Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Statistically Speaking: 2009 Season | by Pat

When you have to fire your coach, digging into the stats to see what happened is a bit unnecessary. No one needs to look into a box score to understand that while ND's (passing) offense was excellent, the defense was horrendous, and the overall production of the team was not good enough for Charlie to keep his job.

Still, now that the bowl games are over and the final 2009 season stats are settled, it's worth finishing up the stat tables if only to provide a baseline of sorts as we head into the Kelly era and identify areas that need the most immediate improvement.

Battle for First Down

I started this metric because Tenuta stated that one of the goals of his defense was to win first down and force defenses into 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations. The metric was a bit of a trial run to see if the results in some way mirrored what we saw on the field. Well, we don't even need to look at the numbers to know the plan failed. ND's defense gave up more total yards per game in 2009 (397.8) than in any other season in ND history. It really was that bad.

The silver lining for number crunchers is that the metric sort of pointed this out, and in that sense might be something useful to re-use in the future. Here are the 2009 numbers. The overall win rate of 44% was a noticable drop from the 50% win rate last year. Both rushing defense (41%) and pass defense (48%) dropped from their 2008 season values (48% and 52%, respectively).

Going forward, a way to make this metric better would be to provide greater context by seeing how other teams, both good and bad, did. Another important area that wasn't reflected was the tendency of ND's defense to be boom or bust on 1st down. I mentioned it in a few previous game reviews, but it seemed that often when ND "lost" 1st down, they gave up not just 4 or 5 yards, but large chunks of yardage. It would be good to work these big play yards into the metric somehow. ND blog Clashmore Mike did capture the 1st down big play raw numbers for 2009 in their excellent 2009 stats review.

Notre Dame allowed 6.1 yards per snap on 350 first down plays with two or fewer yards surrendered on over 44 percent of these plays. However, 43.7 percent of first down plays generated five or more yards including 43 explosive gains. These big plays accounted for almost 50 percent of the total first down production for opposing teams.

The 2009 Drive Chart table is another metric that could benefit from more context. I know Football Outsiders delve deeper into drive efficiency numbers, so if you are interested in how these values help predict and explain football game, make sure to head over there.

As one might expect, ND's offense drive numbers jumped from 48% in 2008 to 55% in 2009. Remeber that the percentage is the percent of total available yards that the offense gained. A stat like this is a bit more insightful than total yards because it accounts for games when teams don't need to drive 90 yards every drive to score a touchdown. On the other hand, it doesn't highlight red zone TD conversion numbers, which was an area where ND was decidedly average in 2009.

Over on defense, the numbers predictably dropped. From holding teams to 40% of all available yards in 2008, ND's defense allowed teams to gain 48% of them in 2009. In other words, notice how the 7% gain on offense is negated by the 8% drop on defense and it's pretty easy to see why a 7-6 team in 2008 put out a nearly identical 6-6 record in 2009. As much as we improved on one side of the ball, we regressed that much on the other. Granted that is rather simplistic analysis and ignores a few other key stats, but the shoe fits in this case.

Gimme M.O.E.

One collection of stats that did give some insight into ND's red zone issues was the M.O.E. numbers for 2009. The numbers crept up from 2008, finishing the year right on the 12% mark that was the ideal high water mark for offensive errors. While Clausen's accuracy kept the interception numbers low, offensive penalties, sacks, and dropped passes kept the overall M.O.E. score higher than any coach would like to see. Most fans would agree that there were an unending stop of driving killing mistakes this year, especially as the team got close to the endzone. (If not for Tausch's stellar debut as field goal kicker, things could have been even uglier this season).

I also crunched the Weis-era M.O.E. for all games and added it as the final sheet on the spreadsheet. Perhaps not surprisingly, ND's overall M.O.E. the past 5 seasons was 13%. Granted, the awful 2007 season does skew the total a bit, but the high mark also is statistical proof of the critiques of lack of attention to detail and fundamentals that many made about the Charlie regime. As Brian Kelly is also an offensive minded coach, but one who has much greater experience teaching fundamentals to college aged players, it will be interesting to see how his offense do with regards to M.O.E. scores.

Season Long Running Stats

It's kind of amazing how crystal clear the overall 2009 season stats are about the performance of the 2009 Fighting Irish. Every single offensive statistical category, save one (sacks allowed), improved from 2008. Meanwhile, every single defensive category, save two (red zone and red zone TD defense) declined from 2008.

Depending on the side of the ball, the stats were either shooting up (65th in total offense to 8th overall) or in a free fall (22nd in pass efficiency defense to 82nd overall). Even the turnover and special teams stats fell along offensive/defensive lines as ND improved on turnovers committed on offense, but regressed in turnovers forced on defense while the kickoff and punt return numbers improved while the coverage teams regressed.

