Chat Transcript: Georgia already very much on Notre Dame fans' minds

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, the first one of the 2019 preseason.

Eric Hansen: We'll do these every week through training camp and into the season with the exception of the bye weeks. The live chat will run from noon to around 2:30 or 3 ET each week, but I'll post a link on my Twitter account (@EHansenNDI) every Wednesday so you can submit questions early if you'd like.

Eric Hansen: A reminder, no spitting, swearing, fighting, biting, bare feet, 17-part questions or manifestos. PLEASE, please include your name and hometown with your question. At the end of the chat, I'll draw six names, and those six people will receiver a free copy of our 2019 ND Insider Notre Dame Football Preview.

Eric Hansen: Without further blather, off we go. ...

Ed from Duluth, Ga.: Are you at all concerned about the place-kicking in the coming season? Has it showed any improvement during summer workouts?

Eric Hansen: Ed, full disclosure, the media isn't allowed to view summer workouts, and frankly until the kickers have to kick under duress, you really won't get a sense of who's the better option between junior Johnathan Doerer and freshman Harrison Leonard.

The hope is it won't take until actual game action to make that determination. I like Leonard's mental approach and how he got himself ready for the Notre Dame experience. And yeah. I'd be concerned that two unknowns are competing to replace the most accurate kicker and leading scorer in school history.

Connor from Kalamazoo: Who is going to emerge as the top receiver this year? I feel like we have a lot of really solid receivers but we don’t have that No. 1 guy yet.

Eric Hansen: Connor if you get a chance to read our preview magazine, I wrote about why I think Chase Claypool would emerge as that guy. There's certainly been an evolution in his approach. And he's sustained it for months. He did have a minor surgical procedure on his ankle in early June, but that's not expected to be a factor in training camp other than the coaching stuff easing him in. If you asked me where I'd rank Claypool among ND's top players regardless of position, I'd put him at No. 3, behind only Julian Okwara and Ian Book, and just ahead of Khalid Kareem. I'd also put wide receiver Chris Finke in the top 10 (at No. 8).

Mark from Montrose, Mich.: Eric, glad to see the chats are back, hope all is well. Do you see the offensive line as the weak spot on this year's team? If not the offensive line, then what is the team's biggest are of concern?

Eric Hansen: Mark, thanks for being a part of it. I do NOT see the offensive line as a weakness. My expectation is it will be better than last year's and maybe markedly so. The areas of concern heading into training camp, which starts Sunday, are linebacker, field cornerback/nickel and special teams specialists.

Scott from Muskegon, Mich.: Will there be a Jurkovec sighting in the first two games?

Eric Hansen: Given the competition level of Louisville and New Mexico, it makes sense that we would see Phil Jurkovec in both of those games, which would be ideal in building his confidence and evolving his game.

Matt from St. Louis: Hi Eric. Thank you for doing these. I like the new format. I always read the chat transcripts in the evening or the next day but was never able to submit questions because of work. I have two questions: When did the soundbite from Brian Kelly used before the questions section of the Pot of Gold podcast come from and what is its full context? (It sounds fun and I am curious). And which players on both sides of the ball have to show up like never before for ND to beat Georgia?

Eric Hansen: Hi Matt, I'm glad this new format incorporates the best of both worlds — the live chat and the mailbag. To your questions... the soundbite from Kelly came from the 2016 season, when the NCAA announced it was denying ND's appeal regarding vacated victories. It happened to be right as Kelly's Tuesday press conference was starting for USC week. He wanted to do the USC stuff first, then address the NCAA action (or inaction as it were). There were not many takers ... As far as who needs to bring it, the best version of Ian Book and the best version of Julian Okwara would help the Irish against Georgia and the other really good teams on their schedule.

Steve from St Louis: With the first two games expected to be easier wins for ND, is there any concern they implement the Ball State game plan and try and do just enough to get by (hate this idea) and try not to show Georgia everything or do they put the hammer down?

