Chat Transcript: Talking Rees' offensive vision, Kelly's recruiting tweaks, spring surprises

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, pre-Valentine's Day edition. Eric Hansen: For those who had forgotten what Friday up until now, you can thank me later. PLEASE include your NAME and HOMETOWN with your question. Any other personal info is strictly optional. I am adequately caffeinated, so let's get started.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Married 35 years. You don't get there by forgetting. Ordered flowers last Monday.

Eric Hansen: Awesome response.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie Wis.: Just a lesson for the youngsters out there!

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, any news on the cornerback coach hiring?  Seems like its dragging, so did ND miss on a first choice or was it a matter of the tight end coach hire taking priority? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Jeff. I would be surprised if the cornerbacks coaching search went past the end of the week. The tight ends search was always ahead of this one. An offer has been made to Mike Mickens, who interviewed last Wednesday. He's at Cincinnati, so there are a lot of moving parts with him, given his head coach was in the running, then withdrew from, consideration for the Michigan State job. UC is his alma mater. If he decides to stay, ND is ready to move on quickly.

Andrew from Sioux Falls, S.D.: What would you need to see from Brendon Clark this spring/fall to feel confident as him as the backup QB?

Eric Hansen: Accuracy, poise, good decision-making, good recognition of defenses, fronts and the ability to shift protections. I think he is smart enough, athletic enough already, so those are the things I'd like to see this spring and in August.

Joe Williams from Green Bay, Wis.: Hi Eric. I was wondering what your early thoughts are about next season's cornerback position.Does anyone other than TaRiq Bracy jump out to to you? I’m hoping there’s a Julian Love out there somewhere.

Eric Hansen: Joe, keep in mind that of the eight CBs on the roster, six will have freshman eligibility in 2020 (including three redshirts), so we haven't seen much of any of them. However, someone who did was Troy Pride Jr., every day in practice. We asked Troy about this (and many other things) on our most recent Pod of Gold podcast. He singled out Isaiah Rutherford as his pick to click. Rutherford surged late in the season and into the bowl workouts.

Matt from Kansas City: Since 17-part questions are out, would you take five? 1. Who is going to be our go to skill player (WR, RB, or TE) for production next season like Chase Claypool was?  2. Out of all the players on the roster currently or coming in, do we have any legitimate future NFL top 5 draft picks, maybe Kyke Hamilton or someone else?  3.  If you could change one thing about how Notre Dame football interacts with the media, what would it be? 4. Do you think Chip Long has developed a reputation that is hard to get past or was his apparent lack of job offers more a result of timing or letting the financial terms of his contract play out? 5. You will be disappointed next year if Notre Dame.....?

Eric Hansen: OK, Matt, I'll answer these in sort of rapid-fire fashion: 1. Kevin Austin Jr. 2. Kyle Hamilton and maybe maybe maybe incoming freshman OT Tosh Baker. 3. More access; bring back Thursday night sessions with Brian Kelly; have BK talk first after games; don't be afraid to roll out young guys like Kyle Hamilton, who have great stories to tell; let assistants talk. 4. Timing and the circumstances of his firing ... both. 5. Continues to calculate in the vacated games into their record-keeping.

Jim from New Jersey: Is it possible that Book takes a step back without his safety net of Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool?  I feel he does. Is the reason Bo Bauer doesn't start due to the coaching staff not trusting him, because he's very good on special teams and plays with intensity?

Eric Hansen: I don't think that's necessarily the case. He'll have a lot of speed at receiver, even if he doesn't have experience there. He'll also have all five starters back on the offensive line and a play-caller with whom he has great chemistry. ... The reason Bo Bauer doesn't start is because Drew White plays better, especially in pass coverage. There's still a lot to like about Bauer.

Clancy from Sheboygan, Wis.: I hope there are frequent Javon McKinley sightings this fall. So pleased he showed heart by returning for a fifth year. His blocking, steady hands and clean route-running have always been evident; Hope Tommy Rees values his leadership and puts him on the field.

