Notre Dame Football: Zeke Motta

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

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

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

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

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

DRAFTED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

RB George Atkinson III, Oakland Raiders

LB Dan Fox, New York Giants

LB Carlo Calabrese, Cleveland Browns

QB Tommy Rees, Washington Redskins

NG Kona Schwenke, Kansas City Chiefs

C/G Mike Golic Jr., New Orleans Saints

Farley excited to play new role

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Matthias Farley reasons that the story of his career has been adapting to new situations. From scout-team receiver to starting safety in a matter of a year in 2012, the redshirt junior has been all about maintaining flexibility for a defense often offering multiple looks.

So with new coordinator Brian VanGorder aboard for his first spring at Notre Dame, Farley more than welcomed the fresh start that the switch from safety to cornerback could offer him in 2014.

"I had no reservations about it," Farley said. "I'd never been so set in my ways in any way because I've only been playing for such a short period of time. It's definitely going to be a challenge, but I'm very, very excited about it."

[+] EnlargeMatthias Farley
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMatthias Farley made interceptions in two of Notre Dame's biggest wins in 2013, against Michigan State and Arizona State.
Farley's production stagnated last season, his second as a starter, as he made 49 tackles for the second straight year. Head coach Brian Kelly believes the Fighting Irish might have stretched Farley too thin and didn't properly utilize the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Farley's skill set.

"We were trying to get him to replace Zeke Motta and Harrison Smith, two pretty good players and two physical players, and he's not that kind of player," Kelly said, referring to a pair of NFL players who had three inches and roughly 10 pounds on Farley during their college days. "And so he kind of got that tag of, 'Well he's not as physical.' Well, that's not his best trait. He's really smart. He's got some tools that, I think, if we play him in the right position, can really help our defense.

"So I'm not going to say he was unfairly evaluated in a sense, but he was put in a very difficult position last year and we think he can really help our defense in a role that doesn't focus on him being a hard-hit safety."

Farley believes he could have done a better job of playing more relaxed last season with the increased workload, though he never felt incapable.

The Charlotte, N.C., native is entering just his sixth season of organized football, and the adjustments this time around deal with playing closer to the line of scrimmage and playing with a narrower vision.

Farley played some nickel early in Notre Dame's first spring practice Monday, and he is confident that he will adapt to the accelerated learning curve wherever VanGorder decides to use him.

"He's been very upfront and honest about it the whole time," Farley said. "The conversation started several weeks ago -- here and there, nothing nailed down. And it was official last week. So I'm really excited about it. It's a new system, it's a fresh start, so why not change positions?"

Notre Dame season preview

August, 15, 2013
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Today we're looking at Notre Dame, which looks to build off its best season in more than two decades.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Coach: Brian Kelly (199-68-2 overall, 28-11 at Notre Dame)

2012 record: 12-1

Key losses: RB Theo Riddick, RB Cierre Wood, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
AP Photo/John BazemoreBrian Kelly's Irish should once again be in the hunt for a BCS bowl game.
Key returnees: QB Tommy Rees, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix III, LB Dan Fox, LB Prince Shembo, CB Bennett Jackson

Newcomer to watch: RB Greg Bryant. The Delray Beach, Fla., native was ESPN's No. 2 running back prospect for the Class of 2013 and walks into a crowded but opportune situation. Bryant, an Oklahoma de-commit, is one of six backs vying for extensive playing time after the Irish said goodbye to their top-two rushers from a year ago. Coach Brian Kelly has already gone on record as saying that his young running backs are guys who will help the Irish win some games this fall, and Bryant may turn out to be the best of the bunch.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 7 at Michigan, Sept. 21 vs. Michigan State, Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State (in Arlington, Texas), Oct. 19 vs. USC, Nov. 30 at Stanford

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The most pressing question may be how Notre Dame adjusts on the fly after learning after the spring that it would be without quarterback Everett Golson for at least the fall (academic misconduct). Luckily for the Irish, senior Tommy Rees and his 18 starts are back, though he will need some new playmakers to emerge around him after the Irish lost their top two running backs and first-round pick Tyler Eifert at tight end. Six men are vying for carries in the backfield, while TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels anchor the receiving corps.

Forecast: Kelly made it clear that 2012 was in the past by taking his team to Camp Shiloh in Marion, Ind., for the first week of fall camp. No social media or television and, more specifically, no more talk about the Alabama game, Manti Te'o or the other headlines that followed the program during a wild offseason. In helping to get that message across, Kelly has the perfect quarterback in Rees, who has overcome negative headlines of his own and, last year, overcame losing his starting job. He went on to save the Irish in three of their first six games last season and proved to be as valuable as anyone on the roster. Never will that be more evident than this season, as he steps up again in Golson's absence. A stronger Rees took control of the offense during the offseason, and better decision-making should pay dividends for the Irish this fall.