Here's to much better looking numbers in 2010, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nichols is number nineteen | by Pat

Recruiting took another quick turn when the second Kentucky player offered a scholarship to Notre Dame committed instantly and became the 19th member of the 2010 class. Offensive tackle Tate Nichols visited campus this past weekend and as soon as ND offered, he accepted.

"I didn't have a scholarship offer going up there," Nichols said. "They had a version of my highlight film that wasn't high quality. I brought another one, from my senior year. They really liked it and they offered me a scholarship.

"... I'm a Catholic kid and it's closer to home. It's a perfect fit."

The closer to home bit references Stanford, where Nichols previously had been committed. He had backed away slightly the past few weeks from his Cardinal verbal and decided to make a clean break this weekend. That makes Nichols the third recruit this year to switch from Stanford to Notre Dame (Badger, Jones).

Two of the three main recruiting sites considered Nichols a tight end recruit and as such didn't slot him very high. Both Scout and Rivals tabbed Nichols as a 2-star tight end recruit with Scout considering him the 52nd overall TE. ESPN did list him as an offensive lineman, giving him 3-stars, a 75 grade rating, and a ranking as the 101st overall offensive tackle recruit.

Update: These were his rankings on Saturday when he committed. Today, Tuesday morning, Scout has changed him to a 3-star offensive line prospect and the #71 overall OT recruit.

It seems the confusion over his future college position was somewhat warranted when the recruiting sites added him to their databases a year ago. Nichols originally committed to Stanford in March of 2009 as a 6'7" 230 pounder that was told he would get a shot at TE. Now though he's pushing 275 according to self reports and Tate has acknowledged that his future lies at offensive tackle. As he started to back away from his Stanford verbal, Illinois, North Carolina State, and Michigan started increase communications. Part of the increase in weight is due to Tate just continuing to grow. Part of it though appears to be the result of working with the same personal trainer that Kyle Rudolph (who is also distantly related to Nichols) used to get ready for college. Here's Tate's senior highlight tape that mainly still shows him as a tight end, but includes some examples of him blocking.

Despite the recent added weight, Nichols will still be a bit of a project as most of his time in high school was spent at tight end or defensive end. ND needed more linemen in this class though so assuming the overall OL numbers stay high (and ND is able to haul in at least another tackle prospect like Matt James) Nichols should have time to work in the weight room and learn how to play offensive tackle. College is filled with high school tight ends who turn into solid offensive tackles, so he certainly has a good shot at turning into a dependable player with a lot of hard work and solid coaching.

Speaking of overall numbers, here is how the offensive line depth chart breaks down for the 2010 season. With a new staff, new line coach, and plenty of guys who haven't seen much action, I'm not going to separate tackles from guards here. After spring ball we should have a better idea of where the new staff will slot them. Remember that players with an asterisk have an additional year of eligibility.

5th Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Dan Wenger
Andrew Nuss*
Trevor Robinson
Chris Watt*
Christian Lombard
Chris Stewart
Matt Romine*
Lane Clelland*
Zach Martin*
Tate Nichols

Taylor Dever*
Braxston Cave*
Alex Bullard*

Mike Golic*

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Running down the list | by Pat

The whole staff, minus new father Mike Elston, assembled for a press conference and interview session this past Friday. Und.com has the collection of transcripts and videos which are worth your time. It's a nice way to put some faces and voices with names.

Since the coaching staff names were doled out over time, I figure it might be handy to put all the names, faces, and interesting bio bits in one spot. For each coach I'll list the standard name, rank and serial number and then will throw in how many years they have spent coaching the position they will coach for ND, which BCS conference schools they have previously worked at (including work as a GA), if they have served as a recruiting coordinator in the past, and any somewhat interesting bit of trivia about them.


Name: Charley Molnar
Position: Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks
Years Coaching this position: 10 (OC) & 16 (QB)
BCS teams: Virginia (2 years), Cincinnati (3 years)
Recruiting coordinator experience: Yes
Trivia bit: Worked with both Alford and Denbrock at earlier coaching stops

Name: Ed Warinner
Position: Offensive Line Coach
Years Coaching this position: 16
BCS teams: MSU (2), Kansas (5), Illinois (2)
Recruiting coordinator experience: Yes
Trivia bit: Only coach who hasn't worked with Kelly yet.

