Chat Transcript: Digging into O-line issues, recruiting, coaching hires, Chris Tyree's role

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat. PLEASE remember to include your NAME and HOMETOWN with your question ... home planet at the very least. Let's dive right in.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Eric, love your work! I'm expecting big things out of the O-line this year. With the whole unit back and pending Robert Hainsey and Tommy Kraemer returning to form, this unit should compete for the best nationally and be in the running for the Joe Moore award, right? Jeff Quinn seems to be a solid recruiter, but we still have to see the O-line take that next leap. Thanks and Go Irish!

Eric Hansen: Tyler, this has to be a unit that takes a big step forward in its run blocking for Notre Dame to be relevant in the College Football Playoff discussion in November. O-line coach Jeff Quinn has been a dynamic recruiter and yet hasn't really defined himself at Notre Dame as to what he can be as an on-field coach. The 2020 season will definitely do that, as will 2021, when he'll have to replace at least three starters. Yet there's enough of a body of work through two seasons to form an impression. One of the things I'm working on for an upcoming story is whether there's a gap between perception and reality when it comes to Quinn.

Were a lot of the problems with the run game related to the relationship between Chip Long and Quinn? Will Tommy Rees be a better fit and will he emphasize run proficiency more? Does ND have better running back personnel now to do that? Will the new tight ends coach have a role in helping to advance the run game and O-line play in general? Those are the things I hope to get to the bottom of in that upcoming article.

Tom from Naples, Fla.: Coach Kelly has a place in Naples and spends a lot of time down here. Why does it seem that the program de-emphasized recruiting in Florida ? P.S.: My daughter attends St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, and she's friends with a lot of the players there. So at least I have her trying to recruit for the Irish.

Eric Hansen: I'm sure Brian Kelly appreciates the extra recruiting help ... When I asked BK about this after the 2019 cycle concluded, here is his response ... then I'll add my take:

“We felt the profile fit better in the state of Georgia,” Kelly said of the geographical/philosophical shift. “The kids that we were going to recruit from like schools had the football that we were looking for that was similar to the athlete that was in Florida. So it was an intentional decision on my part.

“(Georgia) is where we want to be right now,” he said.

Notre Dame had lost its footing in Florida when it came to both assessing talent in that state and retention. At the time Florida was (and still is) the No. 1 state for Kelly Era recruits to ND. Also at the time, it had an alarming 41 percent transfer rate involving prospects from that state. Some of that retention rate is related to character issues. The connections with the current staff seems to be much stronger in Georgia, the No. 4 state in producing FBS talent in the last dozen years and No. 1 per capita. A lot of it's clustered in or near Atlanta, so it's an efficient use of time on a recruiting trip. I do expect ND to get back into Florida a little more moving forward, beyond just hitting IMG Academy.

Dwight from central Arkansas: Perhaps I've missed it, but has the coaching position been filled? Tommy Rees moved up to offensive coordinator, and some role will be filled? Also, does the remainder of the staff look fluid for next season? (I realized that can change if the right offer comes along.)

Eric Hansen: Dwight, there are two openings currently, and I expect both to be filled soon.... the tight ends coaching position and the cornerbacks coaching position. I think part of the perceived slowdown in that process is that Kelly had to make a decision. Does he prioritize getting those two hirings done? Or does he take advantage of hitting the road during a evaluation period for recruiting and become more involved early in the process — something he was criticized for not doing. He chose recruiting. And although there's a big junior day on campus Saturday and it would have been nice to have those coaches in place, I think he prioritized well. ... As far as the rest of the staff, I would be surprised if there's more movement, given the NFL hiring cycle and the college cycle have pretty much played out.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, with the scholarship of Landen Bartleson now available, what do you think ND will do? Late cycle recruit, grad transfer, walk-on, other? And is the position of need still cornerback? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, with the late signing day coming up next Wednesday and Michigan high school defensive back Cameron Martinez (Ohio State) off the table, holding onto that scholarship for either a cornerback or a position where there's unexpected attrition in the spring seems like the right move. Then if needed, use it for a grad transfer. There will be another wave of them hitting the portal after spring practice, so someone really attractive options may emerge then.

