Chicago Colleges: Manti Te'o

Historic draft weekend for Notre Dame

May, 12, 2014
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Notre Dame walked away from NFL draft weekend with eight of its former players getting picked, tied with Alabama for the second most of any school in the country, behind LSU's nine. The eight picks also marked the most in a single draft for the Irish in 20 years, as they had 10 draftees in 1994.

In addition, six former Notre Dame players signed with NFL clubs after the draft, with five of those players coming from last season's team.

Seven of Notre Dame's defensive starters from the Discover BCS National Championship following the 2012 season have now been drafted as well: Kapron Lewis-Moore (Ravens, 200th), Manti Te'o (Chargers, 38th) and Zeke Motta (Falcons, 244th) last year; Stephon Tuitt (Steelers, 46th), Louis Nix (Texans, 83rd), Prince Shembo (Falcons, 139th) and Bennett Jackson (Giants, 187th) this year.

It's not a stretch to say that linebacker Danny Spond, who also started against Alabama in the title game, was on track to be drafted prior to retiring before last season because of hemiplegic migraines. It's also worth noting that safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was drafted 175th overall by the Browns last year, started on the Irish's 2012 defense before suffering a season-ending Achilles' tear in Week 3. Two defensive starters from that title game, KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley, still have two years of eligibility left at Notre Dame.

Here's a recap of Notre Dame's 2014 draft weekend. Irish transfers Shaquelle Evans (fourth round, 114th overall) and Aaron Lynch (fifth, 150th) were both drafted as well.

DRAFTED

LT Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (first round, 16th overall)

DE Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers (second, 46th)

TE Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals (second, 52nd)

NG Louis Nix, Houston Texans (third, 83rd)

LG Chris Watt, San Diego Chargers (third, 89th)

LB Prince Shembo, Atlanta Falcons (fourth, 139th)

CB Bennett Jackson, New York Giants (sixth, 187th)

WR TJ Jones, Detroit Lions (sixth, 189th)

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

RB George Atkinson III, Oakland Raiders

LB Dan Fox, New York Giants

LB Carlo Calabrese, Cleveland Browns

QB Tommy Rees, Washington Redskins

NG Kona Schwenke, Kansas City Chiefs

C/G Mike Golic Jr., New Orleans Saints
Our NFL Nation team played a game of virtual GM this week, with beat writers covering all 32 pro teams participating in a group mock first-round of Thursday's NFL draft. As has been the case with most mock drafts around this time of the year, two former Notre Dame players heard their names called, though the teams may come as a bit of a surprise.

16. DALLAS COWBOYS: ZACK MARTIN

ANALYSIS: Maybe the Cowboys should have traded up to No. 13 with St. Louis, which I contemplated, but the Steelers snuck in and took [Anthony] Barr. A jarring move for Jerry Jones, who thought he had his right defensive end. Now I move on to the best player available despite the need for defensive help. The pick is Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He would be the third lineman picked in the first round in the past four years, joining Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. (Todd Archer)

25. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: LOUIS NIX

ANALYSIS: The Chargers gave up 4.59 rushing yards per carry last season, No. 27 in the NFL. Nix fills an obvious need up front, reuniting with former Fighting Irish teammate Manti Te'o. His presence in the middle should help keep Te'o and fellow inside linebacker Donald Butler clean. (Eric D. Williams)


The prospect of Nix and Te'o playing together again has to be one that makes Irish fans smile. It's worth remembering that, in the lead-up to the 2012 Heisman Trophy ceremony, Te'o said he would have voted for Nix. Te'o, of course, finished second that year to Johnny Manziel, though Nix had a breakout campaign that was capped by a stellar individual performance in the BCS title game loss to Alabama.

Jaylon Smith welcomes bigger workload

April, 22, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame wants to keep offenses guessing where Jaylon Smith will be. Opponents can rest assured, however, that he will be on the field for darn near every snap this fall.

Smith, the dog-turned-will linebacker, found himself playing inside more toward the latter half of the Irish's spring season, part of an effort to broaden his presence and account for a lack of depth among the interior linebackers. So the former five-star prospect spent much of March and April getting acclimated with seeing the game from a different view.

Whereas Smith spent his freshman campaign outside at dog linebacker in what was a 3-4 base, he now heads into his sophomore season with more inside responsibilities at will linebacker, looking to hone his skill set and develop the kind of confidence that comes with having a QB-like role on the defense.

"Watching guys like the great Manti Te'o controlling things and regulating things from inside, and that’s something I’m looking forward to doing," Smith said. "You really just have to take it in stride and just keep getting better. We’ll go back, watch film, make corrections and apply it to our football IQ."

The Fort Wayne, Ind. native is the Irish's leading returning tackler from last season, with 67 stops in 13 starts during his rookie campaign last season. He had described his role earlier in the spring in new coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme as a Sam/Mike hybrid, before making the switch roughly five practices in.

