Chat Transcript: Talking what's next at QB at Notre Dame, how to upgrade recruiting

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat — Signing Day/Post-Groundhog Day Edition. Please include your name and hometown along with your question. Please. Please. We'll have plenty of coverage later today on recruiting, including Logan Diggs' decision, a story with new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and a piece with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. OK, let's get right to it.

Dave from Livonia, Mi.: Hi Eric. Thank you for these chats. It sure has helped get us through the pandemic. I hope you and your family continue to stay safe and healthy. My question is on recruiting offers. I know ND gives out many offers for each year. Does Brian Kelly have to approve each offer or is Tommy Rees and the other coaches allowed to do some on their own? I wasn't sure how much BK gets involved and knows about each offer. Thanks and take care.

Eric Hansen: OK Dave, I'm using my phone-a-friend lifeline on this one, because this is up Carter Karels' alley. Here is what he said: There's a system Notre Dame uses for offers, and my sense is that Brian Kelly is involved in a varying capacity. He doesn't need much convincing on guys who are obviously great. Does Kelly really need to watch hours of film on someone as talented as Rocco Spindler before giving Jeff Quinn the OK? Probably not. But does he need to sign off on a three-star recruit when Notre Dame is crunched for scholarship space? Probably. Bill Rees often handles the initial evaluations. Position coaches, coordinators, recruiting coordinator Brian Polian and the recruiting staffers will evaluate and check into if a kid is a fit academically and personality-wise. So often times, Kelly doesn't need to do a ton of legwork.

Larry from Topton, Pa.: Hi Eric! Great Pod of Gold this week. Thank Tyler (and yourself) for us! My question: Ian Book’s passing skills were fine, but what really made him a successful quarterback was his ability to create positive plays with his legs. How do the 2021 ND QBs rank, in relation to Book-style running/scrambling skills? Thanks Eric!!

Eric Hansen: Larry thanks and glad you liked the podcast. Early enrollee Rocco Spindler, an elite offensive guard, turned out to be an elite interview as well. Others who may have missed it can catch up here:

Pod of Gold: Rocco Spindler on his family, recruiting and enrolling early at Notre Dame

To your question, I'll be able to answer that infinitely better if we get to see some spring practice this year, which just might happen. But here's what I know: Tyler Buchner is perceived to be the best runner and long-term better than Ian Book. But he'll have to prove the latter. It's too bad he didn't get to have a senior season at Helix High in La Mesa, Calif., where he would have faced some formidable competition. As a junior against small-school competition, his numbers were 1,610 rushing yards on 128 carries and 28 TDs.

Of the others, Brendon Clark looks good in person and he had really good numbers his senior season in Virginia against good competition: 774 yards and 17 TDs. The issue with him is he's trying to recover from a knee injury. Drew Pyne didn't run much in high school but was effective when he did. Transfer Jack Coan is the wild card for me. He was not a runner at all at Wisconsin, but was that because of the system? He ran for 2,551 yards in his career in Sayville, N.Y. on Long Island and won something call "the Hansen Award" of all things. He's also a former lacrosse player, so my sense is he's better than what he's shown. So to review: Buchner, Book, Clark (with a good knee), Coan, Pyne, Clark (with a bad knee). This is open to revision after spring.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric. I hope that you are surviving the winter weather and the COVID issues. I got my vaccine last week, and felt like I had won the lottery! A couple of comments and a question. I understand all the excitement regarding the hiring of Marcus Freeman, but let's not forget Clark Lea was very good as a defensive coordinator and a person. Also, I agree with the comments last week about putting more of a rush on opposing punters if we are going to fair catch 95% of the punts. Even if we don't block any, we may force them to rush into a poor punt. My question is: with all of the fast receivers that we are hoping to have healthy for this season, can any of the QBs get the ball to them on the deep routes? Who throws the best deep ball? Thanks and stay safe. Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Congrats on the Vax. I am in the next age group on the waiting list here in Indiana, so hopefully I can get in line soon. With the deep ball, again, I'm somewhat limited on the eye test, so I asked Carter Karels to help me, since he studied the film. I would agree with his assessment. Here it is: This question has two answers. At the moment, Jack Coan throws the best deep ball. Some of the throws he made in poor weather conditions against Minnesota in 2019 really impressed me. His experience will make him better than the others with reading defenses, timing, knowing how to squeeze the ball between a cornerback and safety, etc. That being said, Tyler Buchner will eventually have the superior deep ball once he adjusts to college. He makes throws that others can't. He can throw to the wide side of the field. He can throw off his back foot. He can throw off platform. He's unlike any quarterback Notre Dame has had under Brian Kelly. How the Irish develop him, how his mechanics turn out, how he adjusts with his minimal experience — that will determine how good of a player he becomes.

