Notre Dame Football: Ben Turk

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Kyle Brindza's eyes lit up a bit when he was asked if managing his workload was akin to a pitch count in baseball.

"I'm glad you bring that up," Brindza said. "We're kind of definitely just like pitchers: You kind of have to have a set amount. I go out there with a set amount of field goals on the day. ... I'm not going to go over it. If I go under it, that's fine, because I was able to do it well enough to be able to go under it. But if I go over it, that's kind of something I need to hold myself back from."

Kyle Brindza
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIn addition to punting, Kyle Brindza is once again kicking field goals for Notre Dame.
For the second straight year, Brindza took over as place-kicker in Notre Dame's second game. He connected on all three field goal attempts last Saturday in his home state of Michigan, hitting from 24, 44 and 40 yards out. The difference this year is that, in addition to his kickoff duties, Brindza is also the Irish's primary punter, and bears the responsibilities in all three special teams areas after Ben Turk graduated.

Nick Tausch was invited back for a fifth season of eligibility to compete with Brindza and help lighten the place-kicking load, but Tausch missed on his first attempt in the opener, allowing Brindza the chance to take over.

Brindza also missed, though coach Brian Kelly pegged much of the blame on new holder Luke Massa. Brindza was back in his familiar spot last weekend, a year after being thrust into the same role following Tausch's mid-week groin injury following the 2012 opener.

Brindza responded in Week 2 of last season by kicking a game-winning 27-yard field goal with seven seconds left to beat Purdue. He ended up hitting a school single-season record 23 field goals, including a 22-yarder in the rain to send the Stanford game into overtime. He hit five in the regular-season finale at USC, including one from 52 yards.

Alex Wulfeck, a fifth-year walk-on transfer from Wake Forest, can spell Brindza at punter if necessary this season. But the 6-foot-1, 236-pound junior has learned to better manage his workload, relying on stretching, repetition and muscle memory to become what he calls "10 times more flexible" since he arrived at Notre Dame.

"It's kind of like your studies -- when it's football time, you focus on football; when it's your study time, you focus on studying," Brindza said of dividing the duties. "It's kind of just, all right, when I'm punting, focus on punting. When kicking's there, the kicking can come. So I guess it took off a little, but now that I'm able to be kind of in a role of being able to focus on both it's kind of evened its way out."
Nothing has come easy for Chris Salvi. The former Notre Dame safety and special teams ace was a walk-on transfer from Butler during his Irish career, earning a scholarship for his senior year.

Now, nearly two weeks after the NFL draft, Salvi is playing himself into a chance to take his talents to the next level.

Salvi has been invited to Chicago Bears' rookie mini-camp, according to the Twitter feeds of him and his brother. (Will Salvi was also a Notre Dame walk-on this past season). Chris Salvi is now the 15th former Irish player to receive an NFL invite of some kind since the start of the April 25 draft.

It is surely a thrill for the Lake Forest, Ill., native, who just this past season was talking about how much the Irish's Shamrock Series game against Miami at Soldier Field meant to him.

Here's a recap who he'll be joining from South Bend, Ind., in their chase to play on Sundays:

To recap:
Punter Ben Turk has been invited to the Houston Texans' rookie minicamp, Notre Dame announced, making him the 14th former Irish player to get a shot at an NFL following last week's draft.




The 5-foot-11, 186-pound Turk played in 45 games during his Notre Dame career, including all 39 in the past three seasons, averaging 39.1 yards per punt on 200 career boots. The Davie, Fla., native had a career-best 40.8 yards-per-punt average in 2012, and his nine punts of 50 or more yards were a career-best as well.

Turk is the eighth former Notre Dame player to hook up with an NFL team after not being selected in the draft, and there is a chance that he could re-unite with former college teammate Cierre Wood.

To recap:

14 players set for pro day

March, 22, 2013
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Notre Dame will hold its annual pro day Tuesday at the Loftus Sports Center, an event sure to draw a few more eyeballs than usual.