Mike Campbell from Lemont, Ill.: Eric, Love the chats in the middle of winter! Do you think that ND joining the ACC in all sports plus five football games has been a good thing? The ACC, besides Clemson, is not very good and doesn't allow ND to build a better résumé. I do know that ND wanted to expand into the Southeast for recruiting purposes. I missed the ND basketball game vs. Florida State, unfortunately. No conspiracy theories, but do you think ND gets equal amount of calls or do you feel there is a definite bias against ND? Sure seems that way at times. Also, do you think ND goes with a two-tight end set with Tommy Tremble and Michael Mayer for as many mismatches as possible? Thank you. Cheers!

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks for your questions. I do like the ACC arrangement. I think the league's down cycle in football is a bigger problem for Clemson than it is for ND. What if Clemson had lost to North Carolina this season? What if the Tigers lost a game like that to an unranked team in November? Notre Dame wasn't penalized in the rankings for its ACC opponents this year. It was penalized for losing to an inferior Michigan team by 31 points. I think the bigger issue for Notre Dame from a strength of schedule standpoint is if the downturns for USC and Stanford aren't short-lived. ... To your hoops question, that's out of my lane. I don't watch enough ACC basketball to answer that. ... I think Tommy Rees will fit his play-calling and formations around his talent, and two tight-end sets would seem to be logically a part of that. Cheers.

Jordan from South Bend: Lance Taylor is obviously a great addition to the coaching staff especially when it comes to recruiting. What do you think the incentives were to lure him away from Palo Alto (Stanford) in what appears to be a lateral move?

Eric Hansen: His most recent coaching staff was with the Carolina Panthers. not Stanford. I did a big piece on Lance last summer in which he goes into great detail what he found attractive about coming to ND ... here:

Tom from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eric, if you had to pick one player from each side of the ball who is coming up to a make it/break it point in their career this spring, who would it be and what do you need to see from them? Keep up the great work!

Eric Hansen: Tom, thanks for the kind words. Really intriguing question, and there are several guys who kind of fit the mold of being at a critical juncture where there's still opportunity. On offense, I'm going to go with Joe Wilkins. Health has been a factor. If he's not in the top 5-6 receiver options, then I think it might make sense to look at him at cornerback, the position he was initially recruited to play. On defense, it's Shayne Simon. He'll be a junior (and he's injured for spring) and he still hasn't defined the position where he might have the best future. But if he can have a strong August, he can be a factor during the season ... somewhere.

Bill Kaufman, Windsor, Colo.: First, Eric, thank you for the great job that you and the rest of the Tribune staff do covering the Irish for fans like me. Second, in a recent article it was stated that the Irish are now verifying the speed of a prospective recruit. This surprised me. I would have thought this would have been standard procedure. What caused the coaching staff to change how it evaluates a recruit's speed?

Eric Hansen: Bill, it surprised me too, to some extent, but sometimes you trust high school coaches and contacts you have known for a long time, and they're just off. I think a couple of things coaxed the change ... one is some swings and misses in recruiting. The other was how ND looked at cornerbacks. if they couldn't wrestle the elite, plug-and-play guys away from Alabama, Clemson, etc., then they needed to develop speed guys with length. And if the speed wasn't genuine, then it was a wasted effort. Early enrolled freshman CB Ramon Henderson, a track star and more polished as a wide receiver than cornerback, it a good example of this philosophy in action.

Marie from Atanta: Hi Eric. Thanks for having the chat. Other than offensive line issues and the short-yardage game, what else do you think OC Tommy Rees needs to focus on to improve proficiency in the the red zone? Scoring field goals instead of TDs is not going to get it done against elite teams. Also what do you think is the underlying issue with the poor technique of the O-line? Not enough focus on technique in practice? Inability to teach technique? Possibly technique is not one of Jeff Quinn's strong areas and he needs some assistance with this part of the coaching. Thanks for your thoughts.

Eric Hansen: Marie, if I ever need an assistant on the beat, I think I'm going to see if you're available. Really astute questions. I think run-game efficiency is near the top of the list, red zone or elsewhere in the field. I think No. 1 is how do you get Ian Book from being a top 25 guy in pass efficiency to top 5-10? Getting young receivers to be able to contribute early (for a change) is another priority. ... I think a lot of issues with Jeff Quinn have been overblown or overstated. I don't think this is one of them. I think it's legit. I don't think it's inability to teach it. I think it's more of an emphasis issue, and I believe the emphasis needs to shift. If Rees is as serious about the running game as I think he is, it will shift. The new tight ends coaching hire could also play an integral role in all of this. It's definitely something high on my priority list to watch this spring.

