Notre Dame Football: John Goodman

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Scott Booker approached TJ Jones after a conditioning workout this past spring with a fairly straightforward suggestion: Hey, I want you to return punts this year.

Jones, incidentally, had been meaning to talk with Notre Dame's special teams coordinator about such a move. He, like everyone else, saw the way the Irish had struggled in that department in his three previous years in the program. He had gotten his feet wet as a returner in his freshman year but, while also trying to balance receiver duties, became a bit overwhelmed as a newcomer.

Entering his senior campaign, Jones thought, now might be as good of a time as any to make one more contribution in an area his team sorely needed it.

T.J. Jones
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame would love to see TJ Jones celebrate after a few long punt returns this season.
"He really wants to do this job," head coach Brian Kelly said. "I think you have to have that want and desire and belief that you can be really good at it."

Just how good remains to be seen, but the Irish are hoping the benefit of having their leading returning receiver back deep fielding punts can shore up a return unit that has finished no better than 100th nationally in Kelly's first three years at Notre Dame.

"You can never really predict what you're going to get with punt returns," Jones said. "You never really know how well they're going to block, who's going to get downfield. You may have 10 yards, you may have two yards, but at the end of the day you can't be afraid to take risks back there. You can't be afraid to take a hit, because ultimately with those risks a lot of times comes a big reward. Now that doesn't mean you make a dumb decision, but just make smart, kind of not-the-safe decisions all the time."

The limited success Notre Dame has experienced has come with a dynamic playmaker fielding punts — notably, Michael Floyd's 41-yard return in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, a play that accounted for three more yards than the Irish's previous 12-game total of 38.

Davonte' Neal, who transferred to Arizona this spring, fielded all 21 punts last year for the Irish as a true freshman, tallying just 2.2 yards per return. John Goodman led the Irish in returns in 2010 and 2011 with 21 total, averaging 1.3 and 0.6 yards per return, respectively.

Kelly has spoken of a more aggressive approach this fall, and he thinks Jones is just the man to spearhead that attack.

"We did an extensive offseason study, I'll just give you one example," Kelly said. "We had seven safe punts against Purdue, seven safe punts where our defense was on the field, and it was just the circumstances of the game. They punted four times inside our 50yard line. Very rarely are you going to bring your punt return team on there. We hope that we're able to get into situations where we can get our punt return team on the field. I think we've put some guys in there that we think that we can force punt returns more often where we don't have to have safe punt on the field.

"We've looked at a lot of different situations where we believe that we can get our punt return team on the field and a guy back there that really wants to get that job done. Now, take both of those together, that punt return team now knows they've got a guy back there who's a senior captain that wants to do their job. There's a big motivation factor for those guys to want to get that job done for him, as well."

Jones said he would practice catching punts twice a week on his own during the offseason, and he made it a point during camp practices to avoid waving the fair-catch signal.

Developing the right mentality is another variable, he said, one that will inevitably have to absorb some low points if there is any hope of eventually becoming effective.

"Punt return is different, it's kind of something you have to become good at," Jones said. "You can't take high school punt returns and then transition it to college punt returns; you have to be dedicated and passionate it about it. And at times it's frustrating when you can't get it, but once you do get it down it's all about your confidence level."

Whether that translates into a more productive unit remains to be seen, though Notre Dame is happy to have someone with the credentials of Jones taking the initiative.

"I think that just goes to show the type of program that coach Kelly has," Booker said. "You have senior guys that are coming and that want to take on roles, any roles that they feel like they can help and improve the team on. Whether it's offense, defense or special teams, they want to do that. And it's awesome to have TJ back there and it's a good thing."

Irish lunch links

July, 8, 2013
Good to see Pedro Alvarez's first All-Star appearance coming in New York.
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:

Irish lunch links

May, 2, 2013
New York-Boston. Never a dull moment.
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:
The NFL does not wait for everyone, and so what was an otherwise 10 a.m. ET call out of Baltimore turned into an early-morning wake-up for the latest former Notre Dame player to take his talents to the next level.

Toma will join fellow Irish player Kapron Lewis-Moore with the Ravens. The often-overlooked 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver is now the 13th former Irish player who will get a shot at the NFL in one form or another.

The official Notre Dame football page has a nice graphic of most of the players here.

