Chat Transcript: Clearing up the misconceptions as Notre Dame football nears its opener

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, post-Media Day edition. We had a chance to hear from all the Irish assistant coaches and Brian Kelly Wednesday. Now I'm eager to hear from you.

PLEASE include your name and hometown along with you question. Let's get started.

Brian from South Bend: Hey Eric, Appreciate the great work you do covering the Irish. So my question involves the ND offense. There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding that side of the ball this year. I believe most of that optimism stems from Ian Book's passing efficiency, Chase Claypool's potential for a breakout year and also because of a really good O-line. However, it doesn't appear that ND has a player on offense that would be comparable to recent Irish speedsters like Will Fuller, Josh Adams or even Dexter Williams in terms of pure explosiveness. Should the Irish be concerned about a lack of explosiveness on offense against the better defensive teams they will see this year or will Ian Book's efficiency and a little dose of Chase Claypool make all the difference for them this year? Or is my perception of what they have on offense totally wrong?

Eric Hansen: I think there are different ways to be explosive, and yards after the catch and yards after contact is one of them. That was offensive coordinator Chip Long's biggest criticism of his own 2018 offense and a big emphasis this spring and in training camp.

He has been pleased with the progress in that area. As far as elite speed guys, the Irish need to continue to recruit and develop them in greater numbers, and running back recruit Chris Tyree is in that next wave.

On this year's team, sophomore WRs Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III are young players with elite speed that are evolving into those kinds of weapons. Michael Young, when healthy, is starting to project as that kind of dangerous player. I think Jafar Armstrong, a former Kansas state sprint champ, will play faster this year, because of his vision and how to use his blocks are so much better. And Cole Kmet, when healthy, offers a potential game-breaker at the tight end position. So there are some possibilities that exist in the areas that are giving you concerns.

Jake from Hermosa Beach, Calif.: How do you think ND will utilize Kyle Hamilton?

Eric Hansen: I think he can fill a lot of roles. He can rotate in at either safety spot and give Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott a break. He can play with Gilman and Elliott in ND's dime (six-DB) package. He'll play on special teams. He's put himself in a great situation to help this team.

Cliff from Battle Creek, Mich.: Hi Eric, love what you do! The "live" chats are great! I've been seeing some narrative around nationally that Book hasn't taken much of a step forward. Does this match what you've been seeing and hearing?

Eric Hansen: Thanks Cliff. That's not the vibe I'm getting from Book at all, and he was particularly sharp in Wednesday's practice. Has he been perfect every practice the media has been invited into watch? Nope. The thing I like about Book the most is how he's attacked the areas that were his shortcomings last season. Another thing I liked was his mustache, which he shaved off earlier this week.

Jeremy From South Bend: What do you believe is holding Braden Lenzy back from taking over while Michael Young is out with an injury?

Eric Hansen: Consistency. He'll have stretches where he looks like a starter in practice and others where he kind of disappears. I like his confidence, his willing to work to get consistent. He's gotten a lot stronger, which should help him avoid getting jammed at the line of scrimmage. He's moving in the right direction, but he hasn't arrived.

Mike from Cincinnati, Ohio: Hey Eric, I have not heard much talk about the interior D-line. Big shoes to fill there. What have you seen from that group that is promising and what have you seen that could be a challenge?

Eric Hansen: The quality of the defensive ends next to them on both sides is going to make them better. There's not a standout, like Jerry Tillery, but they go three deep at each position, and the backups this year can make a difference over four quarters.

The offensive line/defensive line assessment is less straightforward when watching practice, in part because sometimes there's no element of surprise when it comes to play-calling on either side. I think the position group is good, not great, with the potential to grow significantly over the season. This is also a group that needs to stay healthy.

Josh from Sacramento, Calif.: Eric, thoughts on Jack Lamb? Are we going to see a lot of him this year even if he doesn’t end up the starter?

Eric Hansen: Josh, thanks. I like the sophomore linebacker a lot, in the present and in the future. He's built some momentum in his development after playing just four games as a senior in high school because of injuries and being sidelined his initial spring at ND as an early enrollee in 2018. I love what he brings in coverage and could see him becoming a very good all-around linebacker. I expect him to be in the main playing rotation this season and should especially get strong consideration to be on the field on third downs.

Bill Robi from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: If Cole Kmet and Michael Young are out 10 weeks in worst-case scenario, does it make sense to preserve another year of eligibility? Keep up the great work. Must be hard to be humble when YOU know you are the best.!! Go Irish!!

