Monday, March 17, 2008

IrishGlory Q&A

It has been a while since I have stopped to answer some reader submitted questions, so I wanted to take the opportunity to do that today. Thank you for emailing the questions and please keep them coming to

Q: Will the Irish be deep enough on the OL to run a no huddle offense next year?
A: Will they be deep enough? Yes. Will they be capable enough? We can't answer that yet. From a sheer numbers standpoint, the Irish are not in terrible shape along the OL. Where they need to improve is in their attitude and their mental awareness. In order to successfully run a no huddle offense during a game, every guy on the field better have a pretty darn good understanding of the offense because there is no time to stop and think, no time for someone to tell you in the huddle where to go or what your responsibilities are. I did not see that level of understanding last year, which is somewhat understandable in light of the inexperience across the board. That will need to improve dramatically this season.

Q: With Jon Tenuta coming in, do you think the Irish will switch back to being a 4-3 team?
A: No. The Irish have spent a great deal of time evolving their defense from being a pure 4-3 defense to being a hybrid type of 3-4 personnel defense. They have recruited (successfully) for the 3-4 personnel look and I expect them to stick with it. Having said that, I expect that you will see plenty of 4 man line looks from the Irish this season. That is why I refer to the Irish defense as a 3-4 hybrid. I expect that on many snaps, you will see what looks like a 4-3 front. I would not be surprised to see many snaps where Kerry Neal, Mo Richardson, Brian Smith, John Ryan, etc. have their hands on the ground as DEs. Short answer is I think the Irish want to generate confusion and chaos for their opponents this year and want to dictate the play more so than the past. I think they will move guys around quite a bit to create different looks and generate pressure.

Q: Can you pick one guy you think might surprise on offense and one on defense?
A: This is difficult, as spring practice hasn't even started yet. I will try anyway, but this is just based on my own thoughts, not any evidence from the offseason or practice, etc. On offense, my pick is Armando Allen. When I say Armando, that doesn't mean I think he is going to necessarily win the starting job. I just think that at the end of the year, he was really an improved player. I do not see Armando being a 20 carry per game guy for the Irish. I do see him making a big time impact this season. On defense, I want to say Toryan Smith, because the Irish desperately need him to step up, but we haven't seen those flashes in games yet. Therefore, I am going to go with a position -- DE. I think either Justin Brown or Emeka Nwankwo is going to step up and give the Irish some solid play. If you look back to Trevor Laws as a senior vs. Trevor Laws as a 5th year, the difference is night and day. While Justin is not as talented as Trevor, he does have the ability to make a significant improvement in his level/consistency of play. If he doesn't, a guy I am very high on in Emeka Nwankwo will be pushing him hard.

Q: What are the Irish going to do with only 1 scholarship TE this spring?
A. Good question. Let's hope Mike Ragone is in good shape as he is going to playing quite a bit this spring. Honestly, I would think a guy like Luke Schmidt may slide over and take snaps there and also fill in with some walk-ons at the position. No doubt, the numbers there are not ideal. The good part is I expect Will Yeatman along with 2 freshmen to arrive in the fall.

Q: IrishGlory, in the past you said that if you had the #1 pick in the NFL draft, you would take Jake Long. Do you still feel that way?
A. Yes. Here is my thinking, because I know many disagreed with me when I made that statement. First, I think Jake Long is a big time OT. While he is not Joe Thomas, who is a franchise LT, I think Jake is a future 10 year starter at RT for some NFL team. Second, there is no other player I look at and don't have some question about them in some aspect of their game/character. Third, my philosophy of the #1 pick is that you cannot afford to gamble and miss. The salary cap ramifications, etc. will set you back 5 years. Therefore, if I am going to give out big money to a #1 pick, I want it to be a guy I know is going to be a franchise fixture type guy. He doesn't need to be a hall of famer. He needs to be a big time guy who is going to help my franchise for years to come. Many disagree and that is fine. My question though, is who would you take instead????

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Secondary

NOTE: This is the last in the series of articles I have written recapping the 2007 Irish recruiting class. With spring practice around the corner, it is time to look ahead and get fired up for Irish football again.

