Chicago Colleges: Brian Kelly

Irish lunch links

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
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This is Pat Riley's world, and we're just living in it.

Kelly happy to have Daniels back

June, 11, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A broader-looking DaVaris Daniels walked into the Loftus Sports Center on Tuesday night donning a bucket hat, whatever aches from his first summer workout with the rest of his Notre Dame teammates earlier in the day having given way to some lighthearted activity with the hundreds on hand for "Football 101."

"He’s obviously physically done a lot of work in the time away and he’s in very good shape and now it’s just a matter of getting his legs back," coach Brian Kelly said minutes earlier, before the annual charity event put on by him and his wife, Paqui.

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Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsDaVaris Daniels has rejoined the Irish and looks to be in excellent condition.
"I think that’ll happen in very short order."

Kelly is happy to have Daniels back after his spring-semester suspension for what the receiver deemed as academic-related shortcomings. Daniels brings another dimension to an Irish offense looking to take off in Year 5 of the Kelly era, as the redshirt junior is the team's best vertical threat and the only wideout with any extensive game experience playing with quarterback Everett Golson.

Daniels has 80 career catches for 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns. He spent this spring working out at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, Illinois.

Getting to spend more summer time with Daniels and the rest of the roster as part of relaxed NCAA rules this year, Kelly is eager to reinstall offensive and defensive packages, especially with 20 of his 21 incoming freshmen arriving this weekend and starting classes Monday.

"We'll get a chance to work with them next Wednesday, so they'll come in on Sunday, they'll get their physicals on Monday," Kelly said. "We should be able to clear them all -- except for Tyler Luatua, who will not be here because of graduation, until Wednesday -- so they should all be cleared for our OTA on Wednesday. We'll get our first look at it, and we've got kind of an idea of where we'll move those guys, and then I'll probably have a better sense by next week."

Another one of those newcomers, transfer cornerback Cody Riggs from Florida, is already on campus and working with the team, as are freshmen Justin Brent and Andrew Trumbetti.

Notre Dame mailblog

June, 6, 2014
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What's happening, gang?

Mike S. from Chicago writes: Hi again Matt! Lots of people doing season W/L predictions already, and looking at the schedule there seem to be some expected tough games. Is there a team on the schedule that is especially underrated and could be a *surprisingly* tough game for the Irish? Michigan, Stanford, FSU and one or two others we know will be tough. Curious if you think there's an under-the-radar team though. Thanks!

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Dave Stephenson/Icon SMIVenric Mark and Northwestern could be a challenge for Notre Dame in November.
Matt Fortuna: Hey Mike, I'm not ready to make a win-loss prediction this early in the game, but I think you can make a case for really any team on the Fighting Irish's schedule this season to be surprisingly good, outside of the obvious ones that you mentioned (plus USC). North Carolina is a popular pick to win the ACC's Coastal Division. Louisville has had a lot of recent success but is stepping up in competition with a new staff and new quarterback. Arizona State is always a tough out. Syracuse will be better in Year 2 of the Scott Shafer era and has a quarterback to build around in Terrel Hunt. But the one opponent that I think is really getting overlooked is Northwestern. The Wildcats have been consistently strong in recent years under Pat Fitzgerald and definitely enter this season with a chip on their shoulder after the way things ended last year. (A year that was riddled by key injuries, too.) I covered Northwestern's game against Ohio State last season and the Cats were a play away from giving the Buckeyes their first loss of the Urban Meyer era. They are good, and they travel to South Bend, Ind., at what could be a vulnerable time for the Irish, given the tough November stretch they finish with (Navy, at ASU, Northwestern, Louisville, at USC). Purdue usually plays the Irish tough, too. (And heck, even Rice is coming off a 10-win season.)

Chris from Canada writes: Outside of the experience, what are the key differences between Zaire and Golson? They seem very similar in what they have to offer. Is it realistic to think that Zaire can beat out Golson this year or is the "QB competition" just for show?

Matt Fortuna: Chris, they are of a similar build and skill-set, though I think Everett Golson probably has the better arm and is more mobile. Whether that translates into a big gap on the field remains to be seen. As you said, Golson has the experience factor, but Malik Zaire is sure to give him a push, enough so that I think the Irish will be comfortable putting him in a game at any point, something that we know Brian Kelly is not afraid to do with his quarterbacks. Zaire certainly carries himself publicly like a guy who is not afraid of a challenge, and like a guy who expects to win the job if he plays the way he thinks he's capable of playing. My guy Adam Kramer thinks the Irish have the best depth at the position in the country. I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far just yet, but the quarterback position is certainly a luxury for Notre Dame at this point, something that has not been said before in the Kelly era.

