Sunday, March 28, 2010
So, I've not really been with the posting this year so far. The offseason is a dead period, and there wasn't much news out of campus as well. However, with Spring Practice starting under the new regime, there is now no shortage of excitement or questions. The Irish Blogger Gathering is back and better than ever, with the year's first IBG post being hosted by the founder of IBG, Subway Domer.
So, without further ado, here goes:
1. Notre Dame is looking at vast changes on both sides of the ball. Kelly will implement his version of the "Spread," which is run at an excruciating pace, and the Irish defense will, once again, make the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Asking to pick one side of the ball that intrigues you the most would be a disservice to us all. Instead, list your biggest hope and your biggest fear for both the offense and the defense.
Offense biggest hope: Getting playmakers on the field. Coach Weis certainly was no slouch at recruiting offensive talent. And although I would love to have seen Golden Tate's speed and athleticism in this offense, there is plenty of talent remaining. Michael Floyd has dropped some weight to make him a little quicker, and he'll certainly be the #1 target as he hopefully can stay healthy and make a push for his own Biletnikoff award. To relieve the logjam at running back, Theo Riddick is now lining up at the slot, leaving Armando Allen as the man at running back. However, all-everything 5-star recruit Cierre Wood will be pushing for time as well, along with Jonas Gray and Robert Hughes. At receiver, we also have ridiculous depth, with John Goodman and Duval Kamara trying to make their mark as veterans, and youngsters Shaquelle Evans, Deion Walker, and Tai-ler Jones trying to learn the fundamentals to take advantage of their natural athleticism. And don't forget that we still have arguably the nation's best tight end in Kyle Rudolph who will be on the field pretty much all the time.
With all of that talent on the field, and the wide-open style of this offense, opposing defensive coordinators are going to have their heads spinning trying to find enough people to cover them all.
Offense biggest fear: Dayne Crist's knee. I know he's rehabbing, and way ahead of schedule. He's running around in practice, and in the limited video coverage available, he certainly looks nimble enough. However, this is an option offense, which means that his mobility is crucial to the success of this offense.
When undersized Nate Montana and a couple of true freshman are our backup options, of course I'm going to be worried about the health of our #1 QB. Not since Brady Quinn in 2005 have I been so concerned with the health of our quarterback. I know that Coach Kelly went through 5 QBs en route to a 10 win season a couple years ago, but with EVERYONE learning the new offense, we need the veteran presence, leadership, and athleticism of Dayne Crist to keep things together while we work through this learning curve.
Defense biggest hope: Linebacker dominance. With Manti Te'o growing as a player and Brain Smith in his senior year, we have two top caliber linebackers to build the 3-4 defense around. There is a lot of unproven talent at the other positions. Coach Kelly talked about putting Smith and Te'o on the outside, where they can take advantage of their athleticism, and try to get more size and physicality inside. If we can find some toughness and intensity inside at the linebacker position, we will be tough to move the ball against. It does give me hope that our defensive coordinator is also tasked with the inside linebacker position coaching job. With the athleticism sealing the outside, and physicality stuffing the gaps inside, the only option for opposing offenses will be to beat us through the air.
Defense biggest fear: Which of course leads to my biggest fear on defense - the secondary. I really hope Chuck Martin knows what he's doing. The Corwin/Tenuta experiment took some of the best pure talent we've had in the secondary in decades and made them look like the Keystone Cops. Now, we have some serious concerns about the talent at safety, and while we are still insanely talented at corner, those kids need to be re-taught how to play the position. If we can't stop people from throwing against us, we are going to be in for some high scoring games this year.
2. The mainstream media, and ESPN in particular, have been riding Brian Kelly's jock for about a year now, and were collectively praying for Notre Dame to fire Weis and hire Kelly. Do you agree, or disagree with this statement? What changes in media coverage do you think we will see in 2010 and beyond?
I can't argue with the fact that the national media is in love with Kelly. They are in love with Kelly. But that's partly why I'm so excited about this hire.
Think back a few years to one of the low points in Irish football, when we made the O'Leary hire and subsequent firing. At that press conference, Kevin White call Coach O'Leary "straight from central casting." At the time, I was lukewarm at best about the O'Leary hire, and extremely skeptical about the Willingham hire.