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Bill. I would really be surprised if Kmet didn't return sometime in September, so it wouldn't make sense to redshirt him. With Young, it depends on when he returns. If it's not until late October, then maybe you only play him in four games and get the redshirt year, but again I think he'll be back before that. Good question and worth keeping an eye on.

Stan from Chester, Va.: Hello Master Sports Journalist Extraordinary. Love your work as you know. After watching several VERY short snippets of ND practices, it seems to me that Ian Book is quicker and sharper in all phases of his game than Phil Jurkovec and Brendon Clark. Is that just my perception or have you taken note of the same. Could it be just experience playing a role or is Book that much more dynamic in his delivery?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Stan of Stancakes fame. Book has a natural quick delivery, which is accentuated by his quick decision-making and extensive knowledge of the offense. Jurkovec is a longer-lever guy at 6-foot-5, but I've noticed a better comfort level in his game with each passing week, including his delivery. Haven't watched Clark that much. He looks like a guy trying to find his way. If I were grading him, I'd give him an incomplete, which is expected.

Kaz from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric. About a week ago Brian Kelly said that, though Chase Claypool and Troy Pride Jr. were competing at a high level during practice, they were careful not to hurt the other guy: "They keep the other guy up." So when it came to Cole Kmet getting hurt when Alohi Gilman landed on Kmet, was Gilman too aggressive in his coverage? And I don't think we ever heard just how Young was hurt. Was the defensive back involved in the injury? From the outset I didn't like how Kmet was injured, and especially feel this way after hearing BK's comments re Claypool and Pride. Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: Having had a son who broke his collarbone playing football, as a dad I wanted to blame the defender, but it was really about how my son landed awkwardly. I think the same holds true having watched both the Kmet and Young injuries happen live. They were both on 1-on-1 drills. Both involved diving catches. I can't remember the defender on the Young play, but I didn't see anything that would cause me to blame the defensive player for either injury. Gilman didn't cause Kmet to land awkwardly. He did land on him, but not in the shoulder area to my recollection.

Mike from Cincinnati, Ohio: Eric, I am assuming no news is bad news here, but any update on Kevin Austin's status? Is he getting practice reps?

Eric Hansen: The Irish started going to scout (or demo) teams for the first time in camp on Wednesday, to work against the No. 1 and 2 units. Kevin Austin is getting work on the scout team against the No. 1 and 2 defenses. That's pretty consistent with previous players who started the season with university-imposed suspensions.

Brian from Detroit: Who will be the starters at linebacker against Louisville?

Eric Hansen: I think you'll see a rotation of five guys inside, but my educated guess as the starters are Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (rover), Asmar Bilal (buck) and Drew White (middle).

Jake from Carlisle, Ky.: Hey Eric, how solid do you believe our running game will be this year?

Eric Hansen: If Jafar Armstrong goes injury-free, I think it has the potential to be surprisingly good. If he misses a large stretch of the season, I think it will be slightly below average. The depth is good, but Armstrong is key.

Tim from Franklin Park, N.J.: How much confidence does the coaching staff have in punter Jay Bramblett and kicker Jonathan Doerer? If they are struggling, do you expect Brian Kelly to be more aggressive and go for it more on fourth downs as a result?

Eric Hansen: The confidence in both players has grown tremendously during the past couple of weeks. Now, games are different than practices. Justin Yoon told us this week on the Pod of Gold Podcast that one of the most difficult kicks of his career was a 38-yarder ... in a 38-3 game. ... And that was because it was his first in a game situation. I'll agree with the coaches. Doerer and Bramblett have improved a lot during training camp. Harrison Leonard, too. That kid can punt as well.

Stephen from Toledo, Ohio: Hey Eric! I gotta tell ya, I’m a huge fan of your writing and info on NDFB! I got two questions for you. First question is more of a comparison between teh Book and Kizer offenses. I believe it was the 2016 season with Kizer under center that had probably the best Kelly offense to date. I keep hearing how this offense has the potential to be Kelly’s best. Comparing the two, what is it that you think is the key parts that will be better and a few that fall short. Second question is can you please share your beer brat recipe lol you seem to know good taco bars and all the best barbecue spots around the county, so I gotta try these brats! Thanks again and go Irish!

Eric Hansen: Stephen, thanks for the kind words AND the interest in beer brats! To your football question. I think you're thinking about 2015 and not 2016 when you're talking about best Kelly offenses. Actually, the 2017 numbers are a little better than 2015, notably in scoring, red-zone offense and turnovers lost. What it lacked was balance, and that came back to bite ND in the games when it really needed to throw the ball.

As for the 2015 strengths, you had three future first-round draft picks starting on the O-Line (Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey), a second-rounder (Nick Martin) and a guy who would have played in the NFL (Steve Elmer) had he not chosen a business career.