Chris Kosiak (via Twitter): (Who is) the under-the-radar guy that everyone will love by seasons end?

Matt Fortuna: What, Cam McDaniel last year wasn't enough for you guys? (I kid, I kid.) I'd say Joe Schmidt, but his value has been pretty well-documented this spring. I'll go with Jarron Jones. It took him some time, but he really came around down the stretch last season. After being demoted to the scout team during USC week because of his academic and football shortcomings, Jones stepped up when the defense became decimated by injuries, blocking a kick on Senior Day against BYU and tallying seven tackles before getting the start at Stanford a week later. He spoke openly about how much more comfortable he is in Brian VanGorder's system, and the opportunities will be there for Jones to make a name for himself on a thin defensive line.
Have you heard the one about the SEC coaches being upset at a former comrade because of his latest recruiting technique? Because those same coaches probably aren't too pleased with a certain independent school from South Bend, Ind., either.

Penn State coach James Franklin, formerly of Vanderbilt, will guest coach next week at a Georgia State camp. So long as the visiting coach isn't running the camp, this is permissible by NCAA guidelines, which bars programs from running prep camps more than 50 miles from campus. The SEC, however, does not allow its coaches to work at camps more than 50 miles from their campuses.

As you can imagine, SEC coaches are crying foul. And in doing so, they are hilarious, as my colleague Adam Rittenberg brilliantly described in a column last week.

News surfaced shortly afterward that Notre Dame was planning to do the same thing next summer at Georgia State, with Panthers coach and former Fighting Irish assistant Trent Miles telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the decision was mutual.

“It’s great for us getting the exposure and getting some kids on our campus that Notre Dame will bring because of their name," Miles told the AJC. "I think it will be great for Notre Dame because they have a national presence, and I’m very close to those guys.”

The move makes plenty of sense from Notre Dame's standpoint. The Irish have made no secret about their recruiting desires in the Peach State, having hauled in recent NFL draftees like Stephon Tuitt and TJ Jones from there. Their ACC deal will already give them more exposure in the region and a potential upcoming series with Georgia would only add to that.

Notre Dame's staff also gets the chance to work closely with a bunch of local and regional talent, who won't have to worry about travel and the finances that accompany it.

“I’m hearing that the SEC isn’t really happy but I’m worried about us at Georgia State,” Miles said with a chuckle, according to the AJC. “I’m only concerned about Georgia State, and I have close ties to Notre Dame. If I can do something to help Notre Dame, I will.”

This isn't all entirely new or exclusive to Franklin, Miles and Brian Kelly. Look around the national landscape: Oklahoma State and New Mexico are working camps this summer in Texas. BYU, another independent, is heading West near Los Angeles to guest-coach a camp at the University of Redlands, with coach Bronco Mendenhall tweeting: "Show your skills in front of our coaches in Southern California!"

So long as the rules allow it, satellite camps are no-brainers for programs looking to cast wider nets. Few cast them wider than Notre Dame.

NFL dream a balancing act for Kelly

May, 21, 2014
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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Brian Kelly was pleased with Notre Dame's draft showing two weeks ago. His comments before the draft had suggested that he was less-than-pleased with every former Irish player in the draft.

But Kelly says that there is a middle ground, as he is happy to help his players pursue the NFL, so long as the allure of the pro dream doesn't cloud their judgments while in school.

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIStephon Tuitt drew some ire from Brian Kelly for his NFL draft decision.
"It was a matter of priorities for me. It was just a matter of making sure that the priorities were placed in the right perspective," Kelly said. "I have no problem talking about the NFL and making sure that it's the dream, if that's your dream, that we keep that dream alive for you, and that we provide you every opportunity to get there. I just felt that maybe that the priority maybe got pushed out of what I believe to be the pecking order."

That pecking order, he said, is a degree, a playing career with the Irish and then, if everything breaks right, the NFL.