They finished second nationally in scoring defense last season and return eight starters from that unit, including potential 2014 first-round draft picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. They are also much deeper, with a plethora of linebackers and defensive backs ready to spare the starters at a moment's notice, a far cry from last season, when the team broke in three new starters in the secondary -- with all three having been on the offensive side of the ball earlier in their careers.

Kelly returns all of his assistants after a renaissance 2012 campaign that saw the team notch a perfect regular season before meeting Alabama in the BCS National Championship. He brought in ESPN's No. 4 recruiting class for 2013. And he brings back more than enough talent to prove that last season was not a one-year wonder, and that the Irish are, in fact, here to stay. Another BCS bowl game -- despite the late loss of its starting quarterback -- should be well within reach for Notre Dame in 2013.

Top 10 moments from 2012: No. 4

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The No. 4 moment on our countdown marks a long-time coming for the program.

Nov. 17, 2012: Irish rout Wake on Senior Day, ascend to No. 1 (Stories here and here)

A memorable senior class was honored before the game, then Notre Dame scored touchdowns on its first three possessions.

Considering that the Irish had yet to break 20 points in regulation at home in 2012, the 21 early points proved to be more than enough in a 38-0 Senior Day rout of Wake Forest that turned into a weekend-long celebration across campus.

Everett Golson had arguably his best game of the season, completing 20 of 30 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns and one pick, and he got to watch most of the second half from the sidelines. Manti Te'o, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta all got taken out during a TV timeout, earning a standing ovation.

For a team that had won its previous five home contests by a combined 23 points, this was a welcome relief for the sold-out crowd.

With the Irish's focus switched to winning at rival USC the following week in order to complete a perfect regular season, they then watched No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon fall later that night, allowing the program to ascend to the No. 1 ranking.

The top of Grace Hall was lit with the No. 1 sign shortly after, as the Irish celebrated their official return to the top of the college football world.

Previously

No. 10: Rees replaces Golson on final drive, leads Irish to win over Purdue

No. 9: Irish open season in Dublin with rout of Navy

No. 8: ND gets revenge on Robinson, UM in night win to cap perfect opening month

No. 7: ND survives missed FG, missed penalty and 3 OT scare from Pitt to stay perfect

No. 6: Notre Dame tours award circuit after perfect regular season

No. 5: Notre Dame joins ACC, will play five ACC games per year in football

Irish lunch links

May, 20, 2013
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Not a bad gift.
2012 record: 12-1

2012 conference record: N/A

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

Top returners

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

Key losses

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

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Riddick (917 yards, 5 TDs)

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

Receiving: Eifert (685 yards, 4 TDs)

Tackles: Te'o (113)

Sacks: Tuitt* (12)

Interceptions: Te'o (7)

Spring answers

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

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

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

Fall questions

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

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

3. Defensive leaders. This isn't necessarily an issue so much as an unknown. Last year's three seniors were tremendous vocal presences, helping the defense become greater than the sum of its parts in finishing second nationally in scoring. This year's unit could be deeper and more talented, and if it can work together like last year's, it could see similar success in 2013. Jackson, Farley and Nix figure to emerge as front-runners for defensive captain spots this fall.
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, 3, 2013
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Want.
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 Chargers.com 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.
The day is finally here. All the build-up, all the hype -- finally, we get to see which college stars land where.

And for the second straight year, it is likely that multiple Notre Dame players will hear their names called at Radio City on Night 1.

Tyler Eifert and Manti Te'o are both widely expected to be first-round picks. Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith were last season.

The last time the Irish had multiple first-round picks before 2012? That would be 1994, when Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor and Jeff Burris all went in the first round.

The last time Notre Dame had multiple first-round picks in consecutive years? That, also, would include the 1994 NFL draft, which followed a 1993 event that saw four players from South Bend, Ind., get selected in the first round: Rick Mirer, Jerome Bettis, Irv Smith and Tom Carter.

The only other times that has happened with Notre Dame players, according to the school, are 1944-45-46 and 1954-55.

So just where will Eifert and Te'o end up? That depends on who you ask.

Mel Kiper Jr. has the tight end going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 17, which is 11 spots lower than Todd McShay's forecast, which has the Cleveland Browns jumping on Eifert at No. 6.

Kiper is higher on Te'o, who he has going to the Chicago Bears at No. 20. McShay sees Te'o joining a bunch of old college buddies with the Minnesota Vikings at No. 25.

Our NFL bloggers had a mock first round of their own this week, with Eifert ending up in Pittsburgh at No. 17 and Te'o closing out the night by going to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 32.

Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, meanwhile, went the distance, projecting all seven rounds and 254 picks, right down to Mr. Irrelevant (FIU end/linebacker Tourek Williams, for those wondering).

Muench and Weidl don't see the rest of the Irish contingent getting in on the fun until the sixth round. There, the duo projects Zeke Motta to land at No. 178 with the New York Jets.

The seventh round then becomes Notre Dame-heavy, with Theo Riddick slotted for the Denver Broncos at No. 234, Jamoris Slaughter to the Ravens at No. 238, Cierre Wood to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 243 and Kapron Lewis-Moore to the Ravens at No. 247.