Eric Hansen: I think there's a miscalculation that the Ball State game plan in 2018 was the result of ND holding back elements of its offense for ... Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. It was just a bad game plan. The thought was to see if Brandon Wimbush could execute as a pocket passer, against an admittedly bad defense. His inability to do so helped push the concept that Book might be the better QB option. I also think ND went into that game way, way too overconfident as a team. So while I think there will be some surprises from ND for Georgia in game 3 on Sept. 21, I don't think you'll see an anemic version of the offense the first couple of games because of that.

Bill: In the offseason everyone makes prediction based on talent and coaching, but often games are decided by turnovers and penalties. Is it possible to get a sense as to how ND will perform in these two areas before the season, or is that something that becomes apparent only when they start playing games?

Eric Hansen: I think penalties are harder to predict, but teams do tend to show long-term patterns in those areas. Navy, for instance, is typically one of the least-penalized teams in the nation. USC typically is one of the most-penalized. As far as turnovers, a new offense line and/or a new quarterback could lead you to believe the team could be turnover-prone on offense. A team with a strong pass rush and elite cornerbacks on defense tends to create turnovers. So you could certainly factor those things into the preseason educated-guess process. I have until Monday to turn in my AP preseason ballot, even though the AP poll won't be released until two weeks after our ballots are in.

Mike from Saratoga: Is there concern about the running back position? I think Jafar Armstrong is the clear No. 1, but who do you think is the No. 2 back? I am worried about the lack of explosiveness there following a year where the stuff-rate percentage on run plays was abysmal.

Eric Hansen: I think the concern would be if Jafar Armstrong was out with an injury for a significant stretch of the season. I don't think there is another running back on the roster who can do what he does at this stage of their career. I think the depth looked surprisingly good in the spring. All five may contribute, with Tony Jones Jr., the clear No. 2 right now, Jahmir Smith surging and Kyren Williams someone who could surge during training camp.

John from Glenview, Ill.: Hi Eric, Although captains have not yet been named, do you like the leadership and team chemistry on this team? It always seems when we have good leadership, we have a good football team. Also, who are you predicting to be team captains?

Eric Hansen: We should know the identity of the captains by Sunday, if not sooner. Brian Kelly initially wanted four, though he could have changed his mind over the summer. Jalen Elliott, Alohi Gilman, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem all seem viable from the defense. Ian Book, Robert Hainsey and Chris Finke are good candidates on offense. A possible surprise from the offense — Chase Claypool. ... As to the overall chemistry, I think it's hard to know how good it is until they have to handle adversity.

Jeff B from Oklahoma City: After a great regular season last year, do you think the team has put the disappointment of another poor showing on the biggest stage against Clemson past them? Was there a difference in that shellacking versus the one they took against Alabama (in the 2012 season) as far as how they looked? The result was the same. Is it a mental thing in these games more at this point or just still overmatched from a talent standpoint?

Eric Hansen: I think what Clemson did to Alabama in the championship game changed the perception of ND-Clemson for a lot of people, both inside and outside the program. I know Brian Kelly is convinced the Clemson score wasn't indicative of the gap between the two programs, that he believes the Irish are much closer. He also believes the Alabama game in 2012/13 absolutely exposed how big the gap was back then. What I think the Clemson game showed foremost was ND's need to get elite speed at running back and wide receiver, and the importance of depth at key defensive positions.

Kyle from Orlando Fla.: Eric, who has the third-most rushing yards this year? Assuming Armstrong and Jones have first and second. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: I'll go with Ian Book.

Vince from New Jersey: Do you see the depth/athletic nature of linebackers is reason to feel positive about 2019, even with the two skilled guys gone? And can ND reach CFP again.? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: The depth and athleticism of the linebacker corps is the reason there is hope for the position long term. How that plays out in the short term is going to make a difference in ND's win total this season. If they struggle through October, this is probably not a playoff team. If they surge during training camp, it gives a projected 9-3 team the chance to better than that. There certainly are other factors in play, but the linebacker position may be the most impacting among the preseason question marks.