Eric Hansen: OK, I don't see a question there, so I'll just post that as a comment.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. Thanks for having the chat. Do you foresee John McNulty being involved in quarterback development? QB development at ND has been average at best recently, and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees is going to have a lot more on his plate in the upcoming year. I think it is imperative ND has a backup QB who is ready to go in the event Book gets injured or to enter the game as a spark if Book is unable to get over the hump in big games. I think many people would agree that replacing Jalen Hurts with Tua Tagovailoa in the national championship game was probably one of Nick Saban's greatest in-game adjustments ever, and it worked out well. I think ND needs to be able to do the same if necessary.

Eric Hansen: Marie, thanks for the question. When I saw John McNulty's résumé up against the other candidates, it certainly suggests his background with quarterbacks is valued. When we get a chance to talk to Brian Kelly, Rees and McNulty here before spring practice starts, that's a notion I want to explore with them. Absolutely, quarterback development hasn't been a strength during the Kelly Era.

Coach from Reading, Pa.: Eric, Is it obvious to you who will succeed Ian Book at QB? Thanks a lot. I appreciate your work.

Eric Hansen: I don't think it's obvious at all. Tyler Buchner, who's a junior in high school, appears to be the most gifted of those options. Yet that would mean him starting a true freshman in 2021 if he's the choice. I would think Brendon Clark would have an edge, because 2021 will be his third year in the system. Drew Pyne, who's on campus now as an early enrollee, is the other option and, I think, the last likely one.

Larry from Berks County, Pa.: Hi Eric. A question about the ND QB model: During the '19 season, you guys talked about ND shifting its preference away from dual-threat quarterbacks. BUT, Ian Book’s late season surge was helped a great deal by him using his legs. Is it possible that the lean away from dual-threat QBs was Chip Long’s preference? And now with him out of the picture, we can expect to see QB runs used more in the offense? And maybe even start recruiting dual-threat QBs again? Thanks for all you do in the Tribune, and on WSBT.

Eric Hansen: Larry, thanks, and an intriguing question for sure. I think that philosophical shift was heavily influenced by Chip Long, but Brian Kelly was on board.

I think accuracy is going to be emphasized over all else. And when you look at the teams in the playoff, you had Nos. 1. Burrow (LSU), 2. Hurts (Oklahoma), 3. Fields (Ohio State) and 8. Lawrence (Clemson) is pass efficiency. For comparison's sake, Book was 24th. Brandon Wimbush, in his season as a starter in 2017, was 86th. None of the QBs in the playoff were statues from a running standpoint.

So if you can get accuracy with some athleticism, that seems to be the optimal combination. Certainly, Tyler Buchner seems to fit that mold. To your question about more QB runs this season, I look at the bowl game (with Rees as play-caller), and Book ran seven times. That's about two carries under his season average. My sense is that Rees will want that to be a part of the offense, but not its bread and butter. It's something for me to ask when we get a chance to chat with Rees.

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, 82 with unbelievably bright sunshine here. Tommy Rees made the comment that he really wants to run the football, which sounds strange coming out of a one-time quarterback's mouth. Seems like he'd want to throw the ball a lot, given his QB background, but I understand that running the ball successfully opens up the passing game. Have you gotten a feeling yet on what his "style" of offense will be or look like? Do you think it will be similar to Chip Long's, with multiple-tight end sets, running backs in the passing game, etc.? Or will he have his own stamp on the offense? Does his blocking scheme mesh with Jeff Quinn's? Will it be easy for current players to transition to he system?

Eric Hansen: Doug, 27 and snowy here, but man we've been lucky. I never put away my grill this winter. Will grill out tonight. ... First I'm not sure Tommy said that. I think that was people speaking for him. But I don't doubt he wants to be better at running efficiency. Teams that win national titles tend to be really good at running the ball, or at least more than adequate. So running the ball well makes it difficult on opposing defensive coordinators, when you can pass well too. I think that's sound thinking. I think the biggest different between Rees and Long is Rees tailoring his offense from year to year around his personnel, and Long trying to fit ND's personnel into his ideal scheme, whether that personnel fits or not. I think it will be easy for players to adapt ... the Quinn question is a big I don't know from me, but my sense is it will be a good combination.

