1. The coaching carousel is close to finishing up (fingers crossed on Coach Ken to BYU, edit: nope of course he stays at Navy the night before this is published) so who are the winners and losers so far? Give us your top 2 favorite hires and the top 2 least-favorite hires.
I really like Scott Frost to UCF and Mike Norvell to Memphis. Both young and energetic coaches who have been soaking up offensive minded principles for years and get to take over Group of 5 programs where it won't be outrageously difficult to win, recruit to their systems, and (UCF's 2015 aside) there's a recent run of success to build upon.
If I can throw in one more sneaky good hire I'd add Willie Fritz going from Georgia Southern to Tulane. As a triple option guy his ceiling is very limited but I can see him really making some waves (ha, get it?) in New Orleans.
Everyone is mentioning the high profile jobs at Georgia and South Carolina as mistakes so I'll stay away from those for now. Instead I'm looking at the Big Ten where Bill Cubit at Illinois and D.J. Durkin at Maryland are destined for trouble.
With Cubit, I mean what exactly are we expecting? For their fans there were (unrealistic) dreams of P.J. Fleck drop-kicking the door down in his introductory presser and lighting the program on fire in a good way. Now, they settle for an over-the-hill re-tread of a coach at a program that definitely doesn't need that nonsense.
Durkin's new job is more about Maryland than him specifically. I've been adamant that when you add everything together working in College Park is among the worst jobs right now, mainly due to the out-sized expectations from so many different corners.
He's put together a good staff but Durkin faces an enormous up-hill battle within the Big Ten East and the Terps are moments away from losing their star in-state quarterback commit. Better get used to it. For some reason, whether it was the influence of Under Armour or not, the Maryland job really took on this greater position of prominence than I think it deserves. It's going to take a heck of a coach to start stringing together some 8 or 9-win seasons.
2. We're just around the corner from everyone's favorite off-season series "Reviewing the Redshirts" making its way to One Foot Down. Who is one redshirt freshman you think will move from off the radar to definitely in the mix for quality minutes next year?
So, off the radar automatically removes a couple obvious choices. Once he recovers from his knee injury Shaun Crawford likely regains his nickel position which he was set to start at to open the season. Someone else like Tristen Hoge will be firmly in a one-on-one off-season battle to start at center so he's completely on the radar.
My mind is looking toward the linebackers and I'm going to pick Asmar Bilal. Last spring our recruiting grades for the 3 linebackers were as follows with my personal grades in parentheses:
- Josh Barajas - 90.8 (88)
- Asmar Bilal - 88.6 (90)
- Te'von Coney - 90.0 (89)
Everyone was grouped real close among a terrific haul of linebackers and I picked Bilal as my favorite of the bunch. One concern continues to be size as his fall camp weight was listed at 215 pounds on a 6-2 frame. Barajas and Coney, while each a little shorter, carry more weight both listed at 235 pounds respectively--while Barajas came into camp overweight and was probably at least 240 or more.
I've got two minds on Bilal the first being I thought athletically he was going to be groomed at the weak-side spot. So much speed and athleticism for an Irish linebacker--he was a poor man's Jaylon Smith. However, in talking with Jamie Uyeyama he's expressed serious doubts Bilal ever adds the 20-25 pounds necessary to move inside. Not just next year, but maybe ever.
Freshman LB Asmar Bilal caught Brian Kelly’s attention on the way to being #NotreDame’s scout team POY on defense: https://t.co/3KfRvL8bXT— Jake Brown (@Jake_Brown) December 14, 2015
Asmar Bilal could play Will or Sam linebacker, Kelly said.— BlueandGold.com (@BGInews) December 12, 2015
Keep in mind James Onwualu was 6-1, 215 pounds for his first TWO years on campus and saw significant time on defense in 2014 at that weight. Obviously, bulking up to 232 has helped Onwualu tremendously. Nevertheless, if Bilal were to max out at 10 more pounds he'll be the exact same size as Drue Tranquill,
During the annual Notre Dame Football Banquet it was Bilal who picked up the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year honor. We'll probably see some switches at the linebacker position and with 2 starters leaving tons of playing time will be available. Wherever Bilal works next year, whether it's strong-side, weak-side, or some hybrid dime back, I'm hopeful his speed and athleticism will be a big boost for a unit that has a lot of question marks entering 2016.
3. You finished outside the Top 30 in the pick 'em league so obviously you're an expert with this stuff. Give us your one stone-cold underdog lock for the bowl season.
There are so many enticing underdog lines this post-season. The coaching moves have left a ton of programs with interim coaches, new coaches, and this mishmash of coordinators. Rightfully so, Vegas has tacked on or removed a few points all across the board in certain games.
Giving Houston 7 points against Florida State feels like a lot to me. The Seminoles defense is good but this Cougar offense is really tough to stop. And while Dalvin Cook could run wild the Florida State offense could sputter just enough to keep this razor close. Plus, when looking at the ever-important category of desire this has the feel of a game where the Seminoles might not be all that jazzed to be playing an AAC opponent in a major bowl that doesn't have the tradition of the Rose or Fiesta.
4. For years it's seemed like Notre Dame has always had more proven playmakers at receiver or tight end compared to running back. Depending on the decisions of a couple players with the NFL Draft we might see this situation flip-flopped for 2016. If that happens how will Notre Dame adjust on offense?