Name: Tim Hinton
Position: Running Backs
Years Coaching this position: 5
BCS teams: Ohio State (2), Cincinnati (6)
Recruiting coordinator experience: Yes
Trivia bit: Coached LBs for Kelly at UC before switching back to RBs

Name: Tony Alford
Position: Wide Receivers
Years Coaching this position: 0
BCS teams: Washington (1), Iowa State (9), Louisville (2)
Recruiting coordinator experience: No
Trivia bit: His brother Aaron coaches for next year opponent Utah

Name: Mike Denbrock
Position: Tight Ends
Years Coaching this position: 10
BCS teams: Stanford (1), ND (3), Washington (4)
Recruiting coordinator experience: No
Trivia bit: Was both OC and DC for Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State

Name: Michael Painter
Position: Offensive Graduate Assistant
Previously at: Central Michigan, Cincinnati
Trivia bit: Played under Larry Kehres in college, the winningest active coach in football


Name: Bob Diaco
Position: Defensive coordinator & Inside Linebackers
Years Coaching this position: 2
BCS teams: Iowa (2), Virginia (3), Cincinnati (1)
Recruiting coordinator experience: No
Trivia bit: Butkus Award Semi-finalist as LB at Iowa

Name: Mike Elston
Position: Defensive Line & Special Teams Coordinator
Years Coaching this position: 6
BCS teams: Michigan (2), Cincinnati (3)
Recruiting coordinator experience: Yes
Trivia bit: 3 for 3 in having UC player win Big East Special Teams Player of the Year

Name: Kerry Cooks
Position: Outside Linebackers
Years Coaching this position: 0
BCS teams: Kansas St. (1), Minnesota (1), Wisconsin (3)
Recruiting coordinator experience: No
Trivia bit: College teammate of Bob Diaco at Iowa

Name: Chuck Martin
Position: Defensive Backs
Years Coaching this position: 6
BCS teams: N/A
Recruiting coordinator experience: No
Trivia bit: 74-7 record as head coach at Grand Valley State

Name: Bill Brechin
Position: Defensive Graduate Assistant
Previously at: Grand Valley State
Trivia Bit: Went 40-1 as a player under Martin

Strength and Conditioning Staff

Name: Paul Longo
Position: Strength and Conditioning Coach
Years Coaching this position: 22
BCS teams: Wisconsin (1), Iowa (15), Cincinnati (3)
Trivia bit: Was strength coach at Iowa for Cooks and Diaco

Name: Jacob Flint
Position: Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach
Years Coaching this position: 3
BCS teams: Cincinnati (3)
Trivia bit: Is a nationally ranked competitive weightlifter

Name: Lorenzo Guess
Position: Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach
Years Coaching this position: 5
BCS teams: South Florida (1), Cincinnati (2)
Trivia bit: Was the Tight Ends coach at Cincinnati last season

So, what do you think? It's definitely a younger staff than the one under Charlie. And if you watch the interviews they do seem to be more personable across the board. Most of them come from similar midwest oriented backgrounds, so at least from a recruiting perspective, ND might get a higher percentage of midwest players in the next few classes. (It took Polian a few classes until he started to reel in California players with regularity) As for their coaching ability, well, we'll all have to wait and see how the team looks next fall.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spring prep | by Pat

As we look towards Signing Day, the official roster got a bit bigger with the addition of some early enrollees, announced 5th year players, the return of a former preferred walk-on, and a QB recruit who will stick with ND.

On Tuesday, the largest group of early enrollee football players ever all settled into their dorms and started classes. Here's the list of the five early enrollees who will add much needed depth in spring practice, especially at QB and safety.

Rees will get most of the attention this spring, if only because enrolling early effectively places him as the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster. Much has been made of Kelly's ability to plug and play at the QB position and that will certainly get tested this spring. Badger will also add needed depth to a safety 2-deep that will need to be completely rebuilt with the graduation of Kyle McCarthy, Sergio Brown, Rey Herring, and Leonard Gordon. Depending on what the staff does with Harrison Smith, Badger could find himself already a second-stringer at strong safety. The other three players get a bit more of a luxury of learning from some seasoned vets at corner and receiver.

Speaking of vets, four 5th year players have been annouced, per Blue and Gold Illustrated. As expected, Darrin Walls, Chris Stewart, and Dan Wenger all return. Barry Gallup is also back, which is a bit of a surprise, but he was a dependable returner last year on special teams and will provide more receiver depth for ND's new spread offense. Leonard Gordon, mentioned above, would have added needed depth at safety, but apparently is moving on with his life and career. As noted in the article, Bobby Burger may still be back, which personally would be a good thing for the TE depth chart and special teams.

Finally, Crist and Rees will have some company this spring as Nate Montana is back at ND after spending the fall at Pasadena City College. Frankly, his numbers last fall were pretty mediocre, but experience is experience. He'll have his work cut out for him this spring, but ND needs the numbers at this point.