Pat from Springfield, Ill.: Will ND ever recruit a fullback, a guy who can get 2-3 yards on two carries in third- and fourth-and-short situations? Or is the day of the fullback gone? Keep up your insightful, honest and accurate work.

Eric Hansen: Thanks for the kind words, Pat. My answer is no. They would not recruit a fullback. Brian Kelly feels the tight end can do everything the fullback can do from a blocking standpoint. From the potential to get to 2-3 yards, Kelly (and many other coaches) doesn't see the value.

Carter from Seal Beach, Calif.: If I were to expect the starting wide receivers in the season opener in 2020 as Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, and Lawrence Keys, will I be let down?

Eric Hansen: I think that's what my pick would be.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: No questions but appreciate the work. Excited for spring workouts to begin and leaders to emerge. Go Irish

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Tyler.

Brian Sontchi from Batvaia, Ill.: Hi Eric. Hoping for a warm and very early spring season. Brian Polian is known for his recruiting acumen. He has done a very good job coaching up players in the punting and field goal specialties. But why has it been difficult to develop blocking schemes to enhance many more positive yards returning kickoffs and punts? This can be an area to assist the Irish win those games against the elite programs. Since Polian has been special teams coach for the Irish, the return game has been below average at best. Your thoughts on the needed improvement. Thank you.

Eric Hansen: I know on punt returns, Notre Dame values possession of the ball (sure hands) over all else. Finke was 19th nationally in ount return average, so that's not bad. ND, in fact, was better at it than three of the foujr playoff teams. In kickoff returns, none of the playoff teams was in the top 35. If you have a dynamic return man, you can overcome a lot of things. Maybe Braden Lenzy or Chris Tyree becomes that guy. Don't get me wrong, I do think there's room for improvement schematically. I should point out, ND's coverage teams were really good this year.

Stan from Rockford, Ill. : Do you see either Xavier Watts or Ramon Henderson, both early enrollees, becoming leading candidates for the third cornerback next fall? Do you think the returning impressive pass blocking offensive line will be complemented by Tommy Rees/Lance Taylor better addressing the ground game with Jeff Quinn now that our past OC is Long gone? Thanks for continuing these chats. They help to get through this dead time between recruiting and spring practice.

Eric Hansen: Stan, glad you could be a part of the offseason chats. They're fun for me. You guys make it fun with good questions, good senses of humor and minimal whining. ... I think Henderson is a terrific athlete who is a project at cornerback. He needs to work on technique. Watts could do it, but I still think he'll start spring on offense, and then they'll see what they have at corner. I expect the redshirt freshmen to have an inside track to being the third corner. As far as offensive harmony in the coaching ranks, I do expect that to show up on the field.

Marie from Atlanta: Part 2, do you think John McNulty will be a good technical coach for the tight ends? Although our tight ends have been very productive recently, I think it can be argued that a lot of this was attributable to pure talent as opposed to coaching. When watching the games this year, there were more than a few times that blocking by the tight ends was poor and a lot of it seemed to be due to bad technique. Thanks for your thoughts.

Eric Hansen: Marie, McNulty's background includes minimal experience coaching tight ends, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have the aptitude to do so. Having extensive experience as a receivers coach and offensive coordinator could be significant assets. I'm really eager to ask those very same questions to Tommy Rees and Brian Kelly.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Besides Ian Book, who is the one player ND can least afford to lose to injury during the upcoming season?

Eric Hansen: I'll give you two: Shaun Crawford and Kyle Hamilton.

Joe from Georgia: The unreal Duke/UNC basketball game last weekend prompts me to ask what the craziest finish was to a CFB and/or CBB contest you've seen (in-person or otherwise)? Details would be welcome.

Eric Hansen: I'll stick to the games I've covered. and it's the Bush Push game of 2005.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hi Eric. A bit concerned about Chris Tyree. Apparently he may not be an every-down player. What does he, if anything, need to do to become one? And if so, how long would it take for him to become an every-down player? Do you expect that to ever happen?

