Notre Dame Football: Sheldon Day

CULVER, Ind. -- Has there been a more valuable offseason tool for Notre Dame than the grouptext?

NFL draft pick TJ Jones has mentioned it as a way of keeping in touch with current Irish receivers. Jaylon Smith said in the spring that linebackers past and present kept the conversation going the same way following the 2013 season.

Sure enough this spring, with media members and fans at seemingly every turn asking how the defensive line would replace a pair of NFL draft picks from a season ago, a new position group caught on to the fad.

[+] EnlargeSheldon Day
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDefensive end Sheldon Day, 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, has dropped weight since last season and is excited to focus more on rushing the passer.
Junior Sheldon Day led the charge. The only returning starter to what had been the backbone of Notre Dame's defense in recent years had heard enough questions about losing Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix. Enough that he became fed up, challenging his fellow linemen this offseason.

"I feel like it was the media saying we’re the weak link of this year’s defense -- 'What is the D-line going to do?' And all of this," Day said. "I took it upon myself that I’ve never been that guy where I’m part of the weak link. I refuse to be a part of that. I just kind of reached out to them and said, ‘Do you guys want to be viewed like this? If not, then we need to do this, this, this and this.'"

The early returns have pleased Brian Kelly thus far.

"Our defensive line is a 180 in terms of where they are this year compared to last year, as how they work as a group," the fifth-year Irish coach said. "They have been outstanding and that's led by Sheldon Day. Sheldon Day has been a great leader for us with that group."

Day's emergence as a leader is surprising if for no other reason than his personality, like that of most others, was minimized by the larger-than-life Nix, who went to Houston in the third round of the NFL draft in May. Day laughed when asked if he was just waiting for the nose guard to leave town before showing his true colors.

"It’s not that I was waiting for him to get out of here; I feel like I was just waiting my time," Day said. "Sometimes it’s not appropriate for you to talk if you’re not the older guy or the leader of the D-line."

There is little doubt who leads the unit now, as Day has played 24 games over two seasons, having started during a sophomore campaign that saw him notch 5.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

The 6-foot-2, 285-pounder enjoys the simplified approach of moving inside in new coordinator Brian VanGorder's 4-3 front, saying that the defensive linemen get off the ball quicker rather than catching the offensive linemen. To do that, Day dropped five pounds, subbing honey buns and other sugars for high-protein meats and greens.

Of the sacrifice of honey buns, he cracked: "I walk past a Sam’s Club and it hurts my heart."

A pain well worth it, however, in the name of getting a better burst toward the quarterback.

"It was a mutual agreement. I felt like last year I had to gain all that weight to hold the O-linemen and set up the linebackers," Day said. "This year as I’m coming off the ball, I have to be quicker, more explosive. I met with our nutritionist and she helped me come up with a plan and I’ve been following it."

Irish lunch links: Criminoles?

July, 10, 2014
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At this point, there is probably a small fortune to be made in the creative T-shirt game when it comes to sports. Notre Dame fans are no strangers to this, as phrases such as "Catholics vs. Convicts" are still used regularly to describe past matchups. (Meanwhile others, such as "Catholics vs. Cousins," failed to really take off.)

Could we have a new slogan on our hands in 2014? Some fans seem to think so.

A T-shirt with the phrase "Catholics vs. Criminoles" has surfaced this offseason, in anticipation of the Irish's Oct. 18 matchup at Florida State. These are two of the most storied programs in college football history, and, of course, Seminoles quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has faced no shortage of scrutiny for off-the-field issues, the most recent being his theft of crab legs.

The shirt does touch on that, showing a picture of a crab next to the name "Criminoles." (There is a leprechaun doing the Heisman pose next to "Catholics.")

If Notre Dame can go into Tallahassee in three months and come out victorious, perhaps we'll see this headline take off. The teams will, after all, play each other more regularly now -- roughly every three years -- with Notre Dame's ACC affiliation. But if the game proves to be unremarkable, I doubt we'll even remember this shirt, much like the many Notre Dame/Alabama shirts that surfaced before the 2013 BCS title game.

On to the rest of the links ...
As we all know by now, it is never too early to look ahead when dealing with NFL draft matters, and Mel Kiper Jr. released a list this week that is sure to catch the eyes of many Notre Dame fans.