Help will arrive in the fall when QB recruit Andrew Hendrix enrolls. He backed away from ND briefly when Charlie was fired and recently took a trip down to Florida at Urban's request which had ND considering other options, but once back in Ohio decided to stick with his original commitment. He wrote a blog post for Irish Sports Daily that explain the last few weeks for him, so follow the link to see what he has to say.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don't Drive Angry. | by Pat

If case you were wondering why I called ND's hiring process "lengthy" and "labyrinthine" in the past few posts, well, the South Bend Tribune's Eric Hansen sheds some light on why...

A fully-staffed staff | by Pat

Though perhaps over-shadowed a bit by Lane Kiffin becoming Public Enemy #1 in the state of Tennessee, the rest of the ND coaching staff was finally officially announced yesterday evening after all members had made their way through ND's labyrinthine hiring process. First up was the new strength coach and his assistants. As expected, Paul Longo will be the new strength coach at Notre Dame and resume the position he held under Brian Kelly at UC and Central Michigan.

One constant of any coaching regime change are the stories about how the new strength coach will be a shock to the system of the players and he's a clear improvement over the last guy. We heard it when Mickey Marotti (who came to ND from Cincinnati as well) took over under Davie. We heard it when Ruben Mendoza took over from Mickey, and I suspect we'll hear a lot of it now that Longo is in place.

We wouldn't want to disappoint in the predictable praise of the new strength coach though, so here's a story on Longo's methods at UC and the dreaded Longo Beach (which is apparently included in your admission to Camp Kelly). It certainly sounds like Longo will is more apt to include Marotti-esque strongman-type competitions than the more traditional weight room work used by Mendoza.

Every year, the Bearcats' strength coach sets up an 80-yard long, 10-foot wide sand pit inside of Nippert Stadium for players to run sprints through. It saves some pounding on the knees, but of course sand is harder to run on than turf. He dubs his creation "Longo Beach."

"I'm sure our guys would tell you that it's no day at the beach," Longo says with a laugh.

Longo also constructs a 30-yard hill inside Nippert during the summer for sprint work. Peek inside some of the Cincinnati summer workouts, and you might think you're watching a taping of the "World's Strongest Man" competition. Longo has been known to ask his guys to lift unusual items like tires and perform what's called a Farmer's Walk, where you walk while carrying a heavy object in each hand.

"Our linemen will carry up to 200 pounds in each hand for 100 yards," Longo said. "Don't you think that's a better test of strength than a bench press?"
Mendoza reportedly also attempted to set up the hill for sprint work, but for whatever reason it never happened. It will be interesting to see if Longo does get his hill set up for this winter's conditioning work.

One difference between Longo and the former strength coaches is how Kelly views the role of ND's latest strength coach. Perhaps Davie, Ty, and Charlie had similar thoughts, but as far as I know they never mentioned the strength coach as a de facto third coordinator for the football team.
"Paul joins our offensive and defensive coordinators as leaders of this program. He cuts across the traditional strength and conditioning coach mold because he builds relationships with all players and coaches and serves as a leader, not just in the weight room, but throughout the program.

Paul is a critical addition to our program because, arguably, no coach will have more contact with our players throughout the whole year than our strength and conditioning coach. Based on his track record and what I have personally witnessed, I can't wait to see how he'll make our team better moving forward."
With Kelly reportedly inviting members of the media to witness some of the Camp Kelly/Longo Beach activities (whereI'm sure Brian Hamilton will be checking all available sheds for shunned players), I suspect there will be plenty more written about Longo's methods at ND.

Rounding out the day of announcements were the final three additions to the coaching staff that included one surprise twist. Former Kansas OC Ed Warinner, former Wisconsin DB coach Kerry Cooks, and former UC RB coach Tim Hinton were named ND's newest OL, OLB, and RB coaches respectively. The big twist is that ND already had a running backs coach in Tony Alford, but he will move over to coach wide receivers while Hinton takes on the same role he had for the Bearcats. Alford has never coached receivers before, but Kelly has been known to shuffle assistants around and that's what he's doing here.
"Over the past few weeks, I've gotten to know Tony Alford well while traveling with him on the recruiting trail," Kelly said. "I can tell that he is a terrific teacher and coach, so that is why I've asked him to become our wide receivers coach. This move will not only help Tony but also benefit the program. For Tony, this is a great professional development opportunity and gives him a chance to really increase his coaching acumen. For the team, this takes a great coach and puts him at a position where he will have multiple players on the field at one time in our offense. I have complete confidence in Tony's ability to coach our wide receivers and plan to see a similar impact with them as he had with the running backs last year."
Ed Warninner will slide into one of the most critical spots on the staff, not only because the OL coach is the most important coach on any college staff (in my opinion), but also because he is the replacement for Kelly's long-time OL coach and right hand man Jeff Quinn, who took the head coaching job at Buffalo. Ed's resume shows success running the football (Army, Illinois), and passing (Kansas) as well as experience and familiarity with the spread offense. But as the only member of the new ND coaching staff that has never worked with Brian Kelly before -- Cooks explains he technically worked for Kelly for 7 days -- Ed's transition will be interesting to watch.

