Chat Transcript: Decoding Notre Dame's QB derby; spring impressions; recruiting reform
Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, post-April Fool's Day, post-yeah-it-snowed-here-yesterday edition. Please remember to include your NAME and HOMETOWN along with your question. Let's roll.
Jules W from Joliet, Ill.: Mr Hansen, thank for conducting these chats. We fans sincerely appreciate it. Question: Shortly after Marcus Freeman was hired, there was a release that said ND had hired a defensive recruiter (sorry, I don’t remember his name) from, I believe, Cincinnati. Shortly after the story was rescinded and it was announced that due to a hiring freeze this hiring would not take place. Is there any update on this hiring?
Eric Hansen: Jules, thanks for your question and thanks for being here. It's a curious chain of events, although I never remember there being an actual release. What happened was there was a story from the Cincinnati Enquirer reporting that Chad Bowden, who had been a valuable member of Cincinnati's recruiting staff, would be following Freeman to ND in similar role. Notre Dame has pretty strict vetting protocols in place for new hires, so that was the first problem. The second was the hiring freeze, which still is in effect. However, in talking to AD Jack Swarbrick about this — and not specifically addressing Bowden — he said ND could replace people that left their positions and that those positions could be reimagined, restructured. Recruits mention Bowden frequently, so he's obviously working at ND. So I'm not sure what the holdup is in terms of an official announcement. Perhaps that will come soon.
GB from Wasilla Alaska: Eric. I just saw that Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will probably be the first linebacker from ND drafted in the first round since Bob Crable. I know that Jaylon Smith had a bad injury that affected his draft pick. My memory is rusty why Manti Te'o was picked in the second round, Can you refresh my memory?
Eric Hansen: Hi GB. Manti Te'o had a couple of things working against him. He had the whole girlfriend thing blow up after the National Championship Game and before the NFL Combine. How he'd fit into an NFL locker room suddenly came into question. Also, there were questions about his speed. With pass coverage being a bigger part of the NFL game than college, there were questions over whether he could be an every-down linebacker. Those two factors knocked him down to a second-rounder.
Paul from Lititz, Pa: Hey Eric - Happy Easter. Coach Brian Kelly’s comment about wanting Drew Pyne to be the starter made me wonder. If Pyne beats out Jack Coan to be the starter, then who is the backup? If Coan wins the backup spot, then what happens to the “future” starter Tyler Buchner? He will get very little live action, leaving him at a deficit to compete next year with Pyne for the starting job along with the rest of QB room. Help, my head hurts.
Eric Hansen: First, Brian Kelly wasn't expressing a rooting interest in Drew Pyne, even though that's exactly what initially came out of his mouth. He later clarified that he wanted Pyne to practice at a level to compete to be the starter. ... Now to your hypothetical. If Pyne beats out Coan, I would assume Coan would be the backup. Tyler Buchner is not necessarily the future starter. He is an immensely talented kid who didn't get to play a senior season in the fall because of COVID-19 rules in California. As diligent as Tyler was to offset not playing on his own time and with outside help, losing that senior season could alter his Notre Dame timeline and trajectory. But surprises happen in the QB room, good and bad.
In the spring of 2015, DeShone Kizer was such an afterthought during a starting QB battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire and Kizer so ineffective in his few opportunities, he actually questioned whether he had picked the wrong sport. Then he put an end to his pity party, put in some serious work and was a completely different QB in the fall. Golson had transferred in the meantime. Then Zaire got hurt, and boom, Kizer shocked the college football world, kind of. ... In 2010, Kelly was so taken aback by Tommy Rees' physical immaturity in the spring as an early enrollee, he had fellow freshmen Andrew Hendirx and Luke Massa arrive two weeks early for summer school.
Yet Rees had a transformative summer with a lot of hard work. He moved up to No. 2 early in the fall of 2010 and then led ND to four straight wins at the end of the 2010 season after Dayne Crist went down with an injury. ... Ian Book's summer of 2018 is another example. So don't get locked into a mindset that Buchner is destined for a lost season. No matter where he is on the depth chart now, I think he'll make the best of that experience.
Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Hi Eric. Drew Pyne was rated higher by the recruiting gurus than I realized. His rating was comparable to Tyler Buchner's coming out of high school. Yet, most ND fans don't consider him a serious contender for the starting QB position in 2021 or beyond. Why do you think that is? Does the fact that he's physically smaller than the other QBs play a part in the evaluation?
Eric Hansen: I think his size (5-11 1/2) and arm strength are two things that fans look at that make them want to dismiss him. His assets are his accuracy and really understanding coverages and the mental part of the game. It will be interesting to watch his progression this spring (although mostly remotely).
Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Hi Eric. Chris Tyree is working to have a bigger role in the offense this year. What skill must he improve upon in order to get more opportunities to carry the ball or catch more passes? Also, do you expect the Irish to use more two-back sets in order to take advantage of the playmaking abilities of both Kyren Williams and Chris?
Eric Hansen: Lee, Chris had to work on becoming more powerful to go along with his speed. He's done a very good job of that so far since the end of last season. He knows Kyren Williams transforming his body last spring/summer helped Kyren ascend to the top of the depth chart. Tyree just needs to keep doing what he's been doing. It's up to the coaching staff, in my opinion, to figure out ways to best utilize what I consider two of the top eight players on the entire roster. Yes, you could run more two-back sets. You could also shift out of that pre-snap and motion one of them out wide. There's also the possibility that Tyree will be involved in punt returns. But yes, ND needs to find ways to take advantage of those two.
Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Thanks for the time, Eric! Brian Kelly mentioned during his press conference that Josh Lugg will be at right tackle this spring, and then slide into one of the guards spots this fall. I can’t make sense of this. What’s your thoughts? Wouldn’t it be better to have Lugg settle in at guard, since he’s bounced around so much and get him and Zeke Correll on the same page. Is this solely to give older guys (John Dirksen and Dillan Gibbons) a shot and then let them know by end of spring if they will start, so if not they can transfer? Also I see Rylie Mills being a stud. Does he get bigger every time I see him?
Eric Hansen: Hi Tyler. With Jarrett Patterson out for spring anyway, it's less about trying to foster chemistry at this point and more about figuring out who O-Lineman 4-5-6-7 are behind Patterson, Correll and Lugg. So playing Lugg at a tackle allows O-line coach Jeff Quinn to really vet all his guard options, including some players who have been at tackle. With Patterson out, Quinn can also run through a lot of tackle options as well. .. Riley Mills, I think, has a bright, bright future. I'm with you on that one.
Zac Patterson from Havre de Grace, Md.: Appreciate all you do and hoping you and your family are doing well. I’ll get straight to the point. I’m wondering who is going to be the starting QB. I know many say Jack Coan, but why isn’t Drew Pyne more of a talk? I feel like there’s even more talk with Tyler Buchner then Pyne.
Eric Hansen: Zac, thank you. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming told me this week that had Buchner played for La Mesa (Calif.) Helix High this fall and performed as expected, he would have been rated as a five-star QB. That perceived high ceiling will drive interest among the fan base and media, just as it did Phil Jurkovec, Gunner Kiel, Dayne Crist and Jimmy Clausen. ... Again, I'm open to being surprised and a lot can happen AFTER spring, but my expectation is that Jack Coan opens the season as the starter if he's healthy.
Mario from Stafford, Va.: Eric, thank you for taking my questions last week. You asked why I thought Ron Powlus III would be the starter next year. Size and knowledge. He is 6-3, 215 now and will grow. He has a former ND QB and QB coach who has schooled him. Look at Tommy Rees — a three-star kid. Other QBs were considered more talented coming out of high school, but he won the job in large part to smart decision-making. Ian Book was another three-star recruit with good instincts and decision-making. Just looking at the pattern of QBs past. Thanks again for your time and a Blessed Easter to you and your loved ones.
Eric Hansen: Mario, Happy Easter to you too, and thanks for the follow-up. I incorrectly assumed your were basing your prediction on nostalgia and the memory of the elder Ron Powlus being the No. 1 prospect in the nation coming out of high school. To put that kind of expectation on Ron Powlus III is unfair (not that you were doing that) as is being totally dismissive of his future because he only had two other FBS scholarship offers. ... I think for him to be the starter next year, he needs to be getting meaningful and plentiful practice reps sooner than later. I would not rule out that RP3 could be a depth chart surprise to some extent down the road, but I think for that timetable, to be 2021 or 2022, doesn't fit where he is right now.
