Chat highlights: After magical season, what’s next for Irish?

Staff reports
ND Insider

Here are the highlights, lowlights and sidelights from Notre Dame football beat writer Eric Hansen’s latest live chat. To read the entire transcript, go to The next chat will be Wednesday at noon EDT.

Larry from Columbus, Ohio: During spring and summer workouts we kept hearing about the strides C.J. Prosise has made. Now he is nowhere to be found on the depth chart or practice reports. Was it all just smoke?

Eric Hansen: I don’t think it was all smoke. I think some other players rose to the occasion. Chris Brown is a much more complete receiver than he was last year, though Brian Kelly is pushing him to get even better. James Onwualu surged in August, and running backs Amir Carlisle and Tarean Folston are comfortable in the slot, therefore adding to the depth at that spot. I wouldn’t write Prosise off completely. Let’s give it some time.

Gary from Toledo, Ohio: Eric, you yourself have a stellar-looking beard. Who do you think has the best facial hair on this year’s ND squad?

Eric Hansen: I’m a sucker for compliments, so thank you. I can’t say I have studied that area when it comes to the team, however. It used to be KLM. Now? Off the top of my head and semi-panicking, I’ll go with Ishaq Williams.

Karl from Tempe, Ariz.: Will ND hold back some of the downfield passing attack so as to not show Michigan very much?

Eric Hansen: I think it’s foolish to hold too much back in an opener. I think the benefit is far greater gaining experience and confidence in things in a game situation than trying to save a lot for the element of surprise and doing them for the first time in a hostile environment. That’s not to say Kelly wouldn’t keep a wrinkle or two for Michigan, but certainly he won’t hold back basic staples in the offense.

Bob from Nashville: With Jaylon Smith being the first true freshman to start at LB since Kory Minor, what has his reaction been and how do you think Ben Councell will react?

Eric Hansen: We haven’t had a chance to interview Jaylon since he’s been on campus, but talking to people around him, he is very humble and hasn’t changed his approach since reaching the top of the depth chart. I think his attitude is a key ingredient in him fitting in on this defense and how quickly he starts approaching his high ceiling. In other words, he’s an impressive guy. Councell? He still will play, and he may present the better matchup against power teams such as Michigan State and Stanford. The hallmark of this team, Brian Kelly will have you believe, will be its depth. So I’m not sure starting status means as much in the big picture.

Ryan from Lexington, Ky.: Is Jarron Jones just buried behind an animal at defensive end? What kind of player can he become and can he fill the void that will be left by Stephon Tuitt?

Eric Hansen: I would not say he’s buried, but he has some work to do. Jarron Jones, in a nutshell, is an elite athlete with a high motor and intelligence. What has held him back to this point is playing small ball, where there wasn’t much competition, individual coaching or the chance to learn technique that would help him in college ball. In high school, he could just swat people out of the way and picked up bad habits in doing so. If and when he catches on to what he needs to do to excel in college, you will see a remarkable transformation. Until then, there will be growing pains.

Paul from Galway, Ireland: Can’t wait for the season to kick off. Pity not kicking off in Ireland again this year! My question relates to that, Penn State copying the Irish and kicking off their season over here next September — there were some rumours in the press here that ND would play in Dublin again in 2016. Have you heard anything about this on your side?

Eric Hansen: I have heard some rumblings about that — the experience was a very positive one — but I haven’t heard anything at this point more substantive than just discussions. I will try to look into it.

Cymbals from Elkhart: So which is most likely to happen this year: A ND punt return for TD, a Rees TD pass over 70 yards (in the air) or Miley Cyrus twerking on the field as halftime entertainment?

Eric Hansen: How about Miley Cyrus returning a punt for a touchdown?

PC from N.C.: Eric, you said a few weeks ago you had to see Tommy Rees in practice making throws before you could buy into the buzz that he has improved his long ball and footwork. Personally, I think his biggest upside is his ability to make pre-snap reads and get the ball out quickly as we get big plays via yards after the catch. What do you think Martin/Kelly will do to maximize his strengths, especially adding a vertical threat to the offense despite mediocre arm strength (vs. Everett Golson) and taking advantage of the receivers?

Eric Hansen: I think Martin and Kelly will try to play to Rees’ strengths through tempo, through formations, through multiple personnel groups and trying to keep him out of obvious third-and-long situations. The wild card is Martin, who is now calling the offensive plays but was a defensive coach back in 2011.

Kyle M. from South Bend: Do you think we will see Bob Diaco and the defense mix it up this year with a few more blitzes? Do you anticipate Jaylon Smith rushing the passer or dropping into coverage more from that “Dog” position?

Eric Hansen: I do think you’ll see more variety in the defense this season, but perhaps not in full force this week. As far as Jaylon, the drop/dog linebacker typically drops into coverage much more than its Cat counterpart. In fact, when ND slides into a 4-3, the Cat has his hand on the ground. That Jaylon is potentially such an elite pass rusher opens up some possibilities, but I still think primarily he’ll be in coverage — and he’s very good at that too.