Eric Hansen: Denis, he might not be an every-down player as a FRESHMAN. He is 180-185 pounds now. Let's see what he looks like in August. Keep in mind, his stats were suppressed this past season because of a chronic ankle injury. I'm not sure all those who rated him took that into account. I love his speed, his attitude and his drive to want to get better. Now ND needs to recruit more like him, with elite speed.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Eric, have you detected a change in Brian Kelly's approach to personal efforts on one-on-one recruiting since he was criticized for not enough personal involvement after losing a couple of kids?

Eric Hansen: He absolutely was front and center during the recent evaluation period. Whether that was in response to the article or some other motivation, it was apparent that he was very involved.

Paul from Lititz, Pa.: Eric, love these pre-spring chats. Can you share your thoughts on Brendon Clark getting more playing time during the season (potentially in 2020) than Phil Jurkovec got (in 2019). Granted, it all comes down to game-time scores. However, there seemed to have been times that Ian Book was left in the game longer than necessary. As this is Ian’s last season, it would appear critical that Clark has sufficient live game-time experience. Thank you for your time, your knowledge and insight.

Eric Hansen: Paul, thank you. I hope I am understanding your question correctly. I think you always play for the season that you're in. What effect those decisions have on the following season aren't insignificant, but they need to be decidedly secondary to winning games in 2020. So Book's continued development takes precedence over Clark's and/or Drew Pyne's.

MPolge from Syracuse, N.Y.: Eric, thanks for the chats. Keeps me sane in between games. I know that Clark Lea is beginning to get some attention for head coach positions. What do you think the long-term projections for Clark Lea are and, if he does leave, who takes over as defensive coordinator?

Eric Hansen: I think his name will come up a lot in the next hiring cycle. I also think he'll be picky and look for a Power 5 job where he thinks he has a chance to win. If there is a opening at defensive coordinator, I think Mike Elston is an excellent choice.

Greg from South Bend: What are the "realistic" chances ND will land Will Shipley? Will, if you're listening, ND is the place you wanna be. ND is locked and loaded going forward. Not a Stanford fixer-upper, a wounded Clemson, and the Great Lakes are salt- and shark-free. No need to even call an Uber at SBN, I'll pick you up.

Eric Hansen: I would consider ND and Clemson the front-runners for this talented 2021 running back from North Carolina.

Bruce from Dayton, Ohio: Hi Eric, what are your thoughts on the big recruiting weekend planned in March? There is some very high-level talent coming in. These are the type of players the Irish need to sign to get in that top 5, as Kelly has stated as a goal. It's great to get them on campus, as obviously that's the first step, but can they actually sign most of them to get to that next level? Kelly mentioned recruiting changes being made to get there, but besides Kelly himself being more involved ,what other changes are being made? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Our recruiting guy, Carter Karels, could probably give you more nuanced thoughts on the March 20-22 recruiting weekend. It's significant no doubt and another sign Notre Dame understands how to play the game with the new accelerated recruiting cycle. ... As far as Kelly's changes, Pete Sampson of The Athletic did a nice piece on it. I think the most significant of the changes are Kelly's increased involvement, evaluating and offering elite talent earlier, and making private air travel available to the assistant coaches.

Joe Dag from Middletown, N.J.: What is going on behind the scenes with Kevin Austin? Is he all set for spring practice and, if so, what kind of impact do you expect from him?

Eric Hansen: All set for spring practice. Expected to be ND's No. 1 receiver in 2020.

Steve from St Louis: been able to cover IU basketball and ND football. If you could cover any other team/sport who would it be and why?

Eric Hansen: I love what I do so much, I really haven't given it any thought. Covering a team with such a largely intelligent and savvy fan base and one that cares so much is right where I want to be. Plus it keeps me close to my six grandkids, which is an amazing blessing. I guess if they didn't exist and Notre Dame got sucked through a hole in the Bermuda Triangle, I'd pick LSU football.

Bill from Stevensville, Mich.: Thanks for all you do. I  listen every day, However, I am still waiting for the answer to what exactly happened to ND at the Michigan game ? How does that even happen?  And FYI, I am all for Brian Kelly and his staff.

Eric Hansen: Bill, every day I gather more and more info, and sometimes when I'm not even looking for it. It falls into my lap. The fact that Chip Long isn't on the staff anymore is going to end up being a key piece to that puzzle. Until I talk to Brian Kelly, the story isn't going to be complete. ... and thanks for listening.

