Notre Dame Football: Corey Robinson

Election Day is coming, in case you have not heard. One week before the Nov. 4 midterms, too.

Brian Kelly is no stranger to all of this. The Notre Dame coach is the son of an alderman. He once worked for Massachusetts state senator Gerry D'Amico. He was a driver for eventual presidential candidate Gary Hart.

A day after his Fighting Irish lost a 31-27 heartbreaker at Florida State, a defeat that kept the Seminoles' win streak alive at 23 and sent the 6-1 Irish down to No. 7 in the AP poll, Kelly took the initiative to play to his audience.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly was quick to hit the College Football Playoff campaign trail following his loss to Florida State.
Not necessarily to his Notre Dame constituency -- unanimous in its frustration over an offensive pass interference call that wiped away a potential game-winning touchdown Saturday -- but to the College Football Playoff selection committee.

The 13-person committee will unveil its first top 25 rankings Oct. 28. Notre Dame has a bye this week, so its loss at FSU in what was arguably the best game of the year was, in effect, its last rehearsal for the committee before the group's initial rankings.

Kelly, ever the politician, made sure all noticed.

"Florida State blew the coverage and they got rewarded for it," is the line he trotted out Sunday that will draw the most attention, an assertion that has been (and will continue to be) picked apart endlessly.

"There's great disappointment," Kelly later added. "You never want to let the game be decided by a referee. You want to control the game yourself.

"What happened at the end was out of our control. We feel like we did the things necessary. We've got to be able to control finishes. That means make a couple more plays. If you've got the champ, you can't win by split decision, you've got to knock him out. I think that's what we want to take away from this."

The written records show that C.J. Prosise received blame for the costly penalty, but Kelly (and others) learned afterward that the flag was actually thrown on Will Fuller. That only further muddled the situation for Kelly, who said that there was nothing that Fuller could have done differently on the play.

Never mind that ACC supervisor of officials Doug Rhoads agreed with the call, or that seemingly every other analyst concurred as well. Never mind that, according to Kelly, officials confessed to him that they missed FSU corner P.J. Williams taking his helmet off on the field after Corey Robinson's nullified go-ahead grab, a no-call that added insult to injury. The only real point of contention, it seemed, was that the spirit of the pass interference rule was violated, a view steeped in the old-school belief across all sports that officials should swallow their whistles in a game's final minutes, especially in an instant classic between two unbeatens.

What matters among all of this are the thoughts of that 13-person committee, and if the rankings that they trot out from next week until the postseason will reflect what Kelly and Notre Dame feel was the truth of the matter Saturday night: That they were better than the defending national champions at Doak Campbell Stadium, and that they should not suffer because of the way things ended.

"I just loved our guys, their mentality going on the road in a hostile environment," Kelly said. "It really did not affect them. They played physical, controlled the line of scrimmage. We made plays against a team that had won 22 in a row. You love that about your team, its psyche, the way they went into the game. So all those are huge things."

This is college football in 2014, where every game still counts, but each game is not exactly an elimination game, not with four teams competing for the top prize at the end instead of two, not just with three Power 5 teams standing unbeaten here eights weeks through the season, with two of those (Ole Miss and Mississippi State) facing each other at season's end.

This is what Kelly -- no stranger to postseason play, having guided Grand Valley State to back-to-back Division II titles in 2002 and 2003 -- guarded against last week, saying that the trip to Tallahassee would not be a make-or-break deal for the Irish.

"It's a journey," Kelly said six days before the FSU game. "You know, this one is such that you have to persevere, and it's a long, long schedule to get there. For us, Florida State is an important game, but we've got to get the rest of the games that are equally as important. I think just pacing our football team through a long season when I was in Division II, you're playing 15 games, and here it's a long season. You just have to make sure that your calendar is stretched out so you're pacing your football team through the season."