This time around, though, I think we really DID hire the guy straight from central casting. Get ready for a lot of "Kelly Green" headlines and comments. An Irish Catholic from Boston, Kelly was of course a Notre Dame guy growing up. More importantly, I couldn't have written a script for the career trajectory of a coach better than Kelly's. Over 20 years of head coaching experience, with proof that he knows what it takes to win a championship at every level. Indeed, he left an undefeated BCS school when a battered Notre Dame cam calling, simply because it was Notre Dame. He's a politician, too - he knows how to manage not just the operation and teaching of his football team, but also the media and public perception. There are no skeletons in the closet, no worries about fat jokes, resume padding, or golfing addictions. Just a football coach that gets it.
I think that the media this year will treat Notre Dame much like their own fanbase - cautiously optimistic. Much like Tom Crean at Indiana University basketball, EVERYONE wants him to get this right, believes that he's the right guy to get it done, and will do whatever they can to support the rebuilding of the program.
If we struggle out of the gate, the media will be forgiving and talk about learning curves and culture change. As soon as we start winning, everyone will remember why Notre Dame is the most loved and hated team in sport - it will be as bad as the coverage of UConn in women's basketball. Maybe worse.
3. With new regime changes, players that were once lost in the muck sometimes find themselves in a situation to become key members of the team- or even starters. Identify one of those players that will be that "sleeper." Explain, in brief detail, why your guy will rise above and become the proverbial; CREAM. Oh yeah... it must be a junior or older to qualify.
Kapron Lewis-Moore. Ever since he showed up on campus, everyone has been talking about his athleticism. All of a sudden, Coach Kelly is now talking about his leadership. I think that this year, he will develop into a beast outside rushing the passer. Indeed, I think that he is in a position to have one of those synergistic seasons that could make him an All-American and get him some consideration for major post-season awards.
4. If you could change the Blue-Gold Game experience in any way- what would it be? Some years, the game can be quite boring and offer no real insight for the upcoming season. Are we all doomed to be underwhelmed every year, or can you make the change that makes spring ball slick like Rick on a pogo stick?
I don't know about the logistics involved, but I'd like to see us take advantage of the unique relationship with the Naval Academy, and have an inter-squad scrimmage at the end of the Spring. The only way to get a sense of where we stand is to see our players go against a quality opponent.
Short of bringing in another team to practice against, there isn't a whole lot I'd change about the Spring Game. The format is tough, because there is no good way to score when you have one team playing themselves. Was that pass touchdown a function of the awesomeness of our pass offense, or the sucktitude of our pass defense? Who knows?
5. EVERY coach talks about the importance of special teams, and says that they are a major priority for the team. Is there anything that Coach Kelly has done to back him up on his own statements? What phase of special teams would you like to see more improvement from?
Unlike most coaches, who focus the first few practices on installing the offense and defense, Coach Kelly started in on special teams from day 1. So, that's one tangible way that he's showing a commitment to special teams.
I'd like to see the most improvement in our field goal units. We have been up and down in that area for quite some time. The ability to consistently hit a field goal from distance opens up the playbook in the redzone, allowing you to take some risks when you know you can count on getting at least 3.
6. Last topics are a bit, off topic... A)With the arrival of Spring Football, comes a lot of "color" discussion. "The Shirt," is always a favorite subject of debate for Irish fans. What is your opinion of "The Shirt," and if you were in charge of it all- what would it look like? B) There is a lot of talk about the Notre Dame uniforms possibly being altered. What would you like to see, even if they aren't changed?
A) I love the shirt, and I collect one each year. When I pull one out, it instantly reminds me of that season, with all of its ups and downs. As far as this year's shirt, you'd have to be a complete dumbass to have anything but a Kelly Green shirt for the first year of a coach named Kelly. And what I'd also do is try to go back to our roots and traditions in preparing this year's shirt. No talk of "Return to Glory". No silly made up sayings. Indeed, what I'd probably do is something simple like "We Are N D." Notre Dame Football 2010 on the front, with a picture of the current stadium facade. And another "We Are N D." on the back, with a picture of the old stadium, or the Four Horsemen or something old-school on the back.
B) Notre Dame's uniforms are pretty good the way they are. I have always been a big fan of the traditional uniform, and I'm not a huge fan of changing them.
However, I admit that I also really like the green jerseys (I own two of them). I wouldn't be entirely opposed to making our jerseys Kelly green for the entire season, as a nod to the new regime. But mostly, I think we should just keep them simple and traditional.
If I were to make any changes to the current uniform, I think that the traditional blue jerseys with shiny GOLD numbers would be pretty cool looking, too.
Well, there you have it. Hope you all are as excited about the new regime as I am. Can't wait to get this season underway. Go Irish!