To recap:
The long wait for Manti Te'o officially concluded around 7 p.m. Friday, with former San Diego Chargers cornerback Jim Hill announcing that the Chargers had taken the former Notre Dame linebacker with the 38th overall pick.

"It’s great motivation for me to go out there and just get better, and that’s what I intend to do," Te'o told of falling out of the first round.

But Te'o was hardly the only surprise among former Irish players this past weekend.

For one, Cierre Wood, who passed up a potential fifth year of college ball to jump to the NFL, went undrafted. The running back was one of six former Irish players to post on Twitter that he signed or received an invite from an NFL team, as the Oxnard, Calif., native said he was picked up by the Houston Texans.

Mike Golic Jr. said he is heading to Pittsburgh, Braxston Cave to Cleveland, Dayne Crist to Kansas City, John Goodman to Cincinnati and Jordan Cowart to Washington.

Goodman will be joining fellow Fort Wayne, Ind., native and college teammate Tyler Eifert with the Bengals.

As for the rest of the Notre Dame contingent, Jamoris Slaughter was the first Irish player to get drafted Saturday, going in the sixth round (175th overall) to the Browns. Theo Riddick and Kapron Lewis-Moore were the next former Irish players off the board, going back to back to Detroit and Baltimore at Nos. 199 and 200, respectively.

Zeke Motta was the final player of the group to get drafted, going 224th overall to Atlanta in the seventh round, giving Notre Dame six draftees overall.

Irish lunch links

April, 25, 2013
Eifert and Te'o predictions?

14 players set for pro day

March, 22, 2013
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
Our series continues with the wide receivers and tight ends.

Starters returning: T.J. Jones
Players returning: DaVaris Daniels, Davonte' Neal, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, Luke Massa, Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, Alex Welch
Players departing: Robby Toma, John Goodman, Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic
Newcomers: James Onwualu, Corey Robinson, William Fuller, Torii Hunter Jr., Mike Heuerman, Durham Smythe, Jacob Matuska

The breakdown: The biggest hole will clearly be left by Eifert, who broke a number of records at Tight End U. Watching the development of the converted linebacker Niklas, along with the growth of Koyack and recovery of Welch (ACL tear), is important to keep an eye on.

Still, Notre Dame has to feel pretty good about what they return among their pass-catchers, especially in light of the Discover BCS National Championship. Jones and Daniels were two of the few who brought their A-games on Jan. 7 against Alabama, and both look like legitimate go-to options heading into 2013. Expect to see plenty of Everett Golson-to-Daniels connections over the next three years.

Neal is an interesting prospect considering he spent the majority of his freshman season simply waving the fair catch signal. He was ESPN's No. 8 overall prospect for a reason, and he should have the chance to show off his athleticism in the slot more now with Toma out of the picture. Brown, meanwhile, made arguably the biggest offensive play of the year for the Irish and, because of his speed, is someone defenders need to keep a close eye on whenever he takes the field.

Onwualu and Robinson enrolled in January and should have a leg up on the other newcomers when fall camp commences.

Recapping the Notre Dame Awards show

December, 10, 2012
Befitting a season seemingly from the past, Notre Dame made the theme for its Friday night awards banquet "The Echoes."

Seventeen "Echoes" were handed out at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center by the entire Notre Dame staff, including the team MVP echo to Manti Te'o, who accepted the award live via satellite from atop 30 Rock in New York. Te'o was for the Heisman Trophy presentation the following night.

The highlights of the night: Matthias Farley's bowtie, Theo Riddick's Armani belt and Louis Nix's brief acceptance speech: "I'd like to thank my mom. She had a beautiful son and he's here today." The senior parents' video was a hit for the second straight year as well.

Here's a list of the night's winners:

Offensive scout team player of the year, presented by offensive GA Bill Brechin
Winner: Nick Fitzpatrick (also nominated: Bruce Heggie, William Mahone)

Defensive scout team player of the year, presented by defensive GA Josh Reardon
Winner: Tyler Stockton (also nominated: Joe Romano, Joe Schmidt)

Offensive newcomer of the year, presented by offensive coordinator Chuck Martin
Winner: Everett Golson (also nominated: DaVaris Daniels, Christian Lombard, Troy Niklas)

Defensive newcomer of the year, presented by co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks
Winner: KeiVarae Russell (also nominated: Sheldon Day, Matthias Farley, Danny Spond)

Irish Around the Bend award (community service), presented by director of player development and engagement Ernest Jones
Winner: Mike Golic Jr.