Now that the whole staff has been named, they will be busy hitting the road recruiting for the next few weeks to try and finalize the 2010 recruiting class. Kelly hasn't officially assigned the special teams and recruiting coordinator titles to any of the assistant's yet, but it is assumed that DL coach Mike Elston will get the special teams title while Hinton will become the recruiting coordinator, a position he held at Cincinnati.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wildcard! | by Pat

While Kelly has tweeted that the staff has been finalized and will be announced shortly, the big news of the weekend was Pete Carroll calling Wildcard and jumping for the NFL (where a game against Kansas City will feature its own subplot.) The news was shocking, coming the weekend before early enrollee candidates were scheduled to head to Southern Cal to start spring semester classes. There are theories why he left when he did and the threat of a looming NCAA crackdown does seem fairly likely.

So what is the impact for ND Football? Aside from the bummer that ND will never get a chance to beat a Pete Carroll led Southern Cal team, there should be a few short term and long term impacts for ND. First off is recruiting, as we're in the middle of the craziest recruiting month of the year. With the changes at the top at ND, FSU, and Southern Cal, the flip flopping going on at Florida, and the likely coordinator shuffling that may hit schools many other top programs, it's got to be a rough time for recruits who watch the coaches that built relationships with them bolt for other programs.

Kelly has hit the road pretty hard so far recruiting-wise, so if you are looking for insights into how he will fare as a recruiter at ND over the next few years, keep an eye on if he's able to swing any prospects ND's way that may have been leaning elsewhere a week or so ago. The true judge of his recruiting abilities will come in the next class when he has a full calendar year to attract recruits, but if he's going to be an excellent recruiter we should start to see some evidence of that in the next few weeks.

Taking a bit longer view, odds are good that Southern Cal won't be able to keep up the pace they have held for the past few years. They are still loaded with more talent than any team in the country not named Florida or Alabama, but the aura of dominance is gone. The time is now for Kelly to tilt the balance of the rivalry back in ND's favor after 8 painful years. The idea of moral victories like 2005, or to some extent 2009, need to be purged from the collective ND fanbase. I'm pretty sure that Kelly won't flinch from reminders of Lou's long successful run against the Trojans, so I don't feel bad in setting my expectations for future ND-Southern Cal games very high. Some might scoff at yet another internet ND fan expecting multiple victories against Southern Cal from his new coach months before he takes the field for the first time, but the biggest obstacle to the BCS has conviently been removed for Kelly. There is no shame or hubris in expecting him to take advantage.

Taking an even bigger step back, there is that other favorite off-season topic that should be considered: scheduling. As it should be, the Trojans will remain on the schedule indefinitely. But if the NCAA decides to actually do something for once and administers more than a slap on the wrist to our favorite west coast team, it's possible that the entire program could take a step backwards for a few years while they wrestle with reduced scholarships and/or post-season bans. That means one less boost to ND's strength of schedule in coming years. And if Michigan continues to stumble under Rodriquez the next few years or fails to replace him with a top notch coach, they also could experience a few more years of mediocrity. As ND continues to schedule within the framework of the 7-4-1 model, there needs to be a push to include top competition in future schedules. This isn't a cry for ND to play Top 10 teams on a weekly basis. It is just a recognition that assuming Southern Cal will be there to boost the strength of schedule might not be an option in the coming years and ND should schedule accordingly.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Next Wave | by Pat

Two more former Kelly assistants were officially announced yesterday evening with both being given a coordinator title.

University of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly has filled two key leadership positions on his coaching staff as Bob Diaco has been hired as defensive coordinator and Charley Molnar has been hired as offensive coordinator, Kelly announced Thursday.

Both Diaco and Molnar were on Kelly's coaching staff at Cincinnati in 2009. Diaco was the Bearcats' defensive coordinator and coached the inside linebackers while Molnar served as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach.

With the Irish, Diaco will also work with the inside linebackers and Molnar will coach the quarterbacks.
As with the previous hires, both will hit the road right away to visit recruits. Checking their bios, you can see that Diaco will only be in his second year as a defensive coordinator while Molnar has a bit more experience, coordinating offenses at Illinois State, Kent State, and Indiana State. Of course, when it comes to the offense Brian Kelly will be the one who calls the plays, much like Charlie called them the past few years. No doubt with his relative inexperience and the play of Cincinnati's defense down the stretch this past season, Diaco will be the one assistant coach that ND fans give the least benefit of the doubt. (On the other hand, in his one year as UC's DC he changed the defensive system from 4-3 to 3-4, had to replace 10 starters from the 2008 team, and still managed to field a defense that finished the year 44th in scoring defense.)

