Chat Transcript: Talking Drew Brees, Notre Dame's recruiting dynamics, QB intrigue

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, St. Patrick's Day Edition. A friendly reminder to please include your name and hometown with your question. The chat will move back into weekly mode this week through the end of April. ... We're off and running.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, Michael Mayer is truly a special player. In your opinion, what are the one or two aspects of his game that still need to be improved upon for Mayer to reach his full potential? Thank you for answering my question.

Eric Hansen: Alan, he's pretty advanced, so we're kind of splitting hairs here. But I know he'll push himself to become more well-rounded. I would say blocking and consistency with his assignments would be two things I'd expect him to work on this spring. In terms of Notre Dame getting more out of him (which you didn't ask, but I'll add anyway), I think there are ways to exploit bad matchups and get him free running deep down the middle of the field against certain teams.

Jacob from Hobart, Ind.: How do you think Drew Brees and Mike Tirico will do calling ND games this year? Who would be your dream broadcast team for ND games?

Eric Hansen: Hi Jacob. I think Mike Tirico makes everyone around him better. I've got a conference call with Drew Brees after the chat, so I'll get a little bit better feel for him then. But there's no body of work yet to go by. I did enjoy Tony Dungy last year. I think your question about a dream broadcast team is a good one, just not one that would resonate with me. I think Mike Tirico is a good start, and then I really enjoy, as an analyst, someone who knows the game very well, has great anecdotes and who can translate their knowledge into digestible bites than enhances the broadcast for viewers.

Jim from Berlin, Conn.: Eric, I've seen some early predictions that say the best the Irish can realistically hope for in wins for the upcoming season is nine. That sounds low to me. I know there's a stretch of five games in the middle of the schedule that will basically define our season, but unless the offensive line doesn't jell and our quarterbacks fall apart, I believe we can win 10 or 11 games with Cincinnati and North Carolina being the toughest opponents. What say you?

Eric Hansen: I think projecting a win total at this stage of the season is much more difficult than in most other seasons, because of so many unknowns. They're not necessarily scary or bad unknowns, but there are a lot of them at at important places — QB, O-line, pass rush, secondary. And to an extent maximizing the talent at wide receiver should be on that list, too. The two position groups where you have very few questions are interior defensive line and running back. So the spring will inform our projections quite a bit. Here's another way to look at it. The other day. I tried to name in my mind the top 20 football players on the team in order. Most years, that's pretty easy. Once, I got to No. 8, it became very difficult for me, not because of lack of talent, but because we need to see in the spring who's growing and getting better.

Jim from Oakwood, Ohio: Happy Saint Patrick's Day, Eric. May the luck of the Irish possess you. May the devil fly off with your worries. May God Bless you forever and ever. I liked the Pod of Gold with Steve Angeli ... and was very impressed with his comments, which amazed me since he is a high school junior. Do you believe that the Irish will continue to pursue other QB options such as Drew Allar for 2022? I was sorry to see Tony Dungy leave the ND broadcast team. He was insightful and first class. I realize that NBC is also looking out for its Sunday Night Football interests ... but wondered if ND was consulted prior to the decision and whether or not ND has a "veto" before the decision is final? May the Lord keep you in His hand ... and never close his fist too tight.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thank you, thank you and thank you. I too was impressed with Steve Angeli's poise and maturity on our interview. I don't think the Irish will pursue Drew Allar, who committed to Penn State shortly after Angeli committed to ND. They did extend an offer today to a 2023 quarterback, and that was to Arch Manning of THAT Manning family. That'll be a tough pull. They're looking at some other top QB prospects in that class as well. As far as Tony Dungy, Notre Dame knew about and was on board with Drew Brees. That had been worked out a long time ago, before Brees played his last season.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Eric, Tyler Buchner didn't get the opportunity to play many games in high school due to injury and the pandemic. He's not expected to win the starting QB job in 2021 and may not be the No. 2 QB. Therefore, it's possible he will not get to play in 2021. However, expectations are that he will be serious contender for the starting job in 2022. Can the Irish go into the 2022 season with a starting quarterback with such little game experience and compete against Clemson and Ohio State?