You had an elite wide receiver, first-rounder Will Fuller, who could stretch a defense and open the other offensive options up with his speed. You had a multi-dimensional quarterback with a good efficiency rating.

I think this offense has a quarterback who will have a higher efficiency rating than Kiser. The offensive line collectively is very good. Cole Kmet is a better tight end option than anyone on the 2015 team. The slot and boundary receivers are much better than 2015's. ... As far as the food questions, shoot me an e-mail, and I'd be happy to share (

Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Donte Vaughn seems to have disappeared. Is he out of contention for a starting CB?

Eric Hansen: No, he's still competing for it. He had a quad injury that limited his contact periods in practice.

Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Hi Eric. Good to be back. Still enjoying your reporting! Don't think of retiring!

Eric Hansen: Thank you. Hasn't crossed my mind.

Matt from St. Louis, Mo.: Eric, Which previous ND running back does Kyren’s style/ability most remind you of?

Eric Hansen: Theo Riddick.

RC from Albany, N.Y.: Hi Eric, I hope that you are well. I really enjoyed the last couple of podcasts with the former players. Kory Minor's comments about ND not doing enough to reach out to former players was very interesting. You have covered several ND head coaches. Do you agree with Kory's perspective? In your opinion has Brian Kelly made less of an effort to foster a culture that actively engages former players? I would think that this would be a valuable tool to help in recruiting — as well as promoting positive "traits" with the players currently on the roster. Second question for you: I have been scratching my head that Houston Griffith has been taking reps at corner, while Shaun Crawford has been at safety. Given the promise Griffith showed at safety last preseason and Crawford's strong play at nickel and corner in prior seasons, do you expect them to switch positions anytime soon?

Eric Hansen: RC, Kory's comments surprised me a bit too. I used to hear them often, fairly or unfairly, during the Charlie Weis regime. Reggie Brooks has been an asset in the Kelly Era of keeping most alums feeling included. Maybe Kory slipped through the cracks. Great guy, and definitely worth rectifying that situation.

You and I kind of look at the Griffin situation similarly, but Crawford has looked good wherever they plug him in this month. I think you'll see Crawford play safety, nickel and corner this season. On Wednesday, he was lined up as the No. 1 field cornerback during 11-on11 and 7-on-7 periods.

Scott from Charlotte: Any chance we can be dynamic on punt returns this year? And if so, who’s the guy?

Eric Hansen: The gong show of seven contestants has been pared to two — incumbent Chris Finke and sophomore Lawrence Keys III. The Irish ranked 56th nationally at 9.8 per return on 20 returns last season. ND values ball security above all else on punt returns, and the Irish were turnover-free in that area. Minnesota led the nation at 22.2 per return on 12 returns in 2018. CFP teams Alabama and Oklahoma were about 5 yards better than ND on returns, Clemson a couple of yards worse.

I could see modest gains in this year's return game, but I don't think ND will be elite in that area.

Michael from Chicago: Any positive updates on the other freshman that aren’t as widely talked about (Ajavon, etc.)?

Eric Hansen: Michael, it's hard to know which ones you want to hear about besides Ajavon. I don't know which ones aren't being talked about. Remember, some positions lend themselves to more opportunities than others. For example, Isiaiah Foskey at defensive end is really good, but there isn't a lot of opportunity at the moment for him.

You mentioned safety Litchfield Ajavon. I don't see him getting high-leverage snaps at safety this year. He tackles well (and hard). I think you'll see him a lot on special teams. Coverage is where his area of potential growth exists as this stage.

Warren from Layton, Utah: Eric, great job. How about a little Football 101? Educate me re the linebacker positions — the latest version. What are responsibilities, abilities, who plays where, etc. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Warren, thanks. This will be an oversimplified version. All three linebackers in ND's scheme play in space more and have to be at least adequate in coverage than even just a few years ago. Big 250-pound downhill linebackers won't exist in this scheme. The middle linebacker plays in the most-congested space. He generally also makes the defensive calls. The buck plays on the weak side of the formation, so on the side where there isn't a tight end lined up, in general. He has similar run and pass responsibilities to the middle linebacker, but with more space to cover. The rover generally plays on the strong side, where the tight end lines up. He may end up covering the tight end or a slot receiver. He may rush the passer. He must be strong in his run fits. He plays in space more than the other two.

Nick from Coldwater, Ohio: Eric, I'm stoked to hear about the potential that Kyle Hamilton has for us as a freshman. After reading up on recruiting, do we need to have four of five of those caliber players to compete with Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, etc.?