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric, I hope you have a rejuvenating vacation. Did Kelly meet with individual players this off season like he did two years ago after his renaissance?

Eric Hansen: GB, His plan was to meet with them but not to the depths he did in 2016. Doing so on an annual basis helps keep another 2016 from happening.

Jacob from Versailles, Ohio: Eric, how do you feel about how ND handled single-game tickets for the USC game this year? They forced fans into buying tickets to two extra home games and into buying a $100 “donation” (being forced to donate doesn’t seem very charitable) to the Rockne Heritage Fund in order to purchase a single-game USC ticket. Even the cheapest tier of tickets came out over $400, making it impossible for the common fan to go to the USC game. Also, it makes it hard for fans who don’t live in South Bend, because they don’t plan on making the trip there three times instead of one.

Eric Hansen: Jacob, I think you make some really good points about the affordability and logistical aspects of forcing a three-game commitment just to get inside the stadium for USC. There is already tiered pricing, so this seems to be heavy-handed.

Rick Dierolf from Sinking Spring, Pa.: Eric, so glad the chats are back. You do an amazing job covering ND football, so thank you. My question is do you think this team is finally ready to handle the big stage they will see in Athens (Ga.) against the Bulldogs or will it be more of the same like against Miami and Clemson?

Eric Hansen: Rick, I'm not sure if this matchup is about the big stage as much as it is personnel vs. personnel. Both teams figure to have elite offenses. The big question is how will ND's defense stack up against what Georgia will bring defensively. The Bulldogs have questions to answer on defense in their training camp, too, but I think they have a greater margin for error at this point. I also think Ian Book has to show he can be good against a really good defense. He doesn't have much experience with that, but he had a tremendous spring. Now if you pair this ND offense with last year's Irish defense against this Georgia team? I think it would be an amazing matchup. Oh, and thanks for the kind words.

Joe from Georgia: Of all the party-line intel this Summer, which bit(s) are you most buying? What is most "real?"

Eric Hansen: Joe, I'm not sure all what you've heard and read, so this is a little tough for me to qualify. I always prefer to see a couple of practices, and usually what that tells me is about 60 percent of what I heard about over the summer was actually true.

Nick from Blacklick, Ohio: Are you surprised that Notre Dame didn't land any linebackers in their current recruiting class, especially considering this was an area of concern on the current roster?

Eric Hansen: They could have landed linebackers had they chosen to pursue them — and certainly could double back later in the cycle if they change their minds. But they like the 13 they have on the roster, 10 of whom have freshman or sophomore eligibility. The concern for 2019 isn't a lack of talent of lack of options, it's the collective lack of experience.

Rich from Mine Hill, N.J.: Special teams question!!!! Will this finally be the year ND finds another "Rocket" to fuel our kick return game? Seems like we have several speedsters now on the roster who should get a chance at the job. Who do you see or think will be "the guy"?

Eric Hansen: The next "Rocket" is a high, high bar, but there is a potential for better speed options in the return game in 2019. I would say 2020, when Chris Tyree is on campus, is a year potentially when the Rocket comparisons get a little more serious.

Rick Sanfilippo: I read that John Shannon probably will leave after this year, giving up his redshirt year, why?

Eric Hansen: I have not spoken to John or coach Brian Kelly about that, and really haven't looked into it. I'm sure that'll come up sometime during camp. If it is true, it's quite likely he just wants to get on with his life after getting his degree.

Roger from DHS in Calif.: Great seasons are defined by great defenses, and defenses need to be able to stop the running game or will never get off the field. With the losses/graduations in the middle of the defensive line and linebackers, can those losses be covered by defensive scheme changes or do they have to rely on development by the replacement players for those positions?

Eric Hansen: Roger, as you know, anytime you have an elite pass rush, you have a chance to be really good on third down and cover up some flaws elsewhere in the defense. The question is, can you get to third down? If you struggle at inside linebacker and/or interior defensive line, it's hard to pretty that up with scheme. Those players have to develop and stay healthy. Again, this is not a long-term talent equation as much as it is a short-term experience equation.