Taking a look at their released statements (Diaco, Molnar) here's the executive summary of how they plan on running ND's defense and offense, respectively.
Diaco on defense:
"It bases out of a 3-4. We've created a system where we go quickly from three down linemen to four down linemen and we can get that reduced player wherever we need it to be. That's part of the overall package. One great thing about basing out of a 3-4 is the element that the offense doesn't know where the fourth rusher will be coming from. A fourth rusher can come from the field. A fourth rusher can come from the boundary. A fourth rusher can come from the inside."

Molnar on offense:
"We'll run a spread offense that operates at a high tempo. Our players will play hard and they will be fundamentally sound. We'll be a team that will push the ball down the field through the vertical passing game but also understand the importance of having an effective rushing attack."
More to come on all of the assistants once the full staff is announced and we get a clear picture of exactly where all the position, recruiting, and special teams responsibilities fall.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Most Hands on Board | by Pat

A few of ND's newest assistant coaches managed to finally come out the other end of ND's lengthy hiring process and can now hit the road to help Brian Kelly and Tony Alford recruit. Mike Denbrock, Mike Elston, and Chuck Martin were officially announced late tonight on und.com.

Mike Denbrock, who coached at ND under Willingham, will coach tight ends at ND. Mike Elston, who coached the defensive line at Cincinnati will coach the same at ND while Chuck Martin, the former head coach of Grand Valley State, will assume the title of defensive backs coach. We'll dig a bit deeper into their bios in a later post, but it is worth noting that all three have a history of working with Kelly already. Denbrock was a GA at Grand Valley State with Kelly when both were starting out as coaches. Elston has coached under Kelly the past six years at Central Michigan and Cincinnati and Chuck Martin was hired by Kelly at Grand Valley State and worked with him for four years before taking over for Kelly when Kelly left for Central Michigan.

The three coaches have a collection of quotes up on und.com (Denbrock, Elston, Martin). Most of it is standard fare about being excited to be at their new job, but out of the ordinary, at least for ND, is the last Q&A, which clearly is designed for curious recruits (and anxious ND fans) about how the ND staff was approaching recruiting over the next few crucial weeks.

Mike Elston -- On his immediate plans:

"Right now the plan is to hit the road and tie up some loose ends on a few of the committed players. I might potentially follow some leads on kids we had evaluated at Cincinnati but were either out of our reach or have recently reopened their recruiting based on other coaching changes or different circumstances. So I imagine I'll be flying around the country here a little bit towards the end of the week and potentially ending up in San Antonio on Saturday."

Chuck Martin -- On what the immediate future brings:

"I'm going to head right to Chicago to visit a couple kids we have committed and a couple other kids we are working on trying to get committed. I think we are going to take inventory in the middle of the week. Obviously it is a mad scramble with all of the other staff members coming on board and I think we'll stay in constant communication with Coach Kelly on where we're going next. I'm prepared to go anywhere next. I know Chicago is my main area but I'm willing to go recruit anywhere in the country to find players for Notre Dame."

Mike Denbrock -- On his immediate plans:

"I'm already out on the road recruiting. I'm looking to make sure that some of the commitments Notre Dame has received remain committed while also working to get as many of the young men as we have targeted. I'm looking forward to sitting down with them and their families and present the mission of the University of Notre Dame. I want to make sure those young men know there is a quality education and a tremendous football program waiting for them to be a part of."
Someone is paying attention to the concerns of recruits (and anxious ND fans) over how Kelly and his new staff would adapt to national recruiting and when they would get out to visit with recruits. Not only did they include the above quotes and mentions of flying all over the country, but the intro paragraph of the official announcement itself brings up national recruiting right away.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -Three coaches with a combined 43 years of coaching experience with backgrounds in recruiting California, Florida and Chicago have been added to the University of Notre Dame football coaching staff, Irish head coach Brian Kelly announced Tuesday.
The coaches will be judged as recruiters by their results, but I like how they and the ND athletic department are being a bit more obvious about bringing up their experience and eagerness to recruit. With other teams using the past few weeks to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of ND recruits, the new Irish coaches will need that eagerness.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Checking the cupboard | by Pat

While we wait for the coaching staff to be officially announced during this week, let's take a look at the players they will be coaching. When Brian Kelly was hired, he stated that he didn't care what he didn't have on the depth chart, he only cared what he did have. This post will take a look at those players he does have, specifically the ones that got some playing time in 2009.