Eric Hansen: The more talent you have, the greater margin of error you have. But it's not just about talent. It's about fit and player development as well. Aaron Lynch wasn't at fit at ND back in 2011, so was it worth bringing him in for a year? And remember the star system is an inexact science. Hamilton was a three-star prospect for a long time.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hi Eric. Regarding recruiting, will most recruiting visits revolve around the USC weekend? Can you name two recruits that are still in play and would be great fits (I assume primarily at safety/corner)? Any recruit flips possible?

Eric Hansen: Jeff the USC game won't be the centerpiece game for the 2020 class, which is almost full. There are two defensive backs set to visit for the Sept. 28 game with Virginia: Ramon Henderson — 6-2, 183 from Bakersfield, Calif. — and Collin Gamble — 5-10, 185 from Argyle, Texas. Absolutely, flips are possible. No previous Kelly class at ND has fewer than two flipped recruits in it.

Joe from Georgia: Would you agree that making plays on the ball in the air/winning more 50/50 balls has been an obvious defensive back improvement under Todd Lyght's tutelage? Has that trend accelerated since Clemson?

Eric Hansen: Julian Love was really good at it. I think I've seen some stretches in practices where the cornerbacks excel in that area, but it's very, very difficult to win those when it involves Chase Claypool playing wide receiver.

Jon fron Mishawaka: Hi Eric. Do you think Doerer, barring bad weather, consistently get touchbacks on the kickoff?

Eric Hansen: He's got the leg to do so. He's stronger physically than the past couple of seasons. Jonathan still has to clear the mental hurdle of executing that in games ... and yes, even on kickoffs.

Phil from Chicago: I have seen a lot of preseason love for Tommy Kraemer by national media but very little for Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey. I get that a big part of the Tommy Kraemer love is the national media being lazy, but why aren't the others (who could be high draft picks) being talked about more?

Eric Hansen: Also laziness and also because it's hard to quantify. How do you measure Hainsey's excellence unless you watch hours of film and/or talk to Jeff Quinn? And then how do you do it without watching every other lineman for comparison? Speaking of Quinn, he was available for the first time (and probably the last time) during camp on Wednesday, He called Hainsey "the most technically sound player I've ever coached." Eichenberg did get some love from Dane Brugler of The Athletic. The draft analyst has him listed as the No. 4 draft-eligible offensive tackle in all of college football this year.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, what's the greatest takeaway for this team from camp and practice that you have seen so far? Thanks - GO IRISH!!!!!!!

Eric Hansen: Not the broadest, but the greatest ... it's stunning how much better than safety position is in 2019 than it was as recently as 2017. ... The broadest takeaway? This team is not a finished product, so there's a chance to get better ... or not.

Joe from Williams Bay, Wis.: Eric, I am concerned about the play so far of our offensive line protecting the passer. Granted they are going against two potential All-Americans. Are you at all concerned or am I just nervous before the opener?

Eric Hansen: You are just nervous before the season opener. Strangely, ND doesn't play a team that sacked the QB with any regularity until game 6 against USC (43rd in sacks). Half of its opponents ranked 88th or lower in sacks last season (including Georgia, which stunningly was 100th). I like ND's tackles. I think they're improved, I think all the running backs are good in blitz pickup. I think Book is better in the pocket under pressure. Barring injury, I don't anticipate this being a problem area.

JTap from Abilene, Texas: We hear a lot about Jafar Armstrong being a former sprint champion, but I can’t recall any games where he looked particularly explosive or pulled away from the defense on a long run. Do you think he has that in him?

Eric Hansen: I do, and I think he can do it in the passing games as well.

Jeff from York, Pa.: Eric, are a lot of people angry at the ticket office for the way they are selling tickets to the USC game? I love ND, but I can only come to one game every year because it takes me 12 hours to drive to South Bend. However, to see the USC game I have to buy a three-pack. This is stupid!

Eric Hansen: I haven't gauged the anger levels on this, although it came up in a previous chat, and that guy was definitely angry. I've got a Q & A with athletic director Jack Swarbrick running this weekend. That's one of the things we discussed, so stay tuned for that.

Pat from Evergreen Colo.: Eric, Can you talk about the relationship between Todd Lyght and Terry Joseph?

Eric Hansen: Terry Joseph is in charge of the entire defensive backfield, but works mostly with the safeties in individual periods in practice. Todd Lyght coaches the cornerbacks. I know at one point he coached DBs with no help (under Brian VanGorder). He welcomed being able to focus on one position group instead of two.

Matthew from Indianapolis: How many times a game do you see Ian Book throwing the ball? Hopefully, we can establish the running game and get some play-action looks early.

