Rocky Boiman dishes on all things Notre Dame football

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The four deletions to date from the Notre Dame Citrus Bowl roster, unrelated to an injury, actually made Rocky Boiman feel a bit better about his alma mater’s football program — in a twisted sort of way.

“I think there are other programs where these kinds of things are happening, and it gets swept under the carpet,” said the 37-year-old former Irish linebacker-turned-broadcaster/talk show host.

“The standards are different at Notre Dame, and I’m glad the standards at Notre Dame are higher. And if you lose a couple of players along the way, so be it.”

The 14th-ranked Irish (9-3) will face No. 16 LSU (9-3) Monday in the Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m. EST; ABC-TV), with two offensive players scratched because of shoulder surgeries (wide receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Brock Wright) and four others left or sent home by head coach Brian Kelly.

Sophomore running back Deon McIntosh, ND’s third-leading rusher, is now out of the mix, as of Saturday, because of a violation of team rules.

Boiman will serve as part of ESPN radio’s broadcast team. It’s the first time in his five seasons with ESPN in which the Irish have been part of his game-day assignment.

“Are you kidding? It’s a blast,” he said of his third game in a five-day span, following ESPN TV for the Camping World Bowl on Thursday and the Orange Bowl on radio Saturday night. “I’m just looking forward to seeing the Irish in person and doing a good job.”

McIntosh joins exiled players, wide receiver Kevin Stepherson (facing charges for allegedly shoplifting, possession of marijuana, speeding and driving without a valid license), running back C.J. Holmes (shoplifting) and tight end Alizé Mack (violation of team rules).

“There shouldn’t be kids at any program stealing a $60 pair of sweatpants,” Boiman said. “There’s no way you could ever justify that to me. It seems like we live in a world where there’s increasingly more excuses. ‘Their upbringing wasn’t perfect, stuff like that.’ Well, bull crap.

“I’d rather live in a world where that stuff isn’t tolerated for any sort of reason. It’s not realistic that everyone in your program is perfect. It is realistic to have high standards and to hold players to those.”

Boiman played at Notre Dame from 1998 to 2001 under coach Bob Davie — now the head coach at New Mexico — then was drafted in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans in 2002. His eight-year NFL career included a Super Bowl title with the Indianapolis Colts.

In addition to his ESPN duties, Boiman is a sports/political radio talk show host (WLW 700 AM) in his hometown of Cincinnati.

Here’s a smattering of his thoughts going into the Citrus Bowl, regarding the state of Notre Dame football:

• On Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush: “Brian Kelly’s offense is built upon efficiency,” he said. “The scheme is designed to get guys open. And when the guys are open, you’ve got to hit them. His completion percentage is about 49 percent.

“In today’s football, that’s completely unheard of. You’ve got to be around 62 percent at least, especially in this scheme. And it’s routine passes that are being missed. It’s like, ‘Why can’t you hit that guy?’ That shouldn’t be a problem.

“Obviously, he shows a lot of promise. I love his running ability. I think he’s got good leadership qualities. It looks like the guys respond to him. I think the passing part of it should be able to be corrected through sheer numbers of reps and work.

“It can happen, and that’s the No. 1 thing that needs to change for next year.”

• On first-year defensive coordinator Mike Elko: “I think he’s been great and everything I’d hoped he’d be once Notre Dame fired Brian VanGorder,” Boiman said.

“It’s a defense that’s based less on scheme and more on personnel. And you can see that particularly with the linebackers. They’re out there flying around versus overthinking. Let those four- and five-star athletes go and make plays instead of doing some complex zone blitzes and things like that.

“The next step for this defense is getting the safeties they need through recruiting. That’s the position that’s a little bit not where you’d like them to be.

“It’s such a crucial position with these spread offenses. You need game-changers at that position. You need players who are big enough to fill in the run game, but still have the range and the speed to cover center field out there.

“You start to solve that problem, and things look real good.”

• On the growing trend of players sitting out bowl games to protect their NFL futures: “That’s such a tough question, and I’ve toiled with it,” Boiman said.

“As a guy that loves football and grew up around football and also values commitment and following through on your promises and finishing the job, that part of me says you should play in the bowl games.

“Where I waver is that I’ve got a 4-year-old son. And let’s say, God willing, one day he is blessed to be in a position where he’s 21 years old and a top 15 draft pick. That’s where I waffle on this.

“If you’re going to play in the bowl game, give it your all. But if you’re going to go out there half-stepping, I think that’s when you have a chance for things to seriously go wrong.”

• On how close Notre Dame is to being a playoff team and whether coach Brian Kelly is the man to get them there: “Certainly, Notre Dame could get back,” Boiman said. “You could make the argument that if DeShone Kizer comes back this year, they’re in the Final Four right now.

“If Josh Adams is healthy down the stretch, maybe it’s different story, too. So a lot of pieces are in place. You get a few more pieces, a few more breaks, they’re in the conversation.

“Is Brian Kelly the guy that can do it? It’s tough to say. Obviously, Brian Kelly has the want-to to do it. He’s been there almost 10 years, and that’s a daunting task.

“If his heart’s in it, I think he can get it done. It’s important that he keeps improving, important that the recruiting remains where it needs to be. This program is closer to making a run at a title than a lot of people might think.”

Former Notre Dame and NFL linebacker Rocky Boiman is part of ESPN Radio's broadcast team for Monday's Citrus Bowl matchup between ND and LSU. (AP File Photo/ED REINKE)