ND Football Chat Transcript: Why the DB scramble? Differences between ND and Georgia?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat on a most decidedly unfrigid day here in South Bend.

Eric Hansen: One quick reminder, please include your name and hometown with your question.

Matt from St. Louis: It seems like we are always in need in the secondary. Is that because some of our linebackers grow into lineman, and some of our defensive backs grow into linebackers, or do we also need to do better consistently recruiting and developing and retaining?

Eric Hansen: Matt, I think there are a few layers here in the answer. Let's start with the safeties. When Mike Elko took over as defensive coordinator after the Brian VanGorder ouster, there was a big disconnect in the safeties on the roster and the way Elko wanted to play defense. The skill sets didn't match up. Current defensive coordinator Clark Lea shares a very similar philosophy. So a lot of the safeties moved to other positions, some quite successfully (Drue Tranquill), and some moved to the bench or off the roster. Under Lea, there is a natural evolution when recruiting some players, where the big-picture plan is to start at safety and then eventually move to rover/linebacker, or start at rover and eventually move inside. Improved recruiting has helped this process. At cornerback, there has been good development of players, but not always consistent recruiting. That has to get better, and it's too early in this cycle to say it won't.

Jeremy from Goshen, Ind.: Hi Eric, Thanks for doing this chat. In your opinion, what position can least afford an injury?

Eric Hansen: It would be difficult to lose either of the starting safeties, cornerback Troy Pride Jr., any of the nose guards and Jafar Armstrong at running back. Ian Book, would also be difficult to replace long term at this juncture.

Jude from Watertown, N.Y.: Good afternoon, Eric! I was wondering if you saw "Hesburgh," what you thought of the film and if you have any good Fr. Ted stories to share.

Eric Hansen: I have not seen it yet and plan to once my grandkids have dragged me to Detective Pikachu and Aladdin. I had the opportunity to interview him once, about 15 years ago. He makes you feel so comfortable, like you've known each other forever. Seriously. I can't wait to see the film.

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, can you expand on the scholarship limits? It appears there are still 86 on scholarship with 85 being the limit. There was talk about JD Bertrand using an academic scholarship but doesn't that still count against the limit? How is this all playing out?

Eric Hansen: Doug, I think by the time we get to the deadline (first day of fall-semester classes), this math problem will take care of itself. If for some reason it doesn't, here is how it works: The oversimplified answer is Division I athletes who are offered that loophole have to meet these criteria: Be in the top 10 percent of the high school graduating class; achieve a cumulative high school GPA of at least 3.50; score 1,200 or higher on the SAT, or ACT sum score of at least 105.

There are other layers of compliance, but those must be met to even consider it.

Tyler from Mishawaka: How much would I have to pay you for you to recreate Corey Robinson's Blue-Gold Game outfit and wear it to a press conference?

Former Notre Dame football players gather for a photo on the field during halftime of the April 13 Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Eric Hansen: I would wear the hat for free. Otherwise, there's not enough money in South Bend. Only Corey can make that look work.

Edward from Palm Beach: Without a National Championship since 1988, I am surprised the ND brand has lasted this long. Going forward, when does the brand begin to lose its luster? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: I think it lost its luster several times since the national title. But getting into the title game in 2012, getting to the playoff last season, putting together back-to-back double-digit-win seasons, producing All-Americans and first-round draft pick does mean something in that regard. In fact, it means a lot.

Chris-Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.: Hi Eric, Do you think we can beat Georgia and Michigan on the road? It’d be nice to silence the critics if we could take care of business. I know we’ve had some nice roads wins under Kelly, but since Oklahoma, I don’t remember a big game since that, where it changed the perception of ND football and our relevance on a national stage. We had it last year until we had a horrendous second quarter against Clemson. Sorry so long.

Eric Hansen: Chris, that's what I call "good length" in making your point. I think Georgia is going to be really difficult, even if ND starts to check off boxes like linebacker play, boundary cornerback, nickel, special teams, etc. Michigan, I think at this juncture, is going to be a competitive game. Ask me again in August when each of those teams will likely have answered (or fallen short) of addressing their post-spring concerns. I think beating Georgia on the road, if it were to happen, would be the biggest road win of the post-Lou Holtz Era.

Damion From Dallas, TX: Good morning. Living here in Dallas, I notice that we seldom have recruits from this area committing to Notre Dame. I was excited when Avery Davis committed. I was disappointed that he didn't pan out as a QB and shocked overall that he doesn't play a position on offense. I wanted to ask if the coaching staff thinks that he'll turn out to be a decent corner or eventually be an athlete the Irish can use.