Don from Brigantine Beach, N.J.: Hi Eric: Is Javon McKinley going to play this year? We can certainly use his experience at the WR position. Also, where do you see Avery Davis playing this year? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Don, Javon McKinley WANTS to play at ND in 2020. Tyler James did a nice job with a story on that earlier this month. The football staff would like him back too. The hurdle is whether he can get into grad school, and the legal issue he had last winter may affect whether that actually happens. Stayed tuned. Avery Davis is too talented to rot deep on the depth chart. I hope to have an answer for you before spring (which I would write about). If it were up to me, I'd look at him at wide receiver or safety.

Michael from Tulsa: How do you envision Tommy Rees utilizing Chris Tyree in 2020? Do you think he will attempt to scheme Tyree's touches each week that try to get him out in space on the perimeter, similar to how Rondale Moore was used at Purdue his freshman year? Expecting Tyree to put up the numbers that Moore did his freshman year is obviously unrealistic. But given their similar small frames, I feel like this is a reasonable comparison for Tyree, despite him being a running back, whereas Moore is listed as a wide receiver. Is there another player from the last several years who you believe to be a better Tyree comparison?

Eric Hansen: I think that's going to be influenced by how Chris shows up in June and the progress he makes with strength guru Matt Balis in the summer. Having said that, I think he's a situational back to start, but someone who you can put in the slot and create some mismatches. There's really not a Kelly Era comparison, and that's why it's so significant that he's on the roster. What he becomes beyond 2020 is important as well, because it may be a very different version of what he is next season.

Nick from Denver: I understand why we were penalized in the polls for losing to an inferior Michigan team, but why wasn't Wisconsin punished for losing to an inferior Illinois team? I mean, it's Illinois!?!

Eric Hansen: I think Wisconsin did suffer for that. But they lost to Illinois by a point. Their other losses were to top 5 teams. ND lost to a top 5 team and Michigan. The Badgers had wins over No. 10 Minnesota by THREE TOUCHDOWNS, a narrow win over No. 15 Iowa and a blowout of Michigan by THREE TOUCHDOWNS. ND's lone win over a ranked team was blowing out No. 20 Navy, which the Irish didn't admittedly get enough credit for. In my opinion Wisconsin's résumé was slightly better.

Jeff B from Oklahoma City: Eric, given the recent drop in the final recruiting rankings for Chris Tyree and the rather lackluster stats he had in his senior year, what is a realistic expectation for what he can provide next season? I had originally thought he might be a surprise game-changing contributor next year, but it seems now we need to slow the roll on him.

Eric Hansen: Even though I just answered a Chris Tyree question, this one takes me in a little bit different direction. First, I think recruiting rankings can be interesting, but I don't think they're necessarily a reliable indicator of who might contribute as a freshman. Otherwise, Kurt Hinish would have never gotten past Darnell Ewell on the depth chart. ... and many other examples. Chris Tyree's speed is real. His challenge, and that of the ND staff, is getting that speed to translate to football production. That's a process that is happening now, as Tyree works Matt Balis' program at home, then enrolls in June. Let's see how he shows up in June before getting too far down the road of expectations, diminished, inflated or otherwise.

Michael Kraus from Costa Mesa, Calif.: Eric, is Brian Kelly really going to retain Jeff Quinn? I am LIVID that Kelly went back to his old ways and hired him as offensive line coach.

Eric Hansen: Michael, would you really fire a coach who helped lead the second-best pass-blocking unit in the entire FBS last season and who has been recruiting elite talent the past three cycles? Or would you work to get him better in the areas that haven't shined to this point? When you say old ways, I think that's unfair. There's not a coach in the country in which all of his hires have been complete strangers. Some coaches hire their KIDS! I think BK has found a balance with that. I went back and looked at every BK assistant coaching hire in his 10-years-plus here. What I found is that there were as many hits and misses with familiar hires as there were of coaches with no prior connection. If familiarity was universally bad, then why is the best hire of the Kelly Era Mike Elston?

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric, It appears that the weather is not too cold, but I want totask you, “Would you like a hand warmer?”