Eamonn from Portland, Ore.: Hey Eric! Thanks so much for continuing these chats. I had to laugh a few months ago when a gentleman wrote on here how special they feel when you post our questions. It's true! Anytime you answer one of my questions, I tell everybody that I'm basically part of the program now. Might as well give us a clipboard and whistle. I wanted to ask about interior defensive line under Marcus Freeman and 2022 recruiting. How do you see the staff approaching this position in the 2022 class? How might the quantity of interior defensive line players change under Freeman (if at all)? A lot of the publicly available recruiting headlines seem to show more activity surrounding defensive ends, and I'm wondering if that reflects a philosophy change. It may not, but that's why I'm asking you! Thanks for any insight you can give this Irish fan!
Eric Hansen: Eamonn, thanks for all the kinds words. Your whistle and clipboard are in the mail. ... The interior defensive line right now is stacked with talent and pretty spread out between classes, so there won't be a mass exodus of talent. In that light, there may only be one and probably no more than two takes in the 2022 class. Anthony Lucas from Arizona is probably ND's top target at that position group in this cycle. Kurt Hinish's younger brother, Donovan, may end up at ND, especially if the Irish end up taking two interior guys. Defensive end was the bigger and more immediate need in this cycle, and that's why you're hearing about it more.
Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, A "Good Friday" and Happy Easter to you and yours. Was extremely surprised and very excited to see how well Ian Book did at Pro Day. Do you think his performance helped him move up some in the upcoming NFL Draft? Thanks and GO IRISH.
Eric Hansen: Ken, Happy Holidays to you as well. In talking with Mike Renner, lead draft analyst for Pro Football Focus, Book's athleticism that he showed at the Pro Day (and on game tape) could be a selling point to teams whose starting QBs have similar athletic traits. So that's a positive. He's still 6 feet tall and doesn't have elite arm strength, so that's that's going to likely keep him in the same draft range (day three, rounds 4-7). Again, I don't want to sell short how well he tested and that CERTAIN teams (not all) will value that.
Nate from South Bend: There’s obviously only been a few practices, but have there been any major takeaways from what you’ve seen (or heard) in these spring practices? Any surprises as far as who’s been playing what roles? Also how much do these practices affect the early enrollees compared to the kids that show up in summer? Who are a couple true freshman you expect to compete for playing time? Thanks for the chats and the insight.
Eric Hansen: Nate, Notre Dame stages practice No. 4 of 15 on Saturday and its second in pads. And to be clear, we've seen 180 seconds of video from each of the first three. I'll have a better sense of the answers you're looking for after we talk to Brian Kelly on Saturday. But based on my sources, my expectations and those tiny snippets of video, I'll do my best to answer your questions. NO MAJOR TAKEAWAYS yet. Too early. Remember for coaches, spring practice is more about asking the right questions than finding conclusions at most roster spots. It's about impressions. And it's fluid.
Surprises in roles? Maybe Blake Fisher starting out at left tackle, though I remember as freshmen Aaron Banks started out as a left tackle and Robert Hainsey as a left guard before they flipflopped and eventually Hainsey moved to the right side.
Early enrollees have an advantage, getting a start on football and academics early, and especially at certain positions. But if there's an opportunity and/or the player is that advanced, the June arrivals can make their cases for playing time. Among the June arrivals I think will have a chance to get long looks because of those factors are cornerbacks Chance Tucker and JoJo Johnson, safety Khari Gee, wide receiver Deion Colzie and linebacker Prince Kollie. As far as early enrollees who could compete for playing time, I'd still include Tyler Buchner in that mix. Lorenzo Styles Jr. at wide receiver would be high on that list. Also offensive guard Rocco Spindler, cornerback Philip Riley, maybe DT Gabriel Rubio fit in that projection.