Eric Hansen: Damion, the Dallas recruiting kind of goes in cycles. There are two freshmen on the roster from the area — defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah and defensive tackle Hunter Spears. ... To your question, with regard to Avery Davis, Avery has elite measurables that give him a chance to succeed. The question is how quickly/completely he can adapt to defense. I thought he had an OK spring. It's a tough request to have him play nickel, but he definitely has the speed and athleticism to pull it off. He also appears to have the work ethic, too. The summer is huge for him, and so will be August training camp. Remember, he's only a sophomore eligibility-wise, so he's got a lot of football ahead of him.

Stan from Chester, VA: How does the team maintain an edge during the offseason? Coaches are not allowed to hold formal practices, but do they get to observe individual workouts or can the team practice on its own and if so, under what structure does such a practice take place?

Eric Hansen: Hi Stan. There is an allowance for the coaches to hold some OTAs (offseason training activities) in June, and ND takes full advantage of that. There are limitations in that you can't use a football. It's mostly drill work. Then you rely on your team leaders to drive the agenda once coaches can't be around. You also rely on your strength staff to set that tone — and they do. They make every aspect of offseason training have a competitive element to it and a mental toughness component to it. As far as players-only stuff, they organize informal workouts (7-on-7s for instance) and film study. So you have to be strong in your team leadership and in the weight room.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, Great to chat with you again. OK, how will the new ACCN/ESPN effective Notre Dame? For example recruiting and ND's television contract with NBC? Is it a win-win for ND?

Eric Hansen: I think it's a bigger win for Notre Dame's sports beyond football. As far as football goes, it doesn't disrupt the NBC arrangement. Where is shows up is with regard to road games. The ND game at Duke on Nov. 9 will be the first ACC Network game in which the Irish appear. If you don't have the ACC Network on your cable/satellite/streaming package, you won't see it on your TV.

Mike from parts unknown: It used to be that ND was late to the party for some kids that you would think would interested in what ND has to offer. Now it seems that ND has been in early on some hidden gems before they blow up nationally like Kyle Hamilton and Tosh Baker. I would guess that Bill Rees is playing a big role in earlier athletic evaluations, but I would also guess it is much more than that. Any changes in the academic side from previous years? Any changes with Brian Polian as coordinator?

Eric Hansen: Mike, I do think Bill Rees factors into that as do people like Dave Peloquin. I think there's been a philosophical shift to being more proactive early, and I think that really goes back to Mike Elston's time as recruiting coordinator. No question, Brian Polian has built on that and brings a lot to the Irish in terms of organization and being a really good individual recruiter.

Rick from the Orange County: Eric, Glad you are back on a regular basis. What would you say are the top five recruiting targets for this year?

Eric Hansen: I'm going to assume your mean top five REMAINING targets. Borrowing a little bit from our recruiting guy, Carter Karels, I'd say CB Clark Phillips III (La Habra, Calif.), WR Jalen McMillan (Fresno, Calif.), S Latham,Ransom (Tucson, Ariz.), OT Michael Carmody (Mars, Pa.), and S Jordan Morant (Oradell, N.J.). ... and glad to have you back as well.

Dan from Vancouver Wash.: First-time participant and 1842 alum, Eric. Coach Bob Davie’s return to Notre Dame Stadium for the New Mexico game has created some buzz. How do you think he will be received by ND fans? My guess is Charlie Weis would be booed, but Davie will get a polite-but-muted reception. Sound about right?

Eric Hansen: Dan, I am going to assume you look much younger than you purport to be. ... I don't think there's a lot of love for Bob Davie, but it's been a long time since he's been here and he doesn't have a very good team, so I'll project the reception as somewhere between indifference and the golf clap.

Gregg from Anderson, Ind.: Who is the next big recruiting get for the 2020? Where is the biggest need in terms of roster numbers?

Eric Hansen: We talked about this on our Pod of Gold podcast this week. Carter Karels and Tyler James agreed the next commitment would come from OT Michael Carmody, while my pick was WR Xavier Watts. ... The biggest remaining needs in the class are at cornerback and safety. ... By the way if you want to listen to the podcast, with special guest Chris Tyree, you can do so here:

Manny from San Pedro, Calif.: Eric!!!!!!!!!! When does the magazine come out and who do you think will be the most vocal players in locker room. Our team is always better when we have strong leaders.

Eric Hansen: Manny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!&&&$###)*shjkshdfkjfhkjsdfh ...The NDInsider 2019 Notre Dame Football Annual comes out June 28. If you're are an annual subscriber to ND premium, you'll get that as part of your subscription. If you are not, we'll have links to pre-order it on the home page next week. ... As far as strong leaders, Brian Kelly has not yet named captains yet. I think you can lead even if you're not a captain. I think two of the best leaders are the two starting safeties, Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. I'd put DE Khalid Kareem up there, as well as QB Ian Book, WR Chris Finke and OT Robert Hainsey.

Jacob, Hobart, IN: Kyler Murray was drafted No. 1 in the NFL and No. 9 in MLB. Who is the best two-sport athlete on the ND team? What about in recent history? Samardzija is the first one I think of.

