Chat Transcript: Talk Notre Dame Football with Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to the reincarnation of Notre Dame Football Live Chat.

Eric Hansen: I think you'll find the interface pretty easy to use. Just remember to include your name and hometown along with your questions.

Eric Hansen: No 17-part questions and no manifestos.

Eric Hansen: I'd also love to get your feedback on the new format. Email me at <

Eric Hansen: OK on with the chat.

Bruce from Dayton, Ohio: Hi Eric, thanks for doing the chats. Always look forward to your insight. Give us three players on offense and defense that haven't played major minutes in the past, that must step and play a key role for a successful season. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Hi Bruce. On offense, I'd go with new starting center Jarrett Patterson, and wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Michael Young. You could throw WRs Braden Lenzy and Joe Wilkins Jr. in that same mix with Austin and Young. They need two or three of those guys to make a leap.

On Defense, it's linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath/Jack Lamb at the buck position; Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah/Paul Moala at rover and Houston Griffith at a new position, boundary cornerback.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: How are the preseason polls determined and where would you rank ND in them? The NCAA ranked them ninth, but most of the other polls weren't very favorable to last year's 12-1 ND team.

Eric Hansen: Hi Ken. It's really an educated guess. A lot of voters, both writers and coaches, look at the preseason magazines for some guidance. I am an AP voter, and try to do as much research as I can. The important thing isn't really the preseason poll as much as it is being open minded each week to jumping teams over other teams when you get more information. For instance just because, say, Notre Dame is 15th and Oregon is 10th doesn't mean you keep Oregon ahead of ND if the Ducks keep winning. ND may have more impressive wins that warrant a rearranging of your educated guesswork.

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, no question right now but I much prefer this format than the mailbag format. Keep up the fine job of keeping us informed!

Eric Hansen: Thanks Doug. It's overcast here, but no more frozen tundra.

Ryan from Rio: Kelly consistently has good QB recruits run the scout team instead of learning the offense. Those QBs haven't panned out as well, a la Golson, Zaire, etc. It seems the less heralded QBs who go into the playbook right away tend to fare better: Book, Rees, etc. Why do you think this is and do you believe it turns more elite QB recruits away?

Eric Hansen: It's a really fascinating question and one that I want to ask Brian Kelly in a one-on-one setting soon. I believe Ian Book actually had some scout-team duty. Notably, Tommy Rees and Malik Zaire did not. Brandon Wimbush didn't as a freshman, but then did as a sophomore, as a redshirt, the year before he became the starter. You certainly want to give the No. 1 defense a realistic look in practice, but I do think there are enough examples of slowed development that there needs to be a good, hard look at the concept. Perhaps there's a better balance of some scout team work with more of learning the ND offense. Stay tuned on this one.

Ed from Palm Beach Fla.: The benchmark for ND is always a national championship. To be considered in the top echelon of ND coaches this accomplishment is imperative. With the fact Brian Kelly may retire within next five years, does his tenure with no national title lessen his …

Eric Hansen: Looks like you get cut off there, Ed, but I see where you were going with it. I don't think you can put Kelly up there with the Aras and Lous, etc., unless he wins a title, but I do think he is in a category where he deserves respect for coaxing ND back into relevance and getting them back into the title game and the College Football Playoff. It's interesting, because when I ask former players and college football analysts alike — Can ND win a national title again in the next 5-10 years? — I haven't got a single "no."

Charles from parts unknown: Hi Eric, I really look forward to these chats in the Trib and anything "Hansen" for that matter! Quick one for you. Will we finally get a burner return man in the kicking game and if so, will the scheme/personnel allow him to show his stuff? It's been way-way too long! Enjoy the sunny weekend!

Eric Hansen: Charles, thanks for the kind words and please include your hometown next time, and I'll consider you strongly for the role as my (unpaid) agent. ... ND will sort out the returners in August. They didn't do much with kickoff return men in the spring, because they were inside so much. With punts we saw Chris Finke, Michael Young, Alohi Gilman, Lawrence Keys III, Joe Wilkins Jr., and I believe Braden Lenzy. Troy Pride is the fastest man on the team, and he told me he'd be open to being involved in the return game somehow if asked. But Lenzy, Keys, etc., are plenty fast. Usually on the kickoff returns one of the two deep guys also is a good blocker, so that could put Tony Jones Jr. in play there. As far as the scheme, that's a very good point. It needs some tweaking, and my sense is we will see that this fall.