Hank from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Any thoughts on the younger D-linemen we should be keeping an eye out for? Rylie Mills showed flashes last year, and I thought Jordan Botelho and Alexander Ehrensberger both had their moments. Thanks for this, Eric!
Eric Hansen: Hank, thanks for your question. If we are excluding Isaiah Foskey as one of the older guys (and Howard Cross and Jacob Lacey too), I'd put Jordan Botelho at the top of that list. Rylie Mills, Gabriel Rubio ... Devin Aupui if he can make big gains this summer in the weight room. ... I like where Alexander Ehrensberger is headed. I'm just not sure he arrives in 2021, especially with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa moving out to the big end spot.
Travis from Newport, Ky.: Hey Eric Happy Easter to you. Like, you've mentioned, we've only seen small clips of film on the first three practices. I like how accurate both Jack Coan and Drew Pyne seem to be so far. And I've seen Justin Walters appear in several clips making plays, so I love that taste of the future. I did notice a slightly off release on Tyler's throw. Specifically, on a long ball in practice 2 (I think). I know there was concerns about his release being off at the Elite 11 camp/event. Have you heard anything on if they've been working to reform his release even more than he did this offseason?
Eric Hansen: Travis thanks. Remember, you are seeing 180 seconds of each two-hour practice. So context can be very wonky. We may see the best or worst pass attempt of the day in these videos. ... From what I've heard, Tyler's worked hard on his release before coming to ND in February, has continued to do so and that it is not being viewed as a problem with the coaching staff as this time.
Erik from Granger: Thanks for being here! What have you seen so far from the brief practice clips and from talking to your sources that should make us feel optimistic about the season? Have you seen or heard anything that makes you want to pump the brakes on the bandwagon?
Eric Hansen: Erik, thanks for being here and having a cool first name. I think the biggest reason for optimism is that Jack Coan showed up as the player and leader the coaching staff thought he would be. Another is how players are adapting to and learning the new defensive scheme. There's good leadership, good vibes among the players, the opportunity to have the team fully vaccinated before the end of the semester and lots of young, dynamic players. But again, spring is about impressions and not conclusions. So no brake-pumping necessary as long as you accept that and know that more work is ahead in the summer.
Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: Is Jonathan Doerer automatically our PK next Fall ? He really struggled late in the season .
Eric Hansen: He did struggle late in the season, but he had a spectacular 2019 season and start to 2020. He's certainly been in deeper, darker spots than this and worked his way through them. That would be my expectation this time, that he rebounds. If not, walk-on Harrison Leonard and freshman Josh Bryan are waiting in the wings.
James from Hermosa Beach: So after reading Tyler’s article promoting Liam Eichenberg’s athletic ability, then hearing Brian Kelly speak at pro day, is BK just brutally honest for the media? Could this be viewed as head-scratching remarks? He said “Those who are going to draft (Eichenberg) are going to get a plug-and-play guy on the right side. He’s probably not a left tackle. If you’re talking about that kind of athleticism, you could make the case that maybe he’s not a left tackle.” Why would a coach sabotage his players like that? Maybe I just expected more optimism and positivity on pro day.
Eric Hansen: This is not as easy to unpack as I wish it was. 1) There is no shame in being an NFL starting right tackle. 2) A lot of left tackles undergo this kind of scrutiny as we get within a month of the draft. 3) You shouldn't expect sugar-coating on Pro Day. I don't think NBC would want to project that, at least. 4) If that's what Brian truly feels, then he should say that. He could end up being wrong. 5) The comment surprised me. I think Liam's success against some elite pass rushers over the past couple of years earns him some benefit of the doubt. 6) I don't see it as sabotage. If Kelly isn't honest about a player's shortcomings when he talks to NFL folks, then why should they believe him when he says something complimentary? 7) I don't blame you for being confused.
Bob Mason from Littleton, Colo.: Not a question. An observation that's a bit under the radar. I remember when the ND head coaching job search was a national joke. The one thing Brian Kelly has done is build the program back up to where it will once again be a coveted job again that lots of very talented coaches will be interested in when the time comes. That may well be his legacy. Thanks for all you do and stay well. All the best from the foot of the Rockies.
Eric Hansen: Bob, thanks for your comment, and all the best to you.