Steve from St. Louis: Great news for us Cardinal fans regarding Arenado? Who you got winning the Super Bowl? What is the team allowed to be working on this time of year? Thanks for the chats!

Eric Hansen: Yes, it was great news ... and I still can't believe it's real news. I'll go with KC in the Super Bowl. The Notre Dame team is engaged in lifting and conditioning at this point. That's the emphasis as they get ready for spring ... and staying healthy. Speaking of Arenado, what place does Carter Karels come in, in the Nolan Arenado lookalike contest?


Alan from Whiteland, Indiana: Eric, Has there been any discussion about Notre Dame playing a 13th game, so as to give them that extra data point the CFP selection committee looks at in comparison to conference championship games? If so, what are the NCAA and scheduling hurdles that would need to be ironed out to make this happen? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Alan, there hasn't been discussion or really any concern. Throwing out the weirdness of 2020, there's been an evolution in thinking among the CFP selection committee (which continues to rotate new members onto it) about the 13th data point. There's precedent for non-conference champions with 12 games played to make the field ... even some with a loss. AD Jack Swarbrick's scheduling philosophy is come up with a 12-game slate that can stand up to other teams' 13-game schedule. The only way ND could play a 13th game is a road date at Hawaii. And is that really going to make the difference whether you put them in the field or not?

Stan from Chester Va.: Hello Eric, and thanks for a year of superior coverage all things Irish. I know many fans like to harp on Brian Kelly's lack of taking the Irish all the way to a national championship, but overall, I believe that, throwing out 2016, he has done all that Notre Dame could expect and more. Where would you rank him among the school's top coaches, and do you feel a national championship is possible, given the strict academic requirements?

Eric Hansen: Stan, thank you. I think what's difficult in evaluating Kelly is the context that you need to take into account, and there's a lot of it. He's coaching in a much different era, and minimally he's made the Irish relevant again and raise the expectations for the program. However, I think it's fair to put the coaches with national titles ahead of him with one exception. From players I've spoken with who played for Dan Devine and from writers who covered him, there's a feeling the Irish won the 1977 title in spite of Devine rather than because of him. I'd put Brian Kelly ahead of him. And yes, I think a national title under Kelly is possible.

Jay from Palos Hills, Ill.: Hi Eric. Do you know which position Bo Barnes is leaning between corner and safety and which position Khari Gee is leaning between safety and linebacker?

Eric Hansen: Jay, I think because of need and where Khari is at this moment physically (6-3, 185), he'll start out at safety when he arrives in June with the thought that he could eventually be a rover/linebacker down the road. I think Ryan "Bo" Barnes begins his career as a corner with the consideration that he eventually could end up as a safety.

Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric. Thanks for keeping us informed with everything ND. How important is it for ND to get Logan Diggs this afternoon? Other than depth, what are his strengths compared to the other backs? You're the best!

Eric Hansen: I think the importance in getting Diggs is more long term than short term. I think ND has enough bodies at running back for next season. and Diggs probably wouldn't play much unless there are injuries. But just because Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree both begin 2021 with freshman eligibility (redshirt and COVID allowance for Williams, COVID allowance for Tyree) doesn't mean they'll stick around more than three years. So Kyren could be gone after 2021. ... Diggs shows really good balance and vision, and he's very versatile as far as catching the ball and being a willing-and-able blocker. He's worked hard on his straight-line speed. I'll be intrigued to find out what that is in 40-time numbers.

Dan, I apologize for not thanking you back ... and if I do that again, it's not that I don't appreciate you. Sometimes my mind gets moving too fast and trying to formulate an answer and I forget.

Ken from Shipshewana, Ind.: Hey Eric, thanks for a great year. Really appreciate your leadership, insights, and making this forum available! So glad to see us identify and recruit a five-star in disguise like Kyle Hamilton, JOK and others. And we can coach up and develop the three- and four-stars with the best of them. But we see one of the differences of where we are and where we wanna be is the absence of five-star guys. We can't get them if we don't offer them. Your perspective on why we don't seem to offer nearly as many five-stars as the rest? Is it just entrance requirements? A mutual interest thing? Or, is there more to it than that?

Eric Hansen: Ken, I will save the side discussion on how five-stars are determined, and some other interesting tangents and focus on your direct question. Keep in mind there are only about 30-35 five-stars each cycle. Compare that with 240-ish four-stars and even more three-stars. Academics/fit does play a part and mutual interest plays a part, but I do think Notre Dame could be more ambitious and successful than what the Irish have been under Kelly at identifying, offering and getting involved with players of that caliber who would be fits. More importantly, I think Kelly now believes that. And we're starting to see a more aggressive approach through an early flurry of offers from new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Thanks for being here! With so many early enrollees this year, do you expect spring starts to become the norm someday and June starts to be considered “late enrollees?" Which June starts this year would have benefited the most from enrolling early?