With former starting safety-turned-cornerback Matthias Farley entering the picture for nickel packages, the Irish simply did not -- and could not -- take the precocious Smith off the field. The early returns were promising.

"He has to find a comfort level in there, he has some work to do, but he shows signs of being an outstanding player there," outside linebackers coach Bob Elliott said. "Jaylon Smith has great instincts and he has a super attitude. He came here as a five-star recruit, the best in the country, and you’d never really know it. He was like a sponge. Here to learn. He was a quick study. Now he’s doing the same thing here. He’s not any different than he was before he had that year. He’s still humble and works it, doesn’t have all the answers, smart and quick study and still has those wonderful instincts."

Fine-tuning said instincts will be the next step come fall camp. For now, Notre Dame sees plenty of possibilities for its prized prodigy, and he has been more than happy to take the next step for a remodeled defense.

"Every play starts with sight," Smith said. "Beginning of my career, all my life, I’ve seen the game from an outside perspective. It's really getting used to reading offensive linemen from inside-out. Just little things like that. I’ve had 14 practices and the spring game to actually get the hang of it. It’s going good."

ND players leaving early and replacements

January, 22, 2014
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For three years, Brian Kelly had success like few others in recruiting players back to school. Sure, Kyle Rudolph left after Year 1 of the Kelly era, but since then the Notre Dame coach had successfully gotten Michael Floyd, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Louis Nix and Zack Martin to come back to the Irish for their fourth (and, in Martin's case, fifth) seasons of college ball.

That changed drastically this season. With several highly projected underclassmen on their roster, the Irish figured to say goodbye to one or two underclassmen early. And even when Kelly said in late December that he had submitted paperwork to the NFL advisory board for Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III, few expected all three to leave school early.

Then January came along, and within one week's span, all three players declared for the draft, choosing to avoid the recent trend and skip their final seasons. Each had his reasons, so here's a look at the trio and a look at who on the Irish roster will be tasked with filling the big shoes in 2014.

(Worth noting: Nix, who had a fifth season of eligibility available to him in 2014, is not included in this group, because he graduated in December.)

Leaving: Stephon Tuitt
Replacement: Isaac Rochell
The outlook: It is worth noting that Justin Utupo will return for a fifth year and that veterans Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) are expected to be back at full health next fall after both missed the 2013 season. Together, all will be counted on to replace the production of Tuitt, who was one of the best pass-rushers in school history. Still, if the Irish are looking for a youngster to step up, they will turn to Rochell, who ended up seeing much more playing time as a true freshman than initially expected this past fall, given the injury bug that affected the Irish in the trenches. ESPN's No. 139 overall player from the class of 2013 played in 11 games, recording 10 total tackles. The 6-foot-3.5, 280-pounder is a far cry from the 6-foot-6.5, 312-pound Tuitt physically, but most typically are. The bottom line is Tuitt will be the hardest of Notre Dame's early departures to replace, but Rochell will probably see his role increase the most in his sophomore season. Junior Sheldon Day, entering his second year as a starter, will be counted on even more this coming fall as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCam McDaniel (33) led the Irish with 705 rushing yards in 2013.
Leaving: George Atkinson III
Replacement: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant
The outlook: Atkinson should be the easiest of the early departures to replace, as his playing time and production took a big dip late during this past season. He was ultimately suspended for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly called a violation of team rules, a violation that Atkinson later tweeted (and then deleted) consisted of him texting during a team meal. Still, the Irish have the always-reliable McDaniel back for another year, and the Coppell, Texas, native actually had more carries (152-93) and rushing yards (742-583) than Atkinson in 2013 while helping with kick-return duties as well. The most important developments to keep an eye on, though, are those of Folston and Bryant, both of whom came to Notre Dame as highly touted four-star backs expected to deliver immediate boosts. Bryant had trouble gaining playing time early and ultimately suffered a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt, but Folston came on strong late in the season, finishing with 88 carries for 470 yards and three touchdowns. Things will be tougher next season with a rebuilt offensive line, and all of these backs need to improve as pass-catchers, but there remains plenty of promise in the fold. Let's not rule out redshirt junior Amir Carlisle, either.

Leaving: Troy Niklas
Replacement: Ben Koyack
The outlook: Niklas, who began his career at linebacker, played tight end at Notre Dame for just two years, coming on this past fall after the departure of Eifert, as he hauled in 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He was improving as a blocker and was on track to become one of the best tight ends in the country next season. Now Koyack will be tasked with a bigger workload in his senior season. He, too, came on strong late last season, finishing with 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, though he often played in two-tight-end sets with Niklas and gave the Irish plenty of offensive flexibility.

