Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

April 2, 2020

Some teams got in practices this spring. Most didn’t practice much. If players are back in the summer getting ready for the season, no team will be as prepared as they typically would be.

This is a completely unique circumstance for everyone. Coaches have already had to adjust to coaching their players without any in-person contact. They’ll have to adjust to coaching fall camp a different way as well.

There is no way the structure of it won’t be impacted by the lack of practices in the spring. It really could go in a lot of directions. I’m not exactly sure what would be the best direction either.

Do they focus even more on technique and be patient with installing scheme? That seems logical, but part of installing scheme is getting a better evaluation of how the players function in it. Terry Joseph is going to need to see what someone like Isaiah Pryor can do in Notre Dame’s defense compared to what they saw from him on film at Ohio State. He might be able to perform the techniques they want, but the coaches will need to see him execute within the scheme.

The same could be said for any new player on the team. It may be a lot tougher for freshmen to get opportunities to work with the ones and twos. We may also see the coaches choose experience over potential throughout the roster, which could give an edge to someone like Jordan Genmark Heath over someone Marist Liufau at Buck or TaRiq Bracy over KJ Wallace at corner.

That could also mean that players who start game one end up being passed on the depth chart as the season progresses. It happens almost every year (think Te’von Coney’s rise in 2017), but I could see it happening at several more spots this season because of the lack of an off-season.

The first month of the season may be an even more of a feeling out process than usual, which is why not having a Michigan or Georgia in September should be helpful. Having a fifth-year senior starter at quarterback and all five starters on the line returning won’t hurt either.

Talent ultimately trumps experience in college football, but quarterback and offensive line are a little different. Experience matters more at those two spots in my opinion and it’s going to matter even more than it normally would this year.

That’s the kind of thing that could bump Notre Dame up a win or two by the end of the season. All of the first four opponents the Irish are set to face in 2020 will be breaking in a new starting quarterback.

2. With no spring ball and it looking less likely by the day that there won’t be an extended chance to practice in the summer, coaching staffs need to use every resource to get players ready for the season.

At least mentally ready. Physically is a different story because it’s difficult to replicate certain techniques without putting it into practice. But regarding the mental side of things, there are still things coaches can do to help their players be ready before they get back at it.

The SEC, Big 12, and Pac-12 have allowed virtual meetings using tools like FaceTime and Zoom to communicate with players. They are essentially allowed to give chalk talks to players. This description by Washington head coach Jimmy Lake sums up the goal of these virtual meetings for pretty much all football coaches.

Based on what Brian Kelly told WSBT 96.1 yesterday, the Notre Dame staff is utilizing Zoom to meet with players as well. It’s absolutely essential that they adapt and take advantage of these meetings. With only one practice under their belts in the spring, they still have a ton of install to do, especially on offense.

It’s at least going to help Notre Dame that they are running the same scheme under Clark Lea on defense and that they promoted Tommy Rees from within rather than having someone new on offense.

I’m sure Rees won’t be the same as Chip Long and we already saw some differences in the Camping World Bowl, but it’s not going to be as drastic as it could have been.

3. I just don’t see a lot of freshmen playing early this year with the lack of spring ball for the early enrollees and the lack of summer training for the others.

If someone is playing early, it means they are an exceptional athlete that is too talented to keep off the field. That will definitely be the main driver for a decision like that because this group of freshmen will be behind when it comes to learning everything.

I think just about every program is going to be in the same boat. Unless there is a desperate need at a certain position or there is someone with exceptional physical talent (like Chris Tyree’s speed), then I don’t see many seeing the field early in the season.

It might have to be a late surge for someone to get involved after adapting to college football, but by that time, teams may be thinking about the four-game redshirt rule.

4. This play from the 2012 Oklahoma game is why it’s infinitely harder to coach defense today than it was eight years ago.

Every defense is about assignment football like it used to be when only playing the triple option. Offenses package plays together and if players get sucked into one part of it, big plays like this happen.

Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, and Manti Te’o are dropping and all of them react to the potential tunnel screen after seeing the guard release down the field. Kapron Lewis-Moore beats the right tackle, but immediately stops his rush thinking it’s a screen. Louis Nix sees it and is running toward the receiver as well.

That’s five guys all occupied by that one element of the play.

That only happens to bad defenses today because keys are different for defenders because there is so much misdirection and influence from offenses. Back in the day that was a beautiful bit of deception. Today they call it 2nd down.

5. Going back and rewatching that game made me think of how different it would have been for Zeke Motta if he played in this current Notre Dame scheme (or many of the other schemes in college football). There is no doubt in my mind that he would have been a Rover.

Motta didn’t have a bad college career. He was a key member of that 2021 defense finishing second on the team in tackles and ended up getting drafted. He could have been much more productive in today’s college football, though. His skill set would have been a great fit as a nickel linebacker.

He’s one player during the Brian Kelly era that I think would have been better at a different position and another one is Isaac Rochell. He’s another player who had a solid career, but he would have been much more productive if he got to play as a 3-technique defensive tackle. A dearth of quality edge defenders forced him to stay outside.

He finished with 22 career tackles for loss (28 Havoc plays), but only 4.5 sacks. That number would have been much higher if he was rushing from the interior. He’s used as a situational pass-rusher inside for the Los Angeles Chargers and had more sacks in his second season than his entire time at Notre Dame.

6. I was in college when 9/11 happened. I was working out with a group of teammates at 6:00am (Mountain time) and my buddy came into the gym and told me what happened. I rushed home and turned on the television and watched in horror.

Even thinking about it right now makes me feel a lump in my chest that takes me back to that day. I remember seeing people play frisbee outside on the field and wondering how they could do that knowing what had just happened. I was so angry at them, but didn’t say anything as I went back to my dorm and waited to hear about practice that day.

As expected, it was canceled. The game wasn’t, though. We were planning to play that weekend and the coaches wanted us to. Almost every team in the country at all levels of college football was not going to play and my school, Idaho State, was one of the only ones who was planning on playing.

It felt wrong on every level, but what were we going to do? You listened to the coaches and did what they told you. So that was that...until it wasn’t when the conference stepped in and canceled it for us.

I’m so glad they did. I’m glad they made the right decision to not play. Sometimes adults have to step in and do what’s right even when the decisions are tough. I’m thankful that the adults made the right call in our situation and I was very happy to read that Brian Kelly was vocal to Jack Swarbrick about being proactive about shutting down spring ball and workouts.

Swarbrick gave an interview to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune and said this about Kelly:

“The first conversation I had with Brian Kelly about this, he’s urging greater restraint that I was advocating in terms of practice and getting the kids together. He was saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to shut this down.’
“We were talking at that point about having limited weight room opportunities, where only 10 kids would be in at a time. It was just a model we were discussing, and Brian got out in front and said, ‘No. We shouldn’t even be doing that.’

Football is a sport where a guy breaks a bone and practice stops for two minutes...then the drill gets moved 10 yards away. Sometimes the game and the people involved in it can seem heartless. Coaches can be obsessed with certain things that sometimes the overall well-being of their players gets overlooked.

Kelly was giving interviews talking about winning a championship and recruiting at a top-5 level fairly recently. Others would have been a lot more reluctant to give up opportunities to practice and massive recruiting weekends like the one Notre Dame had planned in March. Kelly could have waited and maybe it would have benefited his team and his recruiting class even though that would have been the wrong call for the safety of his players.

I respect what Kelly has accomplished as a coach throughout his career, but respect him even more for getting out in front of this even if he’s not been the most vocal about it publicly. He made the right call for not only his players, but everybody involved.

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