Ken, from Morrisville, Ind.: Hi Eric, great to have this format back! I am hopeful we get Chris Tyree, Rylie Mills, and Braiden McGregor for the top targets left for the 2020 class. Seems we have fallen off on our top targets for cornerback. How concerned are you regarding the targets that we have to go to now (other than Clark Phillips) to try and fill in our needs?

Eric Hansen: Ken, from what our recruiting guy, Carter Karels, tells me, ND has a good chance to land Phillips, which is a great start. I would not be concerned if I were you about some of the other targets choosing other schools — not in May. Now in November, that's another story. But there's plenty of time to re-calibrate the list and also find some rising seniors this fall. There's also time for some of those who committed earlier to change their minds and end up at ND. Still a long way to go.

George from Atlanta: Jerry Tillery was obviously a great player and a big loss. But do you think the D-line can be better than last year with the growth of the new players? I worry that Tillery's absence will be felt more due to the departure of the two middle linebackers as well and that we will be vulnerable versus the run.

Eric Hansen: This looks like a simple math question, but it's kind of algebraic. Jerry Tillery is a first-round NFL Draft choice and the first one from Notre Dame on the defensive line since 1997. So let that sink in. I do think there's really good, young players at both the interior line positions — Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa/Jayson Ademilola/Howard Cross III and possibly Hunter Spears, if healthy, at Tillery's old position; Kurt Hinish/Jacob Lacey/Ja'mion Franklin at NG. Another thing to factor in is the edge players are better and deeper, but linebacker is a quagmire of questions right now. How the linebacker positions evolve will greatly influence what kind of team ND will be versus the run. There is enough athleticism there. There needs to be schematic knowledge, better run fits, better play diagnosis in August than what we saw in the spring.

Mark from Benton Harbor, Mich.: Eric, thank you for your great work and terrific insights on ND Football! Love these chats — whether live, not-so-live or hybrid! My question is regarding our kicking game — kickoffs specifically. It is my view that our kickoff depth has been very mediocre over recent years. Not sure how much of that is tactical versus kicker-related?

Would the coaching staff prefer to kick every ball out of the end zone if our kicker had the ability to do so? I’m of the opinion that while we might be able dominate coverage on lesser opponents and consistently pin them deep in their own territory, the game-changing aspect of a kickoff return, especially in key situations, by getting cute and trying to do a “hang-time” kickoff isn’t worth the risk.

While that might work great against Louisville and New Mexico, I think those odds are greatly diminished against teams who are more athletically on par with us — like a Georgia or Michigan. Could you share any insight relating to our kickoff philosophy?

Eric Hansen: Mark, thank you for your compliment and questions. Ideally, you'd like to accomplish one of two things with the new fair catch rule on kickoffs — kick it high enough and have good enough coverage that the opponent will call a fair catch, or bang it through the end zone. I think Kelly initially was OK with either, but after seeing it in games and getting poor hang time on some kicks, which made them returnable, he'd just prefer to have a touchback every time. With Jonathan Doerer sometimes last year there was an issue with direction, in that he kicked it out of bounds or down the middle of the field. Harrison Leonard arrives next month to provide some needed competition.

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric, I liked the last chats you had and this format better than the (strictly) live chats, because we can submit question earlier. I read somewhere recently that someone asked some current players who they thought the breakout players would be next season. Two of the responses were linebackers. I forgot the names but two of four or five responses was pretty impressive to me. Do you think we will see a big leap from the linebackers next season from where those same players were this season?

Eric Hansen: GB, thanks for the feedback and the question. I think linebackers as breakout players make sense, because most of them didn't play much last season. Having said that, they've got a long way to go to reach that status as breakout player. The issues they have as a group in the spring are fixable. It's not like they're too slow or not physical enough. It's to what extent you can kind of microwave them? We had Drue Tranquill on the Pod of Gold podcast a couple of weeks ago, and he said the talent is there. But he said they need to show this summer they're willing to put in the extra work, "How badly do they want to be great?"