Can a brother get two running backs in the backfield at the same time?
If you allow me to humor myself for a moment this wish could come true if Will Fuller decides to turn pro. The Irish would then be losing their top 3 receivers and 17 of the current 23 touchdowns receptions heading into bowl week with the current stats.
Certainly the fever of the off-season will have us excited about the continued progress of Torii Hunter and the emergence of Equanimeous St. Brown. But as it stands right now it's going to take some solid growth for some young players (and a rebound for veterans like Corey Robinson) to project 3 or 4 receivers to be among Notre Dame's most targeted playmakers.
So what if Prosise, Folston, and Adams are all on the 2016 team together? If so, they'd join Hunter as the top 4 playmakers I'd be building my gameplans around going into next fall. If you're still playing primarily 3 receiver sets that's taking away from those running backs.
My dream would be unleashing a Diamond Formation with a running back in Pistol and Kizer flanked by a tight end and another running back at his side. Folston could be the Pistol back specializing at running down-hill and picking up blitzes off play-action. Prosise and Adams could rotate at the other running back and see the bulk of the carries together as they inject the offense with big plays to the edge of the field.
Two-back set as seen in the wild from 2011. Of course we threw the ball. #ReesLife
Of course, the Diamond would never be a base formation for this offense. It's great for getting receivers in one-on-one matchups but otherwise constricts the passing game. Additionally, the tight ends would become nearly full-time blockers with the occasional reception in the flat--not exactly the Notre Dame Way.
Still, more traditional two-back sets could be the answer moving forward. The easy thing to do would be to give Prosise significant reps back in the slot and use him in motion quite a lot. But then you have to ask yourself how you want to develop Prosise--and I'm sure he'll be wondering the same. He vastly improved his stock in 2015 as a running back, now do you hamper his development there by turning him back into a hybrid player? Does Prosise want to come back for that?
Obviously, you could work a 3-back rotation into the offense but most teams don't do that and Kelly has never managed such a lineup at Notre Dame. You could probably do it on the basis that eventually someone will get hurt yet I don't know if you can open up 2016 giving Josh Adams 3 carries per game, for example, until someone else gets banged up.
5. Let's pretend you've been hired to stump for Jaylon Smith becoming the next big superstar in the NFL. At which position are you arguing he'll have the biggest impact at the next level?
I've found this subject fascinating because "Where Should Jaylon Play?" has been something that began when he was a young recruit, it's continued right through his college career, and it'll likely follow him around early in his NFL career.
I think this says more about us as fickle football fans but it exists because Jaylon is such a versatile, and let's be honest, complete freak of nature athlete. He could potentially play several positions, even in the NFL.
Through the recruiting process we often become stubborn, looking at projections, fit within scheme, and hold on to what we think best suits someone.
This happened with Jaylon once Diaco left town--a lot of people just couldn't come to grips with Smith not playing on the perimeter. For someone whose main weakness in high school was taking on blocks, and for someone who moved more like a defensive back, sticking him in the middle of the field seemed so alien and wrong.
In comparing Jaylon with Te'o the latter had 29 more tackles, 3 more TFL, and 2.5 more sacks through his first 3 seasons with Jaylon obviously about to add one more game to his career. The Fort Wayne native already has 4 more pass break-ups and 6 more quarterback hurries.
Those comparisons aren't super important but I bring them up for a couple reasons. One, there was no debate about which position Te'o should play, even after a DC switch his sophomore year--that change after his freshman year something he shared in common with Jaylon. Two, Jaylon's relatively mild sack and TFL numbers have left many wanting more in the backfield from such an impressively fast defender.
In truth, it always felt like we wanted Jaylon to be the all-everything on defense. Think about the last 3 years and which position have you NOT heard someone say he should at least spend some time to take advantage of his skills? Seemingly half the fans wanted him rushing the passer and the other half wanted him to play in space and cover pass catchers. At times it was as if no one was happy with his weak-side linebacker position, which ironically, probably did allow him to do a bit of everything but not focus on one area too much.
I've seen it stated as cold hard fact that Jaylon will be more of an outside, edge player in the NFL than he was over the last 2 years in college. I think that's up for debate. In an attempt to try and believe he has the pass rushing potential I've seen comparisons to DeMarcus Ware, Khalil Mack, and Von Miller and that seems like a pretty poor projection for Jaylon in the NFL. If we're looking at pass rushing specialist or coverage player Jaylon is probably going to be utilized much more in the latter category as a pro.
That's why I'll be surprised if he doesn't stay at weak-side linebacker in either scheme for which he gets drafted into this spring. Jaylon improved immensely with his ability to take on blocks and stop the run throughout his college career. He's now too valuable there to just pigeon hole him into a role (pass rusher) he's never developed in college. At the weak-side he can do a little bit of everything while taking advantage of his best asset which is running like a magical puma with hyper speed acceleration.
Lavonte David has been a really good comparison. He's not big at all (6-1, 233) but he's quickly risen to one of the best linebackers in the game on the weak-side of Tampa's defense. Through 59 career games he's totaled 547 tackles, 12 sacks, 9 interceptions, and 29 passes defended. David is a tackling machine who currently leads all linebackers in passes defended by a mile. Seems like a good fit for Jaylon's career and when you watch David play you see the similarities.