Tuitt receives second-round NFL grade

December, 26, 2013
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Brian Kelly revealed on Christmas Eve that junior defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt received a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee, telling IrishIllustrated's Tim Prister that he sat down with Tuitt to discuss options (subscription required), with a decision coming sometime after Saturday's New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Tuitt has until Jan. 15 to make a decision on the NFL and has most recently said he is "50/50" on whether or not to leave Notre Dame.

Recovering from offseason hernia surgery and dealing with early-season back problems, Tuitt has still managed to be the Irish's most consistent defensive lineman, starting all 12 games and tallying six sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries while forcing one fumble and recording a pick-six in Week 2 at Michigan.

The 6-foot-7, 312-pound Monroe, Ga., native has 20 sacks for his career, just 4.5 off Justin Tuck's school record.

The second-round grade is a bit surprising considering the junior is ranked as the No. 8 overall draft-eligible player by Mel Kiper Jr. and No. 11 by Scouts Inc.

Fellow Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix, a redshirt junior, is already NFL-bound after signing with agents. As BlueandGold.com's Lou Somogyi notes (subscription required), the potential return of Tuitt, coupled with quarterback Everett Golson's re-enrollment, could compare to the bowl-season boost the Irish received two winters ago, when Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert both decided to return to school. Golson and Tuitt, like Te'o and Eifert before them, would be the Irish's unquestioned best players on each side of the ball, though Tuitt's future at Notre Dame remains very much up in the air.

Q&A: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Part II

December, 3, 2013
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Here is Part 2 of our conversation with Brian Kelly.

Fifth-year guys. I know Lo (Wood) and Alex (Welch) reportedly are not coming back. What can you share about those conversations you've had with them or any other players? Is there anyone else you know about at this time?

[+] EnlargeChris Watt
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesNotre Dame guard Chris Watt injured his knee vs. Stanford.
Brian Kelly: Well, here's what we do. Those guys that have accelerated their academics to get their degree by the end of this year with a year remaining, I meet with all of them and I lay out the fact that they have roles on this team. Each one of them has a role. And they either accept that role or, because they have put themselves in a position where they have their degree, they've essentially increased their options. Some don't have options, right? Some of those guys don't have the degrees, so they have very little option, in terms of, they can only accept their role within the program. Some of these guys have more options. Some of the guys that I think have talked to the media have more options, they can choose to look at other programs. Each one of these guys I meet with, we go over the role that they have in the program, they either accept that role or they choose to, if they can, look at other options. And the two that you mentioned have obviously looked at other options.

Will those guys remain and practice through the bowl game, or are they kind of out of there the minute they graduate?

BK: I haven't gotten a chance to really talk to them about that yet. We're going to sit down here once I get my schedule set and we begin practice this weekend, I'll have a meeting with all those guys that have asked. The only guy I've talked to is Lo Wood about asking for a release.

Moving forward, Chris Watt, I know he took a pretty nasty hit the other night. What can you share about him?

BK: MCL. He's got a first-degree MCL, so that's, to most people, pretty significant. To Chris Watt, that's a papercut. So he's a pretty tough kid. If he can play, he's going to try to play. The only thing that makes it a little bit more difficult is he's got a torn PCL in the same knee. So he's lost a lot of his stability in that knee. We're going to see how it responds here over the next five-to-seven days. But first-degree MCL.

That's a sprain, I'd imagine?

BK: Yeah that would be a sprain. I'm sorry. That would be a moderate sprain of the MCL.

You've got a while now before you play at home again. How important will it be to resolve whatever issues there are with the playing surface? I know it seems every year like, 'Field Turf could come! Field Turf could come!' What will those conversations be like, if they haven't already taken place?

BK: It is paramount to our home-field situation, relative to playing and continued success. And I think I've put Jack (Swarbrick) out on the spot on this and he's addressed it. He's had a series of meetings and I'm very confident that we're going to have the field situation resolved in a very short period of time.

Speaking of next year, it's rare at least publicly to not have a schedule announced at this point. I'm sure you know a lot more behind the scenes than we do, but when do you expect maybe a public announcement, and how much more involved are you in conversations like this going from your fourth to fifth year now?

BK: Yeah, I'm involved in the schedule. But as you know, the ACC schedule bites a lot of that up and then there's still some long-term commitments going back to Knute Rockne that tie our hands. So when you're locked into some contracts -- Navy for one, Stanford, USC, Purdue. Now you're talking about six ACC games, and then another three or four. It doesn't give me much wiggle room. So as much as I'd like to say that I'm at the forefront of shaping a schedule, there's not a lot of wiggle room in these schedules right now. We're trying to do our best to balance it out, and I think 2014, you're going to see four ACC teams, and then in '15 I think we're going to get to six.

I'm sorry -- six ACC teams you said?

BK: Yeah, we're contracted obviously by the ACC but because of our Arizona State contract, Arizona State has to stay on the schedule, so we're not going to be able to play all of the ACC games next year. So we'll have to add another one in '15.

