Chat Transcript: Assessing the Notre Dame LB situation, team speed and what's next at safety

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, the Back From Culver edition. A reminder please include your name and hometown with your question.

We'll skip a review of the other rules, because I'm running a bit behind. A full transcript will be available later on Friday afternoon. Practice No. 6, the first one back on the Notre Dame campus, unfolds tomorrow.

Eric Hansen: Off we go ....

Ryan from Alliance Ohio: 2 questions: 1. Who will be returning kickoffs? 2. Will we see some two-running back sets utilizing both Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr.? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Ryan, we've only seen the punt return "gong show" up to this point, with seven candidates there, led by incumbent Chris Finke. Typically, Brian Kelly likes one of the two deep men to be a good blocker, so Tony Jones Jr. is a strong candidate to fill that role. I think some of the players who will get a look at doing most of the actual returning are Michael Young, Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III, but the initial list of players who will audition there is likely to be longer than that. ... I do think there will be some two-running back sets used this year, but not limited to Armstrong and Jones. It's an ideal fit for freshman Kyren Williams to be involved as well.

Patrick Krueger from Parts Unknown: Two questions: First, where can I get an accurate and up-to-date roster of ALL Notre Dame players on the 2019 team? (even official site doesn't list Kyle Hamilton or Harrison Leonard, for example); Second, we've all heard of running back by committee, are we likely to experience linebacker by committee this season — especially in the first couple games?. After that it becomes a lot more problematic with Georgia, UVA, USC and Michigan looming.

Eric Hansen: You can get a depth chart with all the updated heights and weights here: ... a complete roster without the updated heights and weights is here:

I think you'll see some rotation at linebacker, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some may have niche roles as well. Ultimately, you do want some separation.

Andy from San Antonio, Texas: Hey Eric. Happy Friday to you!! In what you've seen thus far from the Irish, is there a player with "elite" speed. Referring to offense and or special teams, and "elite" speed being someone like Will Fuller. Thanks for the chats! Glad football is back!

Eric Hansen: Andy, thanks for coming back. Cornerback Troy Pride Jr., was clocked at 4.32 in the 40-yard dash this summer, so I would count that as elite speed. On offense, I'd put wide receivers Baden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III in that top category. ND is addressing the speed quotient through recruiting, and running back commitment Chris Tyree has proven to be the fastest player in high school football, at least among those attending national scouting events such as The Opening.

Don from Scottsdale: Eric, Long time no chat. Haven't been able to make it. Read Derrik Allen is transferring. I guess Kyle Hamilton is for real. The season will start whether Clark Lea has figured out the linebackers. Is it too early to guess what how the back seven of the defense will look at kickoff on Sept. 2?

Eric Hansen: It's hard to do so without a crystal ball. I don't think Clark Lea even knows. I'll give it a try. It's safe to assume Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman at safety and Troy Pride at one cornerback spot. I also think Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will start at rover. Donte Vaughn is getting the No. 1 reps at the field cornerback and I'm going to guess Shaun Crawford overtakes him. At linebacker, I'll go with Jack Lamb at the buck and Asmar Bilal at middle linebacker. Neither of those guys lined up with the 1s that way on Thursday, however.

Doye21 from South Bend: With news of Derrik Allen's transfer does that mean Houston Griffith will move back to safety?

Eric Hansen: I'm still kind of processing it (the Derrik Allen transfer), but I've always thought Houston Griffith's best position was safety. And since he isn't projecting as a starting cornerback anyway at this point, it makes sense to make that move. I like the way your mind works when it comes to depth chart engineering. Another possibility is freshman wide receiver Cam Hart, but I like the Griffith move better.

Pogo from Springfield, Mo.: Who replaces Cole Kmet and what do the irish lose with him? Do the linebackers have enough talent to play close to the level of last year's guys? I thought Drue Tranquill and Te'von Coney were really, really good.

Eric Hansen: Brock Wright moves into the starting role and Tommy Tremble, who is a complementary piece even when Kmet is healthy due to his different skill set, will get a chance to expand that role. George Takacs is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster. Chip Long may toy with the idea of using backup tackle Cole Mabry as a blocking tight end in multiple-tight end sets as well. In Kmet, ND is losing a player with elite skill at that position who hasn't had a chance to show it yet. There was going to be more of an emphasis on the tight end this season, because of Kmet, and still will once he returns to the lineup.

The challenge at linebacker isn't talent or depth. It's trying to microwave the experience factor. You're right, Tranquill and Coney were very good. Tranquill, in fact, had an interception for the Chargers Thursday night in a preseason game.