Eric Hansen: Erik, thank you for being here. I think there will always be a percentage of kids who either can’t graduate early (it’s harder through the Catholic schools) or they want to play basketball, baseball or track. But there are advantages for those who do come early, including a head start on academics. Of the June arrivals, I think safety Khari Gee and linebacker Prince Kollie may have benefited from an early start, in part because there’s some opportunity to get into the two-deeps, and having the spring might have enhanced that.

Jim Heckart from Berlin, Conn.: Eric, do you think the fact that the Irish will probably be returning to a normal independent football schedule next season will cause some animosity among the ACC teams? Will there be a feeling that the league went out of its way to help Notre Dame when they quickly lost three games on their 2020 schedule and let them in as a full-time conference member, and now the league gets "repaid" by the Irish going back to their traditional ways of remaining independent and not joining the ACC full time?

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks for your question and adding your hometown. I think maybe you misunderstood the premise of Notre Dame playing an ACC schedule in 2020. The understanding on both sides was that this was a one-year arrangement. There was never a hint that if Notre Dame liked it, the Irish might stick around as a full-time league member. So if anyone has hard feelings, they’re kind of being a snowflake. Those in the know realize the arrangement, as it exists now, benefits both sides.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric. Have the players been vaccinated yet? If not, when are they scheduled and can they opt out?

Eric Hansen: Hi Denny. I don’t know for a fact, but I would be surprised if that’s the case based on both federal guidelines and state guidelines. The good news is that Indiana seems to have a really good system in place and is working its way through the different prioritized groups quickly. I think it’s realistic to believe they’d have a chance to be vaccinated by this summer — plenty of time before the season starts.

Mike from Angola, Ind.: Can Notre Dames weight-and-conditioning coaches give signed and committed athletes weight-training and diet plans before they get to school to help them get physically ready for college?

Eric Hansen: They can give them to signed recruits, and they do. And last year, because of COVID, signees that were not yet on campus, such as Chris Tyree, were able to sit in on Zoom position meetings as well. But the training and diet plans are not unique to a year with COVID-19.

Tony in Virginia Beach: Like a lot of us, we lost out on the trip to Ireland last season. Any rumblings about that being rescheduled in the next couple of years, if at all?

Eric Hansen: Tony, at the time the game was first moved to the U.S. and then eventually canceled all together, athletic directors from both Navy and ND expressed the desire to get an Ireland game back on the schedule. How soon, I think depends a lot on how quickly international travel and large crowds in stadiums become part of reality. Doing so in 2022 might be a little quick, but 2024 could be a possible window of opportunity.

Dave from Alpha, N.J.: Eric, thanks for operating these chats and greetings from my igloo in N.J. Just wondering if you think ND will dip into the transfer portal for secondary personnel, similar to Nick McCloud last year?

Eric Hansen: Dave, we have access to four of the assistant coaches later this afternoon, so that question will come up. I think it makes sense to at least do some window shopping when it comes to cornerbacks, safeties, perhaps a defensive end and a rover. Two factors to keep in mind: 1) There could be some spring surprises that lessen the need and 2) There could be a scholarship numbers crunch, which makes it more difficult to add.

Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: Eric, hope this finds you safe and warm. I know it is a crazy time, but when will you realistically have an opportunity to interview Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees about their plans for the new season? Especially Rees, on the vertical passing game. Thanks for keeping the chats going.

Eric Hansen: Sean, thank you. As I mentioned, we have some coaches today — Rees, Freeman, Brian Polian and Mike Elston, but the agenda will mostly center on recruiting. However, I’m told we’ll have a shot at all 10 assistants this spring, and that’s when we can dive a little deeper into the X’s and O’s with Rees and Freeman.

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, you've touched on this topic before, but I'm asking to see if you know of any updates from the NCAA regarding scholarship limits in the coming years. There are 60+ players with four years of eligibility on the roster now. After the upcoming 2021 season, ND could realistically have 80+ players still on scholarship. Any idea on how this will be handled for the immediate future in regard to the 85-scholarship limit and the size of the '22, '23 and '24 recruiting classes?

Eric Hansen: Doug, as it stands, everyone’s going to have to be at 85 in 2022. But there’s momentum for the NCAA to fix this and adopt a tiered structure that would allow for more than 85 scholarships beyond 2021 and gradually working its way back down. The down side is extra cost of scholarships, with athletic departments’ budgets being tight from the pandemic. Yet that may be the only way to balance classes for the long run.

