Chat Transcript: Notre Dame spring what-ifs, ceilings and possible additions

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Greetings and welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, mid-April Edition. The Irish have just passed the midpoint of spring practice. Please remember to include your name and hometown with your questions. Let's get right to it.

Cederick Walker from Saginaw, Mich.: I notice lately watching the highlights of ND spring practice, I haven't seen No. 40 Drew White. Always see Bo Bauer working as No. 1. Where is Drew White?

Eric Hansen: Drew White has been seen in a protective brace on his right football/ankle. You can see it in this still shot from a recent practice video. We're hearing that it's not considered long-term, but we get both Drew White and Brian Kelly on Saturday and can elaborate then.

Drew White

Lawrence from San Diego: I know it’s hard to say without seeing practices, but what is your “highest ceiling” offensive line? Highest ceiling top 3 wide receivers? For 2021, not long-term potential.

Eric Hansen: If I understand your question, the highest-ceiling O-line for 2021 only and highest-ceiling WR group of three for 2021 only. Here goes: from left tackle to right tackle: Jarrett Patterson, Rocco Spindler, Zeke Correll, Josh Lugg, Tosh Baker. I almost put Blake Fisher in that group. That's how good those two freshmen (Fisher and Spindler) are. Andrew Kristofic, Dillan Gibbons are among the others I'd consider. WRs: Avery Davis, Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin Jr.

Shaw from: St Augustine, Fla.: I keep reading about the "freedom" (more free-form) approach of Marcus Freeman's D. Do you think that requires the fastest of athletes to compete with the 'Bamas, Tigers etc.? If so, does ND have those enough to compete? Or does a more structured defensive approach make up for an "Elite" deficiency? Thanks Eric, for all you do. We out here rely on you.

Eric Hansen: Rick Minter addressed that (and much more about the scheme) in our most recent Pod of Gold podcast. He's very familiar with Marcus' scheme, having visited with Cincinnati staff several times in recent years and with is son, Jesse, serving as Clark Lea's defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt. I think the lack of structure and the differences between the schemes may be overstated a bit. There's going to be a lot of movement pre-snap, it seems, in the front seven with Marcus' looks. I think what Marcus is emphasizing to the players, though, is letting their instincts take over and not OVERthinking things. ND is going from one very good scheme to another, with some crossover. I think the evolution will be more seamless than you might envision and ND's athletes may be faster than you're envisioning.

Joel from Maumee, Ohio: Will ND ever threaten in special teams return game again? We seem happier to just secure possession than to actually advance the return.

Eric Hansen: Joel, we had access to special teams coordinator Brian Polian on Tuesday, and that's one of the things I asked him about specifically. Tyler James included the answer in his notebook. And here's the entire YouTube video if you want to take a deeper dive into special teams.

Frank from Rockwall, Texas: Should ND seek a defensive end grad transfer?

Eric Hansen: I think it's worth monitoring, especially if there's an injury during the spring. Some of that hinges on how the depth fills out this spring. Keep an eye on guys like Alexander Ehrensberger, Nana Osafo-Mensah and converted linebacker Osita Ekwonu. Some also depends on how well the experiment with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa moving to the edge goes.

Jake from Saratoga Springs: Hello Eric. Question regarding the recent article about the early entry freshman getting additional reps in practice. I don’t believe this has been the case in the past, so do you believe it’s because of an elevated level of talent over the past couple of classes or is it something else? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: That's a question that would have made for a great follow-up on Saturday and that didn't get asked (in part because of the format). My sense is talent is part of it, but also the realization that it's an investment that could pay off during the upcoming season that maybe wasn't viewed in that light previously. I like the idea a lot. Developing a deep roster is a smart move. And we're already hearing about players who are improving this spring in leaps and bounds who may not have had their opportunities been more limited.

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Hello Eric, I love the ND baseball coverage, and I hope we'll see more! The success of ND baseball prompts my question: Football will always be first at ND, because it is part of the brand and because of the revenues it generates. It also seems, however, like there is real interest in continually improving ND's competitiveness in other sports, too — even something like golf, where we're arguably at a competitive disadvantage. Do you have a sense of how the balance is struck, either in Jack Swarbrick's mind or, more concretely in terms of the time and resources that the athletic department devotes to the various sports? Is the goal for every ND program to be elite? Thanks as always.