Sam K from Hazel Park, Mich.: Hey Eric, I was surprised by how great of a disparity there is in the number of 2020 scholarships schools have offered at this point, ranging from Nebraska (409) to Notre Dame (149) to Clemson (94). Can you give any insight into what drives these numbers and specifically what philosophy Notre Dame takes in regard to the number of scholarships they are offering in a given year? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Sam, this is confusing to a lot of people, including me. It's part art and part science. Here's the thing to know before we dive into the numbers and ND's philosophy specifically. Not all offers are created equal. At many schools, ND included, just because you have an offer does not necessarily mean you can commit on the spot. The kids at the top of the board certainly can. In other cases, it can be as subtle as "let's get acquainted. Come to our camp and let's see if there's a fit." Those can eventually turn into more meaningful offers and eventually commits. In between are prospects you don't want to commit yet, so you kind of slow-play them. Notre Dame's philosophy is to cast a wide enough net that the Irish don't lose a top prospect because they didn't offer early enough, yet keep the numbers manageable. The thing I like about what ND does, for the most part there is very good transparency between the staff and the prospect in terms of level of interest. That's not universal at all schools.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric, nice to be chatting live with you again. Hope all is well with the family. There are certainly some very tough looking opponents on the schedule, but many of them seem spread out. In your expert opinion, what will be our toughest stretch of 3-4 games that might define the 2019 season? Thanks for all your hard work.

Eric Hansen: Tom, thanks. I had dinner with two of my grandsons last night, and one of them actually had all his homework done. Will miracles never cease? I think the knee-jerk answer is the November stretch, because it has been so often that way in the Kelly Era, but I'm going to go with Georgia/Virginia/Bowling Green/USC. Now I don't think BG is going to be an issue, but the other three games will be challenging, particularly Georgia on the road. Virginia had a pretty good defense last year.

JT from Abilene, Texas: Do you think Brian Kelly is too conservative in game-planning to win the “big one?” Seems like in the past two championships ND has hoped to hang around and avoid the big mistakes rather than letting it rip and showing their team they are confident. For instance, against Syracuse (lesser opponent obviously) they came out with their foot on the gas pedal in play-calling and going for it on fourth down and totally took any hope away from their opponent. Seems like a better strategy to play boldly and land the first punch rather than hope your opponent sleep walks through three quarters.

Eric Hansen: JT, I don't have a quibble with your question, but the two teams the Irish lost to on the big stage were clearly better. That doesn't mean a lesser team can't pull the upset. My issue in the Clemson game was not using the tight ends more. I think there was a favorable matchup there. I also thought Clark Lea was pretty aggressive on defense until Julian Love went out of the game.

Ken, from Morrisville, Ind: Will any of the incoming freshman this summer have a good chance of being in the two-deep rotation for the 2019 season?

Eric Hansen: Ken. I wrote about this recently. The only two that I think are absolutes are Kyle Hamilton at safety and Harrison Leonard at kicker. As to the other June arrivals, I think the other three with the best chance to get involved are safety Litchfield Ajavon, defensive tackle Howard Cross III and CB Isaiah Rutherford. Here's the link to that article if you want to read more in depth:

Joe from Columbus, Ga.: From where can/will the lads summon actual belief they will vanquish the Dawgs between the hedges?

Eric Hansen: A lot of them were around for the near miss in South Bend in 2017. I don't think confidence is going to be the biggest hurdle. It's Georgia's talent.

Jim from Middletown, Ohio: Hi Eric, great work. What will be Phil Jurkovec’s chance to see action this year and how ready is he in your opinion?

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. I definitely think Brian Kelly will work Phil into some games this year. There should be opportunities early against Louisville, New Mexico and Bowling Green for Phil to get some work. And he's got a lot on his plate this summer. Brian Kelly wants him to simplify. He's got a little impatient with himself, has started worrying about who he IS SUPPOSED TO BE. He needs to relax, keep learning the nuances of the offense and he'll start progressing again.

Megat Muzaffar, Malaysia: Hi Eric, with the high number of defensive ends selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, what is in your analysis/opinion the singlemost attractive criteria of a potential high pick defensive end in 2020?