Jeff from Cleveland, Ohio: Eric, I know Brian Kelly has not only talked about a shift in how ND recruits under him, but he's implemented several changes since approximately 2016 to meet those recruiting goals! Do you feel he continues to stress with himself, and his assistant coaches, the quote/unquote "Need For Speed" — not only at the skill positions, but overall in terms of the type of players ND recruits from now on? It is so clear to me that when we go up against the elite programs (Bama, Clemson, Ohio State), their players consistently run away from us, and it looks like a track meet is taking place on the field. But only one team has those speedy athletes. I know we've made some strides (pun intended) in our recruiting, but more needs to be done! Am I wrong?

Eric Hansen: Recruiting verifiable speed is still a priority, and we’re starting to see it with players like Chris Tyree, Braden Lenzy, Lorenzo Styles Jr., cornerbacks including Chance Tucker and others. Yes, there needs to be more. Notre Dame has done a great job in recruiting and developing both of its lines. Not a knock on Ian Book, but there needs to be a step up in dynamic quarterback play, too, and certainly more speed at wide receiver will help that. But there are other factors in QB development/recruiting that needs to take a step up.

Don from Phoenix: Eric, I hope all remains well in your world. You and the staff are doing a GREAT job in tough times. Regarding tough times most people cant wait for things to return to normal — whatever that may be. When things "return," what do you think will be different? Will SEC teams play outside their conference? Will conferences realign? How will the playoffs evolve to create better bowls? What do you think will become the new normal for ND as well as college football?

Eric Hansen: Don, I appreciate the question, but it’s pushing me toward two skill sets of which I’m lacking — clairvoyance and epidemiology. So this is more of an educated guess. I feel fairly confident teams will be able to go back to playing their normal schedules in 2021 — SEC included. I think the Olympic sports will be greatly impacted, more so than football. I think you’ll see less travel from those sports (baseball, track, softball, etc.). I think there may be some conference realignment. And I think eventually the playoff will expand to eight teams. As far as the bowl system itself, it could be in a bit of trouble, especially if full stadiums aren’t yet a reality this bowl season. … And thanks for the kind words.

Scott Hauser from Elkhart: You think being in conference would help getting back to finals versus being independent coming season, considering the coming season's schedule does not appear to be as tough a schedule as previous years?

Eric Hansen: I think you’re underestimating the gristle in the 2021 schedule. The Irish play four teams in ESPN’s way-too-early Top 25: No. 7 North Carolina, No. 9 USC, No. 11 Cincinnati, and No. 17 Wisconsin. And the 2022 and 2023 schedules feature regular-season games with Clemson AND Ohio State. And no I don't think it's necessary to play an ACC schedule to get into the playoff.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Hi Eric. Wishing you and your family the very best in health and happiness from small town So-Cal. With Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree leading the way, the Irish seem to be in good shape as it relates to the running back position. But due to expected wear and tear as well as the possibility of injury, the Irish will need to have viable third and fourth options should the need arise. If you had to project, who do you see as being the next two backs in the pecking order — be they players currently on the roster or perhaps even a freshman could ascend into this role? Many thanks for your time and kind consideration to us Irish fans.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thank you and same to you. I definitely think C'Bo Flemister has earned a role behind those two and situationally in short-yardage and near the goal line in certain games. I'm curious to see what Audric Estime (6-1, 215) can do as a power back as a freshman. I see him as a possible option too. If one of the top two gets hurt, though, Logan Diggs might make more sense because of his pass-catching skill set.

Caleb from Charlotte: Hi Eric, Ian Book is the starting quarterback with the most wins at ND. In your opinion, who was the most talented starting quarterback that has played at ND in the last 50 years. Also, isn't it unfair to apply wins and losses to the quarterback when often the play of other players have a greater impact on the outcome of the game?

Eric Hansen: Caleb, I initially misread your question, so I am editing my response. The most talented quarterback at ND in the past 50 years, I think, was Joe Montana, though his best football came during his NFL career. Even though Brady Quinn didn't have a long or celebrated pro career, I'd put him at No. 2. Ian Book has earned a special place in ND history. He's an important part of where ND eventually wants to go with the program. I think if you ONLY factored in wins with regard to a QB's greatness or lack thereof, that would be unfair, but I do think it is a legit factor.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Hi Eric. I often hear the phrase that a certain player is a "good fit" for ND. Generally speaking, what would entice a great player to come to ND instead of going to Bama, Clemson or Ohio State, where there is a greater opportunity to win a national championship and likely a less challenging academic course load?