A-Team award (accountability, appreciation, achievement), presented by defensive line coach Mike Elston
Winner: Kapron Lewis-Moore

Count On Me award (reliable, unselfish), presented by running backs/slot receivers coach Tony Alford
Winner: Theo Riddick

Father Lange Iron Cross award, presented by strength and conditioning director Paul Longo
Winner: Braxston Cave

Special teams award, presented by tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Scott Booker
Winner: Kyle Brindza

Pietrosante award (courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, pride), presented by outside receivers coach Mike Denbrock
Winner: John Goodman, Robby Toma

Moose Krause defensive lineman of the year, presented by assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator Bob Diaco
Winner: Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt

Offensive lineman of the year, presented by offensive line coach Harry Hiestand
Winner: Zack Martin

Rockne Student-Athlete award, presented by safeties coach Bob Elliott
Winner: Danny Spond

Next Man In award, presented by head coach Brian Kelly
Winner: Tommy Rees

Offensive player of the year, presented by Kelly
Winner: Tyler Eifert

Defensive player of the year, presented by Kelly
Winner: Zeke Motta

MVP, presented by Kelly
Winner: Manti Te'o

For Irish, '07 seems a lifetime ago

November, 28, 2012
One does not need to look too far back to find perhaps the worst team in Notre Dame history.

"I was talking to [Robby] Toma about this earlier," fifth-year senior receiver John Goodman said recently. "Coming back from Notre Dame being the worst it's ever been to being maybe the best it's ever been -- maybe starting a little franchise here with a bunch of wins in a row, a bunch of good seasons in a row -- it's really special to be able to be the beginning of that."

Goodman and five other players on Notre Dame's current roster had committed to the school following a 3-9 mark in 2007, the program's most losses ever. They will cap their college careers in the national title game, either as the national champion or runner-up.

The Irish have come a long way in a short time, with even athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying that the program is a year ahead of schedule. In 2007, they did not score an offensive touchdown in their first three games, getting outscored 102-13. They lost their first six games.

They lost to Michigan and USC by identical 38-0 scores, lost to Michigan State by 17, to Purdue by two touchdowns, to Boston College by 13 and to Navy in triple overtime, giving up 46 points.

One head coach and five years later en route to a perfect regular season, Notre Dame swept those six opponents, allowing them just four total touchdowns.

It's been a long five years in between, but the Irish are finally seeing the payoff now, and memories of such hard times have made reaching the heights even sweeter for them.

"In any program, whether you're at Notre Dame or for me at Grand Valley State when we built national championship programs, there's going to be a core guy, core group of guys that have to go through those tough times," coach Brian Kelly said last week. "Every group that I've had that have gone through those tough times, they're stronger for it. So I think there's no question that this group is stronger because of the experiences that they've had along the way.

"And that's what makes this team such a good football team, because they've had the down times and they know what that end looks like, and they don't like it very much. And so that's where you really feel good about your football team, if they've had those kind of experiences."

Irish looking to turn tables on USC

November, 21, 2012
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Zeke Motta was caught a bit off guard, interrupting a reporter who referenced USC's recent record against Notre Dame amid a question about the rivalry.

"You said they've won nine out of the past 10?" Motta asked.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly and Tommy Rees
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIRECoach Brian Kelly says Notre Dame needs to win a few games against USC for the series to be considered a rivalry again.
"They did, yeah. They won eight straight -- you won one, they won last year," the reporter said.

"Oh yeah. OK, all right. I was wondering, because we beat them two years ago."

"Yeah, that's the one win."

Yes, Notre Dame is the No. 1 team in the country, and USC and 60 minutes stand between the Irish and the BCS title game. But these are still the Trojans, a four-loss campaign or not, and they have had Notre Dame's number at nearly every recent turn, including last year's two-touchdown midseason win that put an early kibosh on any and all remaining BCS bowl hopes.

Rivalry? There's not much of one right now, coach Brian Kelly said, although that can all change with what's at stake Saturday.

"We haven't won enough games," Kelly said. "They've had the upper hand on this. We need to make this a rivalry. And that is, we need to win some more football games against a great opponent in USC. Our guys know that. I don't have to tell them that. They've been around. They were here last year when we got beat."

