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Mailbag: Opening Weekend

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly


Happy Labor Day weekend, everybody. Here’s hoping you’re spending the holiday with friends, family... and some long-awaited college football.

With the Irish in their final practice before game day, let’s run through some of the mailbag questions you had for me. I tried to take something from everyone, but a quick reminder -- a manifesto is not a question.

On to the questions from both Twitter and the comments:

@GregMusser: Is there news out on the fate of the 5 players since the investigation is over?

@FairCatch_Corby: Question about the investigation that’s bothered me: why would GC be involved in Honor Code violation? Does that always happen?

@bearcatirishfan: Are the four players currently “on leave” allowed to attend class until the results of the inquiry are final? Would be a shame for them to be cleared (if hat happened) and be two or three weeks behind on class work.

dmacirish: Is there any way you see notre dame “winning” with the academic investigation? for instance, if it ends up no one did anything wrong then i foresee a “cover up” being called on nd. if it ends up that there was a minor infraction but nothing major and they only miss a game or two, does nd end up classified as “just like everyone else but to arrogant to admit it”. if it ends up being a big thing, does everyone condemn nd and throw the hatchets at us?

Is there any way that you can see the general public looking at it and saying “notre dame handled it correctly and came to the right conclusion.”

Let’s get the academic investigation stuff out of the way first. As I wrote yesterday morning, Kelly’s comments on the Dan Patrick radio show gave us a clue that the investigation was all but over. That’s only one part of the process.

To address Corby’s question, the General Counsel was involved because there was a concern that NCAA rules were violated. After speaking with people very knowledgable about the process, the General Counsel worked with an outside firm as well, being proactive in the case of widespread issues -- like we saw at North Carolina and some other cheating scandals that including university staff, etc.

As Father Jenkins stated, all of the students are still enrolled in classes and other than being held out of practice and meetings, they aren’t found to be guilty until proven innocent, even though that’s what a lot of the media reporting seemed to push along as truth.

To DMac’s point, I’m not sure anybody wins in this one, but I think there’ll be a level of relief for Notre Dame fans and coaches if this is found to be just five students making a poor academic decision. While that’s embarrassing and does chip away at the academic prestige of the Irish football program, it’s hardly the death kneel some reporters made it out to be.

As for the reaction to the upcoming Honor Code decision? That depends on the person. Like most things Notre Dame, you find out quite a bit about how someone feels about the Irish by the opinion they form. In this case, I have a hunch that we could see a few of the players on the field against Michigan, though that’s a leap I don’t think everyone should take, if only because it sets you up to be mighty disappointed.

sjb198: Keith, I saw this asked on a different board and it went unanswered. Were there revisions to the targeting rules during the off season?

The rule was tweaked slighty. But in my opinion, it still puts too much power in the snap judgment made by the official on the field, when it’s just as easy to suspend a player for the next game.

That said, I saw the rule executed perfectly last night, when a Ole Miss defender put his helmet right into the chin of Boise State’s quarterback. The ruling on the field was a 15-yard penalty and an ejection, and it stood after replay review.

@JMset3: over/under week 2 on Irish fans calling for BK’s head. Also, is Tyler Luatua the first H Back @ ND since early 90s?

I think that depends if the Irish beat Michigan. But honestly, if you’re calling for Kelly’s head this season, you’re pretty much a dummy. (At least after two games.)

As for the interesting part of your question, Kelly tried to use Mike Ragone as an H-back for a bit, but injuries made it difficult for Ragone to stay on the field.

We might be making too big of a deal out of Luatua’s official role on this team. If we’ve learned anything these past few years it’s that Kelly has used his tight end in a variety of ways, some of which could be considered traditional H-back duties.

@Johngoolsby12: How fast of tempo do u expect from Irish this year? Cinci fast?

No clue, John. Every year we talk about tempo offense I feel like Charlie Brown getting ready to kick the football. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t watch too much Cincinnati football back when Kelly was there. So to call it Cincy fast or Oregon fast or Boise fast seems to be a little hard to peg.

But listening to Everett Golson this week, he said it was a much faster operation than it was in 2012. So we’ll find out tomorrow.

NotreDan: Can you comment on the selection of captains this year versus last? As you know, I was vocal last year about the lack of “passion” in last year’s group (that they were inward, sort of quiet guys). I’m a little nervous that this year’s captains seem to be on the quiet side again, do you think they will be more active?

Dan, I think measuring passion is pretty difficult. Especially when you’re watching the team on a 42-inch flatscreen. But I get your point.