Eric Hansen: The best two-sport athletes on this current team who are actually playing two sports are TE Cole Kmet (baseball) and CB Troy Pride Jr. (track). Braden Lenzy would be outstanding in the sprints if he decides to go back to track. There are other really good multi-sport athletes who choose not ti participate in the second sport.

Michael from Chicago: How much do comments on fan message boards impact recruiting?

Eric Hansen: I asked Tyler James, because I think he has a better feel for that question than I do. We both think the impact is very little. All teams have them and they're basically all the same. You have normal people and lunatics on all of them.

Rich from parts unkown: With the ACC blatant scheduling antics of providing every ACC team a bye before playing ND, does ND have a type of fairness clause that would trigger in an obvious bad-faith scheduling tactic?

Eric Hansen: Rich, from parts unknown, please include your hometown next time, buddy. That is an interesting topic I plan to take a deeper dive into before the season. There are actually seven such opponents in 2019, so it extends well beyond the ACC games. USC is among the other schools. Again, good question I need to do some poking around for.

Jacob, Hobart, Ind.: I was really surprised to see Te'von Coney go undrafted. What didn't teams like about him? Could there be another issue (legal, etc) we didn't know about?

Eric Hansen: There were a couple of things. One is he wasn't ready to compete at the NFL Combine, and it wasn't injury-related. That's a bad look. The other is his skill set would have been a better fit for the way the NFL games were played 10 years ago. In 2019, his pass coverage skills are still not very advanced, and that hurts. Drue Tranquill, on the other hand, 10 years ago, wouldn't be as much in demand as he is in today's football.

Michael from Chicago: Third-leading rusher on this year’s team (assuming Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones are 1 and 2)?

Eric Hansen: I'm torn between Ian Book and Jahmir Smith. I'll go with Book.

James, Texas: Eric, Is there a reason ND is not more active in recruiting out of the graduate transfer portal? I noticed Clemson's respected backup five-star runinng back (and excellent student) is in the graduate transfer portal and is looking at Alabama and Texas. Quality graduate transfers seem like such an efficient use of a roster spot. They come in to plug a hole, don't interfere with underclassmen development, and occupy a roster spot for only one year.

The other obvious place for a graduate transfer opening for ND is at kicker. A solid graduate transfer kicker — easily identifiable — might be the difference between winning and losing a game — or two!!

Best wishes for the summer.

Eric Hansen: James. thanks. There are a few facets here to consider. First is fit. Even if a guy does have his a degree, it doesn't mean necessarily he's an academic fit for Notre Dame graduate school. No. 2 is history. Cornerback Cody Riggs is really the only impactful grad transfer so far that ND has taken. No. 3 is scholarship numbers. Notre Dame has not left a lot of wiggle room in regard to open scholarship spots the past three recruiting cycles. I agree, a kicker makes a lot of sense. I'm not sure there's an elite one available, though ND kicked the tires on TCU's Andrew David. It's definitely something that is considered more than the Irish actually exercise the option.

Jeremy from Goshen, Ind.: Thank you for the chat. In your opinion, who do you predict is the breakout player for the upcoming season on both sides of the ball?

Eric Hansen: Jeremy, I would say one of the young receivers (Austin, Young. Lenzy etc.) and center Jarrett Patterson. On defense, I would say defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, nose guard Jacob Lacey as rotation players, and I'll take a stab at one of the linebackers, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Jack from parts unknown: What are the next facility/program improvements ND can do or are planning to make to continue to stay up to date and even with the other big names in the sport? I have to assume the new complex is already helping a bit on the trail. What other types of things can they be doing they aren’t yet that other schools are?

Eric Hansen: The second phase of the Guglielmino Athletics complex expansion would come next. That will connect the Gug to the new indoor practice facility and also provide a new football-only weight room, academic enhancements in terms of facilities, kitchen facilities for training table (food is currently wheeled in from across campus). It's not just about creating flash for recruits. it's about functionality and helping your football team succeed.

Jeff, Cleveland, Ohio: How strong of a unit do you expect the offensive line to be this year? How about the defensive line as well? As we've always heard, it all begins and ends in the trenches both offensively and defensively!

Eric Hansen: Jeff. I think Notre Dame has positioned itself well here. The move of Jarrett Patterson to center shows plenty of promise. There's been noticeable improvement among the four returning starters. I think this can be one of the better offensive lines in the country. On the D-line, defensive end is ND's strongest position group on the team. There's star power and depth. The key is health on the interior of the defensive line and getting production out of two first-time starters and from their young backups/rotation players.

Dwight from Arkansas: I understand/agree that ND will be a decided underdog at Georgia (maybe a couple of TDs?). What do you see as the difference in the programs? (Speed and SEC preparedness are my guesses).