Kelly said everyone, himself included, learned from last year's loss, which doubled as the Irish's first home night game in 21 years. A modest four-game winning streak preceded the contest against the then-unranked Trojans. Add all of that to a victory in Hollywood a year earlier, and much of the team was drowned in the hype surrounding the prime-time affair.

The Irish dug themselves into a 17-0 hole early and never escaped.

"I know my focus was a little bit off -- I can admit to that," junior noseguard Louis Nix said. "I didn't play my best game. I don't think others did."

Like last year, it would appear the tables are again on the verge of turning.

Fourth- and fifth-year Irish players committed around the time USC was dominating the then-Pac-10, piling up one Rose Bowl win after another while Notre Dame slogged through 3-9 and 7-6 campaigns, netting just three points over the course of two blowout losses to the Trojans.

Now USC is 7-4 and unranked, and its head coach is facing serious questions. The tumble out of the No. 1 spot in which it entered the season coincides with Notre Dame's rise to the top.

"It's spectacular to see the evolution and change that I've had over the past four years, and I can only imagine with the other guys on the team," said Motta, a senior. "Just to see and witness how this program has progressed and to be where we are at right now as a team, not only our record but who we are as a team, how we come to work every day, and to really play for each other and go out there on that football field and have fun."

A No. 1 ranking, Motta insists, does not mean a new order of business for a program already used to dealing with everyone's best shot.

"I think that no matter what, Notre Dame has always been a target, and we kind of have that understanding of, OK, no matter what position you're in, you're always going to be targeted and people are going to be coming after you because you are Notre Dame," he said. "At this point I don't know how much more you can give because of what's on the line. We're not changing; we can worry about whatever they're doing later. At this point we just love playing football."

They will love it even more if they can make it four more quarters of the same habits that have lifted them to an 11-0 mark so far.

One more win -- against a down-and-out archrival, no less -- and a shot at the sport's biggest prize would be theirs.

"It'd mean everything," fifth-year senior John Goodman said of a title-game berth. "That's something that we all dreamed about since we were kids, especially on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. That's going to be really special. But again, got to stay focused, got to get this win before that happens."

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With Notre Dame's 38-0 win over Wake Forest all wrapped up, the stands still full before the alma mater and everyone soaking in one last moment inside the building where the Irish went undefeated for the first time in 14 years, public address announcer Mike Collins went over the postgame itinerary for the final time this season:

Drive home safely, he said.

Thank your ushers, he recommended.

"And BEAT S-C!" he implored, drawing the biggest roar of the night.

Yes, it comes down to this for these Irish: beat the rival Trojans two days after Thanksgiving and lock up the first perfect Notre Dame regular season in 24 years.

[+] EnlargeKapron Lewis-Moore
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKapron Lewis-Moore's final regular-season game comes next week against USC.
"Definitely," receiver John Goodman said when asked if next week's opponent is fitting. "They're definitely a potent offense and pretty good defense, and that's something that we're going to have to game plan for. We're going to celebrate this win and take it all in with our families and everything, and then we're going to be fully focused on them, because one more game and things are going to work itself out."

The Irish don't control where they'll end up in the BCS standings. They need Kansas State or Oregon to fall to gain a national title berth. But a player like Goodman knows just how shocking it is to think that USC stands in Notre Dame's way next week, not the other way around.

Goodman came to Notre Dame in 2008, one year after a program-worst 3-9 season. USC had won the Rose Bowl in 2007, and the Trojans won it again during Goodman's first college season.

Both programs underwent coaching changes following the 2009 campaign, but USC seemed to weather NCAA sanctions, winning 10 games last season -- one of those wins coming at Notre Dame Stadium -- and entering this fall as the preseason's No. 1 team.

So yes, many figured next Saturday in Los Angeles could be where a national title ticket gets punched; few thought the visitors would be the ones with that opportunity.

"It's easier now because we have one game left," coach Brian Kelly said of avoiding big-picture talk. "So for us, the focus and all of those things, not looking ahead, we don't have to worry about that anymore. We have one game left on our schedule. Our guys know what's at stake now. This is about an undefeated season. They cannot do anything else but beat USC. The rest is up to other people to decide. But they can clearly focus.

"I told them tonight I'm proud of them. I voted them No. 1 in the country for a reason, because I think they're the best team in the country, and I think they played like that tonight."