Eric Hansen: Hi Megat. If you're talking about in general, twitch pass-rush ability, yet strong enough to hold up on running downs. If you're talking about ND's edge players, if Julian Okwara improves in 2019 at a similar increment to what he did last season, you will see him go in the first round. His areas of potential improvement is turning some of his QB hurries into sacks, putting on about 10 pounds and keep improving against the run. Khalid Kareem also has a chance to go fairly high with a strong season.

Gerry Swider from Sherman Oaks, Calif.: NBC has decided on only one night game this season: USC. Is NBC afraid they could not compete ratings-wise if they put any of the other pedestrian home games in prime time? Is ND afraid that playing any of those six games at night might hurt attendance? Or is ND just trying to be considerate to fans who don't like driving home at 2 a.m.?

Eric Hansen: There's contract language regarding night games, though it continually seems to get modified. If NBC had its way, it would love to have all night games. If Notre Dame had its way, it would prefer a majority of day games. I don't think concern about attendance is a factor at all. The prime time games theoretically are better for TV ratings. There are fewer of them, for one thing to compete against each other. ND likes the day games, in part because people don't have as much "antifreeze" in them. Now one or two a year seems to be a good balance.

Pat from Evergreen Colo.: Eric, many seem worried about replacing Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney. But they solved the linebacker recruiting gap by returning last year. Now there are a number of talented players competing and a coach who flat knows what he is doing. Eric, I love this new format. Great job working to make live chats the best possible.

Eric Hansen: Pat, I appreciate the feedback. I'm not sure if there's a question there. Some of this gap at linebacker comes from poor recruiting in the Brian VanGorder Era, some players outgrowing the position, and the game evolving which necessitates different skill sets. I do think having Clark Lea as both the position coach and the coordinator is good reason to keep the finger off the panic button for now.

Michael from Chicago: Top five5 ND coaching staffs in their totality (recruiting, development, success, etc.) back to Holtz era (or since you started covering ND if you prefer). If staff did not changeover, please only list that staff as one.

Eric Hansen: OK since there's so much turnover in assistants, I'll just do this by head coaching regimes: 1. Lou Holtz, 2. Brian Kelly, 3. Charlie Weis, 4. Bob Davie, 5. Tyrone Willingham.

Joe from Columbus, Ga.: Is ND supporting the new injury reporting mandate (Available. Possible. Unavailable)? If not, would the ACC force compliance?

Eric Hansen: I haven't had a chance to ask Brian Kelly about that yet, but I plan to here soon. When I saw that, I wondered if he'll find my injury questions any less annoying in the future. Then again, maybe I won't have to ask any.

Nick from Barrington, Ill.: Eric, It appears to me that every ND player who leaves school early “to pursue my dream” winds up getting drafted lower than he expected, if at all. What will it take for these kids to learn to perfect their skills in school for as long as they can?

Eric Hansen: Nick, that's not a true statement universally, but there are players who did benefit from coming back, and Jerry Tillery is one of them.

Harvey from South Philly: E, hope all is well. Who are we recruiting atthe O-Line for the 2020 class. And if we are a betting man, who are we likely get commitments from? Thank you. Go Phillies.

Eric Hansen: Harvey, Notre Dame actually has a commitment in its 2021 class from Greg Crippen, a 6-4, 280-pounder from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. As far as the 2020 class, the top tackle prospect on the board is Tosh Baker from Arizona, and the Irish feel pretty good about eventually landing him. With Jimmy Christ off the board to Virginia, there's some recalibrating going in when it comes to a second tackle. Andrew Gentry is a good one from Colorado, but he's going to take a Mormon Mission early in his career, so he's more like a 2022 recruit than a 2020. There's no shortage of standout interior types, including Zak Zinter, Peter Skoronski and Reece Atteberry, all of whom are in line to visit during a monster recruiting weekend June 21-23.

Stan from Chris Tyree-ville, Va.: So glad to have you back live. Really enjoy your insight and fine reporting. What is the area of most concern in development both offensive and defensive this fall? And do you think all the QBs will get some field time this season or will it be just Book and PJ? Also, have your grandcritters had a chance to sample those Stancakes yet?

Eric Hansen: Stan, thanks and great to be back live. I'll admit, I'm pretty excited about today and there's a VERY GOOD chance the live chats are back for good. Again, the good part is people will be able to submit questions a couple of days before the chat starts in case they can't join us live. Haven't had a chance to try to fix the Stancakes, but will give it a whirl next weekend. Can't wait.