Mike from Rochester, N.Y.: Hi, Eric, hope you and your family are all well as we hopefully are starting to emerge from this pandemic. Which D-lineman do you think has the potential to be the biggest surprise coming out of spring practice?
Eric Hansen: Jordan Botelho.
Pat from St Paul, Minn.: As always, thanks for the chats, Eric! Question on the NCAA dead period: Is there any inside information or just general optimism that it will be done come June? Thanks!
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Pat. it has not been formally approved, but there are strong indications from the NCAA internally that the intention is to end the dead period on May 31.
Robb from Virginia: It goes without saying that to be an elite team we must have better downfield weapons. How do you see our receiving corps so far? Is Kevin Austin (who is now listed as a "senior") healed and can we count on him and Jordan Johnson breaking into the starting rotation? And are there any new names we can count on? Our inability to make big plays downfield was glaringly absent against Alabama and in the ACC Championship Game. They stuffed the run, and we were shut down in both games. We always seem to have the potential. Will it be a reality this year?
Eric Hansen: There is a wave of speed arriving in the wide receiver corps. This spring is about identifying the best options beyond Kevin Austin and developing those players so that the speed translates into actual production. My expectation is that Austin, Braden Lenzy and Avery Davis enter fall camp as the starters, with plenty of up-and-comers who could fill out the rotation. Putting aside Joe Wilkins and Lawrence Keys, who are not among the younger players, I think you'll be excited to see Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts and Lorenzo Styles Jr. in the Blue-Gold Game. Keep your eye on the development of those three.
Denny from Liberty Hill, Texas: Eric, I remember thinking Chris Zorich was the perfect "first guy off the bus". Not too many players through the years seem to match up in this regard. I feel like Rocco Spindler may fit that bill in a couple years. Would you agree?
Eric Hansen: He certainly could, but I think Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah already fits that bill.
Matt in Augusta N.J.: I have read your recent articles on recruiting and really enjoy them. There has been talk on how to crack into the top 5 yearly in recruiting rankings. I believe it was Tom Lemming who mentioned ND going after players earlier, and recruiting them before they know if the player has the grades/academic courses needed to be accepted. Is this a plan that the football program has enacted, and if so what does admissions think of it? I believe admissions will allow a few borderline players in yearly and work with coach Kelly . If the players work out the next year, he might get another player in the next class. If the players he asks that are borderline do not work out, it reflects poorly for him asking for borderline players the next year. Is this the relationship Kelly and admission have and has it changed at all?
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Matt. Yes there is a wider net being cast, with earlier offers to elite players. All of them have at least the potential to be academic fits. Not all of those conclusively are. So before it ever gets to admissions, a lot of those players will confirm through the performance and ambition academically whether they're in position to get admitted or they'll prove otherwise, and ND can back off those kids before it ever gets to admissions. So the admissions dynamic remains basically unchanged. Kelly knows that he needs to let players go who can't last at ND. It's one thing to bend/adapt admissions standards, but that young man still has to compete in the classroom. So that vision of sustainability academically is part of the recruiting process.
Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, I very much like Tommy Rees as an offensive coordinator and believe he understood the ability/limits of last season's offensive personnel, especially at wide receiver. Having said that, what are the one or two areas in which Rees can improve both his performance this season and that of the Notre Dame offense as a whole? Thank you for answering my question.
Eric Hansen: Hi Alan. Red zone efficiency tops the list. The Irish were a Kelly Era-worst 102nd nationally (out of 127) in 2020. Next would be passing efficiency. ND was 43rd nationally in 2020. Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson were 1, 9 and 15, respectively. Now, how does he get there? I'll write about that later in the spring when I get a better feel for the assets at hand.
Rick from Crofton, Md.: Hi Eric. I have been a big fan of your chats for many years. Why doesn't Notre Dame have more recruiting success in the Baltimore/DC area with Catholic high schools. The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference has become a hotbed for national recruiting over last 25 years. Schools like DeMatha Catholic, St Johns, and Gonzaga Prep are annually in the top 25 in football, and they turn out a lot of highly recruited kids. What needs to change to start getting some of the kids from this league? The ND basketball program has been able to tap into this league. Hopefully, Brian Kelly and his staff can start to bring in some talent from this league.