Kelly hired Tommy Rees as offensive coordinator. I don't know if that will be a good hire or not. Here are my reservations: Rees was the QB coach, and at least in the first half of the season did not seem to help Ian Book improve and Phil Jurkovec did not improve, which led to his transfer. Why didn't they improve? Was it Rees or Chip Long or something else? Admittedly the offense looked better when they played under Rees' direction against Iowa State. Book has still not shown that he can play well against a top-notch defense like Clemson. Are my concerns out of whack?

Eric Hansen: GB, haha, thanks for the offer. Those are really good observations and questions. What has been suggested, and I'm buying a good portion of it, is that Chip Long's chemistry with the other members of the staff — and the players — had become toxic. Does that mean it impeded Rees as a QBs coach, Jeff Quinn as an O-Line coach? From a production standpoint, it's quite possible, and that certainly is Brian Kelly's belief. The Camping World Bowl is a small sample size. Spring football will give us more info as to how these coaches operate without Long. Book's performance in big games connects to that, and — in the same breath — it doesn't. We'll have to see if his experience in those situations helps propel him to better performances. And we won't know that conclusively until the Irish play Wisconsin in Green Bay this fall.

Brian Sontchi: Hello Eric: I’m writing this note from Batavia, Ill., and hoping for an early spring. Do you believe Brian Kelly has the DNA to capture a national football title for Notre Dame?

Eric Hansen: From some of the emails I've received from you, I know YOU don't think he does, so I'm not sure my opinion matters here. And there's a lot of factors beyond his DNA that would enable that to happen — or not. I've intermittently asked our podcast guests this same question in various forms in the past year and a half. That's former players, national media, former assistant coaches, etc. I've received one "meh" and the rest yeses. I would agree with the majority here.

Frank Serra from Canton, Ga: Any word on the cornerback and tight end coaches?

Eric Hansen: Soon.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric! I recently re-read the article from Sports Illustrated '88 following ND's National Championship victory over West Virginia. I was reminded in the article how dominant ND was that day, and more notably how nasty the ND players were that day with trash talking and personal fouls (nine in the game). ND holds themselves to a higher standard than many schools who regularly compete for national championships. Not wanting to change that, I still have to ask: Is that mentality, that edginess, meanness, nastiness, etc., something that today's ND teams need more of in order to compete at the highest level? In other words, are today's ND players expected to be too nice, too gentlemanly for their own good if they want to win it all? Does today's ND team have the mentality that they could (and would) if necessary stand toe to toe and trade blows at the entrance of the tunnel with a team like Miami of the '80s and refuse to be intimidated? Is this mentality needed for winning the big games, in which they have consistently fallen short in the Kelly Era?

Eric Hansen: Tim, they're 33-6 in the last three years, so they must be doing something right in that area. A team that lacks mental toughness wouldn't have gone on a six-game winning streak to end the season after losing the way they did at Michigan. I would say ND's talent level, particularly at the skill positions, makes its margin for error smaller than the late '80s Holtz teams. By addressing that, which Kelly is doing, you have a wider margin for error. That's important.

Nick from Denver: Follow up on Landen Bartleson — does this increase the likelihood Xavier Watts ends up on the defensive side of the ball?

Eric Hansen: It certainly makes it a more pressing discussion, but there are other options. The fact that he's already on campus and gets to form an impression this spring is a big plus in sorting this out.

Mike Martini from Nanuet, N.Y.: Eric, First-time participant, long-time reader! Can you please provide updates on the status of the vacant coaching positions? I am wondering if a faster move for a defensive backs coach would have helped with flipping Cam Martinez? Also wondering where the offense hire will be and how it will affect coach Rees' workload/responsibilities.

Eric Hansen: Mike. welcome aboard. We're very close on the coaches ... now that means identifying and hiring them, not the official university announcement, which is a more protracted process. ... With regard to Martinez, Carter Karels just did a story with him, and having a new cornerbacks coach in place doesn't sound like it would have been a factor at all, particularly since the Irish projected Martinez as a safety or wide receiver. He felt like ND was kind of late in circling back to him, and that may have been a numbers situation dictating that. ... From where the offensive coach search appears to be headed, I don't think it affects Rees' responsibilities/workload as much as it might affect Jeff Quinn's.

Dave G. from Kuttawa Ky: Eric, have you had a chance to discuss the Michigan debacle with Brian Kelly or any of his coaches? If not, do you still have it in mind to do so? It was just so unbelievable. Thanks for continuing these chats. I look forward to the questions and your comments.