The Irish's eight draftees this season featured three underclassmen, with Kelly clearly irked by the decisions of juniors Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III to turn pro. He mentioned as much on national signing day, saying that he needed to do a better job of educating his players on the NFL, and that he would have a serious problem recruiting someone whose intentions were to spend just three years in school.

Kelly's intent, he explained recently, is the same as others in his position. Notre Dame, after all, made waves this past season by sending top recruiting targets "Pots of Gold" -- 477 pieces of mail to represent what had been the school's number of NFL draft picks.

"If I feel like you're not playing for Notre Dame, and you're playing for your NFL career before you're playing for Notre Dame, that's where the rub is for me," Kelly said. "So if I get a little bit off on comments about a guy, it could be because that NFL is starting to overtake playing for Notre Dame. It's not just me, though. Every college football coach in the BCS has got to deal with the same thing, just have to be very careful with it, you have to be very good with your players about it.

"But it's a fine line, it's a balancing act. You want what's best for your player, right? Because you want his career to continue and have a chance to play in the NFL, but you want what's best for Notre Dame, too. So you have to be very careful with the two. I just don't want that to be NFL, then Notre Dame."

Coming off the Irish's best draft turnout since they had 10 players picked in the 1994 draft, Kelly -- who has now had four first-rounders picked at Notre Dame -- sees the pro results as validation of what he's been building during his five-year run in South Bend, Ind. Only LSU (nine) had more players drafted this year than Notre Dame, which was tied with Alabama for the second-best showing two weeks ago.

"I think more than anything else is that we're developing our players. That the players are developing, and I think the NFL really likes the program and what we're doing within the program," Kelly said. "They like the way that they're being developed from a mental and physical standpoint. They believe that they can take the rigors of being in the NFL, from the year-round conditioning, from the way we practice, from the way they prepare. I think they look at it in totality, they see everything.

"And look, that doesn't mean you're going to have eight guys every year, but when they see a guy that they think can play, they're going to take a shot at a kid from Notre Dame."

Irish lunch links

May, 20, 2014
May 20
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The Spurs will win it all this year, won't they?

MSU, Purdue hope to keep ties with ND

May, 20, 2014
May 20
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This September's 42nd Notre Dame-Michigan matchup is likely the last between the schools for the foreseeable future. That doesn't, however, mean that the appearances of Big Ten teams on the Irish's schedule are coming to an end.

Michigan State and Purdue have been stalwarts on Notre Dame's slate -- more than Michigan. And athletic directors from both schools are happy to see their respective rivalries with the Irish continue, even if they're on an abbreviated basis.

Among imminent matchups, Notre Dame will "host" the Boilermakers Sept. 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for its annual off-site Shamrock Series game. The Irish have a home-and-home scheduled with the Spartans for 2016 (at ND) and 2017 (at MSU).

"[Notre Dame athletic director] Jack [Swarbrick] and I are in constant communication, and it's not adversarial whatsoever. But it's a situation where, both with us going to nine [conference] games and with them having to move into the ACC scheduling model, it's created some significant challenges for both of us," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told ESPN.com. "And right now we're kind of in a position of, we know the next two, we know we have two more in the future and we're just kind of taking it one step at a time. We've been in constant communication."

The future, Hollis told local reporters last week, includes an agreement to play a home-and-home in 2026 and 2027, as well as a neutral site game, possibly in Chicago, in 2023.

Notre Dame and Purdue, meanwhile, have five more scheduled games -- Sept. 19, 2020 at Purdue; Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame; Sept. 14, 2024 at Purdue; Sept. 13, 2025 at Notre Dame; and in 2026 on a date and in a neutral site that has yet to be determined.

"I think the relationship between the schools is -- you're not going to take it to San Juan," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN.com. "But we have alums all over the country, too. Strong populations in Texas, in California, in Florida. The likely sites are Chicago and Indianapolis."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last week that most of his scheduling conversations with Swarbrick start with Michigan, Michigan State and an SEC team. But Wolverines athletic director David Brandon told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg in an email that there had been no discussions with the Irish.

The mood might have soured between the two schools -- Sept. 7 at Notre Dame will be their last matchup following the Irish's 2012 exercising of a three-year opt-out clause in the series -- but that has not been the case between the Irish and the rest of the Big Ten.