Joey Buscareno from South Bend: Hi Eric. I was wondering what you think our depth chart will be when it comes to wide receivers and running backs?

Eric Hansen: There's going to be a lot pf shifting during spring. But here's the entire depth chart as we see it going into spring:

Peter in Provo, Utah: How do you see the first-team reps shaking out between Ian Book and Brendon Clark this spring/fall? Will Clark receive an inordinate amount, since he will needs to be brought up to speed since being on the scout team last year? Thanks Eric. You're the best!

Eric Hansen: Peter, thanks. The whole scout team element makes this question relevant, because it is an adjustment for that QB. I still think Book gets the overwhelming amount of reps with the 1s this spring. We can't overlook the opportunity to try to coax him from a top 25 guy in passing efficiency to a top 10 guy. Clark will get plenty of work with the 2s, and so will Drew Pyne if he shows he's ready for that.

Steven from Long Island: My question — and it has been for years — is why does Notre Dame play such a difficult yearly schedule? Having ACC games, playing a USC, Wisconsin puts your team in a bind to play perfect with little room for error. The last three years they have had a perennial top 15 schedule and, unlike other big-name teams, rarely have gimme games. I understand it's ND, but they're not doing themselves any favors. This team this year was a great team who beat multiple bowl teams, but the tough game on top of tough game takes a toll.

Eric Hansen: Steven, I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of ND's strength of schedule, but I can illuminate the school's scheduling philosophy under Jack Swarbrick: ND's 12-game schedule must compare favorably to other teams' 13-game schedules. It worked out well in 2018, so I'm not sure what your beef is.

George from Philly: I think Ian Book is a fine, serviceable QB, but I think the ceiling is probably around 10-2 with the talent we have around him. If you look at the QBs who made the playoff last year (Lawrence, Burrow, Fields and Hurts), they are all superstars. I know Ian made it in 2018, but a lot of things broke right for this Irish that year and we had an outstanding D.  It seems like it is becoming harder and harder to make it without an elite QB. Do you think Ian can lead the Irish to the promised land?

Eric Hansen: Passing efficiency is one of the five key metrics in which national champions tend to excel. Of the 22 national champs in the BCS/Playoff Era, all but four were top 20 in pass efficiency and more than half were top 10. The lowest ranking was 37. Conversely, ND's top ranking in team pass efficiency in the Kelly Era was 20, this past season. They were 74th when they played Alabama for the 2012 national title. Now can Book be a top 10 guy? We're all going to find out Oct. 3 in Green Bay, Wis. His pattern to his point doesn't suggest that's part of his ceiling.Then again, Joe Burrow improved leaps and bounds from 2018 to 2019.

Jack from Oak Park, Ill.: With next year's season all about the Wisconsin and Clemson games for so many reasons, any analysis from the crystal ball on how we match up/keys to victory (beyond Book becoming a top-5 QB in 2020, which is a given)? Thanks and hope this question makes the cut for the SportsBeat radio segment! Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Jack, I'm comfortable projecting. I'm less comfortable playing Miss Cleo. And without seeing spring practice, I'm not doing this question justice. Can we revisit it then?

Jim Tal from California: Eric, great work as always. If ND demonstrated your kind of consistent production, we'd be talking national championships. My point will be brief. I don't see the Irish making a strong push towards the playoffs unless the marquee freshman Michael Mayer and Chris Tyree have a major impact. Do you agree or am I exaggerating their potential impact? Thanks again for all your hard work and insights.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thank you. Mayer, Tyree and WR Jordan Johnson were big wins on the recruiting trail. And that does have to translate onto the field if Notre Dame is going to evolve into a program that more consistently is in the playoff picture. And they also need to recruit more players like that. with the 2021 cycle off to a very good start in that direction.

Neil from Indianapolis: Other than cornerback and quarterback, which position group do you think ND can least afford a major injury at heading into the season?

Eric Hansen: Safety.

Joe from Georgia: Your reaction to any of the XFL innovations which were on display in their debut weekend?  How awesome would it be to have real-time access to replay considerations and processes in all sport which use it?