It is foolish to assume anything in college football, least of all that Notre Dame will respond to Saturday's loss by winning its five remaining scheduled games. The Irish certainly could, though, and -- with apologies to unbeaten Marshall -- the four-team playoff is already virtually assured of featuring at least two one-loss teams. Notre Dame feels it belongs in that conversation, even without the 13th game that four conferences will offer their finalists.

So Kelly doubled-down on his stance Sunday in a defense of his players and of his fan base but, most importantly, in an attempt to convince the voices who matter that the Irish are better than the FSU team that has not lost in 23 months, and that questionable officiating was the only thing standing in their way.

He may be three decades and several gray hairs away from his previous life, but Kelly can still politic with the best of them.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Nearly two years ago, three days before the biggest game of his life, the BCS National Championship against Alabama, Everett Golson let the nation in on a little secret.

"Obviously basketball is my love, that's what I love," Golson said down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, "But my primary right now is football. I'd like to say I would like to have the chance of playing basketball someday [in South Bend]. But like I said, football is my primary, and what I'm focused on right now is the national championship."

"He's pretty good at his hobby, this being his hobby," then-Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin added. "Primary love basketball is just what he does on the side, he's actually pretty decent at."

Everett Golson
Courtesy of DeAndre' ScottEverett Golson (shooting) played point guard in high school, helping his squad at Myrtle Beach High win an AAA state title.
How decent? Golson was at the very least a Division I talent, according to those who coached him at the prep level. Notre Dame's redshirt junior quarterback is on the Heisman Trophy short list as he readies the No. 6 Irish for a date Saturday with North Carolina. A Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, native, Golson had initially pledged to the Tar Heels' basketball program in February 2010. He had spoken with legendary coach Roy Williams, and there was a strong possibility that he would have spent his winters in Chapel Hill on the hardwood, before the football team's NCAA investigation and a trip to Notre Dame eventually forced him to flip his commitment.

Hoops aspirations never materialized with the Irish, though things have worked out pretty well for the man who, with a 15-1 career record as a starter, boasts the highest win percentage of any quarterback in Irish history (.9375).

"If he was doing something else right now other than quarterbacking a top-[six] team, I probably would have been disappointed, just because the kid was so, so talented, such a good athlete at basketball. I knew he could've been a Division I kid," former Myrtle Beach High hoops coach DeAndre Scott said. "But to see him be able to do the things he's doing at football -- which at the time, I'll be honest with you, when he was a freshman or sophomore, he was a kid that really didn't like football nearly as much. But people who were around knew the things he could do on the football field were just unreal in comparison to where he was as a basketball player at that time."

Golson was, naturally, a point guard. He began with a suspect jump shot, Scott said, and the perfectionist in the player made for some early growing pains, as he would get too down on himself after misses. Still, as a freshman he rose to a starting role down the season's stretch, helping lift Myrtle Beach to a state title. He played one more season for Scott, then another for new coach Craig Martin, before his early enrollment at Notre Dame cost him his senior hoops season.

"He was a really talented kid, good athlete," Scott said. "I always thought he was more of a pass-first point guard, a guy who can really see the floor. He liked getting other guys involved, but he was such a good athlete. He could still score the basketball for you."

During the Beach Ball Classic during Golson's sophomore year, he scored 16 in an eight-point loss to a Martin Luther King (Calif.) team that was led by Kawhi Leonard, the MVP of this past June's NBA Finals. The summer before his senior year, Golson traveled around the country to various quarterback camps before returning to point guard on his AAU team, the South Carolina Ravens, all the way to the 17 and under national title game, before falling to the Arkansas Wings.

The Ravens' roster featured starters such as South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams and Clemson hoops guard Damarcus Harrison, and it had UNC forward Brice Johnson and Seton Hall forward Rashed Anthony coming off the bench.

"I probably had the best NFL team that was playing basketball," Ravens founder and coach Dion Bethea quipped.

While Golson was on a redshirt his first year at Notre Dame, the basketball bug bit, and coach Brian Kelly said that the staff had to rein that itch in.

"I think that he still has a love for the game," Kelly said Tuesday. "But I think that now has changed because of his focus on being the quarterback here. But no, in his first year here, he was a handful. He always wanted to go out and play a little basketball."