Eric Hansen: Offensive balance is what Chip Long and Brian Kelly prefer. Sometimes the score or the looks that the opposing defense gives you change the formula. There's not a set number that they're trying to achieve in each game of passing attempts.

Jeremy from South Bend: It seems that the concerns about the depth of the interior defensive line have quieted down a lot since the spring. Which role players have risen up since then to alleviate that concern?

Eric Hansen: Ja'mion Franklin; Jacob Lacey, Jayson Ademilola, Howard Cross.

Rick Dierolf from Sinking Spring, Pa.: Hey Eric, how would you rate this team as far a speed goes in the Brian Kelly era?

Eric Hansen: I'd say better than most, including tight end and defensive end. They still need to continue to recruit and develop it at the running back and wide receiver positions.

Joe from Georgia: Final week of camp. Big picture question: You are The Czar of college football. What three things, on ANY aspect of the game, would you modify/eliminate? Recruiting? Administration? Rules? Anything.

Eric Hansen: Hard to come up with off the top of my head, but I'll give it a shot ... consistency in calling targeting penalties, no FCS opponents if you're a power 5 school, giant turkey legs for sale at every stadium (they had them at Air Force in 2013). Seriously it's a great question. I'd need time to mull it.

Tom from South Bend: While we are on the subject of tickets, it seems like there is still a surplus of tickets available for most games this year. Is this the year they let the sellout streak end or will they continue giving a bunch of tickets away on days leading up to the games?

Eric Hansen: Ticket sales are getting tougher for everyone. I don't think ND, however, will let the streak go gently into the good night.

Jon from Mishawaka: Has ND used a fullback, in the traditional role, in practice?

Eric Hansen: No. But they'll use tight ends in fullback-type ways.

JTap from Abilene, Texas: Besides Book, who is the player ND cannot afford to miss a significant amount of time due to injury?

Eric Hansen: Liam Eichenberg, Jafar Armstrong, Chase Claypool, Julian Okwara, Troy Pride Jr., come to mind. I'd put both safeties if Kyle Hamilton didn't exist.

Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Oftentimes, the problem with the speedy wide receiver, track-type guys, is they have questionable hands. Is that the case with Lenzy, Keys or Wilkins?

Eric Hansen: That's particularly not the case with Keys. Quite the opposite. Haven't seen a lot of drops this month from the other two.

Michael from Chicago: Thoughts on Bo Bauer not being mentioned in the core linebacker group?

Eric Hansen: The depth chart can and probably will change in the coming months and years. if he keeps working. he has a chance to be relevant. He's already a core player on special teams.

Dale from whereabouts unknown: How come we’re hearing lots about Cole Mabry and Jarrett Patterson but not John Dirksen?

Eric Hansen: Dale, wherever you come from, Patterson is a starter. Dirksen is not.

Chris from Chicago: There's been a lot of talk recently regarding the diminishing importance of rushing the ball in the NFL — particularly, studies have shown that passing is much more efficient, leads to more points, and they even go so far to show that, counterintuitively, "establishing the run" isn't necessary for play-action throws to be successful. What are your thoughts on this as it pertains to the college game? I think ND needs to become a more efficient team rushing the ball, but that doesn't mean they have to do it more often.  I don't want them to get bogged down in the concept of "establishing the run."

Eric Hansen: Chris, they are two different games and trend different statistically in part because the rules are different in the passing game ... and for other reasons.

In college football there are five key metrics in which championship teams tend to excel: rush offense, pass efficiency, rush defense, total defense and turnover margin.

Pass efficiency and pass offense aren't interchangeable. Pass offense is relatively irrelevant in the formula, Last season, for example, six of the top 15 pass offenses (yards per game) had losing records. Of the 18 national champs since 2001, only Clemson in 2016 wasn't a top 40 rushing team. Being one-dimensional, as a passing team, will not get you in the national title discussion. The 2018 national champs, Clemson, were 10th in rushing offense.

Matt, from Nappanee, Ind: I'm curious if you think Drew White will hold onto his potential starting position or if Jack Lamb (probably a higher ceiling) will eventually take over as the third-down linebacker?

Eric Hansen: Two different questions. The answer can be yes to both ... and for now it probably is.

Patrick from Indy: From an up-close looks perspective being around the student-athletes, does this team look bigger (whether it's from recruiting/Balis strength and conditioning) compared to 4+ years ago?

Eric Hansen: Bigger, more powerful, more agile, better conditioned.

Eric Hansen: I'm out of time for today. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll be back to do it all over against next Thursday at noon EDT.