CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Is Notre Dame's secondary ready for the Ohio State passing attack?
Mike Berardino: Good morning, sports fans. Thanks for the questions on this chilly Good Friday in South Bend. And away we go ...
Patrick, Fort Wayne, IN: Good afternoon Mike, Brian Kelly left the program with a lot of talent on the roster. Figuring out the year-to-year depth chart of the talent could be discerned from historical reference and the assistant coaches’ preferences. Now with a new head coach and seven new assistant coaches, that talent is being re-evaluated in various terms of fit and preference to schemes. How much roster turnover do you foresee in the next year? Which position groups do you think will be most affected?
Mike Berardino: Hello, Patrick. Good question. The scenario you lay out is a concern in modern college football even when there isn't a coaching change. The recruiting game demands non-stop talent stacking, and there are bound to be some bruised feelings and confused young minds along the way. For various reasons we've already seen the likes of Jay Bramblett (LSU), George Takacs (Boston College), Shayne Simon (Pitt) and Paul Moala (Idaho) bounce to other programs via the transfer portal in recent months. Litchfield Ajavon (Missouri State) became the latest to find a new team this week. They won't be the last to leave Notre Dame, even with Marcus Freeman and his new staff working hard to establish trust with players they didn't recruit or know very well until recently. That's just life in college football in 2022.
Shaw: Why the closure this year to spring practices? After all it's just SPRING practice & not a possibly clandestine strategy protection.
Mike Berardino: Hello, Shaw. Wish I knew where you were from! I agree with you that secrecy, especially in the spring, is fairly pointless. It's not like teams are very often installing entirely new systems or practicing their trick plays. Mainly, it's about control, which is a heck of a drug in all realms of sport and beyond. Notre Dame is allowing the media in for portions of five out of 15 practices, including a full session on March 26 and the spring game on April 23. For that I suppose we should be grateful.
Frankie from Virginia: Hello! My thought should bring back notre dame football is tradition black shoe or blue not white shoe . Don't make sense to me why wear white no no . They should back to keep tradition black , navy or gold ! Please please tell Marcus freeman go back to tradition with black , navy or gold shoes!! Not white shoes. Curious I wonder ask you how was you.
Mike Berardino: Yo, Frankie! The shoes again? Did I not answer this last week in this space? Pretty sure I did. As an aside, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and his devastating punt returns are among my most enduring memories of '70s-era NFL viewing. Check him out on YouTube and get back to me.
Pat H. Springfield, Ill.: Is the secondary improving to the point where it can prevent OSU’s receivers from being the difference in the game?
Mike Berardino: Hi Pat. Thanks for the question. Even with the Buckeyes losing two projected mid first-rounders in wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, CJ Stroud and Co. remain supremely dangerous. A deep safety group will have Brandon Joseph out there for the first time in an Irish uniform; his experience against Ohio State should help. We talked this week with the corners, who are still understandably trying to move past that second-half nightmare in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Cam Hart, the top returning corner, is limited to light drills this spring as he recovers from the second shoulder surgery of his college career. That's not ideal. However, it should be pointed out that in terms of coaching continuity, Mike Mickens (corners) and Chris O'Leary (safeties/defensive backs) have the most continuous service on that side of the ball for Notre Dame. And run game coordinator/defensive line coach Al Washington spent the past three seasons in Columbus.
Scheme-wise, Notre Dame should have some surprises in store for the Buckeyes on Sept. 3. Whether the secondary — especially on the perimeter — is up to the challenge remains an open question.
Mike from Quakertown, Pa.: Hi Mike! Thanks for taking our questions again. I hope all is well. I appreciate your coverage this spring. Do Freeman and the Irish have a legit shot at a top three recruiting class this cycle? I know Alabama and Clemson and others close late with the five star guys who may wait to make a decision. Also, what do you make of the aggressive nature of the practices this spring? From what I read from you and others, it seems the intensity has been ramped up. Is that good for both health and staying keyed in and focused on details? Thanks!
Mike Berardino: Hi Mike. It's my pleasure. And thanks for reading our stuff at NDInsider.com. Holding onto a top-three spot in the 2023 rankings won't be easy, but Notre Dame's persistence and placement in the Dante Moore sweepstakes certainly makes that seem more viable. It would have been nice to land Christopher Vizzina this week as well, but that was always a long shot with the type of programs wooing the Birmingham QB and Notre Dame still heavily involved with Moore. As for the amped-up competitiveness this spring, I'd say there's a difference between playing "aggressive" football — something Marcus Freeman has cautioned his players against — and playing in a spirited manner. Less walk-through and more "Put the ball down and play" means you can get more accomplished in a shorter span and you also learn more about the competitive spirit of the guys on your roster. Better to find out now who shrinks from the spotlight than waiting until the fall.
Allan from Whiteland, IN: Mike, with Name, Image, Likeness being the new arms race in college football, is Notre Dame positioned to compete for the best players in the country vs. other schools? Thank you for answering my question.
Mike Berardino: Hello, Allan. Even with the creative young minds at the Mendoza Business School and a worldwide fan base, Notre Dame simply won't be keeping up with the American League East (to borrow Brian Kelly's term) when it comes to NIL. The Irish Players Club shows potential, but even with its self-reported haul north of $300,000 (divided equally among the current roster, including walk-ons), that's pocket change compared to what's going on at Miami and in the SEC. That's why Freeman's recruiting pitch must remain rooted in the long game — 4 for 40 and the transformative nature of an actual education while still competing on the college game's biggest stage. Until and unless the NCAA puts down those "guardrails" AD Jack Swarbrick has been referencing the past few years, there really is no other survival strategy for a school like Notre Dame.
Jonathan Thie, Sioux Falls, South Dakota: I highly think that Deland McCullough's sons will come to South Bend this summer or fall, if they end, up upcoming to South Bend, would they count for the 85 scholarship limit, since they are Deland's sons, and Mike what do you think are the chances they come to South Bend, I personally think it is 90% or more!!!
Mike Berardino: Hello, Jonathan. Unless McCullough's talented sons (Deland II, Dasan and Daeh) are willing to give up scholarships and scholarship offers at Indiana to walk on at Notre Dame, they would count against the limit. His coaching experience and recruiting talent were enough that no package deal was necessary to lure him to South Bend. All three sons publicly reaffirmed their commitment to the Hoosiers at the time of their dad's ND hire. Daeh McCullough, his dad said recently, is still considering his senior-year options, but it sounds like he'll attend somewhere in this area.
Among Notre Dame's nine commitments so far in the 2023 recruiting class are a pair of four-star safeties: Peyton Bowen (Texas) and Adon Shuler (New Jersey). The current safety group is young as well, so I'm not sure there's an obvious fit for another four-star safety in this recruiting cycle, even if his last name is McCullough.
Duke from Cincinnati: Hi Mike...I occurred to me last week that I never heard why Tyler Buchner didn't play in the Fiesta Bowl against Okla St. Was a reason ever given by Freeman?
Mike Berardino: Hi Duke. Thanks for checking in. I wrote about that very topic after checking with Tommy Rees and Buchner about it on March 19. Here's the link and here's Rees' straightforward answer to my question that day: "There was a plan. We were going to play Ty after our first first down of the second half. And our first two drives went three (plays) and out. At that point the game got tied, and so we played with Jack.”
Mike Berardino: That's a wrap for this week. Thanks for the questions, everyone. Have a great holiday weekend.
Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.