Eric Hansen: Bruce, thanks for the feedback on baseball. They've been fun stories to do. I wish we had more resources to devote to it. Perhaps in May, after spring football ends and baseball is still going strong. For those who have not found the bandwagon yet, ND baseball was picked to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division. The Irish (16-6) began the week in the top 10 in the Baseball America poll (No. 7). The last time ND was a top 10 team was April of 2006. ... To your question, yes there is a goal and a plan for every sport to be elite at ND. And many are.

Greg from Natrona Heights, Pa.: Hey Eric. As always, thanks for doing these chats! My question is: Given the on-field success with winning games since the 2016 4-8 season, the way recruiting just seems to be humming along and the upgrades to football facilities and the stadium, has the national perception changed on Notre Dame as a program from before 2016 to now? And if and when BK decided to leave, does that translate into us being able to hire an elite/already successful coach or have our pick of who we want to hire? As always, I appreciate the chat and keep up the good work!

Eric Hansen: Greg, thank you. The best way to answer your question is this. Recently, three respected/prominent national columnists (Bruce Feldman, Stewart Mandel and Ralph Russo) ranked the top head coaches in college football. Nick Saban was No. 1 on all three ballots, Dabo Swinney 2 and Brian Kelly 3. That national perception means a lot. I do think that if that perception is maintained, Notre Dame will have a much wider and accomplished group of candidates if/when Brian Kelly retires or is abducted by aliens.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Jack Nickel has decommitted from ND, supposedly because of the number of tight ends with multiple years of playing eligibility currently on the roster. ND also has depth at the receiver, offensive line, defensive line, and running back position. Do you think this will deter some of the elite players that they are recruiting to look at other schools where immediate playing time is more likely?

Eric Hansen: Lee, if I cast that impression in my story, I did a poor job. The biggest issue was the number of tight ends in this recruiting class. The Irish have a very good chance to land both Holden Staes and Eli Raridon, two TEs that are rated higher than Nickel. Three tight ends in a class is a lot. As analyst Tom Lemming stated, Jack (or the other two for that matter) are good enough to be the No. 1 TE in their recruiting class at a lot of other schools. Had ND had a shortage of talent on its current roster at that position, then maybe three tight ends in the same class might have made more sense. They don't have a shortage of talent or bodies.

Todd from Buffalo: Every time I hear ND's academics offered as an excuse, I cringe. It's not that I don't think it's a factor. I don't think you can complain about something you choose to do. ... Obviously, I have no way of knowing what went into his decision, but I can't help but thinking that Tommy Tremble is leaving a lot on the table by electing to enter the NFL Draft — third or fourth round this year; at least a second-rounder next year. I think he's going to make a terrific pro and will be a steal in the third round or so (I'd love to see the Bills take him. His style of play would fit in well with both the team and the Bills' Mafia). What are your thoughts? Was Michael Mayer's emergence as the No. 1 tight end a factor — i.e. Tremble figured he'd not see the ball enough to make an impact on his draft positioning?

Eric Hansen: Todd, I asked Tommy point blank last month about his decision. He did not mention Michael Mayer specifically, but I'm sure that dynamic was a factor. Michael Mayer tied for the team lead in receptions and had more catches than any freshman tight end in ND history. And it's not likely they'll use him less in 2021. Tommy had already proven he was an elite blocker. He was exhaustive in getting opinions from the coaching staff and NFL types, so he felt good about his decision. Dane Brugler, of The Athletic, has Tommy going in the third round (to the Panthers). I can understand Tommy's reasoning, and he helped himself a lot with an outstanding pro day.

Ryan from Mars, Pa.: Good afternoon, Eric. I know coach Kelly mentioned this after first practice, but how has Michael Carmody looked at practice? Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Really good. He's been impressive since walking in the door. He's gotten looks at tackle, guard and center this spring. There is an incredible amount of talent in the freshman and sophomore O-Line classes.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, with Notre Dame fielding a mostly new first-team offensive line, which group has the biggest adjustment: the running backs understanding how the new O-line blocks or the offensive linemen getting a feel as to how quick certain backs hit a hole? I apologize if the question is not worded as clearly as I intend, but I am very interested in the dynamic between these two groups? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Alan, I think the offensive line has the tougher task, because they're also adjusting to each other ... getting in sync, building chemistry, seeing fronts and pressures through the same set of eyes. Then throw the timing with the running backs on top of that.