Jack, Strongsville, Ohio: Hi Eric. ND is playing seven teams this season coming off their bye week. Why does Jack Swarbrick present an almost impossible task to his head coach?

Eric Hansen: Jack, Mr. Swarbrick has no control over when other teams schedule their bye weeks (open dates). I did some research, and in the last decade, college football teams won their next game after a bye 47 percent of the time and beat the spread just 51 percent of the time. Brian Kelly bucks that trend. He's 21-2 in his career and 10-1 at Notre Dame following a bye. This season, the game after Notre Dame's bye week is ... Michigan. The Irish play New Mexico after a 12-day layoff.

Bob from New York City: Have they given any indication as to when they’ll update info on Kmet’s injury? I’ve heard 4-8 weeks for a collarbone, so he could be back for Georgia or not back until Bowling Green. Also how well do you think he has to play upon return for this not to impact his NFL draft prospects. Taking that further, does he have a year of eligibility after this and could this mean we get another year of Kmet in 2020?

Eric Hansen: Bob, what a source told me Thursday was 3-6 weeks. Brian Kelly may tweak that timeline in his remarks Saturday after practice. This isn't his first significant injury, so his medicals will be an important part of the evaluative process. Kmet is a true junior, so he does have eligibility in 2020 at Notre Dame.

Steve from Canton, Mich.: Glad to have the best sportscaster back on the airways. I thought I heard that the Michigan game was a night game, though various sites are indicating no time has been confirmed or they are saying 1 p.m. Have you heard any confirmation?

Eric Hansen: Steve, thanks for the kind words. To be honest, it's something I would have to look into and have not had a chance yet. I know it affects fans much more than it does the media.

Don from Scottsdale: When you see practice live, is there a player who catches your eye and you can't stop watching?

Eric Hansen: Well on Thursday it was Michael Young. I really try to watch a little bit of everything, so that I have a better feel for the team. As much fun as it is to watch players who are ascending, it's important to watch those who are struggling, to get a feel what to ask Brian Kelly about.

Pete From Queens, N.Y.: Were there any signs that were noticeable of Derrik Allen possibly transferring in the spring?

Eric Hansen: It did not shock me. I'll be writing about it later this afternoon.

Clancy from Sheboygan: Does Javon McKinley see the field this year in a meaningful way?

Eric Hansen: With Kevin Austin out to start the season because a university-imposed suspension, McKinley is the No. 2 boundary receiver for now (behind Chase Claypool). So yes, he will be counted on for some game reps, at least early in the season.

Mike C. from Reading, PA: Hi Eric. If Ian Book goes down with injury for any length of time, what is the realistic outlook on how far the offense can go with Phil J. at the helm?

Eric Hansen: It really depends on how much Phil improves between now and that hypothetical injury, and which games Book would miss. Phil could probably deliver wins in a stretch that included Duke-Navy-Boston College, for instance. If it were Georgia-Virginia or USC-Michigan-Va. Tech, that probability goes down. A big part of the equation is how is the defense playing at that point in the season.

Pat from Parts Unknown: I personally believe ND has the potential to go 11-1 (loss @ UGA), but some believe road games at that school in the north and Stanford will also be losses. Assuming the naysayers are correct and the Irish go 9-3, what chances do you think they have of keeping top recruits like Chris Tyree and Jordan Johnson?

Eric Hansen: I can't imagine it would negatively affect the recruiting class at all.

Rich from Mine Hill, N.J.: Are any of the speedsters on the team emerging to make their mark on the kick return team or is it to early in fall practice to make a determination on who will be back there?

Eric Hansen: Still early, though they're all getting a look. We haven't seen them "live" yet — just catching punts and having a big bouncy ball thrown at their legs to distract them.

Gerry from Sherman Oaks, Calif.: There is a finite number of practice reps available for the three QBs. With the need to determine whether Phil Jurkovec can be relied upon as the backup,will he receive more reps than would typically go to the No. 2 QB? If so,who will receive fewer — Ian Book or Brendon Clark?

Eric Hansen: I don't see the equation changing. Book still needs reps so that he too can improve and stay sharp. Eventually Brendon Clark will likely take his reps with the scout team. 

Brady Johnson: Over/Under nine wins. What do you say about the Irish?

Eric Hansen: Coming out of spring, I had them right at nine wins. I might be willing to bump that to 10, but I need to see more of the linebackers and cornerbacks.