Eric Hansen: Rick, thank you. There is a lot of talent in that area and it tends to be transient and willing to leave the region. Some of it comes down to the connections of the assistant coaches. They're able to work other productive areas of the country better. There is a defensive tackle from DeMatha in the 2023 class that has been extended an offer, Jason Moore. Just judging from the offers Tyler and I have been able to confirm in that class, there seems to be a re-investment in Florida.
Sue Kovensky from Hollidaysburg, Pa.: Is it true that coach Brian Kelly hired Brian VanGorder as a defensive assistant?!? Happy
Eric Hansen: Sue, Happy Easter to you too, but April Fool's was YESTERDAY.
Matthew from Houston: Just read your response at 1:36. How do you make your "asses" for playing time?
Eric Hansen: It should have read cases, and it does now. I owe you a beer. Thank you.
Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Hi Eric. After the way Tommy Tremble tore it up on Pro Day, it simply reinforced my belief that he was significantly underused as a receiver by Tommy Rees and crew. Yes, I realize that Michael Mayer is a force, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have incorporated Tremble to a much greater extent, especially in light of the fact that the outside receiving corps was solid but hardly elite. Tremble should have been a more consistent weapon in the Irish arsenal and not been fundamentally a blocking tight end, albeit a superior one. In your opinion, did ND really get its money's worth out of Tremble as a pass catcher? Glad all is well on your end. Continue to take care.
Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. I am enjoying the fully vaccinated lifestyle and my grandkids are over the moon for that. ... Yes, he could have been used more. I think there were some injury issues earlier in the season and some drops later, but certainly in the red zone, he could have been an asset.
Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric. Happy Easter to you and your family. I am glad you put law school on hold and pursued sports journalism. Who is being coached as a punt returner for 2021? Will ND be more aggressive with their punt returns in 2021 or will it be more like last season, get the offense on the field and let them move the ball?
Eric Hansen: Mark, that competition will take shape more in August than now, but two new entrants into that mix are Chris Tyree and Lorenzo Styles Jr. And if one of those two wins the job, shame on ND if they're not more aggressive in setting up returns rather than fair catches.
Gabriel Weiss from North Liberty: I saw Avery Davis and Kyren Williams got to run routes in front of the scouts on Pro Day. Due to this, they will lose a spring practice, as you know. Do you think ND allowed this to get the younger, maybe unproven players under them more first-team reps in practice?
Eric Hansen: No, I think it was to give Avery and Kyren something they wanted, NFL exposure and Combine-type experience at a very low cost to the team.
Don Phoenix: Just joined and haven't read any questions, so I wont ask one as it's most likely answered. Happy Easter to you, your family and staff. Thanks for the work you do. First read every morning.
Eric Hansen: Don, very much appreciate that. Happy Easter.
RK from Sartell Minn.:Who will the top five playmakers be in 2021? Also, what is your over under on wins? Mine is 10.
Eric Hansen: Kyren Williams, Michael Mayer, Kevin Austin, Chris Tyree and... Avery Davis/Lorenzo Styles Jr. tied for fifth. ... My floor for wins is nine. I'm not sure my ceiling is much higher than that until I see more.
Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Eric, how much will it hurt the Irish defense that they don't appear to have an elite player at linebacker like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah?
Eric Hansen: I think they can have three really good ones, but there's not someone on the roster who can play the rover quite like JOK. So on passing downs, there may be only two linebackers on the field and another safety or corner.
AJ Hamel from Parts Unknown: When will Notre Dame be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference as a full-time football member?
Eric Hansen: Probably not in our lifetimes.
Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Hi Eric, in your opinion, did any of the former Irish that participated in the Pro Day event help their draft status? Did any player's performance hurt their draft status?
Eric Hansen: Tommy Tremble tops the "helped" list. I'm not sure anyone hurt their stock. I suppose Ben Skowronek, because he was injured?
Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. We get to interview Jack Coan for the first time, on Saturday. So be looking for that on the web tomorrow night. ... We'll slide back to our regular Wednesday noon chat time slot next week.