Eric Hansen: The chance to play football at a very high level, get developed to play in the NFL AND the connections and value a Notre Dame degree brings for life AFTER football. That's what ND sells, and that appeals to some elite players.

Joey G from Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Eric. Hope all is well! It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm being generated by Marcus Freeman on the recruiting trail. It seems he knows what players he wants and isn’t afraid to go after the elite players. On the offensive side of the ball, aside from lineman and tight ends, ND seems unable to land elite QBs, RBs and WRs. Do you think coaches Tommy Rees, Lance Taylor and DelVaughn Alexander could learn from Marcus Freeman’s recruiting style?

Eric Hansen: I'll answer it this way. I think there is room to be more ambitious with offering, pursuing and landing elite offensive recruiting targets.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, thanks for keeping the chats going in the offseason. Do you think 2021 is a make-or-break season for Del Alexander? The comment is always about how ND doesn't have the playmakers, However Lawrence Keys, Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin were all four-stars and Jordan Johnson is a five-star. I realize there has been some bad luck with injuries, but Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool were obviously phenomenal talents who took far too long to develop. Schools like Ohio State and Clemson seem to be able to develop their younger talent much faster. Chris Olave and E.J. Williams were no higher ranked than ND's players but they got developed much faster. I am beginning to wonder if the issue is more about development than talent. What do you think?

Eric Hansen: Marie, I wonder the same thing, as do a lot of other people on the chat this week and in some of the previous weeks. I can give Del Alexander and the offense a Mulligan of sorts for this season, with no spring practice and limited time in the summer to work on timing/chemistry. The fall camp was so heavy in scheme/play installation, forging chemistry with a larger number of receivers was challenging. HOWEVER, the questions you ask weren't unique to last season. I will give coach Alexander credit with a nice haul on the recruiting trail two years in a row, really. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call this year "make or break" as far as development goes, but I think it will be defining for him.

Adam in Florida: I apologize if I came off like a jerk with the no-spin orders in my Brian Kelly/Tyson Ford recruitment question last week. It just seems like there's always qualifiers for why BK doesn't personally recruit with the same urgency as other elite head coaches. Does the influx of defensive offers and the interest from top recruits committed to places like Ohio State (DB about to flip) highlight the importance of a dogged recruiter like Freeman, as well as what appears to be missing on the offensive side after the firing of Chip Long?

Eric Hansen: Adam, all is forgiven. I think your standard for what fans should expect in recruiting in the 2022 cycle on offense is both realistic and fair. So far, the offensive line recruiting is off to a good start. Skill positions need to follow suit. I think Brian Kelly would agree.

Gabriel Weiss from North Liberty: Hello again Mr. Hansen. I hope you are staying healthy and happy. I know you do not like hypothetical questions, but if the Power 5 breaks off from the NCAA, do you think ND would have to join a conference? Thanks again for your time.

Eric Hansen: Hi Gabriel. Healthy and happy here. Thanks for asking. I think Notre Dame would be part of any breakaway, so there would not be a need to join a conference.

Michael from New Mexico: Why did so many NON-first- or second-round potential draft pick ND players leave the program this year when they had an additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19? Seems like we could have had all but four or five players back for a strong 2021 team that could compete for a national championship again and their draft stock would increase next year.

Eric Hansen: I know it might seem fun to us to stay in college forever. But for young men of that age, getting on with their lives and getting paid has an appeal to it. I was in college for five years, got accepted into law school and just couldn't take the thought of more school. So I deferred my admission, tried my hand at something I had a passion for and never regretted that decision for one second. So I see their side of it. And not all that many of them would have necessarily benefitted by coming back. There's also the risk of injury and the notion of having to navigate COVID for a while in a college setting as opposed to an NFL setting might not be all that appealing.

Frank Serra From Texas: What freshmen do you think will play quality minutes during the season?

Eric Hansen: Remember, this isn't JUST about talent. It's about talent PLUS opportunity PLUS readiness/ability to adapt. So in that light, I'll start with Tyler Buchner at quarterback. I'm not predicting him to be the starter, but I am predicting he could be No. 2 and could make things competitive. I'd say Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Rocco Spindler also on offense. I'm not sure any of the freshman DEs are ready, but there's opportunity to get into the rotation because of numbers. Also linebacker Prince Kollie, both of the freshman safeties and all of the freshman cornerbacks should get a good look.

Eric Hansen: That's going to have to do it for today. I've got interviews with BK and the Irish assistants coming up in a couple of minutes. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll take a break next week and come back in two weeks on Feb. 17 at noon ET.

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