Golson has said that he would at times decompress by shooting around some with Martin, his position coach, who is now the head coach at Miami (Ohio).
His hoops exploits may be a thing of the past, but the stories still carry some weight around campus and in his locker room.

"I haven't played basketball with him yet but I've heard myths, legends," said Irish receiver Corey Robinson, the son of Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson. "He's an incredible basketball player, from my understanding. But I've never played with him. I'm not good enough. He's on another level."
Everett GolsonMatt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsA young Notre Dame offense now looks to Everett Golson as the team's leader.
Ivan Simmons is the cousin who gives Everett Golson tough love, the guy who hosted Golson in Chicago two summers ago before the quarterback flew to San Diego to work with position guru George Whitfield Jr.

But with a 3-0, turnover-less start from Golson that has generated some early Heisman talk, Simmons is finding it harder and harder to nitpick.

"Sometimes I talk to him about just body language, the way you carry yourself on the field," Simmons told ESPN.com. "He's had some bad throws here and there. Just more telling him how proud I am. He's made some good steps in the right direction, and [he needs] to keep going forward. There's no going backward."

That demeanor, ironically enough, may be the area Golson has improved the most since his last stint as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. The 780 passing yards and 11 total touchdowns speak for themselves. But Golson's assertiveness as the Irish's leader is a big reason why coach Brian Kelly thinks this team has the highest ceiling of any of the five he's coached in South Bend, Indiana.

Take last week in Indianapolis, with the Irish slogging through the first half against an overmatched Purdue team. Golson saw an opportunity to establish his footing as the director of the offense, bringing the unit together on the sideline and telling his teammates to stay on-course when things weren't coming as easily as they did in the previous two weeks.

"Just really try to encourage them, make sure everybody had a sound mind, make sure everybody wasn't dropping off the bandwagon," Golson said of the impromptu gathering. "So just making sure everybody was good."

Said receiver Corey Robinson: "It turned the game around. We were down and he pulled us together and said, 'Look, guys, we need to pull together, not for anyone else, for us as a team.' … It really does help having a central, focused leader telling us to come together and fight for each other."

Golson said he understands that role better now. Notre Dame has accommodated that, making him available for post-practice interviews every week so far this season, a far cry from his last stint as starter, when Kelly had said that he was not ready to put Golson out in front as the face of the program.

Now? Kelly laughed off a Heisman Trophy question following a Week 2 win with a "why-not" approach. He reiterated later that week that he has no worries about his quarterback possibly becoming suffocated by the extra attention.

"It's been the journey that he's on and that journey started when he was a freshman," Kelly said. "Obviously when he got his opportunity to come back here, he wanted to obviously take control of his destiny on offense and that means be a leader. Since he's been here, he's gradually been more assertive every single day, and as he's become more comfortable with who he is, he's holding others accountable."

Kelly said there is still room for growth in that department, as he hopes to see Golson speak up even more.

Robinson's first experience with Golson had come after the receiver enrolled early in the spring of 2013, right before Golson's suspension. Though Robinson admits he was just trying to get his feet under him at that point, even he can see a noticeable difference in Golson since then.

"I didn't really have time to think about what Everett was doing," Robinson said. "But just looking at him then, looking at the tape, he's more comfortable out there. He's more of a natural leader. Whatever he says, everyone's going to listen because everyone respects Everett and everyone respects the work he does off the field and the work he produces on the field."

Simmons, Golson's 34-year-old cousin, sees it all coming together at once for Golson, who had enrolled at Notre Dame just days after his 18th birthday and admittedly struggled with schoolwork while redshirting during his freshman year in 2011.

Now the 21-year-old redshirt junior has returned from exile and improved his career mark to 13-1, the guy everyone looks to on a young offense.

"You have to step up and be that man at that time, and that's what he's trying to do," Simmons said. "You've got to watch your body language; you want your teammates to see that you're confident and they're going to thrive off of you, so you lead by showing examples."