Eric Hansen: Lee, here's a stat that should make you feel better and start to answer your question. Of the last 13 college football national champions, eight were quarterbacked by first-year starters and the other five by second-year starters. But your point is Buchner is less experienced than the typical freshman (or first-year starter). If Buchner isn't 1 or 2 this year, then that would indicate there's at least two QBs on the roster better than he is. That is not my expectation. I think he has the talent and smarts to accelerate through his inexperience. I'll let you know if spring practice confirms that or changes my mind.

Steve from Las Vegas: Love the chats! The past few years Clark Lea seemed to run a bend-but-don't-break style of defense, but from what I have seen, Marcus Freeman's defense seems to be more aggressive or attack-oriented. When I think of aggressive defenses at ND, I have flashbacks to Jon Tenuta and a lot of ineffective blitzes. Will Freeman's results using an aggressive scheme be better?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Steve. If Marcus didn't have a track record of success with those defenses, I could understand the flashbacks. What's important for any defensive coordinator is the ability to evolve. Tenuta couldn't do that (or was too stubborn to perhaps) and he became just another coach. Brian VanGorder was unable to adapt to tempo and spread as well as being unable to replicate Rex Ryan's concepts at the college level. He also had trouble teaching his defense. I think Freeman will modify his scheme to ND's personnel, but overall I would expect a more aggressive approach — and a successful one. Mike Mickens, who came from Cincinnati the year before Freeman, is used to coaching cornerbacks that way.

Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: With all the quality players in the Portal (see Penn State), should Mike Brey be looking at adding at least one or perhaps two in your opinion?

Eric Hansen: Joe, have you been hitting the green beer already?

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hi Eric. Beautiful weather here in the Falls. Hope things are warming up in South Bend. Really looking forward to any news gleaned from spring practice. Is it that simple that Marcus Freeman is just a harder working, more dynamic personality than Clark Lea when it comes to recruiting or is Freeman bringing in more athletes who may become vulnerable to classroom standards? There must be guidelines in place that allow ND to decide which players may be at risk but offer anyway. Do you see a higher-than-usual number of academic casualties as a worry? Thanks so much for your time.

Eric Hansen: Actually, we have decent weather day here today, Denis. Here's how I look at Clark Lea moving on to Marcus Freeman ... that their success will be and is connected. I think they're both very hard workers. Clark had a real eye for diamonds in the rough in recruiting, and they worked out for him, especially All-American Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He also was all over Prince Kollie before Kollie ascended to a high school Butkus Award winner. Clark also stayed true to his more laid-back personality. Freeman is a more dynamic personality, and part of why he is successful swinging for the fences is because Notre Dame has evolved into a consistent top defense under Lea, while Freeman has a strong track record of his own.

So Freeman, thanks to Lea, has more to sell than a promise. There's substance. My sense is that Clark would have become more aggressive in pursuing more elite prospects had he stayed. His ability to develop players is outstanding. But I think Marcus Freeman has an edge on the trail. So they're both very good at what they do, just in different ways. And the Irish benefit from having them back to back. No, I do not have concerns that Notre Dame is overreaching and pursuing prospects who are academic risks under Freeman. He understands fit. As a player he was an ND fit and the Irish just got edged out by Ohio State.

Chad from Denver: Eric you are phenomenal at your job. Really appreciate your work over the years. I'm sure you got a few of these questions, but I'll add mine to the pile. Will Drew Brees be a good fit in your opinion? I realize you don't watch games at home, like most fans, but with this past season (I assume you had to watch some games on TV because of COVID restrictions) I was interested to get your take. I liked the team of Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy calling ND games. I was sorry to hear Dungy was being replaced.

Eric Hansen: Chad, thank you. My understanding was that Tony was brought in knowing that this would be temporary. He does have a full plate with the NFL duties. I enjoyed him in the one year (because of COVID) I got to see several games on TV. Until I interview Brees today, I will not have spoken with him since he was a player at Purdue. I'm eager to get a feel for him today.