Kevin from Grand Rapids: I think the linebackers and defensive tackles will surprise with good play making the defense really good. I worry about the running back position. Tony Jones Jr. has not had a real good year yet, and I just don’t see some breakout coming. Jafar Armstrong has only one year experience, and his best was against mediocre teams early in the year. How will they run the ball with success? I have faith in the coaches and my rose-colored glasses say we make the playoff undefeated. P.S. love the chats.

Eric Hansen: Kevin, thanks for joining in. I am much more optimistic about the running back corps than I was at the start of spring. I wouldn't say Armstrong only excelled against mediocre teams. He had two touchdowns against Michigan, 44 yards on 7 carries against Florida State, and missed a chunk of the season because of injury. He is a much-improved player, especially in terms of vision. I expect a big bump in his production this season. BUT, it is imperative that he stays healthy.

Manny from San Pedro: Eric!!!!!!! It’s August!!!!!!! I love the ND talk. My question is. Who leads ND TE in receptions. We are stacked at this position, but will one guy become the Kyle Rudolph?!?

Eric Hansen: Manny!!!!!!! Those exclamation points are sincere. I missed you when we went to the pure mailbag format for a while. Glad you're back. Even with Kmet missing perhaps three games (and maybe fewer), I think he'll lead the tight ends in receptions. I do think he has elite athletic ability for the college game and the pros. He now needs to get healthy and be productive. I think the next tight end we'll speak about in those terms after Kmet is a member of the 2020 recruiting class, Michael Mayer of Park Hills, Ky.

John from Point Beach, N.J.: Eric, If you were a athletic director looking for a head coach, which coordinator on Kelly's staff would you hire to fill the position. Also, would Tommy Rees have to leave Note Dame if he would want to advance to be a offensive coordinator someday?

Eric Hansen: I think offensive coordinator Chip Long, defensive coordinator Clark Lea, special teams coordinator Brian Polian and associate head coach Mike Elston would all get a look. I think it's about fit and what the situation is at the (hiring) school. Is it a rebuilding job? Is it a Group of Five job? What part of the country is it in? From a very general and generic standpoint, I would say Mike Elston is the most ready for the challenge. ... And to your Tommy Rees question, it depends on when the OC vacancy would come at ND. I don't think he would necessarily have to leave and come back, but I think he would need more seasoning to be an OC at this stage of his career. He can get that seasoning as the QBs coach at ND.

Matt from St. Louis: Thank you for doing these chats. If you could have kept one player from last year’s team (eligibility rules don’t apply) for this year, who would it be and why? Also, what is your favorite football team mascot, zoo animal, and board game? Who has been your favorite person to interview in your career?

Eric Hansen: Matt, thank you. It comes down to Julian Love vs. Jerry Tillery vs. Drue Tranquill. I'll go with Tranquill, just because I think he'd bring the other linebackers along faster. Julian Love would be my second choice and Tillery third. ...The other questions are kind of hard, because I haven't given that much thought. I'll go with the cal-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs for the mascot, giraffes for zoo animal. And my 7-year-old grandson has me play "Bugs In The Kitchen" so that'll be my favorite board game. Favorite interview in my career? Father Hesburgh.

Joe from Georgia: Who will have more hits in September, the St. Louis Cardinals, or Alohi Gilman?

Eric Hansen: Being a Cardinals fan is tough these days. I'll go with Alohi.

Ed from Duluth, Ga: Are all walk-ons recruited as preferred walk-ons or do they have tryouts?

Eric Hansen: Most of the walk-ons are preferred walk-ons, but not all of them.

Ryan from Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Hey Eric, love your articles and this new format. I'm sure you're bombarded with Kyle Hamilton questions but wanted to ask if you see any possibility of moving him to boundary cornerback, a la Bobby Taylor, with Pride covering the field? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: It's funny, because someone who covered Bobby Taylor just stopped by the office and said Hamilton reminds him of Taylor. However, I like Hamilton at safety this year and beyond. And remember, you're going to have to replace at least one starting safety, maybe two, next year. I think ND has enough good candidates to solve the cornerback question eventually. Good question, though, and thanks for the kind words.

Vince from Perth Amboy, N.J.: Do you think Isaiah Foskey might get a look at tight end with the injury to Kmet? He did good things as a high school tight end. Plus, there's a lot of depth at defensive end at Notre Dame.

Eric Hansen: I think if the Kmet injury was going to be a longer-term injury, you might look at that option. As it stands, I think you can get by with backup tackle Cole Mabry as a blocking tight end. Foskey has shown so much promise early at defensive end, it would be a shame to move him for a season and slow that momentum for the future.