Irish morning links

August, 26, 2014
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Brian Kelly press conference today. Now it feels like game week ...

Irish morning links

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Two more weeks ...

Irish morning links

August, 11, 2014
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Coming at you a little earlier from now on ...
CULVER, Ind. -- The day KeiVarae Russell committed to Notre Dame, the Irish lost to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Rashad Greene was named MVP of the contest, catching five passes for 99 yards and a touchdown.

"That day was funny," Russell said. "Everybody thought I did it on purpose. I didn't know they were playing. U-Dub [Washington] was playing that day, too."

 And yet, the Everett, Wash., product was an expected running back or receiver upon his commitment.

"I know," Russell said with a smile. "I didn't think I was going to be corner, but I'm enjoying it now."

That he is, with the junior entering 2014 as confident and talkative as ever as he looks to take advantage of more 1-on-1 matchups that will exploit his speed. Russell has started all 26 games of his college career through two seasons, having been thrown into an emergency corner role during fall camp of 2012 after then-projected starter Lo Wood tore his Achilles tendon. Now he is on watch lists such as the Bednarik and Nagurski, which honor the nation's top defensive players.

And yet he's not on the watch list for the Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back.

"It doesn’t make sense," he said. "I always look at stuff like that because it’s so funny. I can’t wait. I’m excited. Another chip on my shoulder, a reason to work harder and show the guys I can be one of the best corners in the country. I have work to do, and I’m excited."

Russell is hoping the switch from zone coverage under Bob Diaco to more press coverage under new coordinator Brian VanGorder will only grant him more opportunities to build off his three career interceptions and 10 career pass breakups. The aggressive style should, in theory, provide a boost to Russell and the rest of an experienced secondary, which is playing behind a relatively green front-seven.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder admitted that the new concept was somewhat tiring at first during fall practice No. 1 Monday, joking that he probably dropped 10 pounds running around in the heat. But he simplified the approach, allowing himself to get into a groove and, in true Russell fashion, become a pest in the receivers' sides.

"I have to get to that point where my technique is flawless," Russell said. "When people go against me they’d be like, ‘Oh damn, him again?’ Perfecting every part of my game. Not just press-man, but off-man, when they’re in bunches, I have to play off. With a three-way bunch I have to be able to play man-to-man that way, just perfecting my game."

Brian Kelly sees Russell taking on the challenge of trying to be among the best in the country, with the fifth-year Irish coach throwing out names like NFL stars Darrelle Revis and Patrick Peterson when discussing what his junior corner is aiming to be like.

"He wants to be the very best at his position, so he's driven to be that player," Kelly said. "He's not there yet, so that's his focus."

Russell, for his part, has already done some scouting of upcoming receivers he will likely find himself up against later this season, drawing analogies with his teammates each time he faces them in practice.

"I studied that little slot from North Carolina, I studied him," Russell said of the speedy Ryan Switzer. "I studied [USC's Nelson] Agholor, I still look at those guys now, and I studied Rice receivers. But they're all different body receivers."

To Russell, teammate Chris Brown is like Agholor. Corey Robinson is like Arizona State's Jaelen Strong. Short and fast, tall and strong, Russell is ready to take on all comers this season.

Florida State's Greene may be on the docket again this Oct. 18 as well, but Russell is more concerned with the bigger picture from that night he committed to Notre Dame nearly three years ago.

"We ain't going to be in the Champs Sports Bowl," he said with a smile.
Our five-man panel used a formula earlier this week to determine that Notre Dame is the No. 9 college football program set up for the next three years. Brian Fremeau and his Football Outsiders team tried something similar, using their own formula.

Using their weighted five-year program ratings — relying on program trajectory as a better indicator than previous-year data — the group lists its top 10 future programs, along with the next five.

The differences are pretty eye-opening. And Notre Dame does not make the list.

That's hardly the biggest difference between the two lists, with other teams appearing on one and not the other, while others see their positions roughly 10 places apart in the separate rankings.