Denny from Liberty Hill, Texas: Hi Eric and Happy St. Patrick’s Day. It seems things are lining up better to, hopefully, have a full spring practice schedule. What are you hearing about teams getting COVID vaccinations. It seems likely all players on all teams will have it available well before August. I’m sure it won’t be mandatory. Is there a story line out there somewhere or what are your feelings how this “play out”?

Eric Hansen: I asked athletic director Jack Swarbrick about that in a recent Q and A, and there was not a special plan to vaccinate student-athletes. Remember, the world changes fast in these areas, and right now vaccines are easier to get than they were just a month ago. Before the end of the semester, I would bet they would be able to at least schedule an appointment, if not get at least one shot. I can't imagine that anyone who wanted one would come back in August without one. As for the prospect for an uninterrupted spring practice, there are no guarantees. Indiana and St. Joseph County are in a very good spot at the moment in terms of infections. Notre Dame is not. The number of estimated active cases today is 177 and rising. There have been almost 1,100 positive tests on campus since school resumed in February. So there is risk. ND football's strong protocols will be tested.

Jim from Virginia: Eric, thanks for all you do — overworked and underpaid. But, like they say, to know it all, you need to do it all. With all that, my question: With a new QB and, in a sense, new wide receivers and tight ends, how do the coaches and kids get on the same page and throw it to develop that QB-and-receiver mojo? Spring practice is small. I take it they see each other in the offseason. Or is there summer classes i.e. real studies — not basket weaving, like those other power schools (input any name)?

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. The wide array of quarterbacks and wide receivers competing ... and tight ends beyond Michael Mayer, make that chemistry a little more challenging. If ND has a clear No. 1 and 2 QB by the end of spring and some semblance of a wide receiver rotation, that will help going into summer.

Notre Dame will be in summer school, per usual. What will be different than last year, with each passing month, it should be easier for QBs and receivers to go out and throw on their own as the pandemic conditions and restrictions ease. Ian Book didn't have that luxury last spring or most of the summer.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. Love the recruiting roundtable feature. Great idea! To get top 5 classes the experts agree you have to go after top players and be prepared to lose battles. While the ND defensive recruiters are doing this, it does not seem to be so for the offensive recruiters. In fact, in general the excitement about recruiting seems centered on the defense. Why do you think this is? Do you think the offense ND has played the last several years, and that BK has a reputation (whether earned or not) for not playing young players, hurts the offense's ability to recruit top skill players? There are several top West Coast wide receivers this year. Wasn't Del Alexander supposed to provide an upgrade with West Coast recruiting? C.J. Williams is a top recruit, from a Catholic school, who I read initially was very interested in ND. But now ND has fallen way off with him. What went wrong there? If the offensive recruiting is subpar this year, do you think there could be staff changes? Thanks for hosting the chat!

Eric Hansen: Hi, Marie. Thanks for the feedback on Inside Recruiting. We'll have another edition on the web Thursday and in print Friday morning. I think the good news in terms of your question is the Pot of Gold recruiting tactic Notre Dame unveiled on St. Patrick's Day. The staff connected with more than 60 players in the 2023 cycle, extending new offers to a good number of those players who didn't previously hold an offer from the Irish. They dominated social media for a day, too. There were phone calls and Zooms. And when you look at who was offered, there seemed to be some symmetry in the high caliber of offensive players vs. defensive players. As far as the 2022 class, I believe your perception is shared by other observers, particularly among recruiting analysts. I don't think this ties into the perception (right or wrong) of BK not playing young players on offense. I think it's more a product of how aggressive you want to be in terms of numbers of offers who gets them. Clearly there's been a shift for 2023.

But I think there's a chance to the Irish to finish strong on offense in the 2022 cycle, especially when visits, as expected, are allowed come June 1. Maybe not as strong as the defense, but still a very good offensive class.