"Jack and I have known each other for a long, long time," Burke said. "He had a hard deal because when the Big East went the way it went, he had to find a home for lots of sports. What he had to do then was to negotiate, he had to use some of the football inventory to do that, and that's what created the issue. There's no issues with wanting to play Purdue or Michigan State. The Michigan thing there's a little bit of a tiff, I guess. But I don't think so.

"Our history goes back a long time. So what we tried to do was to make sure that there was at least a path forward. In other words, don't just announce Lucas Oil and it stops, but try to show people that we're going to play more than just once every 10 years. That's the best we could do now. Who knows what the landscape will be down the road? My hope is that someday, I hope we don't look back and say we lost something that started in 1946, because there are Purdue and Notre Dame folks who have been going to those games for years and tailgated. And you've had some great athletic contests with some great family relationships. And as we break some of this stuff apart and get bigger leagues, do you lose some of those relationships, and 10 or 15 years from now, does that hurt you?"

With Purdue having played Notre Dame 85 times, and with Michigan State having played the Irish 77 times, both schools are hoping that the answer to that question is a resounding no.

"There's going to be fewer games with Notre Dame because of the national landscape, and that's one of the unfortunate parts of conference expansion, is those nonconference games take secondary step," Hollis said. "But it's important to Michigan State that we continue to play on a national stage, so we'll have Notre Dame as much as we can have Notre Dame. They want as many games, we want as many games, it just all has to fit."

Kelly open to taking more transfers

May, 16, 2014
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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Notre Dame has one transfer on the way this summer in former Florida cornerback Cody Riggs. The Irish are not opposed to adding another one, either.

[+] EnlargeTy Isaac
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCould the Fighting Irish be interested in former USC tailback Ty Isaac?
With USC on Wednesday releasing running back Ty Isaac from his scholarship, and with the Joliet, Illinois, native expected to transfer closer to home, Notre Dame could be a destination for the former four-star prospect. Kelly, speaking in general terms Thursday, said he is looking at transfers as he is open to accepting players who make sense for his program.

"I always have an interest in adding transfers if they fit academically," Kelly said Thursday. "They've got to fit academically. We've got, obviously the young man coming in from Florida, fit into our accelerated one-year MBA program, was a great fit for us. Went for him. And he fit for us in terms of a veteran presence in the back end of our defense. It's unusual that you take a one-for-one guy, but it was the right time and it was the right place, so that worked.

"For a traditional transfer, my preference is that they have three years of eligibility and they're the right academic fit, and then of course, positionally it makes sense. You know what I mean? That there's not a backlog of players at that particular position. So I've always got my ear to the ground about transfers. There's transfers right now that we're looking at. So we're on top of what's going on."

Kelly said that there is not a backlog on running backs, if things time out the right way.

Riggs announced in February that he would attend Notre Dame as a graduate student following his graduation from Florida. The former Gators defensive back is expected to compete for playing time at cornerback.

With Notre Dame dismissing sophomore cornerback Rashad Kinlaw from the program in April, the Irish are expected to be at 83 scholarship players when all of their incoming freshmen arrive, leaving them two short of the NCAA maximum.

Isaac, who rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries as a freshman last season with the Trojans, fits the mold of a traditional Notre Dame transfer, as he would have three years of eligibility remaining. The Irish were in the hunt for Isaac during the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect's recruitment, and there will be plenty of room on their running back depth chart when Cam McDaniel graduates following this season, as second-year players Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant are the only running backs on the roster behind McDaniel. The Irish also lost out on North Carolina's Elijah Hood during this past recruiting cycle. The four-star running back decommitted from Notre Dame last summer before going to the home-state Tar Heels.

Kelly said that Riggs, who has just one season of eligibility remaining, fit a special case for Notre Dame and was more of the exception to the rule.

"I would only do it after your program is on good, solid ground, you know what I mean?" Kelly said. "That you're not going to upset the locker room. That your locker room is in a good position. Our locker room is in a very good position where you can bring in a guy and not feel like, you know, he's going to upset what's already developed in your locker room. The first couple years I would not have gone that route, but where we are right now, we can bring in a guy for a year and do that."
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Brian Kelly will not know the status of injured linebacker Jarrett Grace for another week, as the Notre Dame coach said he will meet with the Irish's training staff next Thursday.