As always, it's interesting to see who excels in different categories, and how each program is set up for the future, as Fremeau and his team project future win percentage and playoff likelihood for the next three years as well.

As for the rest of the links to get you into your weekend ...

Notre Dame mailblog

July, 11, 2014
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The season's getting closer ...

Shaun from Connecticut writes: Matt... Leading up to preseason camp here in a few weeks, what is your opinion and feel on who the starting QB is going to be? Is Golson a lock at the position?

Matt Fortuna: Shaun, I'd say Everett Golson remains the favorite, but having Malik Zaire there to push him is a good problem to have. Zaire is a player who will not go down without a fight, and so far I think everyone has been pleased with Golson's response. It is also pretty telling that Golson went back to work with George Whitfield Jr. after the spring season, and that he went out to help at the Elite 11 recently as well.




Ronald Harjers from Bridge City, Texas, writes: Big Fan of your work, Matt. My question is where is the fire in the Irish. I watched the Irish win the title when I was 18. That team and even the early 1990s teams had that fire in their hearts and eyes. I haven't seen that type of fire in a long time. Do you see this team coming together as one, and fired up! Go Irish, fear the Golden Domers.

Matt Fortuna: Appreciate the kind words, Ronald. While it is difficult to judge such an amorphous concept, I will say that it is hard to argue the determination that the 2012 team showed in making a run to the BCS title game. Just look at two of its defining moments of the regular season: Goal-line stands on four straight plays against rivals Stanford and USC to clinch big wins. That defense was obviously anchored by NFL players with dominant personalities like Manti Te'o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, and those types of combinations don't just grow on trees. I thought last year's defense did what it could under the circumstances, as the injuries seemed never-ending. But it will be interesting to see how everything comes together this year, when there is a new defensive coordinator, plenty of personnel turnover and not many seniors.




Matt Fortuna: Outside of DaVaris Daniels, I'll say Corey Robinson steps up with a big sophomore year. He showed plenty of signs down the stretch last season and has now been in the program for consecutive springs, which should help him fill out his frame. His length allows him to get to balls that few others on the roster can, and the coaches absolutely love his attitude. One guy who often gets overlooked in this conversation is Ben Koyack, who is obviously a tight end but should see much more action come his way with Troy Niklas out of the picture. Koyack stepped up in the second half of 2013, catching nine passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns during the Irish's final six games. That has not gone unnoticed outside of the program, with plenty of preseason hype coming his way via watch lists and All-America teams. If we know anything about Notre Dame tight ends in recent years, it is that they will be used in the passing game often. And 2014 is the senior Koyack's time to shine.




Chris Tanner
Courtesy of Chris TannerNotre Dame fan Chris Tanner visited Doak Campbell Stadium on the FSU campus.
Chris Tanner writes: On traveling back from Florida, we made a stop in Tallahassee. I wanted Irish Nation to start getting excited for October 18th as it’s only 102 days away. Attached is the picture we took outside the stadium next to a statue whose phrase “Unconquered” can easily be revised with a simple place of a vehicle.

Matt Fortuna: Funny stuff, Chris. I'm loving the photo submissions. Keep them coming, fans.

Notre Dame mailblog

May, 23, 2014
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What's up, everybody?

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsThe fact that Charlie Weis received more money from Notre Dame than head coach Brian Kelly during the 2012 season was a cold splash of water in the face for many fans.
Teddy Marks from New Zealand writes: Matt, I am an American living down under. Your article is simply gobsmacking, as they say in Kiwiland. Notre Dame is not just an institution of higher learning, it is supposed to represent higher learning! The numbers you provide should make sane people sit up and ask, "What is going on?" A coach is fired and getting paid what?! Everything about this situation is just so wrong, but what's worse is that there are probably a dozen other comparable scenarios out there. Quite frankly, since the idea of a "student-athlete" is really from a bygone era, and what we have now are really professional wannabes posing as students. Maybe the guys at Northwestern are at least going to make the NCAA drop the charade of financial integrity with regard to the athletes in light of this sort of garbage in the coaching ranks -- garbage that is the norm and put right out there in front of everybody by Matt Fortuna. And let's not forget it's the presidents and boards, intellectual giants that they are, that make these contracts while they wring their hands over the latest tuition hike. At Notre Dame, you'd like to think the prez there would know what the Bible says about greed. Or stewardship. This note is undoubtedly rambling and incoherent. Still gobsmacked.