Kiper ranks 15 overall defensive end prospects for next spring's draft Insider, splitting the group between those who will exhaust their eligibility this fall and those who will have the chance to declare early for the NFL. All the way down at "5D" on the underclassmen list is Irish junior Sheldon Day, a player who has generated plenty of buzz after consecutive strong campaigns in South Bend, Ind.

Kiper admits this is a bit of a sleeper pick so early, but he, like many, projects big things for Day this season, as the Indianapolis native is the best of Notre Dame's returning linemen and won't be overshadowed by recent draft picks Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix. Kiper sees the 290-pound Day as an ideal fit for a 3-4 scheme at the pro level.

Brian Kelly has expressed similar optimism about Day, telling FoxSports.com's Bruce Feldman last month that Day could be Notre Dame's best pass rusher even while playing inside. That versatility will undoubtedly help Day impress NFL personnel, but the Irish are in no rush to lose him before 2016.

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.

Irish lunch links

April, 3, 2014
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The battle for the East's No. 8 seed sure has been thrilling.

Irish's lunch links

March, 17, 2014
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Happy St. Patrick's Day, Irish fans.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Spring football is under way at Notre Dame. And if the snowbanks at every turn of campus weren't an indication, the sight of a No. 5 throwing footballs in a red jersey again sure was.

Yes, all eyes were on Everett Golson during his first Irish practice in nearly a year, with Avicii's "Levels" blasting once stretching was done and the tempo drill was under way. The media was able to view the first 30 minutes of practice from a balcony in the Loftus Sports Complex, with Golson and the offense running tempo on the far end of the field and the defense getting into gear right below us.

Golson is set to meet the media after practice for the first time since his return to school so we will have more on him later on Monday. As for what could be gathered about his weapons with the 2014 season still far away …
We'll have more later on Monday, as Golson will be joined by seven other players, plus coach Brian Kelly, following the completion of spring practice No. 1.
We are one day away from national signing day, an occasion packed with promise. As we noticed last week when looking at the Ultimate 300, some prospects meet their potential better than others.

Recruiting is an inexact science, as projects such as the Ultimate 300 reveal, and as many rosters filled with blue-chip prospects show, too.

[+] EnlargeJaylon Smith
AP Photo/Scott BoehmJaylon Smith was the only five-star recruit among Notre Dame's starters last season.
Look no further than Notre Dame, which currently has Recruiting Nation's No. 11 overall haul for the Class of 2014, down from No. 4 last season. The Irish were No. 9 in 2012, No. 9 in 2011, No. 21 in 2010 and No. 14 in 2009.

The 2009-13 classes made up the 2013 Notre Dame roster. So, using Recruiting Nation's rankings, we will take a look back at this past season's (general) starters to see where they stood as recruits.

The numbers? Notre Dame had one five-star recruit, six four-star recruits, 11 three-star recruits and one two-star recruit.

(Note: ESPN did not use the star system until 2010.)

Offense

  • QB Tommy Rees, Lake Forest (Ill.) High: Three stars, No. 19 QB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • RB: George Atkinson III, Granada (Calif.) High: Three stars, No. 40 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 79
  • WR: TJ Jones, Gainesville (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 68 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • WR: DaVaris Daniels, Vernon Hills (Ill.) High: Four stars, No. 65 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 81
  • WR: Chris Brown, Hanahan (S.C.) High: Three stars, No. 66 WR, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 78
  • TE: Troy Niklas, Servite (Calif.) High: Three stars, No. 19 TE, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 79
  • T: Zack Martin, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High: No. 109 overall prospect, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 81
  • T: Ronnie Stanley, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High: Four stars, No. 34 OT, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 79
  • G: Chris Watt, Glenbard West (Ill.) High: No. 68 overall prospect, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 82
  • G: Christian Lombard, Williams Fremd (Ill.) High: Three stars, No. 20 OT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • C: Nick Martin, Bishop Chatard (Ind.) High: Three stars, No. 39 OT, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
Defense