I'd imagine the conference has been fairly flexible with you guys in working these things out over the last couple of months?

BK: Yeah they have been, in terms of moving from an early game to a late game. And again, from our standpoint, we're still easing into this over the next year in trying to make all of these contracts the were pre-existing work.

Going off that, talking from an administrative standpoint, again, four, going on five years now on the job, what do you find yourself still learning about? How much more proactive have you been in some of these other conversations as it relates to the state of the program? How has each year — whether it's this one, last one, whatever — kind of contributed to that?

BK: I think the biggest piece here is academics and degrees, and we want to make it so we don't have this race to get a degree. We need kids to be pacing themselves to get a degree so we've got a much more mature team. We need a more mature football team. We need guys here for four and five years, and that's something that we have to look at in terms of how many hours our guys are taking and really do a very good job of pacing ourselves in terms of our academic preparedness here. We're moving a little bit to a point where we've got all these guys getting their degrees in three-and-a-half years, and that's great, but we also need a more mature football team. So getting my hands around that balance, academically and athletically, is the next stage of developing consistency in a much more -- we need a more veteran, much more mature football team moving forward.

8-4 is not where you guys want to be. You beat Michigan State, though. You beat Arizona State. You beat USC. What do you take from this season? I know it seems like a lot of the goals, at least from the outside, looked off the table the minute Everett went down. How would you just kind of encapsulate the 12 games you guys played this fall?

BK: We're a couple plays, couple players -- the foundation is solid. We've got enough in place. We need certainly better play at a few positions, but feel really good about the overall strength of the program where you can win games like we've won this year. But certainly consistency at some key positions and continuing to build the depth within the program. But feel good about the overall program. Need to get some key positions to play at a higher level.

Q&A: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Part I

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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Brian Kelly AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillDecember is a busy time of year for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Notre Dame's 27-20 loss Saturday night at Stanford completed Brian Kelly's fourth regular season with the Irish, who went 8-4. Now comes the busy time, as he is dealing with recruiting, staff turnover, potential NFL departures on his roster and, most importantly for the immediate future, figuring out where and when the Irish's bowl game will be. (Sorry, Subway alums in New York.)

On Tuesday, Kelly was promoting his involvement Tuesday with the VIZIO BCS National Championship Fan Throwdown contest, and he chatted with ESPN.com. Here is part 1 of that conversation.

(Of note: This interview took place before reports surfaced that Notre Dame lost its offensive coordinator, Chuck Martin, to Miami of Ohio, where he will become the RedHawks' next head coach.)

It's recruiting season, and some of the, relatively speaking, downtime you guys have now between the end of the regular season and the bowl …

BK: Downtime. Yeah, right. It's the busiest time. (Laughs)

Relatively speaking, as I said, what is the timeline now for some of the guys who have NFL decisions to make? What are the processes like with you and Stephon (Tuitt) and Louis (Nix) and whoever else may be thinking about it?

BK: We submit the paperwork to the NFL for their pre-draft status. I like to have that information. Then we put together all their academic work relative to what they may need, what they've taken, all that to make sure that we know exactly where they are academically in terms of pursuing their degree and finishing up their work. And then the third piece is we get a lot of information from third-party contacts that I have, relative to what they may look like next year if they come back. I did that with Manti (Te'o), I did that with Tyler (Eifert), I did that with Michael Floyd and really recruit them back to Notre Dame based upon all the information that we put together. Sometimes it's better that they move on to the NFL. Sometimes it's a better situation for them to stay and have another year here. So we'll put all that together. That's what we're doing. We're compiling that information right now, and we'll meet with them sometime next week.

From your philosophy, do you have a rule of thumb where you say, "Hey, you look like you're going to be a first-round pick. It's probably best if you go." Or is it kind of a more open-minded, two-way street with you?,

BK: No, Manti was really close to being a first-round pick with his pre-draft rating as a junior. He was rated between a first and a third; he wasn't a guaranteed first. Michael was between a one and a three as well. There's no sure things in the first round. Unless you're like Jadeveon Clowney or somebody that you know is going to be a top-five pick, I think we re-recruit you, unless you've already got your degree in hand and we know that with a great certainty you're going to be a No. 1 pick. We try to put the information in front of you that allows you to get your degree and increase your opportunity to help Notre Dame and help yourself for the future.

Between Manti, Michael and a couple of other guys, you've had a lot of success in re-recruiting some of these guys. What's that speak to what you've built in the program here in these four years?