John from Glenview, Ill.: Hi Eric, great job as always! Just being reported that Derrik Allen will be putting his name into the transfer portal and will be transferring. Given our lack of high end recruiting this year at this position, do you feel we have adequate depth at safety for this year, given Allen’s departure, and do you feel there’s sufficient talent at the position not only for this year, but next year as well?

Eric Hansen: I think there are some good options to fortify the position for 2019. And if Alohi stays for 2020, that helps. But ND is going to have to step up its recruiting efforts at that position for 2020 and beyond. As I mentioned earlier, Houston Griffith and/or Cam Hart would be worth a look short term and long term.

Matt from Augusta N.J.: I hear Drew White is making a push to be a surprise starter. Does this come at the expense of Jack Lamb, who I thought was really pushing for a spot and maybe too good to leave off the field? Where is Lamb struggling for White to take his spot? Also where does the linebacker position stand right now? Who has the lead for all three positions to be a starter now, and where will these guys all end up? It seems they change positions every week besides.

Eric Hansen: Drew White is auditioning at middle linebacker and Jack Lamb at buck, so there's not a conflict there. Give it another week or so and I think the linebacker situation will become much clearer.

Pat from Bordentown: Eric, just jumped on after seeing the Derrik Allen news, so I hope this wasn’t asked already. In your opinion, why do so many top-level recruits seem to flame out at ND? Allen, Darnell Ewell, etc. Love your work, thanks for all the great articles!

Eric Hansen: Pat, thanks. I don't think Notre Dame is all that different than other places. You're going to have misses, and I don't think there are that many that fall into the Allen/Ewell category. Those two didn't work out for very different reasons.

Ken: Pensacola, Fla,: Eric – Don’t have the exact quote, however, but during a Weekday Sportsbeat radio broadcast this week you said that this year’s ND team is the best that Kelly has coached. If that is the case, why is everyone saying that ND will lose when it plays Ga. later this year? Thanks & Go Irish!

Eric Hansen: Hi Ken. I didn't say BEST TEAM. I said it has a good chance to be the best OFFENSE he's coached at ND. There are plenty of questions on the defense and on special teams to mitigate the offensive prowess to some extent.

Phil from Litchfield, Conn.: Eric, What is the most significant area that the Irish need to focus on the most to be best prepared for Georgia on the road in week 3?

Eric Hansen: To NOT focus on Georgia in games 1 and 2.

Matt from Houston: Has Brian Kelly taken any steps to avoid another letdown season like 2016? I know he changed a lot to his approach, but is he taking any steps to avoid cockiness based on preseason expectations? Thanks first-time question asker.

Eric Hansen: The 2016 cratering had nothing to do with preseason cockiness.

Stan from Chester, Va.: Thank you for providing these forums. I was wondering if you have seen enough yet to get a read on the defensive line and the linebackers to form an opinion as to what we can expect to see this season? I know you said that the offensive line could be better than last year's edition, but defense this year seems to be up in the air. By the way, how did the Stancakes go over with the grandkids?

Eric Hansen: Stan, if I put maple syrup on cardboard, my grandkids would eat it. However, Stancakes are amazing. Kudos. As far as the defensive line and linebackers, I've seen one practice in pads, so I want to reserve judgement. The defensive ends will not be a problem, though, I can assure you.

John from Glenview, Ill.: Eric, As a follow up to my previous question, It seems like Alabama and Clemson are not only are getting five-star talent every year, but they are keeping their players for their full collegiate careers. As a result, their depth is outstanding. And when there is an injury or a graduation, they continue on without skipping a beat. What can we do to improve keeping our players here for their four years of eligibility and continue to build outstanding depth, so when a Julian Love injury happens like last year in the Cotton Bowl, we're not out of the ballgame. They must be doing something better than we are to keep that kind of stockpile of talent along with recruiting. Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: Sorry for the delayed response. I had to double check my math. In the last three draft cycles, Notre Dame lost a TOTAL of eight early entries. For Clemson, the number is 11. For Alabama, it's 15. Notre Dame does have to win some of those battles. The Irish did last winter with Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara. The year before it was Te'von Coney, Drue Tranquill and Jerry Tillery. Kelly's philosophy is if the player would benefit staying another year, then try to keep him. If it's in his best interest to go, then let him go. BUT, come back an finish your degree work if you haven't already.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for adjusting to the change to Friday and for all the great questions. I'll be back next Thursday at noon ET to do it all again.