Kelly said he is hopeful that Grace's right leg will be further stabilized after the redshirt junior underwent a second surgery on March 28 to insert a rod into the leg. There had been an estimated six-week timetable following that surgery to measure Grace's progress, as he is recovering from a broken tibia and fibula suffered during an Oct. 5 win over Arizona State.

If all of the healing comes back clean, Grace is expected to be ready this fall, which would provide the Irish linebacker corps a big boost inside. Grace, a Cincinnati native, had a team-best 41 tackles last season before suffering the injury.

Kelly also said that safety Nicky Baratti had suffered a dislocated right shoulder during last month's Blue-Gold spring game but would not need surgery. Baratti had missed all of last season after suffering a more serious shoulder dislocation during fall camp, that time in his left shoulder.

"There are different grades of dislocation. It wasn't one that needed to be surgically repaired," Kelly said of Baratti's most recent injury. "He will play like Bennett Jackson played the year before. He'll play with a harness, and we'll see where that goes."
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- DaVaris Daniels' return to Notre Dame could come as soon as Thursday, coach Brian Kelly said. If and when Daniels makes his way back to the Irish, Kelly hopes the light has clicked on for the wide receiver as he enters the most important stage of his college career.

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Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame is waiting for word on the status of DaVaris Daniels, who had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven TDs in 2013.
"I don't ever take for granted that those issues of maturity are behind any of our guys," Kelly, speaking Thursday before a golf outing outside Chicago, said with a laugh. "I mean, it's going to be a work-in-progress for him. There's no question that Double D, he's a smart kid, that he knows that this is, he's on the clock now, you know? He's got to walk the line, he's got to do things the right way. It's not just Notre Dame; it's his career, it's everything now. So I think he knows that all eyes are on him."

Kelly said that the school's readmission board was meeting Thursday to determine the future of Daniels, who was suspended from school for the spring semester because of an academic issue. With Notre Dame's final exams having taken place last week — and with Daniels being the second player to get suspended for academic reasons in 2013, after Everett Golson following last spring — Kelly also said that, to the best of his knowledge, everyone on the team is in good academic standing.

If he's back, Daniels would immediately become the top returning target for Notre Dame, and he would be the only one who has extensive experience with Golson.

Daniels had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, each number ranking second on the Irish behind TJ Jones. For his career, Daniels has caught 80 passes for 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns.

The burden of carrying a green receiving corps is a task that Kelly thinks Daniels is up to, and he hopes that the redshirt junior has matured in his time away from the program these past four months.

"It depends on how you look at that, right? It's good and bad," Kelly said of the burden awaiting Daniels. "I just really think he's got to be a man and step up and take care of his business. Look, we all know, you guys watch, you guys know football as well as anybody -- he's immensely talented. He's got to have his foot on the pedal all the time. And if he does, he's as good as anybody out there, that I've coached.

"But there's only so many times you can go to the whip. And this is proof-positive, right? Sooner or later, you've got to do it. And I think this hopefully is that time where he goes, 'I've got to be cognizant of the fact that I've got a lot riding on this. I've got to be that guy every single down.'"
Michigan and Notre Dame are contracted to play just once more in the foreseeable future, but many -- including Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly -- want to see the series continue in some form.

"We would like to play Michigan and Michigan State again," Kelly said at a Notre Dame golf event in Olympia Fields, Ill.

Notre Dame hosts Michigan once more, on Sept. 6. Michigan State, who had played the Irish every year since 1997, is off the schedule until the rivalry briefly resumes in 2016 and 2017.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told MSU beat writers Wednesday that the schools tentatively have a home-and-home series set for 2026 and 2027, as well as a neutral-site game, possibly in Chicago, in 2023.

But Notre Dame and Michigan -- annual opponents since 2002 and common opponents since 1978 -- have nothing set beyond this season.

Read the rest of Adam Rittenberg and Matt Fortuna's story here.

Notre Dame mailblog

May, 9, 2014
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Happy Mother's Day to all of the great moms out there. Now, onto your questions ...

Mike S. from Chicago writes: Hi Matt! This question is around the new FieldTurf. In the past, the grass was always "hit or miss" as an advantage. (Unofficially), ND could grow the grass to limit opponents with better athletes, and vice versa. Do you think the FieldTurf decision was in part signed-off on because Coach Kelly is recruiting better athletes, and that more of these athletes are coming from FieldTurf in high school anyway, which helps future recruiting? Do you think this is a good move for ND, putting tradition aside? Thanks as always, and great work!