One thing to keep in mind while reading through these tables is that with every coaching staff turnover, players can be moved around positions and even swap sides of the ball. There may or may not be a lot of that this spring, but it wouldn't be surprising to see at least a few players shuffling positions. Also, the decision on 5th year players hasn't been made yet. We'll list all of the eligible candidates, but not all of them might be back and the percentages will change accordingly. As always, credit to Lou Somogyi for publishing the final playing time numbers. If you want to look through the numbers of past years, here are the links to the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons.

Overall, 62% of the minutes played last season return for Kelly. The breakdown is 53% of the offense and 73% of the defense.

Legend: PT = playing time; ST Appr. = special teams appearances; all players are listed by academic class, not eligibility.

Quarterback - 11%

Last year was the season to get Dayne Crist some meaningful minutes, especially as Clausen proved more and more NFL ready. Unfortunately in his first extended chance to lead the team, Crist tore his ACL. Meanwhile, Clausen continued to play so well that an early jump to the NFL was the smart business decision. So now not only will ND field an inexperienced quarterback next season, the only scholarship QB on the roster in the spring (except for likely early enrollee Tommy Rees) will be coming off a major knee injury. Obviously how Kelly manages the lack of healthy scholarship quarterbacks as he tries to install his QB-centric offense will be the major story of the spring. Former high school quarterbacks John Goodman, Dan McCarthy or E.J. Banks might see some time in the shotgun depending on Crist's rehab schedule as will some of the unheralded walk-ons (or heralded in the case of Nate Montana, who is likely to return to campus).

QuarterbackST Appr.PT Minutes
Crist (jr)038
Return Pct.

Running Back - 94%

Arguably the deepest and most talented position on the team next season, nearly everyone is back for 2010. Aside from the 94% of the playing time coming back, 98% of the running back carries return with only James Aldridge (6 carries) moving on. With the names set, the biggest question will be how they adapt to the new spread offense. It seems like a natural fit for guys like Armando Allen and Theo Riddick, but might be a bit more of an adjustment for the bigger backs like Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray. In the case of Hughes though, he is a solid receiver out of the backfield, which should help. And don't forget about Cierre Wood, the most highly touted member of last year's recruiting class who preserved a year of eligibility in 2009. What the spread means for fullbacks like Bobby Burger, who played more of an H-back role in '09, and Steve Paskorz, who didn't play much of all, remains to be seen.

Running BackST Appr.PT Minutes
Allen (sr)4 183
Hughes (sr) 1118
Burger (5th)8354
Riddick (so)6044
Gray (jr)3636
Paskorz (sr)
Return Pct.

Offensive Line - 43%

Would it concern you to note that heading into the 2007 season ND had nearly an identical percentage of returning playing time on the OL (42%)? The depth is certainly better this time around -- only 3 juniors or older heading into '07 compared to 9 for '10 -- but there is still going to be inexperience on the line. Nowhere will be less experienced than at the tackle spots. Both starting tackles are gone and there have been no heirs apparent stepping up over the past few seasons. Matt Romine is the closest thing to one, but he has battled injuries the past few seasons. It's going to be an interesting position battle this spring for the starting tackle spots. With the need for quicker, more agile linemen in the spread, the winners of the open tackle jobs will probably be the guys that do the best job slimming back down from bulking up the past year during what will undoubtedly be a pretty rough off-season conditioning cycle.

Offensive LineST Appr.
PT Minutes
Stewart (5th)65338
Robinson (jr)
Wenger (5th)
Romine (sr)833
Nuss (sr)15430
Dever (sr)614
Golic (jr)37
Cave (jr)1107
Clelland (jr)167
Return Pct.

Wide Receiver- 49%

Losing Golden Tate to the NFL takes away not only a special talent but a big chunk of ND's wide receiver experience. Having Michael Floyd come back does ease the transition, but at least one of the younger receivers will need to step up and take on a bigger role, especially with the frequency that Kelly uses 4 receiver formations. If Goodman moves over to quarterback in the spring that will make this position group even less experienced. It would be ideal if Duval Kamara could have a Mo Stovall-like senior campaign and help out the younger receivers like Walker, Evans, and Toma who should all see a jump in responsibility.

Wide ReceiverST Appr.PT Minutes
Kamara (sr)0192
Floyd (jr)1172
Goodman (jr)954
Evans (so)133
Walker (jr)
Toma (so)15
Gallup (5th)
Return Pct.