TJ Jones was a quiet guy. Bennett Jackson wasn’t necessarily the team’s most vocal leader. And Zack Martin had the reputation of being an internal guy, though I hardly think that’s the case.

If there was an issue, it was that Notre Dame’s best players weren’t their best leaders. So when you’ve got potential stars like Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt taking up the attention, perhaps that makes it more difficult for the leaders to lead.

I don’t feel comfortable connecting those dots, but I do like what BK did with captains this year. As he mentioned, the strength of this team is its youth. But you can’t turn your back on veteran leaders, so naming Cam McDaniel and Austin Collinsworth was a smart play from a program building standpoint. Both those guys are “lead from the front” types, and have the respect of their teammates.

You can say the same for Nick Martin, who is a really strong and vocal leader. And Sheldon Day is probably one of the most respected guys on the team. It’ll be interesting to see if Martin and Day are both two-year captains.

Because if they are, I can almost tell you right now who the captains are in 2015: Martin, Day, Jaylon Smith and Everett Golson.

@mbannon92: With so much youth and inexperience on both sides of the ball, do you think BK and the coaching staff will bring out the full playbook against Rice to gain experience and get in a groove for Michigan, or will they hold back so that that Michigan has a limited amount of tape to study?

I know Nude might object, but I don’t think you’re going to see every wrinkle on Saturday, especially if the Irish can get out to a comfortable lead.

But that’s likely because Rice will challenge the Irish in a much different way than Michigan does, and with a quarterback that hasn’t shown the best ability to throw the ball. That should allow VanGorder to be less multiple than he will be against Michigan, who will be running Doug Nussmeier’s offense, the former Alabama coordinator who had his way with the Irish defense in the BCS title game. (With the Crimson Tide’s personnel...)

Offensively, nothing the Irish will do on Saturday will be that different than the rest of the season. That said, they might hold a play or two back on that side of the ball to try and catch Greg Mattison off guard.

simmel65: How do you see Brian Kelly using the running backs? Is it going to be one guy each series, or do you see on of them being a primary back and then maybe a 3rd down guy and goal line back?

No clue. But I hardly think it’ll be a rotation, or something as simple as trading series. This isn’t the NFL preseason. These games count, so I’m guessing they’ll have a stable of plays that each back runs very well, and game plan and situation will determine who gets what. Or the hot hand. I’m excited to see what Greg Bryant looks like with a hot hand.

That said, Kelly has always said he prefers to have a lead back. It’s up to McDaniel, Tarean Folston or Bryant to go out and get the job.

@DrewBrennan77: What does ND need to do to improve their Red Zone offense and score TDs. It has been brutal the last few yrs.

We could talk about this question for hours. But I think it comes down to execution and personnel. With Golson back, the zone read running game is in play. Remember, even though Golson didn’t have a designed run called for what felt like all of September, he still led Notre Dame in rushing touchdowns.

Outside of that, it’s doing a better job finishing off drives via execution. It’s always going to be harder to move the ball close to the goal line. Does that mean giving a more powerful back like Bryant the goal line carries? Is it properly utilizing Corey Robinson’s size? Being more accurate with the fade route? Running empty set, five wide at the goal line?

Red Zone has been a point of emphasis in both spring and fall camp, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Irish approach things. But they’ll have more options than when Tommy Rees was under center, just because of the QB run option.

padomer: Is Trumbetti that good? Or is Okwara still asleep (get it! cuz he a sleeper!), and will he ever wake up? Im beginning to put him into Ishaq territory, you?

I’m not sure about Trumbetti being that good, but he’s certainly an impressive player. Just talking with Mike Elston last week will tell you that. But he’s a freshman. And the Irish haven’t recruited a defensive end like him in a few years. But don’t get down on Okwara. He’s still a teenager, and finally getting an opportunity to play a position that might better suit him.

Part of the problem of having excellent depth is the fact that your young hotshots don’t play until they’re ready. Okwara was stuck behind some pretty quality players in 2012, and last year the Irish had Prince Shembo (soon to be a starting linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons) and Jaylon Smith playing his position. It’s a pity he couldn’t redshirt in 2012, but that’s water under the bridge now.

mtflsmitty: Who do you think will be the “surprise breakout players” of the season? One for offense, one for defense.

On offense, I’ll go with Amir Carlisle. I was really high on him last year (and completely wrong), so why not double down. On defense, I’d have a hard time picking anybody but James Onwualu. I’ve got a soft spot for my fellow CDH Raiders.

But otherwise, consider me really high on Joe Schmidt. Even if he might get overpowered from time to time, I expect him to be a tackling machine.