BK: First of all, it's the degree at Notre Dame -- that's huge. Each one is different. Zack Martin was between a second- and a fifth-round draft pick. He could've gone, but he wanted to play with his brother. So I think each one of them has different circumstances, but they enjoy being in the program. So what we've built is an atmosphere and an environment that the guys enjoy being here every day and that speaks to the morale and that speaks to the direction of the program. But there are so many other things here as well in terms of the degree, in terms of being able to come back and know that they're on a great platform at Notre Dame, that if they play well and the team wins it enhances their chance of moving up as well.

[+] EnlargeGolson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondIt's unlikely that Everett Golson would participate in bowl practices for Notre Dame.
Switching gears a little bit, what do you know or what can you say about the status of Everett Golson right now?

BK: I've been assured that based upon all of the information that has been provided that he's going to be re-admitted on Dec. 13, and that information has been provided to admissions and it's just a matter of them sending out the admittance letter and then him being back on campus sometime around the 15th of December.

You've talked about possibly integrating him into bowl practices. What would be the process with that? What would you hope to get out of him in that limited time?

BK: Now that I'm looking at the schedule and the kind of bowls that we're looking at right now, if he comes back on, let's say the 16th, we're not going to practice again because we're leaving probably on the 20th, 21st, somewhere in there. I really don't even think he'll have a chance to practice, now that we're looking at bowl games that are going to be happening before the 29th of December. It's unlikely, given the timetable, that he would even practice.

Can he travel with you guys to the game?

BK: He cannot, no. He cannot travel to a competition site.

Speaking of bowls, what are you thinking of in terms of options here? I know you've said this will be a reward for the seniors; they seem pretty opposed to cold weather. Would that rule out New York? How open-minded is this process right now?

BK: I don't think it's open-minded. I think we've narrowed it down considerably. I'd say there's probably three bowls that we're looking at. But I think we're really down to a narrow focus on the bowl game situations. And again, I think just to give you a bit of an idea, we tie into ACC bowls next year, and so we'll be part of that rotation beginning next year. So we'd like to examine bowls that are not tied into the ACC for one last go-around, and so our focus is on not being tied into some of those ACC games right now. And we'll see how that plays out.

Jones getting back up after each hit

October, 18, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- TJ Jones was the last Notre Dame player to meet the media this week, anxious reporters a casualty of what has become the senior's weekly routine of receiving a massage every Wednesday or Thursday. Those rubdowns come after practice, which Jones usually prepares for by attending treatment sessions on Sunday or Monday, all so that he can be ready for the running and hitting that awaits in Tuesday's practice.

What that treatment is for usually depends on which body part Jones hurt in the previous Saturday's game -- and if there is a Saturday Notre Dame game, Jones impairing an appendage of some kind is all but certain, even if the extent of the damage is not known in the immediate aftermath.

"Four years ago I would've been looking to miss practice," the senior said. "I would've really just kind of looked for every chance I got to kind of just milk the injury."

[+] EnlargeLamar Dawson
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame wide receiver TJ Jones catches a pass in last year's game against the USC Trojans.
Not anymore, not as one of two Irish offensive captains on a unit still seeking its identity halfway through the season, with rival USC coming to town on Saturday night.

Yes, being Notre Dame's leading receiver and punt returner has taken a toll on a body that the program generously lists at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. It is a frame that has withstood the beating that comes from being the Irish's go-to threat, from catching 33 passes for 481 yards and four touchdowns, from returning seven punts for 71 yards, and from being targeted countless times more.

"Overall, wide receivers are looked at to be some of the softer people out on the field, but TJ definitely shows that it's just the opposite," freshman receiver James Onwualu, Jones' roommate on road trips, said. "He gets hit a whole bunch in the game -- he's still sticking his head into plays, blocking for our running backs and doing everything he can when he doesn't have the ball as well. I think the toughness that he shows coming back every week to play his best for the team is really unselfish, and it makes him an even better player than he already is."

The most notable of the bruises came early in a Week 2 loss at Michigan, Jones coming down hard and suffering what coach Brian Kelly said the next day was a slight shoulder sprain. He finished with nine catches for 94 yards and a heads-up touchdown in the loss.

Notre Dame's next defeat was hardly kinder to Jones, who rolled an ankle late in the Oklahoma game.

Kelly, who raised a few eyebrows in August by publicly declaring Jones a first-round NFL talent, said the receiver's toughness has been acquired, a byproduct of being thrust into meaningful moments as a true freshman in 2010.

"He has elevated himself in the sense that he now plays with a mental and physical toughness," Kelly said. "There are times where those bumps and bruises that you mentioned -- which affect everybody, right, in this game of college football? -- may have affected him from week to week. It does not affect him now. He fights through them. He's in practice. He's on the ground diving and making catches. He's on the ground more in practice than any of our young freshmen because he's competing all the time.

"These are the marks of great players. Every great player that I've had practices that way. That wasn't the case with him, and he has developed that over his time here at Notre Dame. He's had others to see in terms of he's seen a Michael Floyd in the way they practice, he's seen a Manti Te'o, he's seen a Tyler Eifert and the way they practice. He's obviously at that level."