To your question, I think the biggest concern on offense after spring ended is the running backs, though it's much less of a concern than going into spring. Jafar Armstrong needs to stay healthy. On defense, it's the linebackers, boundary corner and nickel. I think Houston Griffith is going to fit well at the boundary corner, but he needs to have a good summer.

The only other scholarship QB this fall will be Brendon Clark, and he could see some action and still redshirt, but I think it will be minimal. Getting Jurkovec up to speed is a priority.

Bob Rodes from Manchester, Tenn.: Hi Eric. It looks like Ja'mion Franklin has become sort of the forgotten man, often not even mentioned in discussions about the D-line depth. What's your take on him?

Eric Hansen: I like him a lot, and more importantly, the ND coaches do too. I think why he kind of shuffled to the back burner is that he was injured early in the season and had a long recovery. And that kept him out of the contact portions of spring football. But if he's healthy, there's a nice 1-2-3 punch at nose guard with Hinish, Lacey and Franklin.

Chris from Nashville: Any update on Kevin Stepherson and Javon McKinley?

Eric Hansen: I do plan on trying to track to Kevin. I reached out to both him and his high school coach a few months ago and didn't hear back from either one. I will try again this month. McKinley is still on the team, and I think, barring a backward step, he will remain on the team. He is very close to graduating and it would be a shame if he doesn't get that opportunity.

Ryan from Brighton, Mich.: Hey Eric, great to have the chat back. This offense is looking like the most talented all around since ‘15. On the offensive side of the ball, do we have similar talent/experience as the elite teams of college football?

Eric Hansen: Thanks Ryan. Glad to have you back. We need to find Manny !!!!!!!!! from San Pedro, and we'll be all set. Now when you say elite teams, you're talking Clemson and Alabama (and Georgia), and that's a high standard.

I think Ian Book improved a lot in the spring. I think Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence are better, though. Jake Fromm is also really, really good. Notre Dame has more speed at wide receiver now and good depth, but Clemson and Alabama have more proven commodities. I think ND's offense line will be comparable. Georgia may have the best there. ND may have the best tight ends. ND does not have the best running backs in that group or the depth that the others have. Having said that, I still thing this offense is good enough to get to the playoff. The question is whether the defense and special teams are.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Eric, linebackers seem to be the biggest question marks for this season. We all believe that the talents are there, but the inexperience leads to slower reaction times and also reading the formations. From what the coaches have told you, what is the percentage breakdown between watching films and learning versus going through reps in practice and games? Maybe 60/40 reps versus film? Also, how far into the season should we expect to see some improvement in the linebacker group as a whole?

Eric Hansen: Tom, that's a great question that I haven't asked the coaches. I did ask the players about it, but didn't pose it in terms of a percentage breakdown of their time. I certainly can do that and report back to you on that. Some of the film study, especially in the summer, comes outside the 20-hour rule — in other words players doing it on their own time and at their own initiative.

I would expect there to be improvement at that position group through at least the first half of the season.

Guest from parts unknown: Punter, kicker?

Eric Hansen: I am neither, but I might have a shot this season.

Matt from Nappanee, Ind.: Curious if you see Jarrett Patterson staying at center throughout his career or if he'll shift outside to a tackle? He seemed to be highly thought of as a tackle prospect.

Eric Hansen: I think he's been so good, so quick and so early there at center, O-line coach Jeff Quinn would be really hesitant to go away from him at center. He and Zeke Correll give ND two really good young prospects at the position. The entire line could conceivably stay intact through 2020, which would be a great thing for the offense. If Liam Eichenberg and/or Robert Hainsey come out early, I think the coaching staff feels good about Quinn Carroll, Cole Mabry and Andrew Kristofic. Josh Lugg could also swing out to tackle. For now he's the O-line Swiss Army knife.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for coming back to the live chat and also to those who submitted their questions early. Tom Noie will be doing a live hoops chat next week, likely Thursday. I'll come back in late May and do another one of these football chats. I'll let you know via Twitter and the ND Insider Facebook page. Keep your eyes open for news about how to order the 2019 ND Insider Preview Magazine.

Chat live with Eric Hansen.