For once at home, they did. The Irish scored on their first three possessions, jumping to a 21-0 lead just more than 10 minutes into the contest, a feat more noteworthy when considering that they had not scored more than 20 points in regulation in any of their five previous home games.

They had won those five contests by a combined 23 points, needing four total overtime periods to come away with the victories. This one was 31-0 at halftime, the final 30 minutes a mere formality. Everett Golson earned a seat for much of the second half after a 346-yard, three-touchdown performance.

Kelly took the circumstances to send some of his seniors out on a high, calling a timeout before Wake Forest took over at the 13:27 mark.

In came Sheldon Day, Chris Salvi and Ben Councell -- replacing Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta and Manti Te'o.

Naturally, Te'o received the biggest ovation, taking his helmet off, blowing kisses to the student section and chest-bumping Lewis-Moore as he reached the sideline.

"Just magic," Te'o said. "Like everything's come full circle, just very grateful. For Coach to do that; he could have easily taken us out and not even put us on the field. But it was a TV timeout, and he said I'm going to send you guys out there and then I'm going to call a timeout, and one by one I'm going to sub you guys out. So that's the type of coach that Coach Kelly is. I'm just very lucky to play for him."

Te'o was all but USC-bound in high school, stunning all with his last-minute pick of the Irish. He will get to play his final regular-season college game at the Los Angeles Coliseum with perfection on the line, and the irony will be thicker than the stack of leis draped around his neck after the game.

All that stands between these Irish and perfection are the Trojans, all their energies and emotions pitted toward one goal: Beat SC.

"There is no next week," Te'o said. "It's USC. There is no game after that. If we take care of USC, we'll be fine. All we have to do is take care of USC and prepare the right way. USC is a really good team, as we all know. The USC-Notre Dame game is always a battle. So we understand that and we're going to prepare the way we know how."

Tyler Eifert soaring despite numbers

November, 16, 2012
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The question comes nearly everywhere Tyler Eifert goes, be it out to dinner or at a family's tailgate after one of Notre Dame's five home victories.

You don't have that many catches -- will that hurt your stock?

"It's fine, I just answer them politely and move on," Eifert said. "It's not a problem. You'd rather be recognized than unrecognized. I guess it's a good problem to have."

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Tyler Eifert
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIRENotre Dame's Tyler Eifert has seen his receiving numbers drop but not his draft status.
The "problem" is that Eifert has just 34 catches this season for 470 yards. It's a problem because he passed on the NFL last winter following a 63-catch, 803-yard 2011 campaign.

But Eifert has played most of the season with a first-year starting quarterback. And he is still atop the team lead in both catches and yards. And this is all despite being the focus of every defense he has played.

All of this has highlighted his blocking skills, the one knock on the 6-foot-6, 251-pounder entering this season. Notre Dame is 10-0 entering senior day against Wake Forest, and Eifert is the No. 1 tight end on Mel Kiper's Big Board, a likely first-round pick regardless of the statistical drop.

"He'll stick his nose in anywhere. He's not afraid," coach Brian Kelly said. "Sometimes the tight ends get the reputation as a pass-catcher and they don't like to get in there and block. Sometimes they're just glorified offensive lineman. What I saw early on was a guy that had the combination and the ability to be the best tight end because of those two skills together."

Eifert is six catches away from breaking Ken MacAfee's school record for career catches by a tight end (128), and he is a semifinalist for the Mackey Award. He has had no regrets about the decision to return to school, especially since he would be kicking himself having to watch a season anything like this one away from campus.

He has used the extra year to bulk up, and his stock has risen despite the numbers.

"It's not really in my control," Eifert said of numbers. "I control what I can control: That's making plays when I get the opportunity, being a good teammate, blocking, playing my best when I'm out there to help us win. So it hasn't really been annoying. People don't really understand there's a lot of people that are watching other things other than how many catches you have."

His future on Sundays looks brighter than it used to be. But right now he is happy to be a major contributor to a team still in the thick of the national title race with two regular-season games remaining, big digits or not.

"It's annoying and he knows it is, too," former prep teammate John Goodman said of the questions. "But he doesn't really worry about it. The NFL's going to look and see he's an all-around tight end, and that's going to be big for him in the draft."


The latest from Gustin at The Opening
ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.


Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30