It has been a looooooooong time since I have been able to say that the Irish secondary is a STRENGTH of the team. However, we can say it now. One of the strength of Charlie's recruiting since he arrived has been the secondary. With the infusion of talent in the form of guys like Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil, Harrison Smith, and Gary Gray, the Irish have some tremendous athletes in the secondary. This recruiting class will add 3 more players to that mix.

Robert Blanton: I am extremely excited about Robert joining the program because he is a very different type of player than the Irish currently have in the secondary. While he could play either CB or S, I think Robert is best suited at corner. He differs from other CBs on the roster in that he is a little bigger, a little stronger, and better suited for being physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage. Robert is not going to blow you away with his speed and I don't think he is the pure athlete that a guy like Darrin Walls is, but his instincts are off the charts, his footwork is excellent, and his attitude is infectious. In many ways, Robert reminds me of a guy like Shane Walton. When you take the measurables, you question whether this guy is a big time player. Then you watch him compete and he just makes play after play. Robert is also a talker who is going to bring that swagger onto the field. Robert has an awful lot of quality talent to beat out if he wants to see the field this year, but of the 3 prospects, I think he is the most likely to get on the field at some point this season.

Jamoris Slaughter: I don't know whether Jamoris will wind up at S or CB, but I know that wherever he winds up, when he is on the field, he is going to hit someone. Anyone. Jamoris is a hitter and on film, he delivered some big time shots. While he is not the biggest guy, Jamoris is always willing to stick his nose in there. As he matures, Jamoris will learn better when to go for the bone jarring hit and when to use form and technique to just make the sure tackle. I am really hoping that the coaching staff figures out Jamoris' best position and then plants him there to learn it well. Jamoris has a lot of work to do on his technique and he would really benefit by being able to focus on 1 position and learn it well. If the staff needs him, Jamoris could be a solid special teamer this year.

Dan McCarthy: First off, I just want Dan to be healthy. During the season, Dan suffered a fairly significant neck/back injury that ultimately required surgery. While I have read that he plans to be healthy for next season, I think the surgery and resulting loss of strength and inability to work out will set him back. The kid has tremendous talent, so first, I just want him to be 100% healthy. Any time a football player suffers a neck/back injury, you always worry that it will remain in the back of their mind. That is just extra reason to make sure the player is really 110% healthy before you let him back on the field. As a player, Dan is a hard nosed kid, just like his brother Kyle. He plays the game the right way and is fundamentally sound. He does not get enough credit for his athleticism, as he is extremely good with the ball in his hands. As a matter of fact, I think before he graduates, he has a real good chance of returning some punts or kicks. He is that good with the ball in his hands.

As with the previous classes in the secondary, the Irish have done a fantastic job upgrading the talent at the position. I am absolutely thrilled that gone are the days where secondary recruiting involved little more than bringing in athletes or RBs and trying to force them to be CBs (seem Ambrose Wooden, Vontez Duff, etc.). Secondary is a unique position involving unique skill sets and it was a huge flaw of previous coaching staffs to believe they could simply create CBs and safeties out of guys who either didn't know the position or didn't want to play the position. Thankfully those days are long gone.

Your thoughts????

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Linebacker

One of the glaring weaknesses on last year's Irish squad was the play at LB. On the outside, the Irish were extremely young, with Kerry Neal and Brian Smith garnering huge minutes. On the inside, the Irish were simply not productive enough and lacked elite talent. The Irish took a step towards addressing this weakness by signing 4 LB prospects who will immediately upgrade the competition at this position.

Darius Fleming: Darius reminds me a lot of Kerry Neal. He is a tremendous athlete with very good speed who just has a knack for rushing the passer. You can't have enough of those guys. Darius will need to work on his pass coverage and overall understanding of the position, but right now he is certainly a guy who could see the field. I don't believe you will see him starting this year, as he is behind some talented guys in Kerry and Brian, but I strongly believe that he will see the field.