Like last year, the Irish could see two former players selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Unlike last year, one former player has been all any draft analyst is talking about this offseason.

Thirteen former teammates will join Manti Te'o on campus Tuesday as they look to improve their stocks in front of scouts.

Here is a full list, provided by Notre Dame:

John Goodman
Mike Golic Jr.
Braxston Cave
Theo Riddick
Robby Toma
Tyler Eifert
Cierre Wood
Kapron Lewis-Moore
Zeke Motta
Jamoris Slaughter
Manti Te’o
Ben Turk
Jordan Cowart
Chris Salvi

Bye week grades: Special teams

October, 4, 2012
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SPECIAL TEAMS

Grade: B

Summary: Notre Dame is averaging four punt return yards per game. This qualifies as massive progress after last season, when the Irish netted three punt return yards on the year through 12 regular-season games before Michael Floyd brought one back 38 yards in the bowl game. Davonte' Neal's best days are ahead of him, and he has shown shiftiness and confidence you don't see too often from true freshmen. The punting game, meanwhile, has been strong, especially when needed most. Ben Turk had a standout performance at Michigan State, a game in which the field position battle was crucial in the second half. George Atkinson III, like most prominent kick return men, has been limited by the new kickoff rules. The kick-coverage unit has room for improvement after surrendering more than 26 yards per return through four games (109th in the nation). Kyle Brindza, meanwhile, has filled in nicely for the injured Nick Tausch, kicking the game-winner against Purdue. Overall a good, not great, showing from the Irish's special teams units.

Previous report cards:

Quarterbacks

Defensive line

Offensive line

Linebackers

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Secondary

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
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No. 20 Notre Dame had quite a few noteworthy performances in Saturday's 20-3 win at No. 10 Michigan State. Here's who stepped up the most:

Manti Te'o, LB: What more can you say about the guy? Days after his grandmother and his girlfriend passed away, Te'o notched a game-high 12 tackles, one for loss, while adding a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.

Prince Shembo, LB: The Cat linebacker had the best game of his college career Saturday, recording nine tackles, two for loss, while adding a sack and two quarterback hurries.

Robby Toma, WR: Toma had arguably his biggest game in a Notre Dame uniform as well, hauling in a game-high five receptions for 58 yards and helping to keep the MSU defense honest.

Ben Turk, P: Field position played a big part in this game early, and Turk helped Notre Dame maintain an edge in that department. The punter had eight kicks go a total of 339 yards, an average of 42.4 yards per punt. He pinned the Spartans inside their own 20 four times.
Notre Dame placed 20 players on Phil Steele's preseason all-independent team, including 13 on the first team.

BYU was a close second with 18. Army and Navy each had seven.

The usual suspects (Cierre Wood, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert) make the first team, as does Notre Dame's entire starting defensive line, even without transfer Aaron Lynch. There are some leaps of faith here, but that's to be expected when picking 52 total players from a pool of just four schools, as many players are unproven. Bennett Jackson and Christian Lombard will likely be first-year starters, and who knows if Davonte Neal will even get the chance to return punts during his first year with the Irish.

Here are all of the Notre Dame players on Steele's preseason all-independent team:

FIRST TEAM
SECOND TEAM

Irish Lunch Links

April, 17, 2012
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Congrats to Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel.

Irish Lunch Links

April, 16, 2012
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Yup, still laughing at this.

Roster breakdown: Special teams

March, 30, 2012
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The third and final part of our breakdown of Notre Dame's 2012 roster wraps up today with the special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The (key) players: Kyle Brindza, Ben Turk, Jordan Cowart, Theo Riddick, John Goodman, George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, Austin Collinsworth, Chris Salvi, Nick Tausch

The incoming: Scott Daly

The breakdown: New tight ends coach Scott Booker is now in charge of special teams, though the entire staff will take a more hands-on approach following a 2011 campaign in which the Irish averaged 0.3 yards per punt return before the bowl game. In addition to kickoffs, Brindza will likely be the Irish's field goal kicker as well following the loss of David Ruffer. Turk improved as the season went on last season and figures to be the starting punter again. Atkinson returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns last season and may see more action in the backfield this season, so it remains to be seen if his duties could be extended to the punt return game as well. Same goes for Collinsworth, who was solid on both the kick-return and kick-coverage teams but will likely see extended time at safety following the graduation of Harrison Smith. Carlisle is out for the spring with a broken ankle, but he returned kicks for USC at times last season and could possibly be a factor on either return team.