Steve from St. Louis: Back when quarterback Steve Angeli committed, Malik Zaire made a comment that the Irish already had a bunch of those guys in the quarterback room. Does he have a point? Do all the QBs on the roster and Angeli all have the same skill set? Would a different QB that brings something different to the QB room have made more sense?

Eric Hansen: Steve, for the record, the episode we had Malik Zaire on our podcast this past fall had the most downloads we've had since Gatehouse/Gannett acquired us a couple of years ago (just edging out Tony Dungy). So we love Malik's opinions. There is no filter. However, I'm not sure exactly what he was implying. To answer your question and what you assumed he meant, I think it makes sense to have players who are good fits for your system. However, I think Tyler Buchner is a very, very good runner in addition to what he brings to the passing game. So I'm not sure they're all that similar in at least that respect.

Mike from Toronto: Eric, what are your thoughts on Jack Kiser fitting into the picture this year. I read they were working on a plan to get him more playing time, to utilize his strengths. I spoke to Jack outside the Gug on a football Friday pre-COVID, and what a fine young man with a great attitude.

Eric Hansen: He's getting a lot of work at the rover. We're going to get a chance to speak with Marcus Freeman next week, so that'll be the time I'll try to drill down on that. I have heard nothing but good things about Kiser this spring so far.

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric. I enjoyed the Pod of Gold with Rick Minter. What is he doing these days? It was interesting. but I had a hard time with some of the coachspeak — like 33 and 35. Can you elaborate?

Eric Hansen: Hi GB, and thanks for listening. Rick is kind of semi-retired and doing some consulting work, but I think he still has an itch to coach full-time. He's also doing a little radio and spoiling his grandkids. Yes, Rick did get pretty technical at times. But in general numbers like 33 refers to the front. So an alignment of three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. 3-4 is three linemen and four linebackers and four DBs. 4-3, four linemen and three linebackers with four DBs. Because of the versatility of the rover in Clark Lea's scheme, a lot of people considered that a 4-2-5 look.

IrishMike from Altoona, Pa.: Does the player or the team select/assign uniform numbers?

Eric Hansen: Offensive linemen have a certain range because of NCAA rules. Beyond that, the team does most of the assigning, but there are players who ask for certain numbers. If possible, those requests are honored.

Joe from Toledo, Ohio: Eric, I feel like there is enough offensive talent on the roster at the skill positions for Notre Dame to have a much more explosive offense this season. This isn’t a criticism of last year’s approach, but what is your sense of the intent and willingness of coach Kelly and coach Rees to make schematic and philosophical adjustments necessary to make that happen?

Eric Hansen: Absolutely ... I wrote about this back on April 3 ... from Kelly: “This is about scoring,” Kelly said. “And so we’re going to use this spring and preseason to kind of put that together.

“When we went into last year, we knew we had established a returning offensive line. So we were going to build (the offensive structure) with a returning offensive line and a (returning) quarterback.

“And we felt like, with the certainty of the offensive line and the quarterback and not knowing what we had at the wide receiver corps, we were going to commit ourselves to being a team that was going to exert its physicality on the offensive line.

“Now we move into ‘21 with less certainty on the offensive line, less certainty at the quarterback position. And now we know that we’ve got to score points. So we’re going to kind of find out where this offense will operate most efficiently.”

Travis from Newport, Ky.: As always, thanks for the great reporting. QB past current and future is always a hot topic within the ND community. I've noticed people seem a little disappointed in a way with the Steve Angeli commitment. I think because Gavin Wimsatt is ranked so highly and has a unique skill set. Honestly, I love Angeli's ceiling, though. He seems to have a similar size and style comparable to a Joe Burrow (not to put that expectation on him). I am a merely a couch analyst for a reason. What do you see in Angeli's skill set that excites you about him?

