage is usually deducted from rushing totals.  For the year, including sacks and the Alabama game, Irish ball carriers averaged 4.9 yards per attempt.  

In tying the Crimson Tide in the second half, Notre Dame did put up 14 points, but prior to the BCS National Championship game, the Irish scored 14 points or more in a half nine different times against eight different opponents. 

No, the loss to Alabama stung.  There’s no sense in rationalizing it.  But the longer it hurts, the better.  It will make players and coaches more determined.  

And that’s how the Irish played all year!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A record-setting Alabama offensive line?



How good was that Alabama offensive line that manhandled in the BCS National Championship game the previously formidable Notre Dame defensive front seven?

It might be good enough to set an all-time NFL draft record this spring!

If the many NFL mock drafts circulating on the Internet are any indication, definitely two and possibly three of those Crimson Tide road graders will be chosen in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.  

If three are selected, it will be the first time in 78-year history of the NFL draft that three offensive linemen from the same school were picked in the first round of the same NFL draft.  

The two who “definitely” will be tapped in the first round are guard Chance Warmack and tackle D. J. Fluker.  The one who might join them is center Barrett Jones.  

Mr. Jones, of course, started at three different offensive-line positions on three different Crimson Tide BCS National Championship teams, nullified a capable Louis Nix III in the 2013 BCS National Championship game, graduated in three years with a 4.0 average in accounting, and impressed in the heck out of Manti Te’o (pictured) when the two travelled around the country in December collecting awards.  If an NFL team is looking for a good citizen along the offensive line in the first round, he’s their man.  

While no college team ever has had three offensive linemen tabbed in the first round in the same draft, the University of Michigan came close in 2001 when Maurice Williams was chosen in the second round with the 43rd pick of the draft after fellow offensive line-mates Steve Hutchison and Jeff Backus were selected in the first round.

The Wolverines in the 2001 draft were one of four different schools that six different times had two offensive linemen chosen in the first round in the same draft.  USC leads the way with three times.  Ron Yary and Mike Taylor did it first for the Trojans in 1969, followed by Anthony Munoz and Brad Budde in 1980 and Bruce Matthews and Don Mosebar in1983.  Tennessee did it once in 1991 with Charles McRae and Antone Davis, while Notre Dame was the first to achieve the honor in 1967 with Paul Seiler and Tom Regner.  

A summary of the offensive-line teammates chosen in the first round of the same NFL draft is presented in Exhibit 1.

If it is any consolation to Notre Dame’s 2013 BCS National Championship game defenders, Irish predecessors faced every one of these first-round pairs, albeit Michigan’s Steve Hutchinson and Jeff Backus a year earlier when they were juniors!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Warm-weather states again dominate



74%

The share of top-100 prospects coming from warm-weather states



73%

The share of top-100 prospects choosing warm-weather colleges


In what has become a painful annual ritual for college-football fans of cold-weather schools, high-school football players from warm-weather states dominated the list of the 100-best college-football prospects in the country, at least according to one rating service.  

Warm-weather states are those ocean-hugging provinces that head south along the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to Florida, stretch west across the Gulf of Mexico to Texas, follow the Pacific coast north from California to Washington, then jump out to Hawaii, plus those inland domains of Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.  They contribute 51% of the United States population but produced this year 74% of the top-100 college-football prospects in the country.  

Seventy-four percent of the top-100 college-football prospects in the country translates into 73 top-100 decision-makers because one top prospect still is undecided as of February 17, 2013.  Of those 73, fully 63 chose to play their college football for warm-weather schools.  Only ten were brave enough to choose cold-weather destinations.  Not surprisingly, the big names of the cold-weather schools were the only bundled-up campuses able to attract warm-weather talent.  Ohio State and Urban Meyer led the way with four, Notre Dame signed three (running back Greg Bryant, nose guard Eddie Vanderdoes, and safety Max Redfield), and Michigan, Nebraska, and Penn State inked one each. (Exhibit 1)



Somewhat surprisingly, the balance of trade was even this year for cold-weather states.   Ten products of warm-weather places headed for cold-weather schools, and ten top-100 prospects of cold-weather provinces chose to matriculate at warm-weather colleges.  Sixteen cold-weather stars, including Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, Steve Elmer, and John Montelus, stayed home for cold-weather cooking.  Exhibit 2 summarizes these results.  


If the best prospects are coming from and heading to warm-weather addresses, the BCS national-championship game likely will continue to be dominated by warm-weather schools.  Since the inception of the BCS national-championship in 1998, warm-weather teams have won 14 of 15 national championships--the last ten in a row--and have received 25 of the 30 invitations to compete.  The other five welcomes went to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Nebraska.  Not coincidentally, those three squads are three of the five groups listed in Exhibit 1.    

They fight, but the talent decks are stacked against them!