Matt Fortuna: Hey Mike. While I understand some of the attachment that many had to playing on a traditional grass field, I think in the end this decision was a no-brainer. Yes, Brian Kelly has recruited better athletes at Notre Dame. And yes, many of those athletes are coming from FieldTurf in high school. But at the end of the day, the field that the Fighting Irish had been playing on by the end of last season (and in the spring game) was nothing short of an embarrassment. The players, most of all, deserved better, and they are the ones whose preference mattered most on a decision like this. There are other positives that could come from this as well, be it a hockey game or a concert taking place at Notre Dame Stadium.

Richard from Austin, Texas writes: Is the ACC the right place for ND? Though ND can afford travel, a regional conference is better. A 10-team conference with an 11 game season for example: ND, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, NIU, Bowling Green, Toledo, Central MI, Eastern MI plus 2 non-Conference games: USC & Navy. Every FBS team needs to move to a regional conference with 10 teams based on the Power Five. The SEC with 3, B1G with 3, ACC with 2, PAC with 2, Big XII and a 12th from the old PAC.

Matt Fortuna: Richard, that's a lot to digest, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Notre Dame brand would be greatly diminished by playing only regionally. Part of the football program's luster is that it plays across the nation and attracts a countless number of fans, many of whom don't even know where the school is located. (Trust me, I grew up with people like this.) At the end of the day, the ACC agreement was perfect for the Irish, who can show their product off from Boston to Miami while, football-wise, protecting that national brand. The only thing Midwest about the rest of the Irish's sports is location, as Notre Dame has a strong East Coast affiliation and regularly recruits that area for basketball, lacrosse and other sports.

Michael Fry writes: Hi Matt. Just looking for some thoughts on who was off the radar last year but who fits well into the new DC's system well. Thanks for the great blog -- keeps the off-season interesting.

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Michael. I think Joe Schmidt is going to be a very important piece for this defense, as Kelly called him the leader and Brian VanGorder said there is a significant knowledge gap between Schmidt and the rest of the linebackers. We all know about Jaylon Smith and KeiVarae Russell, two guys who have the potential to be among the best at their respective positions nationally next season. But one guy I think could take a big step is Jarron Jones, who showed plenty of promise at the end of last season and was forthcoming this spring when discussing how much he enjoys playing in VanGorder's scheme.

Irish lunch links

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
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Not-so-ridiculous-prediction: The Bulls stay alive tonight.

Notre Dame spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
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Three things we learned in the spring
  • The QB rotation is stable: Everett Golson is back from his 2013 suspension, hardened and bigger than ever. And Malik Zaire has taken full advantage of the opportunity Brian Kelly has given him, after Kelly declared the job open. (Notre Dame had just two scholarship quarterbacks this spring.) While few expect Golson to relinquish his hold on the starting role, the prospect of a hungry, capable backup has to make new QBs coach Matt LaFleur happy.
  • Greg Bryant looks like a playmaker: A rough start to Bryant's career last year might have been a blessing in disguise, as knee tendinitis allowed him to redshirt and essentially get a do-over in 2014. The returns this spring have been phenomenal, with the No. 2 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 bringing a burst to the run game that was absent last season. He turned heads in the spring game and says he is carrying a more mature head on his shoulders after last season, as he's hungry to get back on the field and make plays.
  • The secondary is primed to breakout: Notre Dame does not lack for bodies among its defensive backs. KeiVarae Russell enters his third year of starting ready to be one of the nation's top corners, and the Irish return four safeties with starting experience -- one of whom, Matthias Farley, moved to nickelback this spring. Throw in Florida transfer Cody Riggs at corner this summer -- as well as the aggressive approach of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who will bring more press coverage -- and the secondary has all of the ingredients to be very good in 2014.
Three questions for the fall
  • Where will the pass-rush come from? The Irish said goodbye to Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, two linemen who made their living in opposing backfields. There are simply no big, athletic bodies like them on this year's roster. With a revamped front-seven, VanGorder will be tasked with finding new ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps senior Ishaq Williams, now primarily at end, can add a boost to the line.
  • Which receivers will step up? With DaVaris Daniels (academics) gone this spring, it was essentially an open audition for Irish receivers, only two of whom had ever caught balls from Golson before (Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyack). Corey Robinson has continued his growth after a promising freshman campaign, and Koyack will have to emerge as a bigger receiving threat after handling mostly blocking duties next to the departed Troy Niklas. Daniels' expected return this summer will provide a major boost to this group.
  • Will special teams play finally improve? Few areas have given Notre Dame trouble in recent years the way special teams has, particularly the punt return game. Awful weather this spring limited outdoor work, which limited ideal return opportunities. Bryant could emerge as the guy at punt return, though Tarean Folston and Torii Hunter Jr. may contend for chances as well.
One way-too-early prediction

