Welcome one, welcome all to the wild and wonderful world of the OFD Mailbag. The inaugural edition involves some actual analysis, complete hyperbole, and making fun of Michigan. What else could be better?! Without further ado, let's get into this week's mailbag. As far as I know these are real questions from real readers. That or artificial intelligence is getting really into ND football for some reason.
@OFDMailbag Zaire's footwork & reading the defense: how much progress can we expect he make to be able to effectively run the offense?— Jimmy Rixner (@Hooks_Orpik) July 7, 2015
Malik Zaire was always bound to be the biggest question mark heading into this season, even before Everett Golson made the transfer to Florida State official. Now that he's been handed the job, the questions have shifted from "can he steal the job?" to "Can he do the job?"
Malik Zaire is not Everett Golson. Shocker. He doesn't have the arm ability that Everett Golson does, but he's certainly no slouch as we saw against USC and LSU last season. Reports from the Elite 11 camp where Zaire served as a counselor have been almost universally positive.
His leadership is without question, and I really think he steps into 2015 with the Fighting Irish as HIS team. Certainly a change from what we saw from EG at times last season. Still, there are questions about what this team will look like with Zaire at the helm.
I don't think we will see Zaire "playing loose" like we saw with Everett Golson -- he just isn't the same type of improvisational talent as EG or Manziel. I expect him to be a more conventional college QB in a power spread offense: he'll run the read option well, make the throws he needs to make, and keep the wheels moving smoothly. As far as reading the defense is concerned, I have a feeling that the addition of a legitimate running threat at QB will open up plenty of space to make his reads easier. The real wildcard here is if Brian Kelly will scale back some of the more complex passing concepts to allow Zaire to make simple, effective reads.
The Men in the Middle
How do you see ND's linebackers lining up in the fall?
I see the best 3 as Morgan, Schmidt (if healthy) and Smith. Right now those are all three inside linebackers. Will Schmidt be healthy enough? Can Morgan or Schmidt move out of the middle? I am pretty sure Jaylon could line up anywhere on D and be effective.
- Michael B.
Cut to me being sad about Jarrett Grace not being on this list. What could have been! (I still think he ends up contribuiting to this team, but I don't know to what degree.)
I agree with the three linebackers you call out above. I'd probably put them in this order: Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, then Nyles Morgan.
As you mention, we could probably line Jaylon Smith up anywhere, short of nose tackle (maybe even nose tackle), and he would be the best player on the field. I think he allows a level of flexibility that makes the other two guys even better. Schmidt knows where to put Jaylon to be the most disruptive and ensures everyone else does their jobs to keep Jaylon clean. Morgan gets to benefit from Jaylon taking a lot of attention to do crazy athletic things with less eyes on him.
Where do I see the LBs lining up? I think we will see a rotation of Schmidt/Morgan at the MLB spot when we're in a 4 down set, and potentially putting both of them on the field when we go with 4 linebackers. Jaylon will line up wherever he pleases, and will not come off the field if I have anything to say about it (I don't, unfortunately). I expect that James Onwualu will likely still hold down the SAM linebacker spot.
None of that takes into account what, if any, impact the incoming freshmen (or the aforementioned Grace) will have on how the LBs line up this season. If any of the freshmen can contribute out of the gate, the depth at LB is looking good for this season to hopefully avoid another repeat of 2014.
The Hypothetical 6th Year
If you could take any Notre Dame player from the 2000's and put him on the 2015 Irish who would it be and why?
This is a phenomenal hypothetical, and pretty much exactly the type of conversation I have with myself on the way to work. I have a colorful imagination for things like this. And a long commute.
If I'm taking a player from the 2000s and putting him on the 2015 Irish, I have a short list right of the top of my head: Brady Quinn, Michael Floyd (I'm counting him), Jeff Samardzija, Autry Denson (player/coach has a nice ring to it), David Bruton (I have a soft spot), among others. But none of these guys really fill a hole that needs filling on the 2015 Irish, which is why it really only comes down to two guys: Justin Tuck or Kyle Rudolph.
Where the pass rush is going to come from is a huge question mark heading into the season, and Justin Tuck would immediately raise the level of opponent QB fear. I'm having visions of Tuck on one side of the field and Jaylon Smith on the other. This pleases me.
Another open question is who, if anyone, is going to take up the mantle of the high-quality receiving tight end that Notre Dame is known for. Enter Kyle Rudolph -- a great tight end is a great security blanket for a new QB, and Malik would certainly love to have someone with the skill set of Rudolph. Also, just imagine the redzone threat of Robinson and Rudolph, with the added possibility of a zone read to attack the defense. A great weapon that would be used extremely well.
Between those two guys, though, I am taking Justin Tuck. It's been since, well, Justin Tuck that we've really had a truly disruptive pass rusher. He immediately makes the defense much better and adds a completely new facet to the Irish gameplan.
If we don't count passes that Michigan's QBs threw for touchdowns that happened to be for Notre Dame, the last time Michigan scored a touchdown in Notre Dame Stadium was September 11th, 2010. Or approximately 4 years, 10 months, 2 days, 5 hours, 1 minute and 30 seconds prior to the time of writing. Who's counting, though?
Gratuitous highlight reel:
What a fun game.
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