Jones, who volunteered for the vacant punt return spot this year, calls it all "normal soreness." He says he never let a nick or bump keep him from the practice field earlier in his career, but admitted "if there was something where I didn't have to go as hard, I may have taken a play off or jogged instead of ran full-speed back then."

The son of the late Andre Jones -- an end on the Irish's last national title team -- attributes maturity to his ability to recover so quickly. He has been more proactive over the years, learning to appreciate Notre Dame's athletic training staff more while jumping into the cold tub or onto the masseuse table quicker than he used to.

This past weekend's bye has served as a bit of a welcome reprieve, too.

"I enjoyed it a lot, this is the freshest I've felt since summer," Jones said. "This was the first real break we've gotten since our three-week-long camp this year, which was longer than normal. So this is the first time I'm actually feeling kind of refreshed and really 100 percent."

Irish defense avoids encore talk

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Bob Diaco wants to know if you are addicted to his culture. The reigning Broyles Award winner asks this after leading a mad-dash to the middle of Notre Dame's three practice fields once the team breaks for its first preseason session on campus. Over there, he will instruct a defense that returns a majority of its key pieces from a 2012 season that saw it finish second nationally in scoring.

He does all of this, mind you, while wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants in the second week of August.
"I like to get a sweat on out there," he says with a laugh, "and then when you're running around, if you slam into somebody or they slam into you, you've got a little extra cushion."

The 2013 season is now four days away, and Diaco and his players have been peppered with questions about turnover, expectations and encores.
Can Notre Dame function as well without Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o in the middle? Will another strong recruiting haul allow for more flexibility? And what, really, is the personality of this defense as it enters year No. 4 under this regime?

"I think it's going to be just a collective group of guys that enjoy each other, enjoy playing hard, enjoy doing and playing defense the way it should be and not necessarily that person that's going to be out in front, you know?" Diaco said. "I think it's just a group of guys that really love each other and love what they're preparing to do and collectively just want to be the best they can be."

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIREBob Diaco thinks his Notre Dame defense could keep up its high-level of play this season despite losing Manti Te'o.
The Irish were almost the best last year, running the table and leading the nation in scoring defense until Alabama ran and threw all over them en route to a six-touchdown display that most around here figured to forget rather quickly.

Diaco instead used that as a teaching moment this past spring. Diaco taught his players about Dan Gable, the Iowa State wrestling great whose only prep or collegiate loss came in the finals of his senior year. Gable, Diaco told his players, was able to turn his worst moment into his greatest, as the lone defeat propelled him to gold at the 1972 Olympics.

"Going back to the Alabama game, it wasn't how anyone wanted it to be and you've just got to remember those types of things," noseguard Louis Nix said. "You've got to remember, like, you don't want that to happen again; you want to be competitive, you want to go out and do great things -- 12-0 was all great, but we lost when it counted, and you think about that every day.

"Me? I watch the national championship at least three times a week, honestly, to remind myself I don't want that to happen again. Alabama's a great team, great O-line, great coaches, great quarterback -- you have to emulate a team like that. They work hard, they go out and compete very game. They leave no doubt that they should've been national champs; that's what we've got to do and I feel like if you compete and you go out and practice hard and you do all the things that are right -- because life is a circle, when you do good things you get good things out of it, when you do bad things it comes back to haunt you — so we've just got to keep working and hopefully maybe we'll make it back to the game and probably win."

Notre Dame seems to have the necessary pieces. Nix and fellow defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt could be high first-round draft picks with another year of output similar to that of 2012. The duo, along with sophomore Sheldon Day, form what figures to be among the best defensive lines in the country.

Eight starters were slated to return to the defense until dog linebacker Danny Spond announced his retirement during camp following a series of hemiplegic migraines. But there seems to be enough bodies from a 2013 recruiting haul that ranked No. 4 nationally to create more desirable alternatives than Notre Dame had in the past. (One of the newcomers, five-star linebacker Jaylon Smith, has joined the ever-improving Ben Councell in place of Spond.)

"So I think you have to look at it that we have some other pieces that might be a little bit stronger than they were last year, so I think you have to look at all 11,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “We lose a great player in Manti Te'o but we gain some other pieces that I think are stronger this year across the board."

Diaco avoids big-picture talk, instead focusing on individual aspects that can be improved upon.

Where most look back to last year and see a defense that exceeded expectations, he harps on "the myriad, bucketful, bushel basket-full of things we did wrong."

"We're not a flavor-of-the-month, flavor-of-the-year group in terms of tweaking, changing, creating energy propaganda to get the unit going," Diaco said. "We believe in our culture, we believe in our unit culture, we believe in our unit identity and those are based on core principles that we believe create a great defense. And what we're interested in is improving and raising the level -- even if it's .0001 percent, we're interested in raising that level, every player and every coach in that unit."
The man in the middle of it all last year recognizes that culture, and he sees no sign of it slowing down just because he is no longer there among it again.