Mike from Chaska, Minn.: Do you expect to see Corey Robinson, James Onwualu and Cole Luke get some playing time?

Eric Hansen: Way more than I expect a Miley Cyrus appearance at ND. Yes.

Dave from Kouts, Ind.: Why did Elijah Hood choose North Carolina, and how do we stop decommits?

Eric Hansen: He wanted to be closer to home. You can never stop decommits. And remember, kids decommitting from other schools to join the Irish have benefited Kelly and Co. — Max Redfield, Greg Bryant, Everett Golson, Nick Martin, TJ Jones, Danny Spond, Kona Schwenke to name a few.

Blaise from Westland: Based on what you have seen so far, who will lead this team in rushing yards and rushing TDs by end of year?

Eric Hansen: Fascinating question, because it’s so wide open. I’ll go with George Atkinson on the yards and Greg Bryant on the rushing TDs.

Guest: ESPN’s Colin Cowherd said maximum eight wins this year? Are we kidding ourselves that another title run is in the cards? I’m thinking 10-2 to 12-0.

Eric Hansen: Look, until we know how Rees is going to play, I don’t think there’s a wrong answer. Based on seeing some practices, I think eight is a little low. BUT, you need some luck when it comes to injuries, and there are players ND can’t afford to lose — such as Nix, Tuitt and Zack Martin.

Carl from Phoenix, Ariz.: One angle being thrown out this preseason is that the 2012 team had every conceivable break fall its way — until the ‘Bama game. Some think that won’t be the case and karma will balance the scales this year. To your eyes, with the enhanced athleticism and Kelly now in year four and rolling — are we closer to a BCS contender for a major bowl or possibly a return to an 8-5 team?

Eric Hansen: I think the “good breaks” theme was overstated last year. Some of the things that this team overcame included losing Aaron Lynch to a transfer, losing Jamoris Slaughter for the season in game 3, having to play a freshman running back at corner from day one — KeiVarae Russell was the first true freshman to ever start an opener at corner — for the Irish. They lost Austin Collinsworth, a potential starter, for the 2012 season, a promising defensive end in Chase Haunshell. Lo Wood suffered a season-ending injury. Cierre Wood got suspended for two games, the team’s leading returning rusher. I think that team overcame quite a bit to go 12-0, don’t you?

Michael from San Juan, Puerto Rico: Why do you think they are willing to give up a redshirt year for Steve Elmer?

Eric Hansen: Why give up a redshirt year on Steve Elmer? Because he’s THAT good.

Michelle from Atlanta: You have to love this year’s Shamrock jerseys when compared to last year, right?

Eric Hansen: I like my spaghetti sauce-stained dress shirt better than last year’s Shamrock Series jerseys, but now I sound like the old man who wants the kids to get off his lawn.

Norm from Oakdale, Calif.: What do you think the chances are that ND can land Matt Elam away from Kentucky or Alabama?

Eric Hansen: Matt Elam, for those who don’t follow recruiting, is a 6-foot-6, 350-pound nose guard prospect from Kentucky. I would say Notre Dame is in his top three, but Kentucky and Alabama both are VERY REAL competition. I think what ND has going for it, beyond the academics and tradition, is a real opportunity to come right in and start as a true freshman.

Johnny from NYC: Any chance ND has a 5-star kid ready to switch. We keep freeing up scholarships, yet aren’t getting elite talent. Hood left, and this class looks down.

Eric Hansen: There’s a lot of talented kids that still have an interest in Notre Dame that will not make up their mind until later. Remember last year only Jaylon Smith was early — Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield and Greg Bryant were all 5-star commits late in the cycle. Same in 2012 with Kiel and in 2011 with Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt.

Pogo from Chicago: How much fun was is to cover this team last year, through the incredible games, Manti’s historic year, 12-0? And compare that to what has happened since then (Alabama, Manti’s fall, Kelly’s NFL flirtation) up until Temple. Do you get happy or depressed depending on how well the program is doing? I wish I could be more detached. It would help my stress level tremendously!

Eric Hansen: I guess I find it all interesting, the ups and the downs, and how the team recovers from it. I don’t really get happy or depressed, although I will admit I was happy when I no longer had to watch Katie or Dr. Phil anymore as part of my job.

Charles from Hartford: Which game will the 1988 championship team be honored at this year?

Eric Hansen: Michigan State. Lou Holtz is coming back that Friday night for a Lou’s Lads function. I’ll have more info on that as we get closer.

Robb from Colorado: Does ND have the field goal kicker in place who can make the extra point to tie a game in the last minute or make a 40-yard field goal to win a game? Kyle Brinzda was pretty clutch last year, but he still makes me nervous at times.

Eric Hansen: Nick Tausch gets first crack at those jobs on Saturday.

Running back Elijah Hood had been the highest rated member of Notre Dame's 2014 recruiting class before he decommited.