Lawrence from San Diego: YDM, Eric. You da man. What are the floor and ceiling for our reloaded offensive line next year? Same question for Tyler Buchner?

Eric Hansen: Lawrence, how can I be da man when you da man? I think there's too much talent in the offensive line options for them to be below average collectively, and too many new pieces for them to be elite in 2021. I think in 2022, we'll see a big jump. For Tyler Buchner, it will surprise me if he's not at least No. 2. It would also surprise me if he ascended to be No. 1 this year, but I think he has that kind of talent. My expectation, to be clear, is that he is ND's No. 2 QB this season.

John from Jackson, Miss.: Hi Eric, love the chats. My question is a little speculative, but I wanted to ask about Lance Taylor. Given ND's success with running back development of late — and particularly recruiting, is it likely he is on his way out to bigger things at the end of this season? I guess I am really asking two things: (1) Is Taylor someone that other programs are interested in? And (2) Do you think there is a desire on his part to jump to any full-fledged offensive coordinator or head coaching gig?

Eric Hansen: John, thanks. It's hard to nail down the timing ... this season? Next season? Lance Taylor has more responsibilities than just being the running backs coach at Notre Dame, and he has the ambition to be even more than he is now. So at some point soon, if he continues to be successful, he's going to get other opportunities to weigh against staying at ND. That's part of the price of success — other schools will want to interview and hire your assistant coaches.

Gabriel Weiss from North Liberty: Happy St. Patrick's Day! Do you think ND gets lucky and has Brady Quinn ever enter the broadcast booth?

Eric Hansen: Happy SPD back. I think Brady would be open to that. But with NBC's commitment to Drew Brees, I'm not sure how soon or if that would happen.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Hi Eric, it seems to me that the Irish are in contention for more four- and five-star players. Is this a result of Mike Elston being named recruiting coordinator and Marcus Freeman joining the staff? Or is this just a reflection of Brian Kelly's recent change in recruiting philosophy, i.e. that ND should be in the top 5 in recruiting?

Eric Hansen: Caleb, I think it's all the above, and that's not to say Brian Polian wouldn't have aligned with the Brian Kelly's top five class mantra and goal. This will come up in this week's Inside Recruiting roundtable, but don't underestimate the effect of two playoff berths in three years is having as well.

Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: Hi Eric. Regarding recruiting, does Notre Dame have an outlet or method or forum to have Irish fans able to inform coaches (of any sport) about an up-and-coming player, so the kid can be recruited ASAP in high school, which is really important? I go back to Gerry McNamara in basketball, who went to Syracuse and won an NCAA championship. He and his family (I am told) were vocally huge Notre Dame fans. But Jimmy Boeheim was all over this kid from Scranton, Pa., early, as my brother sat next to him for a playoff game when Gerry was just a junior. You could tell this kid was going to be another Pistol Pete Maravich very early. In football a few years ago, a player from Williamsport was an awesome running back — Gary Brown, who ended up at Penn State. I don't know if ND picked up on him. Thanks Eric.

Eric Hansen: Mike, I will have to check into whether there's some kind of formal channel, but I am certainly not aware of one. I think if there was one, it might get a little overwhelming wading through a lot of unhelpful tips to get to the rare helpful ones. With such expansive recruiting staffs these days for football, it's difficult to miss hearing about legit prospects as may have been the case when Gary Brown played three decades ago.

David from Columbus, Ohio: Hello Eric. Have any dates been set yet for spring practice?