Steven Filer: Steve can play either outside or inside in the Irish defense, but I believe he is best suited for one of the inside backer positions. He is a big, strong kid who already has the size to compete for playing time. What differentiates Steve from some of the other LBs currently on the Irish roster is that he retains outstanding athleticism and quickness with that size. By contrast, a guy like Mo Crum looked very athletic at 220 lbs, but when he bulked up this past season, he looked slow and awkward. Steve can play at 240 and look very fluid as an athlete. On film, Steve is just a playmaker. He is a guy who is going to find the ball and be solid in his tackling. He doesn't have that blazing speed to go sideline to sideline, but that is why the Irish 3-4 personnel defense is perfect for him, because he won't have to. Make no mistake, though, Steve has plenty of speed for his position in this defense. The other benefit is that Steve's high school played a defense that shares many concepts with the Irish defense. While I don't think Steve will start, as ILB in this defense takes a while to learn (see Toryan Smith), I do think he is going to be pushing for minutes this year.

Anthony McDonald: In many cases, you can tell when a guy comes from a football family. They seem to have more honed instincts, they are more fundamentally sound, and they just seem to understand the game better. Anthony is one of those guys. His instincts for reading a play are what jumped out at me. He doesn't have great speed, but his instincts compensate for that as he always seems to find his way into the proper position and always is around the ball. I will take a guy with the talent of Anthony and great knowledge of the game and great instincts at ILB in this defense any day. Anthony is also a very aggressive player who is looking to make the big hit. As he matures, he will learn when to rein that in and just make the tackle, as sometimes his desire for the big play hurts him. I would rather teach an aggressive kid to rein it in rather than make a passive kid more aggressive any day.

David Posluszny: I will confess that I have not seen much film of David at all, as there isn't much available and he was hurt for much of this past year. Therefore, I will rely on what I have been told about David. First, he is a football player. Everyone I talk to uses that exact same description at some point in the conversation. He is a hard nosed, talented, lunch pail type kid who is going to keep his mouth shut and give you everything he has. He isn't Rudy, though. This kid can play. Keep in mind that his brother Paul was not a 5 star guy coming out of high school either and he is doing pretty well for himself. Without having seen him play, I am not sure whether David will wind up inside or outside at LB in this defense. I do know that he needs to add some bulk to his frame and he needs to avoid injuries, as they have seemed to plague him for a couple of years now. I don't think you will see David this year, unless he makes a mark on special teams, but I would not discount him becoming a solid player down the road for the Irish.

Your thoughts?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Defensive Line

Finally!!! That is my reaction to the Irish finally bringing in a big time haul of numbers and talent on the D Line. For years, D Line recruiting has been an Achilles heel for the Irish, but finally the Irish began to address their needs in this position group this year.

Sean Cwynar: As an early enrollee and already a big kid, Cwynar is exactly what the doctor ordered for a depleted DL this spring. With Pat Kuntz out for the spring and Derell Hand out of football, the Irish are going to be hurting for numbers this spring. Bringing in a kid like Cwynar early will help. Sean is a perfect DE in a 3-4 personnel defense. He is a big kid, with talent, a quick first step, and a motor that doesn't quit. From a technique standpoint, Sean has some work to do, but the natural talent is there. The biggest thing that jumps out at me about Sean is his motor. He is really relentless in his pursuit of the ball. He plays the game similar to the way Pat Kuntz does -- all out. Sean is not going to beat you with his speed, but he is quicker than you might think. With his frame and a head start, I think he could give the Irish some snaps in the fall and hold his own.

Ethan Johnson: Plain and simple, Ethan is the edge rusher from the DE position the Irish have been missing. His first step is frighteningly quick and he beats many opponents immediately with that first step. He is also very strong at the point of attack and is not a guy that is going to need to put on a lot of weight in order to contribute. In past years, the Irish have landed pass rushers, but they have come in as thin guys who needed years to add the required muscle to hold up. In Ethan, the Irish finally landed a guy who is already 250-260 pounds, which allows him to get in the mix earlier and worry more about learning scheme and technique than simply adding bulk. What happens with a lot of the really thin guys who come in, like a Kallen Wade, is that it takes them 2-3 years to bulk up, then they have to learn to play with that weight, and only then are they the contributor you thought they could be. Provided a knee injury suffered his senior season is healed (and I hear that he is full go) Ethan will be a contributor early. I think you might see Ethan early in the season as a situational pass rusher at DE and he has a chance to really push for more playing time as the year goes on.