Eric Hansen: Notre Dame looked hard at three quarterbacks — Angeli, Wimsatt (a Rutgers commit) and Drew Allar (Penn State). They took a late stab at Ty Simpson as well, who ended up committing to Alabama. I think at the end of the cycle, once Angeli has played a full season, he will be higher-rated than Wimsatt. The things I like about it him is his decision-making, accuracy, maturity, ability to absorb the playbook and decent mobility all from a player with very little starting experience. I'm more intrigued by Allar as an alternative than I am Wimsatt. 

Scott from Elkhart: Eric, ND announced that COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for all returning students in the fall. I had heard earlier that the athletic director would not force ND football players to be vaccinated. Has that policy been overridden by the university policy toward all students? And, if so, has there been any pushback from players? Thanks, love these chats!

Eric Hansen: Scott, first of all, thanks for asking the question with no political spin on it. I'm willing to answer these questions re vaccination, because it does affect what team testing/attendance policies, etc., might look like in the fall. And my job, I feel, is to explain the dynamics involved from an informed viewpoint. Notre Dame's general student policy includes outs for medical and religious reasons. So those would apply to students and student-athletes alike. As of today, 88 percent of the student population has received at least their first shot of vaccine or has signed up to do so.

Peter Burke from Coto de Caza, Calif.: Can you estimate the value of a Under Armor contract for ND? How much goes to the coach? When will see ND players collecting money for likeness or events? Is there a cap on the amount they can earn?

Eric Hansen: Peter, none of those specifics have been decided, which lets you know how much work is ahead to get this policy in place for the upcoming school year. The Under Armour part of your question is one that I'll have great interest in, because I hadn't previously thought of the players getting a cut ... or trying to negotiate their own deals (if that even would be possible).

Joe H from Williams Bay, Wis.: Hi Eric. I know that you haven’t had the normal access to spring practice as in the past, but I’m wondering what you’ve seen or heard about the competition in the defensive backfield It seems to me that Cam Hart and Philip Riley have turned some heads so far, while last year's starter, Clarence Lewis, may have regressed a bit. Also seen anything interesting out of the safety position? Thanks again for all your insightful reports.

Eric Hansen: Joe, I'm sure it's hard to keep up with all of our content. The secondary, specifically Cam Hart and Houston Griffith, were the lead to my Saturday analysis of ND at the mid-point of spring practice. If the season started tomorrow, I'd say the starting defensive backfield would be Clarence Lewis, Hart, Griffith and Kyle Hamilton, with DJ Brown as the third safety and perhaps TaRiq Bracy as the third corner. At this point, I wouldn't rule out any of the corners from eventually being in the mix, including June arrivals Chance Tucker and JoJo Johnson. I had not heard or perceived that Lewis had regressed, I've heard good thing about Riley, but Kelly didn't mention him specifically last Saturday.

Adam from Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi Eric! To me, it feels like Drew Pyne has the edge on the starting spot so far. He looks pretty good. If that holds into the fall and he does well, how does coach Kelly keep Tyler Buchner from transferring? I know anything can happen, but I feel like I've seen this a lot where a highly touted recruit doesn’t want to wait his turn for three, four years. Thanks for everything you do!

Eric Hansen: Adam, we are in an age when transferring without sitting out is going to make leaving easier and, in some cases, more knee-jerk reactively. But I think you're extrapolating WAY too much in terms of 180-second snippets from practice, where we are in the process with the QBs and what Tyler Buchner's thought process might be. Here are the facts. Jack Coan is running No. 1. Drew Pyne is practicing well and is running No. 2. Notre Dame needs to go into the season with a strong No. 2. Tyler Buchner played one season of high school football in the past three years. There's a lot of catching up to do. And Brian Kelly has brought Buchner up two weeks in a row in terms of his progress.

Had Buchner gotten to play in the fall for La Mesa Helix High, he might be in a better place to challenge those above him on the depth chart. Buchner making progress without moving up the depth chart is still significant. He's putting himself in position to be competitive for the starting spot in 2022. That's the best-case scenario for him. And he knows that. Very smart, very patient, very competitive young man.

Tom D. from Lansing, Mich.: Hi Eric. Thanks for taking my comment/question. I am discouraged by the number of three-star commits ND is accepting. Sure, some make it big, but most have mediocre careers. Three-stars beat Wake Forest, but it takes five-stars to beat Alabama. I know our recruiting is decent, but not elite. Will that ever change? Great job on the chats. All the best.