Eric Hansen: Nor that anyone is willing to acknowledge and share publicly. I would say to expect a start up no sooner than Saturday, March 27 and expect a very compressed practice schedule.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif..: Hi Eric, wishing you well and here's hoping that the upcoming season is played in a much more normal setting. Though there are plenty of questions to wonder about, I believe the two absolute keys to the Irish once again winning 10 regular-season games in 2021 are: Can Marcus Freeman get the defense to play in a consistently aggressive and dependable manner? And does Jack Coan become a true difference-maker and show a lot more than he did at Wisconsin, even though his play as a Badger was solid? Without those two scenarios taking place, it's hard to imagine the Irish reaching double digits once again. And, by the way, all that I've read and gleaned would indicate that anyone else has little chance of beating out Coan, at least to start the season. Again, very appreciative of all your splendid work.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. I don't see a question here, but I'll take the compliments. ... and I'll push back a little bit on your assertions. Be careful getting too stuck in absolutes when it comes to quarterbacks. Let it play out (and it likely will be Coan), But who would have expected Tommy Rees to overtake five-star Dayne Crist in 2011? Ian Book overtaking Brandon Wimbush in 2018? Everett Golson to emerge in 2012? I am intrigued by Coan, I just want to see with my own eyes how he fits in ND's offense. I don't disagree with your keys. I just think there are more than two.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Thanks for the chats, Eric! My question regards Del Alexander. Seems other pundits think this is a make-or-break year for him from a coaching and recruiting standpoint. Appears similar to thoughts surrounding Terry Joseph. Did well with starters but failed to coach up younger player/non-starters. What’s your thoughts on him? Any indications if Brian Kelly feels the same way or that there needs to be a change? I personally can’t say one way or the other, as he has seen players under him get drafted but just seems there could be another gear to kick in, too. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Tyler, I probably am misunderstanding your question. Terry Joseph is at Texas, and Chris O'Leary is the new safeties coach. I didn't sense that Brian wanted to push him out there door if that's what you're asking. I do think there's a lot of optimism internally as to what O'Leary can accomplish on the field and on the recruiting trail. The latter is something we'll tackle in the Inside Recruiting roundtable once there's a little larger sample size with O'Leary.

Jay from Chicago: Hi Eric. I hope you and your family are well. While I completely understand that this is a non-football-related question, I am hopeful you will entertain it. I have noticed you have written an article or two lately on the surging ND baseball team under Link Jarrett. As an avid ND baseball fan yearning for a return of the glory years under Paul Mainieri, I am curious A.) if we could begin to see more extended coverage of the ND baseball team? And b.) if baseball, and ND baseball in particular, is something that you have a passion watching and writing about? Thanks and be well!

Eric Hansen: Jay, thank you. If Notre Dame baseball continues to surge and the interest is there, we'll bring you more baseball stories. Personally, I love baseball and I think there are a lot of interesting story lines in the program worth teasing out and writing about. ... But again success and interest will drive how much time we can spend on coverage.

Matt from Rockville Centre, N.Y.: Eric, No question. Just wanted to say you’re a terrific journalist and that I really enjoy and appreciate your work. I appreciate your reporting, your writing, your judgement, your news sense and your equanimity (see what I did with that last word there?) Take care and stay safe.

Eric Hansen: Matt, I did see what you did there, and thank you for your creativity AND your kindness. You deserve a stimulus beer.

Michael from Chicago: Question regarding playing time/ball distribution: Per, ND had 867 offensive snaps last year, 505 (58%) were running and 362 (42%) were passing attempts. For 12 games that's an average of 42 rushing and 30 passing attempts. So ND was splitting those rushing attempts between Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, C'Bo Flemister and for 2021 now potentially 2 freshmen that might earn carries. Do you see the offense leaning even more to the run with a potentially loaded running back room (albeit an inexperienced O-line)? And to the point of "not playing young players" three of the most impactful offensive skill players last year were Kyren (Soph.), Tyree (Freshman) and Michael Mayer (Freshman), so this somewhat seems like a challenge at wide receiver. Will the same "problem" persist for the sophomore and freshmen wide receivers to overtake another crowded upper class of Kevin Austin, Avery Davis, Lawrence Keys, Braden Lenzy and Joe Wilkins? There only seems to be room for one or two to make a move (presumably from Deion Colzie, Jordan Johnson, Lorenzo Styles Jr. and/or Xavier Watts). Does that sound about right to you?