Matt Fortuna: Teddy, this might be the angriest, profanity-free, printable email or tweet I've ever received. And not entirely without merit, either. Bravo. (Coherent, too.)


Jack from Erie, Pa., writes: Notre Dame can only go to the Orange Bowl twice over the next 12 years. ... So if they go, say 10-2 this season, would one of those slots get used up right away? Also, how many at-large spots will there be in the new format? If the SEC champ is in the playoff, does their spot in the Sugar Bowl then become an at-large? I'm concerned in that there doesn't seem to be a ton of access for ND to the big bowls if they finish outside of the top four.

Matt Fortuna: Jack, if the Orange Bowl wants Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish are eligible for it, I see no reason why they wouldn't jump in. "Saving" a spot for a later year, so to speak, would be foolish on the Irish's end, in my opinion. The Irish have been to just one BCS bowl in the past seven years. The new format's elite games are three contract bowls with league tie-ins (Sugar, Rose, Orange) and three access bowls (Fiesta, Peach, Cotton) with none, with two of the six bowls rotating into the semifinals each year. The Sugar Bowl is a semifinal this upcoming season. But the access bowl spots will be filled by any power conference champion that didn't make the playoff and has no contract with one of the remaining elite bowls. The elite bowls must also take the highest-rated team from the group of non-power conferences. The highest-ranked remaining teams, as determined by the selection committee, would fill in the open top-tier bowl spots. This new format presents Notre Dame with many more bowl options than the BCS did, as the Irish have both the Orange Bowl deal and the ACC deal, which allows them to step over another ACC team for its spot in a non-elite bowl if the Irish's record is better than, equal to or within one of that ACC team, or ranked higher in the final standings.


Kj from Kent, Ohio, writes: Surprised you didn't mention William Fuller in your WR section of the spring wrap-up. He had as many catches as Corey Robinson did last year and would've had at least two more TDs if Tommy [Rees] had a DI arm. Don't sleep on Fuller, Matt!

Matt Fortuna: I'm not sleeping on Fuller, Kj! (Sorry for the yelling back.) I just believed Robinson deserved singling out among the sophomores given how much potential he has with that frame, and the fact that Brian Kelly raved this spring about how much he loved coaching Robinson. That said, it's anybody's guess as to who will emerge from the pack among the young guys. The opportunities are certainly there for the taking at receiver.

Notre Dame spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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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.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It was hard for Notre Dame to differentiate among its wide receivers throughout the spring. Just ask Mike Denbrock about any one of them -- in this case, Torii Hunter Jr.

"He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road," the Irish offensive coordinator said. "Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."

Hunter saw action mostly on the outside this spring. Like most of his peers, however, the redshirt freshman also played in the slot. He had once expressed hopes of following in the footsteps of TJ Jones, last year's team MVP, by playing all over the field. But he was less direct when asked on the eve of the spring game.

"It just depends," Hunter said. "I just want to play wherever the coaches need me. I just want to see the field. If it does end up being the way TJ was used then definitely that's the way I'll be."

This isn't all necessarily a bad thing for Notre Dame; it's just the way things are until DaVaris Daniels' presumed summer return. From the towering Corey Robinson to the early enrollee Justin Brent, it was an all-hands-on-deck operation for Irish wideouts this spring.

There are no fewer than seven scholarship players fighting for meaningful roles this fall. But the pecking order -- let alone knowing who will line up where to begin with -- is really anyone's guess.