Eric Hansen: Tom. Your question/complaint inspired me to pose it to a couple of recruiting analysts as part of this week's Inside Recruiting segment. So stayed tuned for that. I think you'll be surprised by their answers. I think your concern regarding some past classes has merit. Notre Dame did recruit three-star players who went on to become All-Americans, including recently Julian Love and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. In this case (the 2022 class), I do think you're off base. Every team currently in the top 10 of the national team rankings has at least one three-star commitment. ND has three. I'd take at least two of those three in a heartbeat (Darren Agu and Aiden Gobaira) and give them the benefit of the doubt on the third (Amorion Walker).

Keep in mind a three-star in April is not a necessarily a three-star on signing day. Gobaira was under 200 pounds when he was rated. Now at 230, he's dominating Virginia high school football in their delayed season. ND beat out Alabama for Agu. He's a three-star because he's played one year of 11-on-11 football. He is an elite athlete, though. Kyle Hamilton was a three-star recruit when ND extended him an offer in the 2019 class. He ended up a five-star per 247Sports (and has played like one in college). Notre Dame is aiming higher in 2022 and 2023, and that was a necessary adjustment. We'll find out soon if they can close.

Mark from Orange County, Calif: Hi Eric. Thank you for hosting these chats and the podcasts as well. You help us fans feel very connected to the program. Regarding the 2021 schedule, what opponents do you think could be ranked in the top 25 when they play ND? Any top 10 opponents?

Eric Hansen: Mark, thank you. First, Phil Steele predicts each year what the AP preseason top 10 will look like six months before it comes out. He has an accuracy rate of 95.8%. His top 10 includes ND at No. 7, Cincinnati at No. 8 and North Carolina at No. 10. In virtually every way-to-early top 25, Cincinnati is a top 10 team and Carolina at top 15 team. Wisconsin and USC are the other two teams that tend to be ranked in the top 25 in those projections. And all four of those teams are bunched together in a five-game stretch.

Don from Phoenix: A follow-up on your answer stating Brian Kelly is ranked No. 3 by national writers. Saw a question in a chat asking what are the most attractive schools for an elite coach to succeed. As imagined, Alabama, tOSU, Clemson, GA, LSU, Oklahoma were the top, with ND in the top 10. The criteria stated for the rankings were resources, support of the administration, proximity of recruiting talent, low administrative overhead. All the reasons why Urban Meyer went to Florida instead of ND. Looking at Kelly as No. 3 at ND is a significant accomplishment. He has paved the way for future head coaches. However, it will be someone suited to the "ND overhead" and perhaps not the one the fans view as ideal.

Eric Hansen: Don, thanks for your follow-up.

Don from Phoenix: Eric, Not really a football question but I see you are writing ND baseball stories that are good reads. What has the baseball coach done to get the success the team is having and how does it relate to things the football staff can/ought to be doing?

Eric Hansen: Don, thanks. I'm not sure there's a crossover lesson for football unless it's using the transfer portal well, as baseball has. One of the things I like is that Link Jarrett wasn't afraid to move players around to different positions that he felt fit their futures more than being a part of their pasts.

Bob from Pennsylvania: Hello to you and thanks for all your hard work keeping us informed. Is Brian Kelly more involved in some big offensive recruits lately to start matching what Marcus Freeman and the defensive coaches are doing at the opposite side of the ball? And do you think or see Del Alexander’s recruiting efforts gonna start to pay off? Thanks and Go Irish ☘️

Eric Hansen: Bob, I urge you to read the Inside Recruiting segments, which I've been doing every other week. The Brian Kelly part of your answer you can find here. As far as Alexander and the offensive staff, they've got a strong group of receivers visiting in June, led by two top 100 players, CJ Williams and Tyler Morris. Now, landing them is another matter, but getting them to visit is a big step.

Stan from Rockford Ill.: Regarding defense: a prediction from you is requested: Will defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman be one and done and move on to head coaching? Getting a second or even a third year from him at ND would be great. His recruiting already looks good for the long haul. Also, any sightings regarding rover Isaiah Pryor? Or cornerback Ramon Henderson, the guy I hoped would be the surprise among the many DBs recruited two years ago?