  • DE: Stephon Tuitt, Monroe (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 90 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 81
  • DE: Sheldon Day, Indianapolis Warren Central High: Four stars, No. 143 overall prospect, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 80
  • NG: Louis Nix, Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines High: Four stars, No. 64 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • LB: Prince Shembo, Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell High: Three stars, No. 47 DE, Class of 2010, Scout grade: 78
  • LB: Dan Fox, Cleveland St. Ignatius High: No. 76 OLB, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76
  • LB: Carlo Calabrese, Verona (N.J.) High: No. 12 ILB, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 78
  • LB: Jaylon Smith, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High: Five stars, No. 7 overall prospect, Class of 2013. Scout grade: 90
  • CB: Bennett Jackson, Hazlet (N.J.) Raritan High: Three stars, No. 97 WR, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 77
  • CB: KeiVarae Russell, Everett (Wash.) Mariner High: Three stars, No. 28 RB, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 79
  • S: Matthias Farley, Charlotte Christian (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 92 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 77
  • S: Austin Collinsworth, Highlands (Ky.) High: Two stars, No. 121 S, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 74
Special Teams

  • K/P: Kyle Brindza, Plymouth (Mich.) High: Three stars, No. 6 K, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 79

Notre Dame mailblog

January, 24, 2014
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It has been a while. What's on your minds?

Scott from St. Joseph, Mich., writes: Matt, disagree about Michigan State easily being the highlight of the season. The game was marred with questionable penalties and calling by MSU's staff. To me the highlight of the season was the second-half defense against USC. Being able to beat your biggest rival basically without a functional QB and on the hands of a defensive performance remnant of '12 was the highlight of the year for me.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPulling out a victory over Rose Bowl champion Michigan State was the biggest achievement for Notre Dame in 2013.
Matt Fortuna: I think both performances, to be fair, were far from aesthetically pleasing. And yes, we have to give Notre Dame's defense plenty of credit for its play in both games. But the circumstances are too big to ignore here. By beating Michigan State, Notre Dame helped reshape the national title picture. It was the only team to beat a very good Spartans squad, one that ended up winning the Rose Bowl. While it's always big to beat your archrival, let's also remember that USC was without Marqise Lee for the second half, committed 11 penalties and missed two field goals (from 40 and 46 yards), too. And I just can't erase the memory of the Fighting Irish offense coming to a standstill once Tommy Rees went down. No points from either team in the final 30 minutes of a primetime game? No thank you.

Matt from Pittsburgh writes: Matt, O-line starting 5 from LT-RT: Elmer, Hanratty, Martin, Lombard, Stanley? Also how do you see the D-line and linebackers forming out?

Matt Fortuna: That would probably be my early guess, though I'll keep a close eye on that group this spring since Martin will still be out. Matt Hegarty started at center in his place but provides plenty of flexibility, too, so it will be interesting to see where he fits into the picture next fall. My guess for defensive line would be Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, only because I don't know how ready Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) is. If he's 100 percent, it's easy to see him starting. And I'm anxious to watch Chase Hounshell, who saw the field as a true freshman in 2011 but has missed the last two seasons with shoulder injuries. Same with Jarrett Grace at the mike linebacker position (probably not this spring), with possibly Kendall Moore starting next to him. Jaylon Smith (dog) and Ishaq Williams (cat) will be expected to start if and when Brian VanGorder employs a 3-4 scheme, though he said last week he had not delved into schematics yet. Could we see Williams and/or Romeo Okwara play on the line some more? And where will Ben Councell fit into the picture once he's back from his ACL tear?

Jim from Chicago writes: Matt, What role do you see Torii Hunter Jr. having next year? Seemed to be the most athletic freshman WR before the injury. Can he work his way into the rotation with Daniels out in spring ball?

Matt Fortuna: He's the guy on offense, outside of Everett Golson, whom I most want to see this spring. The opportunities will be there for the taking with Daniels gone until the fall, and Hunter was able to battle back from that nasty leg injury to win offensive scout team player of the year. I'm also curious to see what kind of improvements Corey Robinson can make, given his size and potential. In limited practice viewings he seemed to be always making plays, but in games this season there were times where he looked like he could've used a couple of extra pounds.

Chris Kosiak (@C_K_42) writes: Justin Brent going to push for playing time next year? Or does he RS?

Matt Fortuna: It's probably too early to say, though, like Hunter, he'll have a great opportunity to showcase himself this spring with Daniels out. Last year Robinson and James Onwualu enrolled early and ended up taking advantage of the spring transfers of Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, resulting in playing time during the 2013 season. Notre Dame's receiving corps was young then and is young again now, so playing time will likely be there for the taking.

Michael Hughes (@designwithmike) writes: More important to ND success in '14: Red-zone execution or finding good to great defensive leadership?