"I don't think that that's going to happen in June, per se," head coach Brian Kelly said. "These guys need so much development work, Amir Carlisle needs to continue to develop. Chris Brown has got to continue to work on a number of things. Will Fuller. A lot of that is development work that in June will continue to take place. Then we're very hopeful that if things go the right way, Daniels comes back to us.

"We got a very competitive situation with Robinson, Daniels, Fuller, Brown, Carlisle. We've got a nice situation there. I think it's a just competitive situation. We've got to get the best players on the field, because the tight end is going to be on the field as well. I like to keep a tight end on the field.

"So we're talking about three positions and arguably you've got, half a dozen guys there that can compete. So what's going to be the deciding factor for me is, I'm not settled on any one of those guys right now. I think it will be a very competitive situation. I think they are going to push each other and we're going to be the beneficiary. Notre Dame's offense is beginning to be the beneficiary."

Irish lunch links

April, 11, 2014
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Safe travels to those going to the Blue-Gold game.

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 4, 2014
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Thanks for chiming in. As always, feel free to tweet any more questions you have here or drop 'em in the mailbag.

Away we go ...

Brendan Shaw from Raleigh, N.C. writes: Hi Matt, doing a great job as usual! This is a long shot, but is there any chance Kelly puts in a two-QB package to mess with the opposing defense? If you think about it, having two dual-threat QBs on the field simultaneously gives you a minimum of a quadruple threat in the backfield. Opposing d-coordinators may just quit football after trying to figure that out for a quarter or two. Regards, Brendan.

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Brendan. Having both quarterbacks on the field at the same time? That would be news to me, especially since I haven't seen either of these guys try their hands at something other than quarterback. That being said, I'd be surprised if Malik Zaire didn't see some meaningful action during the season, as I am sure Brian Kelly and the staff will do everything they can to keep him engaged. He seems to have another gear as a runner, and he could certainly be useful in some red-zone packages as well, as the Fighting Irish have struggled to punch it in down there so much in recent years. I wonder if throwing a lefty in in the middle of a game could prove to be a nice little wrinkle, too.

Mike S. from Chicago writes: Hi Matt, great work as always. Question: how is the schedule for ACC games determined each year? We know it's a rotation with up to five games, but how are the opponents determined each season and how are home-and-aways done?

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Mike. It is, by all accounts, a collaborative effort. And the ACC has shown some flexibility so far to accommodate the Irish, allowing them to play four conference games in 2014 and six in 2015 because of previous schedule arrangements. Both parties plan on keeping things that way, hoping to blend a balance so that a) Notre Dame isn't facing a death row of Florida State/Clemson/Miami in a given season (just using those teams as an example) b) the Irish can fill their 6-5-1 scheduling arrangement (six at home, five on road, one Shamrock Series) and c) so that they play all 14 ACC teams over a three-year span. As you can see, it takes a lot of legwork from all sides, which explains why we didn't know the Irish's 2014 schedule until December of this year (and why the school released three years of schedules at once).

Michael Fry writes: Hi Matt, I have 3 questions for you: 1. Since he arrived on campus last year, und.com has made a point of showing spectacular catches from No. 88. Having seen some live practice, can you comment on how he is doing overall in terms of route-running and consistency in catching the ball? Right now, he is presented as a catch-everything kind of guy 2. Footage of Zaire looks great but, coming back to the theme of No. 1, what kind of a QB competition would this be if Brian Kelly had not called it already in Golson's favor? Would it be close or are we talking different stratospheres? 3. Defense -- 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. Corey Robinson seems to dominate every time us media folks are at practice, too. He has natural size and athletic ability, giving the quarterback a wider margin of error when matching up with smaller corners. Part of that, of course, is also because Notre Dame's corners are relatively green outside of KeiVarae Russell. That said, Robinson needs to put on more strength so he can win some battles along the line of scrimmage and gain some more separation downfield. But last spring's transfers, and this spring's absence of DaVaris Daniels, has given Robinson more opportunities to make an impression. Kelly has stated that he absolutely loves coaching him because of his willingness to accept coaching and not make the same mistake twice. As for the quarterback question, I'm not sure it's still close, but that shouldn't negate from the progress that Zaire has made this spring.