Franz: I am curious as to how coaches evaluate potential recruits, particularly the measurables. Grades can be verified with a long-distance phone call, but how is athletic ability evaluated over long distances? With the video of Colin Gamble running a 40-yard dash apparently sparking an offer from ND after a long line of communication, I thought this was a good time to ask. A player can go along way to earning an offer through drills at ND camps, but that is not always possible for recruits to travel to ND. When coaches visit high schools, are they allowed to set up individual work outs? Are there places they get vertical jumps, 40 times and three-cone times they feel are reliable? How much are high school coaches relied on?

Eric Hansen: Franz, if you can include your hometown the next time you submit a question, I'd appreciate it. There are a whole bunch of questions here, so let me try to distill this a bit in my answer. The evaluation starts with Bill Rees, ND's director of scouting. Brian Kelly says the elder Rees is the best talent evaluator in the country. There are other people and layers involved, but this is where it starts. Rees only evaluates the physical traits. The coaches must evaluate "fit." Let's look at the case of recruiting Chase Claypool, who came from Canada. Kelly received a tip from a friend who coaches and worked in Canada. Mike Denbrock initially got some film of Claypool playing basketball. Kelly wanted to see more, specifically football tape. Once they had that, they needed verifiable numbers in terms of 40 times, etc., to keep the interest flowing. Once they did, then ND was ready to invest the resources to determine fit. Certainly high school coaches help, particularly ones you have a history with. Assistant coaches can watch prospects at their school working out and also playing in games during designated times of the year. They can not orchestrate a "tryout" per se.

Jake from Seal Beach, Calif.: What is one player on offense and one player on defense that will emerge from the relatively unknown to make people open their eyes? Somewhat like Jafar Armstrong and Jalen Elliot did last year.

Eric Hansen: Center Jarrett Patterson on offense. Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on defense.

Matt from Augusta, N.J.: Have you thought about your personal preseason top 25. Where does ND rank? And where do you have Michigan ranked. I see No. 7 (in the coaches poll), which is high as usual. Is Michigan over-ranked again?

Eric Hansen: I plan on getting to it Saturday or Sunday. So I'm not sure where I'd have the Irish ranked. My sense is somewhere between 11 and 15. Same goes with Michigan. Still gathering information.

Bob from NYC: Hey Eric, with all the talent at the linebacker position, it seems likely to me that at least one will have a breakout year, even if they aren’t as reliable of a unit as they were last year. Who would your pick be to be that breakout player from the linebacker group?

Eric Hansen: Bob, I really liked Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah the last week or so of spring. Training camp is a different animal. Based on spring, I'd say Jack Lamb, but by the middle of training camp, it could be someone completely different. The hard part is you're not breaking in one new starter, you'll be breaking in three news ones, with only Asmar Bilal having played much in 2018 —and at a different position.

Jeff from Canton, Mich.: I think Georgia is the biggest and toughest game on ND's schedule this year. Interestingly, the Louisville game helps prepare ND for that road game: Both games on the road, at night, hot muggy conditions, hostile crowd and a team with red-and-black colors. Obviously, UL is not anywhere near UGA from a personnel standpoint. What do you see Notre Dame doing to better compete against top competition this year? I really don't want to see a 30-3 score in Athens.

Eric Hansen: Georgia -ND in 2017 was a great game. Georgia-ND in 2018 would have been a great game. Georgia in 2019 has more talent. They've recruited better. ND has done a good job of developing its talent. Part of the equation of closing the gap on the very elite teams is recruiting. With the exception of the defensive back position, ND is trending in the right direction in the current cycle.

John from Glenview, Ill.: Eric, Lance Taylor has really seemed to make a huge difference in our recruitment of running backs, given the commitment of Chris Tyree. What has he done in such a short amount of time to be able to land a player of Tyree's ability? Do you expect him to have an equally big impact on our current group of running backs? Thanks and keep up the great work. Really glad your back on weekday SportsBeat!