Riddick's struggles returning punts last season are well-documented, but the staff likely isn't ready to give up on the big-play potential of which he is capable. Goodman had the sure hands and was basically back there last season as a safety net to prevent anything bad from happening, and the Irish hope that won't be needed again this year. (Goodman is in line to play a bigger role offensively, too.) Salvi earned a scholarship for being such a force on both kickoff teams, and Daly is the second scholarship long-snapper in school history, likely backing up Cowart this season before taking over the reins in 2013.

Notre Dame's All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
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It's time to hand out some last-minute hardware for those who stood out for Notre Dame in its 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. Since we're dealing with one team and not one conference, we'll limit it to sides of the ball and not position.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Tyler Eifert
Douglas Jones/US PRESSWIRETyler Eifert made six catches for 90 yards against Florida State.
Offense: Tyler Eifert. The junior caught a game-high six passes for 90 yards, hurting the Seminoles over the middle time and time again. His performance was all the more important with Michael Floyd sidelined much of the second half after suffering an upper-body injury during his third-quarter touchdown catch.

Defense: Manti Te'o. Another junior who could have been playing in his final college game had he wanted to, the linebacker had a game-high 13 tackles and set up Notre Dame's first touchdown, forcing a fumble in the first quarter that Zeke Motta returned 29 yards for a touchdown.

Special teams: George Atkinson III. Ben Turk deserves an honorable mention for pinning FSU at its own 1 with a 49-yard punt with 5:02 to go, setting up a three-and-out and great field position for the Irish's last chance. Floyd deserves recognition for his 41-yard punt return in the first quarter. But Atkinson stood out on both sides, returning the second half's first kickoff 37 yards to set up Notre Dame's only touchdown drive. He tackled Lamarcus Joyner on the following kick, which Joyner returned 77 yards, setting up an FSU field goal.

What we learned about Irish in bowl game

December, 30, 2011
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1) Another quarterback controversy awaits: Dayne Crist beat out Tommy Rees going into 2011, then lost his job after one half. Andrew Hendrix replaced Rees after the first half of the last regular-season game, and neither impressed in shared action during the Champs Sports Bowl. Freshman Everett Golson sat out this season and figures to compete in the three-man offseason race that can play a big role in determining Notre Dame's 2012 season and beyond.

2) Turnovers are killer: Evidently this wasn't learned, as Notre Dame began its season with a goal-line fumble and five-turnover performance in a loss and ended it with a pair of end-zone interceptions that proved costly in a game in which offensive opportunities were hard to come by.

3) The front seven has bright days ahead of it: Five sacks, seven tackles for loss and four hurries have to get Notre Dame fans excited about the future of the front-seven, especially the young defensive line. In their first years playing, Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix all stood out, making life miserable for E.J. Manuel and the Florida State offensive line for three quarters. Throw in the return of Manti Te'o next season and the pass rush could be lethal.

4) Special teams actually played in ND's favor: Few expected that given the teams' performances in the regular season. But Michael Floyd's 41-yard punt return was 38 yards more than Notre Dame's net punt return yards on the season, George Atkinson had a 37-yard kick return to open the second half that set up a touchdown drive and Ben Turk pinned FSU at the 1 when Notre Dame needed him to most. Of course, a 77-yard return by Lamarcus Joyner stings, but Notre Dame's defense made sure the Seminoles got only three points out of the field position.
The regular season is over and the end of the semester has arrived. Here, we grade Notre Dame's 2011 campaign by position. Part nine of the 10-part series brings us to the special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Grade: C-

Summary: When we last visited this section, for the bye week grades this season, Notre Dame's punt return game averaged 0.3 yards per return. Six games later, status quo. The Irish finished the season averaging 0.3 yards per return. John Goodman and Theo Riddick each turned it over once. Michael Floyd never got a chance to actually return a punt despite being back there a few times. Austin Collinsworth has said he might lobby to return punts, and given his success returning kickoffs -- and the Irish's lack of success in the punt return game -- any change is likely a good one.