Matt Fortuna: Good question. I'll go with red-zone execution, since I expect this Notre Dame team to rely much more on its offense than it has so far in the Brian Kelly era. And that means the Irish will have to capitalize on more red-zone opportunities and score more points. With Golson back at the helm after a semester spent training with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. and an improving backfield, I think you'll see the Irish take more chances offensively. None of this is to minimize the importance of defensive leadership, but that's just such an unknown factor at this point, especially since we have yet to see these players get coached by and respond to VanGorder, who seems nothing like Bob Diaco from a personality standpoint.
What had been expected throughout the past month finally became official on Sunday when Stephon Tuitt declared for the NFL draft.

The move, while not surprising, is a major blow to Notre Dame's defensive line, which also loses nose guard Louis Nix to the pros, where he, like Tuitt, figures to be taken in the first round.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIStephon Tuitt led Notre Dame in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (9) in 2013.
Throw in the early entry of USF junior end Aaron Lynch, and the early parts of the draft could see three different former Irish defensive linemen hear their names called.


Tuitt became just the second player during Brian Kelly's four-year tenure to leave for the NFL before graduating, joining Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Before, Kelly's program had successfully re-recruited the likes of Nix, Zack Martin, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert and Michael Floyd.

Kelly had said that Tuitt received a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee, though ESPN's Scouts Inc. rates Tuitt as the No. 11 overall player for the 2014 draft.

Tuitt had told the Notre Dame student newspaper, The Observer, back in October that he planned to return for his senior season, though he later said that he misspoke. He recently said that he was about a year away from graduating, and his mother had spoken strongly about the importance of his degree. But a rising stock and the departure of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to UConn were likely too much to overcome in the end.

"I'm ready to take my game to the next level and do what what I love to do -- play football, compete and have fun," Tuitt told ESPN's Joe Schad.

Tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III were the other two underclassmen whose paperwork Kelly had sent to the NFL advisory committee. Niklas received between a second- and a fourth-round grade, his father, Don Niklas, told ESPN.com. But Don said that the plan is for Troy to return to Notre Dame for his senior year and receive his degree.

The future of Atkinson remains less clear after he was suspended from the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly said was a violation of team rules. Atkinson tweeted, and quickly deleted, that he was suspended for texting during a team meal. Kelly said after the game that he had not decided what effect the discipline would have on Atkinson's future with the program.

As for Tuitt, the leap to the NFL leaves the Irish thin up front, as they lose a mammoth pass-rusher who started all 13 games in a season that saw the line decimated by injuries. Tuitt battled through those himself, recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery and the added weight that came from that — in addition to an early-season back issue — to lead the team in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (9). He added his second career touchdown, too — picking off Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner in the end zone — after returning a fumble 77 yards for a score in the 2012 opener against Navy.

The 6-foot-6, 312-pounder notched 12 sacks in 2012, 1.5 off Justin Tuck's school single-season record, and he leaves Notre Dame with 21.5 career sacks, just three off Tuck's school record.

Underclassmen reserves Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones saw extended playing time this season because of injuries in front of them, and they gained experience that will serve even more beneficial moving forward -- when they will be asked to do much more in 2014.

Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) meanwhile, are both currently on track to return this fall, adding depth to a unit that sorely needs it. Starting end Sheldon Day returns for his junior year as well and will enter the season as the marquee man up front, this after entering 2013 as the seemingly unknown commodity next to future draft picks Tuitt and Nix.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl preview

December, 28, 2013
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Rutgers and Notre Dame take the Yankee Stadium field at noon ET today (ESPN) with the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy on the line. Here is a preview of the action today from the Bronx, N.Y.:

Who to watch: TJ Jones is playing in his final college game. Notre Dame's team MVP from this season has caught 65 balls for 1,042 yards with nine touchdowns, becoming Tommy Rees' most reliable target. And he is facing a Rutgers defense that has been susceptible to the big play, as the Scarlet Knights have allowed an FBS-high 153 pass plays of 10 or more yards, an average of 13 per game. Look for Rees and Jones to connect early and often.

What to watch: This could also be Stephon Tuitt's final game. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound end is a nightmare for offensive linemen, tallying 18 sacks over the past two seasons. Seeing how much he -- along with a now-healthy Sheldon Day opposite him and what is likely to be a revolving door in the middle at nose guard -- can pressure Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd into mistakes will probably dictate the flow of this game. The Scarlet Knights are tied for 98th nationally in sacks allowed, surrendering 2.58 per game, and Saturday could provide a nice opportunity for Tuitt to leave a final impression on NFL scouts, as the draft advisory board gave the junior a second-round grade, according to Brian Kelly.