Eric Hansen: I didn't get to see much, but I knew from reading about them what was going to be on display. I think a more transparent replay system would be a big hit.

Tim from Vancouver, Wash., by way of Almost Heaven West Virginia: Eric, thanks for all you do. How much longer does Brian Kelly stay at ND?

Eric Hansen: His contract goes through 2021, and it's going to be extended. My sense is he'll be here 3-4 more years in total.

Tom S from Austin: People seem pretty optimistic about ND in 2020. However, I can't help but worry, especially given that we have few proven returning players at key spots. While we return our whole offensive line, they were dismal at run blocking last year, (especially in short-yardage situations). There's no returning receiver or runner with any significant yardage at ND. Our QB is, (like T. Rees), is playing mostly on moxie. And the back end of our defense is one injury away from possibly being in big trouble. Please talk me down from this ledge.

Eric Hansen: This would be easier over beers. I'll start with the notion that if ND can find some answers at cornerback, the defense has a chance to be really good. I think the Chip Long/Jeff Quinn relationship did not help the run blocking. College football has roster churn. I think there's talent to go along with the inexperience. That's a start?

Chad from Greenville, S.C.: Greetings from Auburn, Ala., where I am having lunch before my son's college tour. Why has it taken so long for Brian Kelly to make sure all his assistant coaches are motivated recruiters? Follow up, how long 'till all the assistant coaches are passionate recruiters?

Eric Hansen: Chad, those are tough questions to answer, because you're making me agree with your premise that there's a problem with the assistant coaches' passion if I answer it. My answer, which may not fit your question is, when you're hiring an assistants, you want coaches who are great teachers and recruiters. I think earlier in Kelly's time, he was willing to live with an OK recruiter if he thought that coach could bring exceptional expertise on the field. The example in which that went terribly wrong was Brian VanGorder. I think in some instances there was an assumption a particular coach was going to be very good in recruiting at ND and it turned out not to be the case.

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hi Eric. Thanks for hosting! Hope you are experiencing decent weather. All we seem to get in Jersey is rain, a lot of rain. I guess it beats snow. Which returning player will surprise this year (better that expected performance)? Which incoming player (freshman or transfer)?

Eric Hansen: OK, so you're looking for pleasant surprises. I will say Houston Griffith among returning players (I don't think Kevin Austin counts as a surprise), and Xavier Watts among the freshmen.

Erik from Granger: Thanks for being here! Been wondering this for awhile. When Brian VanGorder was fired, why was it kept secret that Mike Elston was pulling the strings? What was the point of naming the other guy publicly and not him?

Eric Hansen: Because if the defense remained a mess, which it didn't, Brian Kelly didn't want Mike Elston to be an undeserving casualty. Turns out, it was a smart move. Elston is outstanding.

Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric, I need your best guess. About how many five-star recruits of the elite teams (Alabama, LSU, Clemson, OSU, etc.) would actually qualify to attend ND. They get three, four, five or more every year, and ND gets one every other year, maybe. Also, how many of the above teams starting 22 (offense and defense), would qualify to attend ND? Sorry for the two-parter. You're the BEST!

Eric Hansen: Dan, that's a difficult question for me to answer, because it's not only about academic fit but cultural fit. So there are five-star players with good enough grades who wouldn't last at ND, because they weren't a cultural fit. That said, Notre Dame can do a better job at attracting top talent, particularly at the running back, wide receiver and cornerback positions. They made strides in two of those areas in the 2020 cycle. That trend must continue, and Kelly is committed to making changes to do so.

Patrick from Traverse City, Mich.: Hi Eric. Thanks for the chats. Any thoughts on who will emerge this year from the 2019 class? Specifically, guys who did not contribute, or were limited to four games or fewer in the 2019 season. Thanks for your great work.

Eric Hansen: Patrick, thank you. I would put defensive end Isaiah Foskey at the top of that list. Others I think can move into prominent roles are cornerback Isaiah Rutherford, running back Kyren Williams and that big class of linebackers, including Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser.

Deandre from Hammond, Ind.: Hi Eric! Do you feel confident that this year's offense will perform better than last year's offense.