I don't think anyone seriously expects someone other than Everett Golson to be starting come Week 1, but I do think Zaire will see meaningful snaps this season, and the fact there are only two scholarship quarterbacks this spring will prove to be beneficial for the lefty in the long run. Kelly was right to publicly open things up.

Lastly, everyone has been raving about Sheldon Day, who is not exactly off the radar but who was limited last season because of an ankle injury. I'd expect to see a breakout campaign from him along the line, and I wouldn't be surprised if Jarron Jones took his game up another level as well, as the redshirt sophomore has said to us how much more fun he is having in the new system.

Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill. writes: Hey Matt! Thanks for answering all of these questions. I know I enjoy reading your answers. My question today is focused on the linebackers. It seems like they are set at outside, but who's going to play middle? Will Nyles Morgan come in and make an impact right away? Could they move Jaylon Smith? Thanks!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Thomas. I'd say the only sure things at linebacker across the board right now are Joe Schmidt and Smith. Brian VanGorder absolutely raved about Schmidt when asked last week, and we all know what kind of potential Smith flashed during his strong rookie campaign in 2013. Smith has described his position as sort of a hybrid between the Mike and Sam. I'm curious to see the fallout of Jarrett Grace's second operation. He seemed to come along better than anyone over the first half of last season before breaking his leg, and Kelly said the Irish won't know his exact prognosis now until about six weeks after the operation, which took place March 28. If he can come back to camp in full-force, I think that will be huge. If not, I think Morgan could certainly make an impact upon his arrival this summer, probably not unlike the one we saw last year from Smith before he started every game in the fall.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly wants more out of all of them, because that's just the way the head coach is wired. Mike Denbrock is not displeased with any of them, because six practices into spring ball would be an awfully early time for the offensive coordinator to heap any significant praise on a green group.

If Notre Dame's offense is going to break out in the fashion all expect now that it has a proven, dynamic quarterback in Everett Golson, it's going to need its receivers to take the next step. And these final three weeks of spring practice will probably go a long way in determining whether such a leap can occur, especially with headliner DaVaris Daniels exiled until the summer because of an academic matter.

"Now, it's kind of been funny, when I have a question, I have to figure it out as opposed to last fall," Corey Robinson said. "DaVaris played 'W' a lot -- whenever I had an issue, I'd go to him and he'd help me out, or I'd go to TJ [Jones]. Now I have to figure it out, and some of the younger guys who didn't play last year are coming to me and asking me what to do. That's really forced my hand -- and I know it's the same for Breezy (Chris Brown) and C.J. (Prosise). We have to know the offense better and it kind of puts pressure on us to do that so when questions are asked we can help out."

Robinson has raised eyebrows for the second spring in a row, this time for more than just his frame. The 6-foot-4.5, 205-pound son of hoops Hall of Famer David Robinson has asserted himself more after a nine-catch, 157-yard, one-touchdown rookie campaign, with Kelly saying the sophomore has pleased him more than anyone else at the position.

"He does exactly what I ask him to do all the time," Kelly said, loud and deliberately. "And he does it right. Now he may screw it up the first time, but you coach him and he does it right the second time. I love that kid.”

"They try to do it right," Kelly later added of the others when asked. "They all try to do it right. He does it right the second time. He's fun to coach."

Denbrock said the experience of Brown has made him the steadiest of the bunch, as his junior status and 17 career grabs for 265 yards and a score are all tops on the current roster.

It helps that youngsters like Robinson and
Will Fuller
(six catches, 160 yards, TD) got their feet wet last season as freshmen, but there are still projects in spring enrollee Justin Brent and Torii Hunter Jr., who redshirted last season while recovering from a broken left leg suffered in high school.

"If you look at those other guys, it’s still new to them," Denbrock said. "We’re really working hard at all positions on offense because of our youth and gaining that type of consistency play in and play out that you need to control the game from the offensive side of the ball."

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