Why to watch: This is the finale for a group of Notre Dame seniors who have, in large part, turned the program around. Many committed to the Charlie Weis regime -- or, in some cases, to no coach at all before Kelly was hired. They have gotten the Irish to a point where Pinstripe Bowl berths and eight- or nine-win seasons are disappointments, and they are a big reason why Kelly, the fourth-year coach, gave them such a strong say in where they would go bowling once a BCS bid was off the table. This could, in theory, be an audition for the Irish's two interim coordinators as well, as Mike Denbrock (offense) and Kerry Cooks (defense) will run their units after Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco left for head-coaching jobs at Miami (Ohio) and UConn, respectively.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Rutgers 14. The Irish offense will have its way with an uncharacteristically bad Scarlet Knight defense (one that is also with an interim coordinator, in Joe Rossi).

Irish lunch links

December, 26, 2013
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Still full. (Happy Holidays)

Irish's lunch links

November, 21, 2013
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Planning for success: Notre Dame

November, 21, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Film study still offered Nick Martin few clues as to when or how exactly he broke his hand in his last outing.

"It happened early on in the second quarter," Martin said. "When you're out there, the adrenaline is pumping, so you're good. Finished off the second quarter, got to halftime, I could feel it a little bit after a little break at halftime. But as long as I could get the ball to Tommy (Rees), I knew I would be able to finish."

Martin was cast-free Wednesday when speaking with reporters, and he will need only a splint to protect the snapping hand Saturday when Notre Dame hosts BYU. No surgery is needed, as the boxer's fracture will only test the pain tolerance of the center, who suffered a similar injury as a middle-schooler. Martin and the rest of the Irish have come to know that feeling all too well in recent weeks.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix III
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesHaving Louis Nix III back in the lineup is a welcome development for the Irish.
But things might finally be starting to look up for Notre Dame as it relates to its injury woes. A practice-free bye week has helped Martin and several others heal up in time for their home finale, with other possible reinforcements on the way.

Kona Schwenke practiced early this week after missing the Nov. 9 game at Pittsburgh with a high ankle sprain suffered a week earlier against Navy. So, too, did fellow defensive linemen Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, who suffered ankle sprains against the Panthers.

The lack of bodies actually forced linebacker Carlo Calabrese to make a brief cameo at nose guard, a position he had never played before.

"I was pretty excited, I was hoping I'd get a couple sacks," Calabrese quipped.

Then there is the whole matter of preseason All-America nose guard Louis Nix III getting a chance to rest after making his return from a two-game absence caused by knee tendinitis and a small meniscus tear -- not to mention getting fellow touted lineman Stephon Tuitt for presumably four quarters, as he was ejected for targeting early in the second quarter at Pitt.

"Definitely a good feeling having everybody out there, participating in practice," defensive end Sheldon Day. "It just feels good."

Day himself is feeling about as well as he has since earlier this season, when a high ankle sprain forced him out of nearly three full games. The sophomore estimated that he played more than 60 snaps against the Panthers on the re-aggravated ankle, but felt no sorer than usual the following day.

Linebacker Ishaq Williams' status remains up in the air after missing two games with an ACL injury. But the lines, at least, appear to be nearing full strength, a fresh change-of-pace for the first-team defensive line, which has yet to really be healthy all this season.

"Sometimes we do, we reminisce on just the little things, about how we all could've played together, things like that, joking around with each other," Day said.

Week 11 helmet stickers

November, 10, 2013
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These three stood out in No. 23 Notre Dame's 28-21 loss Saturday at Pitt:

TJ Jones, WR: Another week, another strong effort for Jones, though his fumble will sting. Still, the senior captain finished with six catches for a game-high 149 yards and a touchdown, while adding 41 yards and a touchdown on three carries.

Ben Koyack, TE: The junior impressed once again, coming oh-so close to hauling in his fourth touchdown in the last five games. He will have to settle for four catches for 76 yards, as he continues to establish himself as another legitimate threat in the passing game.

Sheldon Day, DE: So much for the ankle injury. Day, finally getting a chance to play with his fellow first-team defensive linemen -- for some of the game, at least -- notched three tackles for loss and five total tackles after a week in which no one was sure how much he would play after re-aggravating a high ankle sprain last week against Navy.

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