CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Can Michael Mayer end Notre Dame's Heisman Trophy drought?

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

JotCast | ND Football Week 2 Spring Chat | 3/23/2022

Mike from Quakertown , PA: Hi Mike, Thanks for taking our questions. I look forward to reading these chats and reading your articles all off-season and regular season and every season in between. This is just a general question, and sorry if it was asked last week, do you sense that this season might be a few steps back to take 10 forward? By that I mean: a first-time head coach going up against more experienced coaches, but Freeman will gain the experience this year, and he will also be able to recruit at a higher level than Kelly. In short, maybe 10-3 or 9-3 this year, but title contention in the coming years? Thanks!

Mike Berardino: Good morning, Mike. Thanks for your question and thanks for those kind words. You make an excellent point, and the scenario you sketch out is entirely plausible. A learning curve almost certainly lies ahead, not only for Marcus Freeman as a first-time head coach but for an overhauled staff, a new starting quarterback and so on. As long as the energy stays high and the recruiting work remains elite, the honeymoon period will continue.

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com

Allan from Whiteland, Indiana: How is Rocco Spindler looking and does he have a chance to secure a starting guard position this season? Thank you for answering my question.

Mike Berardino: Hello, Allan. Thanks for stopping by. A progress report on Rocco will be easier to pass along once the media gets a full look at practice on Saturday. So far we've only been in there for the first five periods on Day 1, and it was all drill work to that point. With Jarrett Patterson out after pectoral surgery, there was some curiosity about Spindler maybe working as a backup center. He still might get some reps there, if he hasn't already, but the centers we saw at Practice 1 were Zeke Correll and Michael Carmody. Spindler remains at guard for now, where he can back up both Andrew Kristofic and super senior Josh Lugg.

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Ken L.- Pensacola , Fla.: Mike, Do you think there’s a Heisman candidate on our team? Hey, what’s been the hardest part of your job so far? Thanks and Go Irish!

Mike Berardino: Greetings, Ken. How are things in the sunny Panhandle? Michael Mayer is the first name that comes to mind when you mention Heisman and Notre Dame. Whoever wins the quarterback job will be looking for big No. 87 early and often, and Mayer is well-positioned to push his career totals past the few remaining all-time greats he has yet to eclipse at his position. The trouble there is just two tight end-type players (the position has evolved) have ever won the Heisman: Yale's Larry Kelley in 1936 and Notre Dame's Leon Hart in 1949. Isaiah Foskey is the next potential candidate I could see, especially if he blows up the school record for sacks. Obviously, the ND drought is up to 3 1/2 decades since Tim Brown won in 1987. I thought Kyle Hamilton might make a run last year, but injury intervened. As for Part 2 of your question, there really is no hard part. All of it is a privilege.

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Tyler Buchner vs. Drew Pyne 

Ben: Australia: How much of a gap will Buchner create between himself and Pyne by the spring game?

Mike Berardino: G'day, Ben! Although with the time difference — Google tells me it's almost 3 a.m. Down Under — maybe I should keep my voice down. A strong showing from Tyler Buchner would be ideal, but even a lack of separation would be an acceptable outcome this spring if it's due to both he and Drew Pyne excelling. I wrote about Buchner's path to the QB1 designation over the weekend. He seems to have met Tommy Rees' off-season challenge in the areas of preparation and leadership. Pyne, with an added year in the program and seemingly natural leadership traits, needed no such reminder.

Bob Rodes - Manchester, TN: Hi Mike. Do you have any insight on the apparent change of focus indicated by Amber Selking's dismissal? Freeman wasn't terribly informative when asked about it.

Mike Berardino: Hey Bob, thanks for the question. You're right in that Marcus Freeman chose his words carefully when asked about his interest in adding a new mental performance coach to the football staff. He never mentioned Dr. Selking by name or thanked her for her contributions to the program over the past five years. That seemed like an unfortunate oversight.