Eric Hansen: Dwight, I think there are more similarities than you might think. But Georgia has just more of everything. More speed, more depth, more margin for error, because they're recruited and developed so well. DE Robert Beal and WR Demetris Robertson were two coveted prospects that ND had big plans for. They really haven't made an impact at Georgia yet in part because of quality depth. Jay Hayes was a starter at ND, had seven tackles against Georgia in 2017. Last season while playing for Georgia, he didn't have that many tackles all season.

Chad from Toledo, Ohio: Hey Eric we seem loaded at safety and upcoming linebackers! Could this defense and special teams be better than last year? And can we get into playoffs with 11-1 season?

Eric Hansen: Chad, I'm not sure I'd say loaded at safety. There are two really good starters and a couple of promising freshmen. The defense has questions to answer in August if it's going to be better than just better than average. So let's see where we are in August with that. There are scenarios where an 11-1 ND team could make the playoff, but a lot depends on who the loss was to and what everyone else in college football is doing.

Chad from Toledo: I feel like people (nationwide) think ND was a fluke last year, because the 12-0 resulted in a blowout loss to Clemson! But recruiting has been great and depth all over is better. I’ve been telling people ND is for real for the next 2-3 years! Am I drinking the wrong Kool-aid?

Eric Hansen: I'm not sure we talk to the same people. Notre Dame is in a lot of preseason top 10s, which I think is too high. Now, my assessment may change in August. I think Notre Dame has built a foundation and formula for sustainable success. I'm not sure what your definition of "real;" is — championships? 10-win seasons? — but I think the program is in a really good place now with work to do to get to the highest level.

James from Texas: Another answer to your question about brand is that ND has never lost its luster. Based on viewership, ND is the No. 1 or 2 brand in the game. Based on Forbes annual valuation, it is about No. 6 as I recall. ND Stadium remains a bucket list item for sports fans everywhere. The ACC deal six years ago is another testament to brand power.

I'm nut sure what "luster" means, but the fundamentals of the Notre Dame Football brand are the envy of virtually every AD in America.

Eric Hansen: Well put. I think during the Davie/Willingham years, lost luster referred to prestige, image, recruiting clout. People did tune in, but were they doing so for the same reasons some people tune into the Indy 500 or NASCAR? The crashes? Great points, though, and thank you.

Tim from St Louis: Read a comment from Braiden McGregor's mom concerning negative postings from "middle age" fans. She wants them to get a life. As a middle age fan, do you know what fan base she was targeting with this comment ? Let's Go BLUES!

Eric Hansen: Tim, I bet St. Louis is loving the Blues the way the Cardinals are playing ... I believe she was mainly referring to the Notre Dame fan base.

Jeff, Cleveland, Ohio: Eric, Is Chris Tyree the biggest get in recruiting in some time? Not just at running back, but overall? Unless I'm wrong, he seems like he has the potential to be a game-changer from the moment he steps on campus. Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: For a position that hasn't produced an All-American at ND since Reggie Brooks in 1992, Tyree is a indeed a big get, particularly with his elite speed. In the Kelly Era, linebacker Jaylon Smith was the highest-rated prospect to sign with the Irish and remains so, though his talent was squandered to a degree because of who his defensive coordinator was for two years. I'd say the two players who created a ripple when they signed and impacted Notre Dame the most during the Kelly Era were DE Stephon Tuitt and OG Quenton Nelson.

James, Texas: Eric, what do you think of the suggestion that Kelly's greatest weakness at ND has been his tendency to hire under-qualified assistant coaches based on personal relationship or ND connection. The list of examples is long, but most have not worked out well. Denson, Lyght (hired out of a high school) and, of course, VanGorder come to mind. The books on Quinn and Rees are still out, and I'm skeptical.

My thought is that Kelly and ND are always in a strong position to hire a top performing assistant, and Kelly continually makes these relationship hires that do not produce. Elko, Lea and Long are excellent and perhaps signal a turnaround for Kelly in this area.

Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: I'm going to disagree here. I think there are plenty of examples these relationship picks did not work out, but there are instances where they did. Mike Elston is an elite recruiter and an elite position coach with head coaching potential. So he breaks the stereotype. I disagree about Quinn. He's recruited very well, and I think you have to see how this year's line plays to truly get a feel for how he fits as a position coach. My sense is he will change your opinion. As far as Denson, Kelly didn't have a pre-existing relationship with Denson, so I don't think that fits either (it is an ND connection, as you suggested). And Denson was really good at developing his talent. He just wasn't a dynamic recruiter. I think there can be a mix of Elkos/Leas/Hiestands/Longs with coaches you have a connection with.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. We'll crank this up again late week of July/first week in August and do so on a weekly basis throughout football season. Thanks again for all the great questions and be on the lookout for links to order the NDInsider 2019 Football annual.