Brandon Newman: The Irish needed to land at least 2 NG/DT types in this class who could give them snaps early and they accomplished that. Brandon has a real good build for the NG position. He is a strong, stocky kid who plays hard. Brandon did not have a great senior season, but he showed well at the Army game. I think he needs to make sure he comes into training camp in better physical condition than he played his senior season. Ian Williams will be the starter at NG and will play the majority of snaps this season, but I can see Brandon giving him a breather and holding his own.

Hafis Williams: Hafis is my sleeper recruit of this class. Not much was seen of him, not much was talked about, but this kid is relentless. Hafis did not have a whole lot of film available and I think that kept the buzz about him down. He also is a kid who really didn't want a whole lot of attention during the recruiting process. From a technique standpoint, I think Hafis has a lot of work to do, but he will compensate for that with his motor. When he stays low, he is extremely powerful. While there is some question about his best position, DE or DT/NG, I think he winds up as a DT/NG. While everyone focuses on Brandon as an early contributor, watch out for Hafis. I think he is a much better player than some realize.

Kapron Lewis Moore: I debated for a while whether to put Kapron with the LBs or the DL, but I decided to put him where I think he will end up, which is DE. Right now, Kapron is an athlete. He is a guy who improved dramatically from his junior to his senior season, but who still needs to become more of a football player. When you watch Kapron play, he excels in situations where he can just let his athleticism take over. Fundamentally and technically, he needs to lock into a position and really learn how to play the position, because in college, he won't be athletically superior to his opponents. I see Kapron as one of those guys who will kind of disappear for a year or 2 before he is ready to make his impact. Nevertheless, he is a great get for the Irish.

Finally, I figured here was the best place to discuss my thoughts following recruiting on the Omar Hunter situation. Make no mistake about it, losing Omar was a huge loss. He is an immense talent and in my view the absolute perfect talent for the NG position in the Irish defense. You can't minimize that loss from a talent standpoint. However, having said that, what we learned from Omar after his decommitment made me think perhaps he was not a good fit for the Irish team and program. Omar stated that he was concerned he would have to face double teams every play as a NG in a 3-4 and that would limit him from becoming a playmaker. To be clear, I am not criticizing the kid personally and he had every right to choose whatever school he wanted to go to. My point is this: The NG in the Irish defense, which is where Omar would have been firmly planted, is about as difficult a position as there is in football. There is very little, if any, glory there. You are going to get pounded every play and most plays you will be hammered by 2 guys simultaneously. Omar is absolutely right -- it is likely you won't show up as a playmaker at this spot. It takes a special player type and special personality to succeed in this position. You have to have a guy who is 110% unselfish and who is absolutely relentless. He has to give you that attitude every down because the only time he is likely to show up glaringly is when he lets up or gets blown up inside. While you always want as much talent as possible, in some ways I think guys like Pat Kuntz and Ian Williams, guys who are overachievers, tend to fare better in this spot than the superstar high school athletes. In any case, the Omar situation is over and I wish him the best.

Your thoughts?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Offensive Line

After witnessing the Irish O Line struggle throughout the 2007 season, you can't overestimate the importance of getting some fresh blood injected into this unit. While I expect that significant improvement on the line next year will come from current players refocusing and developing, you always need an infusion of fresh bodies and talent on the line. The Irish added 4 solid prospects to the O line group this recruiting class.

Trevor Robinson: Trevor is the most heralded of the group signed by the Irish and should be a mainstay at guard in the coming years. He is exactly what the Irish needed in an interior lineman. He is big, strong, physical, and not afraid to mix it up. Trevor is already from a size standpoint able to contribute and being an early enrollee will help him even more. I watched Trevor closely at the Army All American game and came away extremely impressed. His run blocking is superior right now. Trevor can come in right now and contribute as a run blocker on the line. Where he really needs to work and improve is in his pass blocking. Watching him, I suspect that his high school did not throw the ball a whole lot. Trevor's pass blocking technique is not awful, it is just pretty raw right now. The good part is that he has all the things you can't coach already there -- size, natural strength, attitude, etc. While I don't know that he will start next season, I do think he will provide some solid competition for Turkovich and Olsen and push them hard. If those guys don't have a fire lit under them now, they soon will. You can clearly tell why Trevor was one of the first prospects targeted by the coaching staff last year.