"They have the potential to be good," Te'o, now with the Chargers, said. "Any year that they line up, they have the potential to be good, and they have a lot of weapons on defense. I'm confident that they'll carry on what they did last year and everything will be good."

Notre Dame Fighting Irish spring wrap

May, 9, 2013
5/09/13
9:00
AM CT
2012 record: 12-1

2012 conference record: N/A

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, RT Christian Lombard, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix, LB Dan Fox, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Danny Spond, LB Prince Shembo, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley

Key losses

RB Theo Riddick, RB Cierre Wood, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, RG Mike Golic Jr., DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Riddick (917 yards, 5 TDs)

Passing: Golson* (187-of-318 for 2,405 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Eifert (685 yards, 4 TDs)

Tackles: Te'o (113)

Sacks: Tuitt* (12)

Interceptions: Te'o (7)

Spring answers

1. Golson in charge of offense. Now in his second year as the starting quarterback, Golson is in charge of what Brian Kelly hopes will become a quarterback-driven offense. Golson has been much more vocal on and off the field since the 2012 season, and the hope is that he can help the offense dictate the pace of the game week to week this fall.

2. Jarrett Grace ready to step up. Te'o leaves a giant hole in the middle of the Irish defense after three-straight 100-plus tackle seasons, but Grace looks ready to step in and assume the starting role. Will he notch seven interceptions this season, like Te'o in 2012? Unlikely. But the staff has liked his progress from the get-go, and he has not been fazed by all of the hoopla surrounding the "Mike" position since Te'o's departure.

3. DB depth. Last season, the Irish entered the fall with two new starting cornerbacks. By Week 3, they were down Lo Wood and safety Jamoris Slaughter because of Achilles injuries. This year Wood is back, as is safety Austin Collinsworth, adding plenty of depth to a secondary that returns three starters. It will give the defense much more flexibility after the unit broke in three new starters in 2012. Several talented safety recruits are on the way, too.

Fall questions

1. Backfield answers. George Atkinson III is the most experienced of the backs, bulking up this offseason and readying for the closest thing to a No. 1 role that the Irish offense allows. Cam McDaniel has been reliable in limited action, and USC transfer Amir Carlisle impressed the staff before going down with another injury, this time a broken collarbone that kept him out for most of the spring. There is Will Mahone and a pair of four-star recruits on the way as well, but the bottom line is that none have handled a majority of the carries at the college level yet and are filling big shoes from last season in Riddick and Cierre Wood.

2. Receiver depth. Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson transferred this spring, leaving the Irish with a bit of a numbers issue. C.J. Prosise has converted to a full-time receiver and could compete for the starting slot role for 2013, but a group already down four of its top six pass-catchers from 2012 can ill-afford another injury or defection, and will likely need some early production from a talented group of freshmen.

3. Defensive leaders. This isn't necessarily an issue so much as an unknown. Last year's three seniors were tremendous vocal presences, helping the defense become greater than the sum of its parts in finishing second nationally in scoring. This year's unit could be deeper and more talented, and if it can work together like last year's, it could see similar success in 2013. Jackson, Farley and Nix figure to emerge as front-runners for defensive captain spots this fall.

San Diego is good fit for Manti Te'o

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
8:05
PM CT
Manti T'eoMike Ehrmann/Getty Images"I like this pick 1,000 percent," new Chargers teammate Eric Weddle said of Manti Te'o.

Had the NFL draft been held the day after Manti Te'o and Notre Dame were handled in the national championship game by Alabama, the inside linebacker would have been considered a steal if he was a top-10 pick.

After all, this is a player who was considered the possible No. 1 overall pick last December -- one of the most decorated, praised players in the country during the 2012 season.

Fast-forward to the present, and the idea that Te’o lasted until the No. 38 pick is stunning. The Chargers sent the 45th and 110th choices to Arizona to move up and rock the draft with this selection.

“Great pick,” San Diego safety and leader Eric Weddle said by phone moments after the Chargers' move. “We got better. He is going to help us win games. I like this pick 1,000 percent.”

Te’o became a polarizing figure in January when the bizarre hoax involving a dead fake girlfriend became public. Te’o has said he had nothing to do with the Internet scheme, and the person behind the elaborate ploy has backed up Te’o’s claims.

Fair or not, the hoax has defined Te’o. His once-sterling character has come into question, and there is no doubt it hurt his draft status.

Of course, the title game and a slow 40-yard dash at the NFL combine didn’t help his cause. But let’s face it, if the hoax hadn't happened, Te’o would have gotten the benefit of the doubt on those issues -- particularly since he generated great tape throughout his college career, had great character and improved his speed at Notre Dame's pro day.