Eric Hansen: The last time anyone on the beat spoke with BK was after the Camping World Bowl. I hope to get to him after he makes the coaching hires.

Michael from Chicago: I’ve read on other sites that there are two to three medical hardships possible (all on the OL and DL). Given who’s injured, those seem like they’d be significant losses. Anything you can share?

Eric Hansen: I'm very uncomfortable commenting directly on someone else's reporting. I'd suggest you follow up with them if there are holes there. ... In general, predicting a medical hardship is tricky. Trevor Ruhland, for instance, appeared to be on that path last year, then somehow was able to not only get cleared to play, he was a STARTER in November and December.

John from St Pete, Fla.: Hi Eric, with Lance Taylor becoming the run game coordinator, what — if any — changes do you expect in Notre Dame’s run game scheme?

Eric Hansen: I think Tommy and Lance are in lock step with their philosophy. I kind of want to talk to Lance to get his ideas on that, and it sounds like we'll get a chance to do so after the other two hirings are made and made official.

Joe from Georgia: Change was a Long time comin'. The offense under-performed when it counted most. Do you anticipate a return in 2019 to a 2012-like effort by the team overall, where the lads rose to all occasions in the regular season, or is it more likely that it won't get done? In fairness, Clemson is almost certain to be historically good.

Eric Hansen: I think you can have a season in 2020 in which players/coaches rise to the occasion and still stumble against Clemson. Notre Dame hasn't played a No. 1 team since 2005, and there's a good chance the Tigers will be No. 1 when they visit on Nov. 7. It would be the 26th all-time meeting for the Irish against a No. 1 team.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric In football, do you learn more from winning or losing?

Eric Hansen: Can't you learn from both? The point is to learn from all experiences.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Eric, I appreciate your answer to my question. 33-6 means mental toughness I suppose, but it's the "6" that I am asking about. What is the edge that is missing but needed to win the "6" that is lacking; all big games, all fell short. Is it talent, or is it something less tangible? An "attitude" if you will, that tells opposing teams "Don't (mess) with us." Seems the '88 team had that. Is it still necessary today to have that to be No. 1? And if it is, why don't the Irish seem to have it? Nobody refers to today's Irish as "intimidating" that I can recall of late. And maybe that's the missing element. Yes? No?

Eric Hansen: I don't think there's a common thread through all six -- two Georgias, Clemson, Miami, Michigan, Stanford. Miami would be the one of the six where you could claim it was a mental edge thing. Do people refer to Clemson as intimidating? LSU? I didn't get that.

Jeff from York, Pa.: Eric, at one point ND was very interested in an offensive lineman from Warwick High School in Lititz, Pa. Today he is being visited by Dabo Swinney, James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh. Is ND still in pursuit of this excellent student-athlete?

Eric Hansen: Absolutely. Carter Karels wrote about that recently. He's scheduled to visit ND the same weekend a handful of other elite 2021 O-line recruits are, March 20-21. His name is Nolan Rucci.

Jake: Write the 2022 story line for each QB.

Ian Book (NFL)-

Brendon Clark-

Drew Pyne-

Tyler Buchner-

Eric Hansen: Book has an opportunity to change his trajectory for 2022 with the way he plays this season. If it were a repeat of 2019, I think XFL would be more realistic ... if the XFL lasts that long. To the other three, Clark would be a senior academically and a redshirt junior from a football standpoint. Pyne would be a junior and Buchner a sophomore. Their futures are all kind of interconnected. And writing those story lines is more an exercise in clairvoyance than projecting. There's too much that has to play out to really do this justice. I think Buchner is the most talented of the three and Clark is the one most likely to surprise.

Mike from Toronto: Eric, is there one position coach that has more impact on player development than other positions?

Eric Hansen: It's hard not to give that nod to Mike Elston and Clark Lea.

Tom from Whereabouts Unknown: Who do you think will be the first three ND players chosen in the NFL Draft and in what round?

Eric Hansen: Please, with the hometowns .... Cole Kmet (1st), Julian Okwara (2nd) ... then it's tough. Khalid Kareem, Troy Pride Jr,, and Chase Claypool are all in that second/third range with room to move up and down. I'll go with Claypool.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for this week. I'll be back in February TBA once the new coaches have been added to the staff. Thanks for all the great questions.

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