Eric Hansen: I do, maybe not in August/September, but once the season gets rolling, yes I do.

Scott D from Parts Unknown: When will ND honor itsr contract to BYU and get the game set in Provo? Quit ducking the game and get it set. This is not right by a religious school not to honor a contract and a debt.

Eric Hansen: The gist I got from talking to ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick in this 2018 interview is that the intention is to get it done. Here's our exchange:

Q: In terms of scheduling, when the ACC commitment first started, there seemed to be a traffic jam in terms of new commitments and old contracts and kind of having to work through that. Are you through all those now? Are you at a place where it’s a little bit easier to put puzzle pieces together?

Swarbrick: “I wouldn’t say we’re through it in the sense that in extracting ourselves from some of the old agreements, we carried forward some commitments. What we did was free up dates and years.

“We’ve got a couple of games coming up with Michigan State. We’ve got a couple of games coming up with Purdue. We’ve a game still to play with BYU. Those all have come out of those prior relationships. We want to get a couple of more games set with Michigan.”

Andy from West Chester, Pa.: Hi Eric, thank you for the chats and great coverage of ND Football. Sometimes looking over at the sidelines and on the field it looks like ND players are lacking in energy. I loved hearing the story when LSU coach Ed Orgeron made his team run out of the tunnel again, because he felt they didn't have enough positive energy. I know coach Kelly is a yoga guy and has calmed down his sideline demeanor, but has he ever addressed the overall energy from his players during practice or games?

Eric Hansen: I've never heard of that being a problem.

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric, Happy Valentine's Day to you and Mrs. Hansen! The most eye-opening article I read in the SBT last season was one that Carter Karels wrote about the lack of involvement in recruiting from Kelly, specifically prompting at least two recruits to go elsewhere.  Do you think that Kelly learned from those experiences and has he gotten more involved as far as you can tell?  Is he going to "debrief" the players as he did after the 2016 season?

Eric Hansen: Mrs. Hansen just got back from India, so I'm sure the two of you would have lots to talk about. I do think Brian Kelly is determined to learn from past mistakes as well as past successes, so yes to your first question. When I asked BK about the debriefing, he said it likely won't ever have to be that extensive, because he's so much more in touch with the players on a day-to-day basis, which wasn't the case in 2016.

Carter from Seal Beach, Calif.: Who do you think the starting cornerbacks are next year? Any talk of cornerback or running back grad transfer?

Eric Hansen: Shaun Crawford and TaRiq Bracy. I have not heard that ND is looking at the portal for CBs, but I would be.

Steve from St Louis: Are you surprised that Chip Long ended up as an analyst instead of securing another offensive coordinator position, or does that help solidify Kelly's decision to those who were unaware of the internal Issues?

Eric Hansen: It surprised me a little, and yet it's not unusual for a coach to do that while looking for his next big opportunity.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Scott D - I don't believe Eric has any control over that.

Eric Hansen: I indeed do not. Or even the TV remote at my house when the grandkids are over.

Brian from Mishawaka: Hi Eric, three-part question if you please. 1) Do you think running out of the shotgun formation contributed to our struggling in short-yardage situations last year? 2) If so, what's the fix going forward — put the QB under center or pass more in short-yardage situations. 3) What offensive personnel grouping do you think will be most widely used next year: 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB or 2 WR 2 TE 1 RB?

Eric Hansen: 1. At times yes. 2. I think we saw some of the solutions in the bowl game that Tommy Rees plans to use in 2020, including some snaps from center. 3. The most? Option A.

Jeff B from Oklahoma City: Eric, from what Tom Rees says, we will see a much bigger commitment to the running game going forward. How is that going to look? A lot of power sets off tackle, like Wisconsin, or something else? What do you think the percentage of offensive calls will be toward the run game? Will it be more skewed toward running, say like 60 percent run, 40 percent pass? Or is that too much?

Eric Hansen: Jeff, I'm about out of time. To be honest, I want to chat with him first and see some spring practice to get a really good feel for that answer. I don't think those percentages will be static from week to week.

Eric Hansen: OK, I've run out of time. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll do this again at least once before spring practice starts (which is tentatively set for March 5).

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