As for actual punting, Ben Turk improved over the course of the season, averaging 40.24 yards per punt. David Ruffer appeared to re-gain his form on field goals, hitting eight straight before missing a 20-yarder at Stanford. Kyle Brindza was solid on kickoffs.

The kickoff return game was the brightest spot for the Irish's special teams units, with Geroge Atkinson III returning a pair back for a touchdown. The freshman finished 15th in the country, averaging 27.4 yards per kick return, and is a big bright spot for the unit moving forward.

Previous report cards:

Quarterbacks
Defensive line
Offensive line
Linebackers
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Secondary

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 13, 2011
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A dominant 45-21 win over Maryland lands the following Notre Dame players extra accessories for their already flashy helmets:

Jonas Gray: What more can you say about the senior, who entered this season without a touchdown? He now has 11 in his past seven games, scoring in all seven. He had his first career 100-yard rushing game, going for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

Cierre Wood: The junior was every bit as good as Gray, adding a 3-yard touchdown himself. Wood finished with 99 yards on just 18 carries, and the duo was relentless against the Maryland front-seven all night long. Wood also had a key block that sprung open Tyler Eifert on the tight end's 34-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

Michael Floyd: The senior made a nice 19-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to make it 17-0 Irish early. Floyd finished with nine catches for 90 yards and proved trouble for Maryland's defense all night long.

Robby Toma: The little guy finally got his chance and took advantage of it. Replacing the injured Theo Riddick, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Toma finished with a career-high seven catches for 73 yards.

Tyler Eifert: The junior matched a career-high with eight catches and finished with 83 receiving yards. His 34-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter made it 45-14 late.

Tommy Rees: The sophomore did a terrific job running the offense, completing 30 of 38 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. He hit seven different receivers and, during one stretch, completed 17 of 18 passes.

Lo Wood: Not a bad way to get your first pick. The sophomore intercepted Danny O'Brien and raced it back the other way for a 57-yard touchdown to make it 38-7 with 7:18 left in the third quarter. Notre Dame now has pick-sixes in consecutive Shamrock Series games, as Darrin Walls had a 42-yard interception return for a score against Army last season at Yankee Stadium.

Ben Turk: The junior was not needed much, but he delivered when called upon. Turk landed two punts inside the Maryland 10, and the only one he didn't went for a career-long 58 yards.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 23, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A mistake-plagued loss means less helmet stickers for Notre Dame players, though a few stood out in a 31-17 defeat.

George Atkinson: The freshman has made a huge impact on special teams this season, and his 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter completely changed the course of the game, which looked like a rout early on. Notre Dame built off the big play and kept within striking distance in the fourth quarter. Atkinson became the first Irish player to have multiple kickoff return touchdowns in a season since Allen Rossum in 1997.

Tyler Eifert: On a night Notre Dame's offense looked like a shell of itself, Eifert kept up his typical production. The junior had a team-high seven catches for 66 yards, including a big fourth-down grab from Dayne Crist in the third quarter.

Harrison Smith: The senior captain finished with a game-high 14 total tackles, delivering a number of big hits up the middle. Unfortunately for the fifth-year player, the rest of the run defense did not play up to par, allowing 219 rushing yards to USC.

Ben Turk: The punter saw more action than usual Saturday, especially early. He punted four times and averaged 42 yards per punt, including a pair of 48-yard punts. The junior took a big step forward with his performance Saturday.

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