Eric Hansen: Thanks John. I wrote about that earlier in the summer. It was a free preview of a story in our magazine:

Ernesto from Altoona, Pa.: Hey Eric, do you think this is one of Brian Kelly's deeper teams. If not, what might you consider the deepest team as far as depth goes in your tenure? It seems as a lot of effort has gone into building more depth so that one injury does not prove to be the downfall of the entire season. Thanks, and keep up the great work appreciate all the info.

Eric Hansen: I do think there's good depth on this team, perhaps the best across the board, but that doesn't mean you have answers at the top of the depth chart at every position. That's kind of the nature of college football, period. The fewer misses you have in recruiting, the more margin for error you have. And certainly having an very good strength and conditioning program helps prevent and mitigate injuries.

RK: What are the chances that ND flips a top DB commit? If not, will the Irish wait until 2021 to try to lure five-star DB talent?

Eric Hansen: Not sure your definition of "top" DB commit, but ND adding a DB from someone else's class later in the cycle is a possibility. It's certainly not imminent. The plan is to add more than one DB to the 17 players already in the 2020 class, and there's been a recalibration of the DB board recently. It's doubtful that the additions will be of a five-star caliber. ND is already recruiting for all positions in the 2021 class, so it's not an either/or proposition when it comes to adding DBs. Now with other positions, there is not an urgency to add players in the 2020 class.

Chris from Newmarket, N.H.: Hi Eric, welcome back. I heard on Sportsbeat the other day that right now you are predicting a 9-3 record. What would be one thing that, if I told you it would definitely happen, would move the needle for you to predict an 11-1 or 12-0 regular season?

Eric Hansen: The thing(s) that would move the needle for me: 1. A collective surge in linebacker play across the board; 2. Strong answers at the field cornerback position opposite Troy Pride and at nickel; 3) No significant injuries to the interior defensive line; 4) Better than average special teams, particularly at the two specialist positions.

Matt from Augusta, N.J.: I think we have a lot of young talented linebackers on the roster but not enough spots to have them all play. Are you surprised they are stating Marist Liufau at rover. With Jack Kiser coming back, why start two freshmen at the same position to start their careers?

Eric Hansen: You have 13 players for three spots. Ten of them are freshman or sophomore eligibility, so it makes sense to put them at the position that they have the best chance to help the team. Either or both Liufau and Kiser could eventually grow into an inside linebacker.

Joe from Georgia: Why is there more access to camp this year? Is it partly a function of fewer and fewer fannies in ND's seats? Publicity would help, yes?

Eric Hansen: The media has access to five full practices and parts of three others. I don't think it has a thing to do with ticket sales. We're going to write about the team whether we're in the practices or not. Adding exposures makes for better reporting, and I think Brian Kelly viewed that as a positive after opening things up in the spring.

Matt from Lombard, Ill.: Eric, with great safeties and defensive ends on this defense, ND's weakness would seem to be up the middle. Is there a concern that Georgia will simply run the ball through the middle of ND's defense? Will be interesting to see what Clark Lea comes up with for this.

Eric Hansen: If the game were held this spring, that's exactly what would have happened. I do like that Clark Lea is the coordinator and the position coach for the linebackers. That gives me more confidence that this is an area that will evolve. Now how quickly and to what extent?

Jake from Seal Beach, Calif.: Who steps up to be the No. 3 and No. 4 wide receiver?

Eric Hansen: My sense is Michael Young and Kevin Austin, once Austin's "punishment" ends. Keep in mind, i think you'll see the tight ends very much involved in the passing game as well as the running backs.

Eric Hansen: OK, that's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. I picked six winners at random for free copies of the 2019 ND Insider Notre Dame Football Preview: Scott from Muskegon, Mich.; Mike from Saratoga; Matt from Lombard, Ill., Jake from Seal Beachn Calif.; Jeff B from Oklahoma City and John from Glenview, Ill. If you're one of those people, please email me your address ( We'll be back to do it all over again next Thursday at noon ET.