With Te’o, it’s all about the hoax.

That will stop, Weddle said. Indeed, Weddle brought up the issue himself.

"I could care less about that other stuff," Weddle said. “I’m sure everyone will think that way here.”

It has been said that Te’o, the butt of national jokes the past few months, will face his harshest critics in his NFL locker room. Weddle said that won’t be a problem in San Diego.

“If he wants to talk about it, we’ll listen,” Weddle said. “But it’s not going to be a problem here.”

I think Te’o is going to a perfect situation for him to achieve some normalcy. The Chargers have good leadership in Weddle, quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, center Nick Hardwick and linebacker Jarret Johnson. Indeed, Te'o told San Diego reporters Friday evening, Rivers had already called to welcome him to the team. This is a strong, business-oriented locker room. Te’o will be treated well.

Also, the team’s brass knows how to deal with off-field issues. New San Diego coach Mike McCoy was at the center of Tebow-mania while with Denver. Nothing can match that. New San Diego general manager Tom Telesco was in Indianapolis last season during coach Chuck Pagano’s public fight against cancer.

Distractions will not be a problem.

I also think Te’o will find friendly confines in the city. San Diego has a thriving Polynesian community, and one of the team’s greatest players, late linebacker Junior Seau, was Polynesian. Te’o will be welcomed with open arms. San Diego is not far, in relative terms, from Te’o’s native Hawaii, so that will raise his comfort level, too.

Plus, even though it is not so far from Hollywood, San Diego is laid back, and there isn’t a huge media presence around the team.

Sure, the team and Te’o will probably have to deal with the curiosity of it all early in camp, but that will go away pretty quickly.

Plus, in my opinion, the hoax is over. What else can come of it? Whether he was involved or not, Te’o faced public humiliation, he saw his NFL stock drop and now the recovery begins. He can become a linebacker again.

Te’o is being brought to San Diego to play football, and it’s a good fit.

San Diego is building a strong, young defense, and Te’o should be a nice piece in a linebacking corps that includes Johnson, Donald Butler and 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram. Add Te’o to a strong, young line and this is an intriguing group. Yes, Te’o has limitations in coverage, but San Diego will be versatile enough to highlight him on first and second downs, and he will be able to play to his strengths.

It’s been a trying three months for Te’o, but his NFL career is starting on the right track even though it’s from a draft slot several picks lower than expected.

Chargers grab Manti Te'o after trade

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
6:47
PM CT
Manti Te'o is coming to the AFC West.

Te'o
The San Diego Chargers moved up seven spots to take the polarizing Notre Dame linebacker.

The highly decorated Te’o was long considered a top prospect but played poorly in the national title game against Alabama, was involved in a bizarre hoax involving a fake dead girlfriend and had a poor performance at the NFL combine.

Nevertheless, Te'o was highly productive in college and known for having good character. He should start on a promising San Diego front seven.

San Diego gave Arizona the No. 45 pick and its fourth-round pick (No. 110 overall) to get Te’o.

I will have more on this pick later.

Video: Manti Te'o's marketability

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
10:41
AM CT
video
 
Darren Rovell discuss Manti Te'o's lack of endorsements due to the fallout from his girlfriend hoax and the linebacker's marketability heading into the NFL draft.

Video: Notre Dame season outlook

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
8:05
PM CT


Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly discusses the expectations facing QB Everett Golson, replacing LB Manti Te'o, and the new playmakers on offense.

Could a former ND player land in Chicago?

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
9:00
AM CT
The Chicago Bears are the closest NFL franchise to Notre Dame, location-wise. Based on the fact that the Bears have the 20th overall pick in the April 25-27 NFL draft -- and on the fact that the Irish have two former players expected to go midway through the first round -- there seems to be a strong possibility of one of those players continuing his career just 90 minutes from South Bend, Ind.

That's certainly the vibe you get in looking at the latest mock drafts from Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, who both released their fourth versions of first-round mocks this week. Kiper has Tyler Eifert going 17th to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Manti Te'o landing three spots later in Chicago Insider.

McShay, meanwhile, has Eifert going to the Bears at No. 20, with Te'o getting scooped up five picks later Insider by the Vikings, where he would be in familiar company with all of the former Notre Dame players in Minnesota.

Eifert is up three spots to No. 12 on Kiper's 25-man Big Board Insider, with Te'o up three spots to No. 17.

Kiper says Eifert could add a new dimension to a Pittsburgh offense that loses Mike Wallace, while Te'o could end up a reliable long-term linebacker for a Bears team that currently has Lance Briggs, who turns 33 during the season.

Both players remain atop their position groups in Kiper's top-5s by position Insider, with Stanford's Zach Ertz trailing Eifert and Georgia's Alec Ogletree trailing Te'o.

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