I'm a little surprised to see Braxston Cave's name absent form the seven-round mock, and I wonder if any NFL team takes a chance on former Irish and Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist after all of his injury problems in college.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Once the crowning of Alabama had become official, Robby Toma walked off the field first with his helmet still on. Theo Riddick struggled to hold back tears. Louis Nix insisted his team was not dominated in the 28-point loss.

Then there was Elijah Shumate, virtually clueless about this whole exercise.

Notre Dame's 42-14 loss in the Discover BCS National Championship ruined its perfect season, and it ruined Shumate's perfect streak.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Elijah Shumate
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsElijah Shumate had a personal 55-game winning streak snapped in the blowout loss to Alabama.
A football career that saw three perfect prep seasons and a perfect regular season in his first year of college ball had become re-acquainted with the sting of defeat, Shumate's first after a 55-game winning streak.

"That was a tough loss," Shumate said of the title game. "They came out and they played hard and they really beat us. They handed us a big loss. Before the game I didn't think they were any way better than us. They played better than us, they were the better team that night and I definitely think we have a great team and that we were young. And we're still kind of young, but we're getting better and we're learning, so I think we're just going to keep working. Hopefully we'll see them again."

Not since the second game of his freshman season at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic had Shumate experienced a loss, as the next eight games that season and the three ensuing years at powerhouse Don Bosco Prep all culminated with state titles.

Now the player who made his mark as a nickelback in Year 1 with the Irish is transitioning to a full-time safety, the spot he was initially recruited to play. He has emerged from the crowded field to this spring to take first-team reps much of the way.

"He is what we thought he was in terms of a tackler," coach Brian Kelly said. "He’s a very good tackler, a sure tackler, he’s physical. He can play the safety position. I think [safeties] coach [Bob] Elliott's done a nice job with the learning curve. That’s certainly what this is all going to be about, and picking up the nuances. Matthias [Farley] has done a very good job in helping him. But I think the entire defense is helping as well. So he’s our guy back there, and he’s got to continue to learn. The spring has been very good for him. He’s going to have to continue to take steps forward in the summer."

The 6-foot, 213-pound rising sophomore has attacked the challenge after a year spent mostly getting his feet wet in the secondary, where coverage responsibilities were fairly straightforward and he had the luxury of working with three-year starter Zeke Motta.

This year brings other challenges, such as making calls and pre-snap adjustments, responsibilities he says he is slowly but surely growing more comfortable with.

Anything, it would seem, in order to return to his version of normalcy, which looks nothing like the one the Crimson Tide painted Jan. 7.

"It was really hard, I never want to have to go through that again," Shumate said. "But it's part of life. And it's part of growing up: You're going to win some, you're going to lose some. Go hard and learn from it."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Austin Collinsworth was careful not to say that he was completely, fully healed from shoulder and back surgeries in the past year, but returning to the field this spring has served as a final hurdle to cross after missing last season.

"I would say probably 98 percent, something like that," the rising fourth-year junior said. "But I'll be 100 percent by the end of the spring."

The safety underwent surgery following last year's spring season to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury that figured to sideline him for the 2012 campaign. That year-long wait became official when back pain that flared up in October eventually resulted in another operation, leaving him to watch the entirety of Notre Dame's run to the Discover BCS National Championship from the sideline.

"It's hard," said Collinsworth, the son of former NFL player and current analyst Cris Collinsworth. "It was a really exciting season. It was pretty terrible not being a part of it, but I liked watching my friends do well out on the field and it was a really fun season just to be a part of."

Collinsworth said that he began feeling great physically three weeks ago, and he impressed the staff in the weeks leading up to the start of spring practices.

"We had seven workouts where the coaches were involved in the conditioning elements," coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring. "Our defensive staff feels really good. I had a chance to observe him because I wanted to see the guys that are coming back. I was really pleased with what I saw."

Collinsworth has been seen working with the second-team defense this spring upon his return, alongside Eilar Hardy. (Rising sophomore Nick Baratti has been sidelined following his own shoulder surgery.) After recording 25 tackles and forcing one fumble while playing in all 26 games throughout his first two seasons with the Irish, Collinsworth is hoping to crack the rotation of a secondary that finally finds itself with a good numbers problem, this after the unit suffered three season-ending injuries by Week 3 of last season.

The departure of Davonte' Neal has led to more opportunities for Collinsworth to field punts, too, something the Fort Thomas, Ky., native did for three years in high school.

"We lost some really good guys," Collinsworth said of the secondary. "Jamoris [Slaughter] last year only got to play a couple games when he was back at safety. And Zeke [Motta] -- that kid's an animal back there. But we've got a lot of good players that are returning, and I don't think our defensive backfield is going to take a step back at all."

Irish lunch links

March, 29, 2013
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Cuse-Marquette on Saturday on Georgetown's floor? Long live the Big East.

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