Tight End - 100%

It's always nice to see a three digit number next to a position group. Assuming they can successfully avoid ResLife until the fall, ND will have a solid depth chart of experienced and young tight ends. Kyle Rudolph will be a big part of the offense and will probably split out wide even more than he did this past season. Ragone will be two years removed from his knee injury and hopefully the speed he flashed running down a WSU cornerback will be all the way back. One note about Tyler Eifert is that he should preserve a year of eligibility despite playing since he hurt his back and should be eligible for a medical redshirt. Jake Golic and incoming freshman Alex Welch will round out the depth chart that features a number of quicker pass-catching tight ends that should easily adapt to the spread offense.

Tight EndST Appr.PT Minutes
Rudolph (jr)57276
Ragone (sr)
Eifert (so)
Return Pct.

Defensive Line - 86%

With a new defensive staff and a shift (back) to a 3-4 defense, expect plenty of moving and shuffling of players as the new coaches try to fill out a new depth chart. The good news is that there are a lot of players returning who saw action in '09. A front three of Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, and Kapron Lewis-Moore seems like a pretty natural fit for a 3-4 line, but players like Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal, both possible candidates to move to an outside linebacker spot, are also pretty experienced and can help provide the pass rush that ND will absolutely need next season. And don't forget the rest of the promising junior class including Sean Cwynar, who looked impressive in limited action, Hafis Williams, and Brandon Newman. Add in Emeka Nwankwo, Tyler Stockton and the incoming freshmen, including the massive Louis Nix and there appears to be some solid numbers along the defensive line.

Defensive LineST Appr.PT Minutes
Johnson (jr)51263
Lewis-Moore (jr)51227
I. Williams (sr)38204
Fleming (jr)60202
Neal (sr)19174
Cwynar (jr)1251
Mullen (5th)2212
H. Williams (jr)29
Wade (5th)02
Return Pct.

Linebacker - 88%

The announcement that Manti Te'o would return was fantastic news for a linebacking corp that struggled at times but still has plenty of young talent. The number of Smith 'backers will be cut in half but the two that played the most are the ones that will be back. Brian Smith will be on the field for sure while the coaches will have to figure out if Harrison is in fact a linebacker, where he ended 2009, or safety, where he started 2009. If you asked which player on the team played more special teams than anyone else, most might not realize it was actually Steve Filer. Now in the second half of his college career, hopefully the talented athlete will see the field more on defense. With the 3-4 defense there will be an additional linebacker on the field and there will be plenty of candidates like Poz, McDonald, Calabrese, Fox, and the incoming freshmen. It would be great to see one or more of them stepping up to help solidify the depth at the inside linebacker spots.

LinebackerST Appr.PT Minutes
B.Smith (sr)66313
H. Smith (sr)
Te'o (so)63238
T. Smith2981
S. Smith20945
Filer (jr)21322
Posluszny (jr)896
McDonald (jr)1804
Return Pct.

Safety - 2%

Here's the position that will worry fans the most (and whose depth chart should be emailed to any and all safety recruits). Assuming that Harrison Smith sticks at linebacker, which is just a guess at this point, the safety position will be as inexperienced as any position since we started doing this 5 years ago. The top returning player is the promising Zeke Motta who, like Harrison, might be more linebacker than safety, especially after a full off-season in the weight room. That leaves career backup Leonard Gordon, Danny McCarthy, and their 3 minutes of playing time last year. It wouldn't be surprising to see one of the bigger returning corners like Jamoris Slaugher move to safety to help out the depth. Regardless of what happens, the safety spot will be the least experienced position on the field next season.

SafetiesST Appr.PT Minutes
K. McCarthy124303
Motta (so)16611
Gordon (5th)1372
D. McCarthy (jr)151
Return Pct.

Cornerback - 88%

One of the biggest disappointments of the 2009 season was the play of the veteran cornerbacks. Whether it was scheme or coaching or both, the talent and experience was much greater than what the play on the field showed. Getting this unit back to where they should be will be one of the major tasks of ND's new defensive backs coach. The good news is that there are four very capable and experienced corners including multi-year starters in Darrin Walls and Robert Blanton. Gary Gray and Jamoris Slaughter add a more physical element to the position, but one of the two could find himself moved to safety to help out with depth there.

CornerbacksST Appr.PT Minutes
Walls (5th)
Blanton (jr)35167
Gray (sr)38153
Slaughter (jr)11034
Return Pct.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year! | by Pat

For those watching the Cincinnati-Florida Sugar Bowl, here's your open thread. It would be a stretch to try and take too much much from the game, but UC's defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will likely be ND's defensive coordinator as soon as the game ends, so the style of defense is worth paying attention to. Likewise, UC's spread offense is more or less what we should expect next season so fell free to note what you like and don't like.

And speaking of future ND assistant coaches, it sounds like Kelly has hired his new offensive line coach. Again, it probably won't be until next week for anything official, but it sounds like former Kansas assistant Ed Warinner is ND's next line coach.