Eric Hansen: Michael, you did a lot of homework there and there's a lot of math in your question. I'll try to boil it down to this. I don't think it matters how much ND runs next year as much as how EFFECTIVE the Irish run and whether they bring the physicality to the running game as they did last year, which is a credit in part to Tommy Rees. I understand you put "problem" in quotes, implying that it's not. And I agree. I think Austin, Davis and Lenzy, if healthy, are your top 3. But my expectations are for Johnson, Watts and Styles to compete to be in the rotation. That puts some pressure on Keys and Wilkins to surge. Colzie won't be here until June. I would anticipate it might be harder for him to find a sizeable role in 2021, more so than 2022 and moving forward.

Steve from Las Vegas: With the change on defense from Clark Lea to Marcus Freeman, are there any players you think are ready to break out in the new scheme with a clean slate and new opportunities?

Eric Hansen: I think everyone theoretically has a clean slate. The intrigue for me in that regard is the Marist Liufau/Shayne Simon/Jack Kiser group at weakside linebacker (no longer called the Buck). Also, the rovers (don't count out freshman Prince Collie), the safety opposite Kyle Hamilton, and whoever pairs at corner with Clarence Lewis. I think it will also be interesting to see of ND plays some three-down looks under Freeman.

Luther from Pennsylvania: Hi Eric. Thanks for doing these chats. Love the Irish. The energy in the program with Freeman coming on staff has been amazing to see on the recruiting trail. What’s your best guess as to how long we can hold on to him before he leaves for a head coaching gig? Will it be long enough to get a championship?

Eric Hansen: Luther. a lot of that depends on how successful ND's defenses are the next 2-3 years. However long it turns out to be, I'd expect him to make the best of his time here. I know I'm kind of ducking the question, but if he keeps ascending, he's going to be in demand.

Whitey from South Philly: Is the Arch Manning offer just theater? Or would ND have a legit shot?

Eric Hansen: The answer to both questions could be no. I don't think it's theater. Notre Dame is aiming high, and they have had some success in luring famous athletes' sons (Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter and the Atkinson twins, to name a few). But there are very strong ties to Ole Miss, to Tennessee, etc., that are going to be difficult to overcome.

Michael from Chicago: True/False: Brian Polian is a legitimate candidate to be the next head coach of Notre Dame? Recent promotion, previous head coaching job, experience recruiting/representing/selling ND, strong football family background. I am not advocating for the move, just wondering out loud as I would presume ND would want a succession plan in place if they know when Brian Kelly will retire (and if Freeman is already gone).

Eric Hansen: I think Brian Polian's next coaching move will be to be a head coach, and I think he'll do a good with that, better than he did at Nevada. I do not think that move will be the head coach at Notre Dame. I've been pretty consistent in that I believe Notre Dame should and will hire a head coach after Brian Kelly who has extensive head coaching experience, and presumably success, elsewhere. ... I'm not sure I understand the urgency by some to have a succession plan in place and that it be one consisting of only internal candidates. I think where the program is now there will be considerable interest from many attractive candidates when the time comes.

Matt from LA: Hi Eric. Any word on the status of some of the injured players (Jarrett Patterson, Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, NaNa Osafo-Mensah, Jacob Lacey, Brendon Clark, etc.) for spring practice? If Patterson gets reps this spring, do you expect he’ll play left tackle, center or split time between both? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Matt, I'll round up all the injuries next weekend when I get a chance to ask on the record about them. ... To your O-line question, I don't think Patterson will be available for contact drills. My sense is he'll end up at left tackle in the fall.

Phil from Chicago: I am in the minority in that I think Notre Dame should join the ACC. The one-year test run showed what an easier schedule can do. Do you have an opinion one way or another on the subject?

Eric Hansen: Phil, Notre Dame made the playoff because it beat the No. 1 team in the country, which was on its independent schedule before the pandemic shift. I do not favor a full-time move to the ACC for a number of reasons.

Eric Hansen: That's going to have to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. I'll be back to do it all again next Wednesday at noon EDT.

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