Notebook: Notre Dame NT Jarron Jones pushing for early return
SOUTH BEND — Toward the end of the 110-second “Trick Shot Monday” video posted earlier this week, Notre Dame nose guard Jarron Jones can be seen dancing in the background.
Which actually has absolutely nothing to do with the object of TSM — landing a ping-pong ball in a cup through a series of deflections — and everything to do with perhaps a surprise addition when the AP sixth-ranked Irish (8-1) reach the postseason.
Notre Dame will try to enhance its December/January trajectory Saturday, when the Irish host Wake Forest (3-6), a program that is 1-56 all-time against top 10 opponents. That lone upset occurred in 1946, when a guy named “Peahead” (Walker) was coaching the Demon Deacons and took out No. 4 Tennessee on the road.
Junior right tackle Mike McGlinchey (sprained ankle) returned to practice Tuesday and is expected to start Saturday, while senior running back C.J. Prosise (concussion, neck) remains a possibility to do so after passing the first level of concussion protocol.
Saturday will be Senior Day for ND, trying to put the finishing touches on only its second unbeaten/untied home season since 1998. Jones will be one of 27 seniors and grad students honored, though he’s one of a handful who will return for another Senior Day and a fifth year, in 2016.
The 6-foot-6, 315-pound 2014 starter was expected to be lost for the season when he suffered a third-degree tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during an Aug. 14 preseason practice.
“Jarron is now at that stage where (he’s) building quad and hamstring strength,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “We think that's going to take about anywhere from four to six weeks with him.”
Which would have him back on the practice field by mid-December.
Jones had 40 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, seven QB hurries, a forced fumble and two blocked kicks last season, despite missing two games and all but one series of a third with a season-ending Lisfranc (arch) injury to his left foot.
Sophomore Daniel Cage (17 tackles, three tackles for loss) and freshman Jerry Tillery (nine tackles, two TFL) have filled in for Jones this season.
Because Jones has already redshirted for non-medical reasons (in 2012) and would not be a likely candidate to successfully petition the NVAA for a sixth year, playing in the postseason would not “burn” a year of eligibility.
The eligibility equation for Avery Sebastian, though, is a little trickier.
The grad safety, Kelly said, returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering a broken bone in his foot during the Sept. 5 season opener with Texas.
Unlike Jones, Sebastian would be a strong sixth-year candidate, since he missed all but one game of the 2013 season with an injury. If he plays in any of ND’s remaining games, even for as little as one play, the sixth-year scenario goes away.
Safety depth and quality of play has been an ongoing issue for most of the season.
“We're going to get him going,” Kelly said of Sebastian. “If we need to play him, because we need to win games, we're going to play him. But I'm not going to run him down on the kickoff team. We would preserve his year unless he needs to go in there and start for us and help us win these last three games.”
Back in the running?
Freshman Josh Adams’ breakout performance against Pitt Saturday, a 42-30 Irish road victory, lessens the urgency to push Prosise back into a starting role Saturday.
Prosise suffered a whiplash-like injury to his neck and a concussion Saturday in the first quarter against the Panthers. Kelly said ND’s leading rusher, just 25 yards away from 1,000 this season, will have more levels of concussion tests he’d have to pass Tuesday and Wednesday to be used at all against Wake Forest.
At 56th nationally in rush defense, the Demon Deacons snap of string of five straight opponents ranked in the top 41 nationally in that category.
The coaches’ trust in Adams isn’t only about yards, but blitz pickup, downfield blocking and other nuances the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder has metabolized quickly.
But the yardage is still impressive. Adams ran for 147 on 20 carries against Pitt. That’s the second-most all time in a game by an Irish freshman, slotting him between Julius Jones’ 146 on 19 carries against Navy in 1999 and Jerome Heavens’ 148 on 18 carries against Georgia Tech in 1975.
With 412 yards on 54 carries (7.6 average), Adams is just 59 yards away from cracking the top six most prolific rushing season for an ND freshman, with that No. 6 spot currently being held by injured junior Tarean Folston. Adams has three TDs on the ground and caught his first TD pass, a five-yarder, on Saturday.
Darius Walker (2004) holds the freshman record for rushing yards in a season with 786 on 105 carries.
Especially if Prosise is limited or held out all together, look for ND’s other freshman running back, Dexter Williams, to get into the mix. The 5-11, 200-pounder has 78 yards on 17 carries and a TD.
“We love the way he runs the ball,” Kelly said. “There is no question about his physical ability. He's got to learn more about some of the intricate parts of the game and just keep learning and practice. Practice at the same level each and every day. I think if he does that, he'll have a good week and play more.”
Lessons from Missouri
There are so many layers to what was ultimately boiled down to the Missouri football team’s very public ultimatum that helped coax the resignation of University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe on Monday.
The Tigers threatened to boycott Saturday’s matchup with Brigham Young and all football-related activities leading up to it, a notion supported by their coach, Gary Pinkel.
Whether this becomes a template for social change on other campuses, as some in the media are predicting and perhaps overstating, Kelly does welcome dialogue from his players about pressing issues on ND’s campus.
“We encourage our players to be other-centered in the sense that we want to be active within our community,” he said. “Our ‘Athletes Around The Bend’ program encourages our players to be part of our community and to be out and make a difference.
“There are differences in terms of community service and social activism. I think social activism is something that is more of a choice, where we believe that building the young man, being other-centered is a component of that.
“And we encourage that as part of our program and building the young men in our program. So I think they're two different things from our perspective. But we have 105 players from different backgrounds, all over the country. Different social, economic backgrounds.
“We know that we're going to have different points of view, and we don't want them all to be the same. So I think we have a great environment for our guys to be who they want to be on a day-to-day basis.”
• Kelly on Tuesday had an amusing way to describe the evolution of quarterback DeShone Kizer.
“I think when we put him in the game, we were just hoping that he knew the play,” Kelly said of the first meaningful downs of Kizer’s career, in the 34-27 comeback win at Virginia on Sept. 12.
“And now, we're at a point where (it’s), ‘What is the new play we put in?’”
No ND player has had more points responsible for in a road game than Kizer’s 36 (5 TDs passes, 1 rushing TD) in the 42-30 thumping of Pitt last Saturday. The only player who has more in a home game?
Well, it’s been so long ago, touchdowns only counted five points in that era. Art Smith had seven TDs against Loyola of Chicago 104 seasons ago, and added two extra points for a total of 37.
Underrated in Kizer’s rise has been his running ability. Even though he subtracted from his season total Saturday, the redshirt freshman has 308 yards on the season and is 113 away from moving past Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung (1956) and into sixth-place for the most rushing yards in a season by an Irish QB.
• As Kelly shoots for career win No. 225 on Saturday, the Irish offense will be looking to extend to 10 what is believed to be a school record of games of 400 yards or more in total offense to start a season.
• In 2013, former Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees helped the Irish survive a road test at Wake Forest, 24-17. On Saturday, his father wouldn’t mind if the Demon Deacons returned the favor.
Bill Rees is in his second season as Wake’s director of player personnel. The elder Rees has spent most of his football career as an NFL scout.
Tommy Rees is getting his first taste coaching this season as an offensive graduate assistant at Northwestern.