Like coaches, sports psychologists only have so many messaging avenues to travel, and in Selking's case, her input in the well-documented reboot that followed the 2016 disaster means that she'll always be linked to Kelly and his recent five-year run of success. Everything from Kelly's speech patterns to his sideline demeanor seemed to echo at least some portion of Selking's playbook. (Right?)

Eventually, that can't help but drive a wedge between the guru and the players. I found it interesting that former Notre Dame rover Paul Moala, who has since transferred to Idaho, called out Selking in a retweet of Kelly's introductory speech to LSU players in December.

"Yooooo my dawg used Selking’s script," Moala posted along with a retweet from former Notre Dame great Chris Zorich. "Have y’all seen this? 'Built on Trust.' " was Zorich's tweet along with four angry red-faced emojis.

No matter how pithy the motivational phrases, if they start to seem pre-programmed they will eventually lose their effectiveness. Perhaps that's what happened here.

John from Jackson, MS: How does the injury to Aiden Keanaaina impact the defensive line and is it likely Gabe Rubio would be ready to step up?

Gabriel Rubio during football practice Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Mike Berardino: While a torn ACL was a tough setback for an improving young prospect in AK-92, new D-line coach Al Washington has no shortage of chess pieces along that inherited front. Jayson Ademilola's recovery from January shoulder surgery will offer even more spring reps for a group that is used to coming at opponents in waves under Washington's predecessor, Mike Elston.

Rubio was one of a handful of young players Brian Kelly cited during USC week last year as showing true signs of progress on the practice field. The four-star recruit from St. Louis, famously described by former recruiting coordinator Brian Polian as being "wide as a Volkswagen," has plenty of upside. No doubt he'll be among those with a brighter spotlight trained on him moving forward this spring.

Duke from Cincinnati: Jack Coan reminds me of former Stanford and veteran NFL backup QB Kevin Hogan.  Do you think that comparison is valid?

Mike Berardino: First off, like Marcus Freeman, I'm no quarterback guru. But on the surface, that's not a bad comp at all. Both are brainy, durable dudes from academic bastions with a ton of college experience and a history of production. Hogan, who followed Andrew Luck on The Farm, went to the Chiefs in the sixth round in 2016. Coan, who followed the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history (Ian Book), fits as a possible late-round pick in a weak year for the position.

Both measured exactly at 6-3 and 218 at the combine, but Hogan held a slight edge in most of the (modest) measurables: 40 time (4.78 to 4.90), 3-cone drill (6.90 to 6.95) and shuttle run (4.31 to 4.39). Coan had a better vertical (33 to 32.5) and broad jump (115 inches to 113).

Hogan, who has made one start in six seasons, is still in the league as a backup to Ryan Tannehill with the Titans (his sixth different team). Coan, who wisely reminds NFL teams he's already had to learn two playbooks from his time in Madison and South Bend, might just follow a similar path

Jonathan Thie: Do you think Notre Dame will get Harrison Wellman, as a preferred walk-on and add another wide receiver in the transfer portal, and who do you think, that will be. Hope all is well with you!

Mike Berardino: Hello, Jonathan. Thanks for checking in. Just because Wellmann, the former D3 standout at Johns Hopkins and Texas high school teammate of safety Brandon Joseph, will be in the fold as a slot-type depth option this summer, that shouldn't take the Irish out of play for a grad transfer at receiver once spring ball ends.

There will be no shortage of receivers out there dissatisfied with their usage this spring. The trick, as Marcus Freeman will remind you, is finding one that fits across the board at Notre Dame. I'd say check the lists of lightly used receivers who spurned ND in recent recruiting classes, but the staff turnover might make that approach less useful. I have no guesses for you at this point, but I'm sure those names will start to filter out as other schools complete their spring games and the transfer portal begins to overflow again.

Mike Berardino: Thanks for the questions, everybody. Be sure to read our daily coverage at ndinsider.com, and I look forward to our next chat a week from now.

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for ndinsider.com and the South Bend Tribune. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.