Braxston Cave: This guy has to be a favorite for Irish fans already. The stuff he did to help cement this recruiting class speaks loudly to his leadership ability and character. As a player, Braxston is pretty darn good in his own right. I had a tough time evaluating Braxston on his high school tape because I am not real high on Indiana high school football and the competition he faced. What I could tell is that he plays hard and he plays nasty. I loved his attitude. What really helped me get a picture of Braxston was his performance at the ESPN Under Armour game. He looked fantastic. I saw a guy who played with much better technique than I previously thought and who is not intimidated in the least (plus he pancaked Omar Hunter which made me smile). Braxston has real good size for a center/guard and could help early, though I don't see him cracking the starting lineup as a freshman. With Braxston and Mike Golic coming in, I expect one of these guys to eventually shift to guard.

Mike Golic: The first recruit to commit in his class, Mike is the son of former Irish player Mike Golic, Sr. Mike is going to contribute to this program before all is said and done, you can count on that. He plays with excellent technique and has a very advanced understanding of technique and leverage. Where he needs to improve is in his size and his adjustment to top competition, as I don't believe he played against very good competition in high school. While I think Mike is at least 2 years away from contributing on the line, I believe he can contribute very early, possibly as a freshman, as a long snapper. While I think Mike has the poise and ability to serve as the long snapper as a freshman, I am really hoping that the Irish find an alternative, because he would really benefit from having the redshirt year to gain size and strength. I think Mike is going to be one of those guys where he kind of goes unseen in the program for a couple of years, people forget about him, and then he makes a big jump and is a contributor likely by his junior year.

Lane Clelland: Lane is probably the only projected offensive tackle that the Irish signed in this recruiting class. He is a hard nosed kid who is not afraid to mix it up. 2 things stand out to me about Lane right now. First, he has a great understanding of leverage. As a wrestler in high school, Lane has really learned the value of playing with leverage. You can't overestimate how important this is. I wish more O linemen had a wrestling background. Second, likely because of his wrestling and weight class restrictions, Lane is small right now. He needs to add a lot of size and strength before he is ready to contribute. If you were to look at Lane right now next to a Sam Young or Paul Duncan or Matt Romine, you would clearly know who the freshman was. This will come with time. While I wish that the Irish could have signed an additional lineman in this class who could contribute as a freshman at tackle, Lane will be a fine player down the road for the Irish. I will say this about Lane -- his freshman year is going to be extremely important for him to make big size gains and a positive impression as I believe the Irish will be targeting at least 2 tackles in this coming class who they feel will be ready and able to play early.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Tight End

With the departure of John Carlson to graduation and Konrad Reuland to transfer, the Irish entered this recruiting season looking to secure 2 TEs. They certainly succeeded, as they landed 5 star TE Kyle Rudolph and solid TE Joseph Fauria. Rudolph and Fauria are different players, but both are extremely talented and will help the Irish.

Kyle Rudolph: In my view, Kyle was the #1 TE recruit in the country this year. He is another of those "he can do it all" type of guys. Kyle is probably most known because of his ability to run and stretch the field and make plays catching the ball from the TE position. He certainly can do that. What I think is underrated is Kyle's size and blocking ability. The comparison most people make is saying that Kyle is like John Carlson when he came in. While many of their skills are similar, Kyle is MUCH bigger than John was a freshman. People forget that John came to ND weighing no more than 215 pounds. By contrast, Kyle will arrive at ND weighing at least 235-240 pounds. Kyle is also much taller than John. This is a good thing, because the Irish will need Kyle to give them some minutes at TE this year. While I expect Will Yeatman to return from suspension in the fall, either Rudolph or Fauria will likely have to give the Irish some snaps in the fall. On film, Kyle shows a good understanding of route running, he is solid at finding holes in the zone, and has good hands. Like any other freshman TE, he will need to work on his blocking technique. The good part is for a "pass catching" TE, Kyle shows excellent attitude and desire in blocking. You don't do much better than landing the #1 prospect at the TE position.