Notre Dame will average better than 30 points per game for the first time in the Kelly era. In Golson, the Irish have the ideal quarterback in place to run the Kelly offense. And with the defense taking massive personnel hits up front while adjusting to a new scheme, the offense will be relied on more than ever to stretch the field, carry the load and put points on the board.

Few surprises for Rees as draft approaches

April, 29, 2014
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Tommy Rees has had no shortage of familiar surroundings these past couple of weeks. The former Notre Dame quarterback is with several of his Irish teammates back in South Bend, Ind., as they make their final preparations for next week's NFL draft, and he was one of a handful of prospects invited to the Chicago Bears' local pro day.

Rees father, Bill, worked for the franchise more than a decade ago, one of many stops in a college and pro scouting career that has taken him across the country. The younger Rees enjoyed his time working with head coach Marc Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, and the trip to Halas Hall certainly evoked old memories.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTommy Rees' high-profile career playing for Brian Kelly at Notre Dame could help his chances of reaching an NFL camp.
"[When] my dad was working there, I would go over to the facility all the time, so it was cool to be back," Rees told ESPN.com. "There were a lot of guys that I remember, guys on staff, it was good to see. It was a cool experience for me to go there so many years later and be able to work out."

The training hasn't been all that different back at Notre Dame. Rees has been working with new Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, whose recent experience with the Washington Redskins has proved to be beneficial for Rees as he tries to reach the pro level.

"It's been great, he's really a great coach and a cool guy to work with," Rees said. "He's younger, so there's a connection there right away, and he's been in the league the last couple of years, so he's been able to watch film and talk about mistakes. And just putting me through some of the drills and some of the footwork stuff has gone a long way to help with my progression."

Also going a long way was the performance that Rees was able to put on last month at Notre Dame's pro day. The 6-foot-1.5, 210-pound signal-caller pushed a combine snub aside and completed 32 of 34 passes, with one of the incomplete throws being dropped.

Rees is hoping that the showing in front of the 59 NFL personnel men in attendance helped answer some questions about his ability after a four-year college career that featured just about every high and low imaginable.

"I was really happy with how pro day went, and followed that up with some good throwing sessions similar to that," Rees said. "And I just wanted to go out and show I could make all the throws and [that] my footwork was where it needed to be, and I felt like I did that, and I got a lot of positive feedback from it."

Little has surprised Rees these last four months, something that can likely be attributed to his background. While having a parent in the business (Bill now works for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) carries its advantages, Rees is appreciative of his father not being overbearing during pre-draft process.

"My dad's been pretty good about trying to let it be my thing, and obviously he knows a lot about it and when he needs to say something he speaks up and helps out," Rees said. "But when I made the decision to try to [pursue the NFL], it was my decision. I'd be meeting with my agent. It was going to be our deal. And my dad's done a really good job of trying to separate that, but it's been great hearing from him for help or words of advice. He's always been there."

There is a strong possibility that Rees goes undrafted, though his pedigree suggests he could be an ideal invite to an NFL camp, if not an eventual coach. It was a narrative that followed him throughout his Notre Dame career, and one that head coach Brian Kelly validated after Rees' finale: "He’ll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. But I told him he’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly any time.”

Rees will take in Night 1 of the draft at former roommate Zack Martin's place for the tackle's likely first-round selection before heading home, confident that he has held nothing back before his fate is decided.

"I think if you turn on tape you can see a lot of good things," Rees said. "But a lot of these intangibles: playing at Notre Dame, where you're on TV every week against the best competition, I did it for four years -- that wasn't by accident. I didn't play at Notre Dame by accident. And I think I'm the kind of guy who will go in there and just need to get better and that will only go in one direction, and I can definitely help a team with whatever they need."

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