Joseph Fauria: I must admit, when I first watched Joseph Fauria on film, I thought he was a decent player, but not great. However, the more I watch him, the more I see that his future is going to be a lot brighter than his present. He has all the tools to succeed, he just needs to refine them. I think when some fans look at Rudolph and Fauria, they pigeon hole Rudolph as the pass catcher and Fauria as the blocking TE. I am not sure this is accurate. I think Rudolph is a better blocker than he is given credit for and Fauria is a better pass catcher than he is given credit for. Actually, I believe Fauria needs to improve more in the area of blocking than in the area of receiving. At a full 6'7'' 250, Fauria is a huge guy, and right now his size makes him a little awkward. He will get used to playing at that size and then he will become much more fluid. With his size, Fauria is going to need to work really hard at staying low in his base when blocking and not leaning on guys. I know some sites projected that Fauria could grow into an O Lineman. I don't see it. He has the frame to get that big, but I don't know how good an O lineman he would be. He would need a TON of work on technique and I think his skill set is much better suited to TE than OL. Fauria is going to be a good player at ND before he is done and in some respects, he reminds me of a bigger Will Yeatman.

Your thoughts?

Next Up: Offensive Line

Monday, March 3, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Wide Receiver

The Irish signed a bumper crop of receivers in this year's class, and it could not come at a better time. Mike Floyd, Deion Walker, and John Goodman are in my view the best WR haul the Irish have signed in quite some time. I have reviewed the film on all 3 now and all I can say is WOW!

Mike Floyd: Mike Floyd is hands down the most talented overall WR the Irish have signed in the last decade +. He is just such a complete player that you sometimes forget he is only a high school senior when you watch him. He really does everything well -- runs great routes, great hands, solid speed, technically sound. Mike may not start for the Irish, but he is going to play and play a lot as a freshman. The one knock I have heard on Mike is that he doesn't have great top end speed. This is ridiculous. Watch the kid play. You don't need to run a 4.3 in order to have good football speed and be a deep threat. Mike is by no means a possession receiver and he makes plenty of plays downfield. Give me a 4.5 guy with great technique to work his way deep any day over a track sprinter with poor technique who can be knocked off his route. Mike is the recruit I am most excited about in this class. In this offense, with the QBs the Irish have signed the last 2 years, Mike has All-American potential.

Deion Walker: I will be honest, I am not sure how accurate my review of Deion Walker will be. Of all the prospects in this class, Deion was the toughest to evaluate. On film, 3 things jump out at you with Deion -- he is a smooth athlete, he will make plays with the ball in his hands, and he is fantastic at going up and getting the ball at its highest point. Beyond that, it becomes difficult to evaluate Deion, primarily because the competition he is playing against is very very poor. Deion just looks like a man amongst boys on the field, partially because he is a great player and partially because of the lack of talent he is playing with and against. This makes it very difficult to accurately judge his speed and even his technique and route running, because he often doesn't have to use great technique to beat the guys covering him. I was really hoping to see more of Deion at the Under Armour game against better competition, but he was slowed by injury. While Deion has the pure athleticism to compete early, I think he is going to need some time to adjust to the speed and talent of the college game. He is going to have to learn to work technique and route wise against top corners and it will be interesting to watch him develop and adapt to the frustration all top high school players experience when they can't simply impose their will every play. When he figures it out though, Deion has as much pure talent and athleticism as anyone.

John Goodman: Mr. Anonymous, the overlooked recruit. Because of the star power of Floyd and Walker, I sometimes think Irish fans overlook John Goodman. Some see him as a reincarnation of Jeff Samardzija. John is better than most people think. The first attribute that hasn't been discussed nearly enough is his speed. I will catch heat for this statement, but I would be willing to bet that pure straight line speed, John Goodman is the fastest WR in this class. That doesn't mean he is the best overall WR or best athlete, but it does mean he is faster than Jeff was and is not an Ed McCaffrey possession guy. John is another guy who I see making his mark more down the road than as a freshman. First, he needs to reacquaint himself with the WR position after playing mainly QB as a senior. It is very difficult to miss a year at your natural position and then simply flip the switch back and have your technique and route running perfect. Second, John needs to get stronger. He looked pretty lean at the Army game. Again, however, the future is bright.

Those are my reviews of the WRs signed by the Irish. Your thoughts?

Next Up: Tight End