Eric Hansen: I can't predict what will happen with Freeman, but I do think his intention is very much to stay more than a year. ... Isaiah Pryor has been taking reps at rover. ... Haven't heard much one way or another on Henderson. Again, I'm hoping Marcus Freeman next week will go a little deeper than Brian Kelly was willing to do at that position group.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, I have a question on recruiting. In your article on the (commitment) of Darren Agu there was the following quote from analyst Tom Lemming: "They’re going to run out of scholarships before they run out of great players. That’s how good they’re doing.” My question is first, do you agree with this? Also, is this sort of an embarrassment of riches that reflects well on the recruiting process, or has ND misplayed their hand and need to slow down and take only those players for 2022 that are the absolute best fit? Much thanks.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, when you read the entire quote, if give you more context: “There are a lot of really good players interested in Notre Dame,” Lemming said. “They’re going to run out of scholarships before they run out of great players. That’s how good they’re doing.”

So no mishandling here. The list of players who have lined up official visits for June is very impressive. I'll have more of that in this week's edition of Inside Recruiting for Thursday night's web/Friday print.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Thanks for being here! Since the staff doesn’t know who their best five offensive linemen are yet, is that an indictment on their development so far? Should the coaches have guys ready to step up already, or is it just that there’s a chance the youngest guys are even better than the older guys and that needs to get clearer? Seems like last year’s second string should be able to just move up now that there are holes in front of them.

Eric Hansen: Erik, I'm going to scold you a bit. If players simply moved up a spot from one year to the next, then last year's running back depth chart would have looked like this: 1. Jafar Armstrong, 2. Jahmir Smith, 3. C'Bo Flemister, 4. Kyren Williams, 5. Chris Tyree. If it's all about just moving up a spot, how do you create competition in practice? What's the incentive for a young player to push hard? What's the incentive from the older player to respond? Opening things up and looking at all kinds of possibilities is a smart and fair way to let those decisions play out on the practice field rather than in a piece of paper in your drawer.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric; second vaccine today! Drew Pyne reminds me when Tom Rees was Tommy Rees in his time as a Notre Dame QB. Coaches son, I believe, probably knows the playbook inside out. Grit and desire to flourish and start at ND, and I would imagine well-liked by his teammates. My question is how well does he scramble compared to Jack Coan? Is he good at extending plays like Ian Book was? He may not be the QB of the future, but guys with grit and football savvy are valuable and could be an excellent backup. I wish him well.

Eric Hansen: Congrats, Denny! Pyne was timed at 4.7 on the 40 in high school and ran for 259 yards on 57 carries with eight8 TDs as a senior. In Carter Karels' film study, he liked Pyne ability to extend plays. I haven't seen enough of Coan to compare scrambling ability. But I'll say this, Pyne has not disappointed during his first eight practices this spring.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. Thanks for hosting the chat. Do your think ND will take anyone else from the transfer portal this spring? I know it is hard to make any predictions right now since you are not seeing practice, but what would your best bet be for starting secondary for the Florida State game? Any chance you will get to see a practice in the stadium before the Blue Gold game? Thanks for doing such a great job keeping us updated this spring!

Eric Hansen: Marie, thanks for being here. ... I still think it's most probable at cornerback if they're going to take one, with safety and defensive end places to watch. Cam Hart can make that a moot point at corner. Griffith is doing that at safety, and the defensive ends are playing well. I still think it makes sense to continue to monitor things at those three positions. ... I would be shocked if they invited us to a practice before the Blue-Gold Game, though the campus known active COVID cases has plummeted since vaccinations started among the students. So ... there might be a sliver of a chance.

Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: What is your over/under on how many players look to move on after spring practice and the offensive and defensive two-deeps become somewhat clearer?

Eric Hansen: One if they don't add a grad transfer. Two if they do. ND is at 88 scholarships currently. They need to be at 87 when school starts (85 plus the two COVID exemptions).

Steve from Fullerton, Calif.: Desperately want to bring my son to his first game at ND (he’s been to several road games). Any idea when the school will announce an attendance policy?

Eric Hansen: We're starting to see schools around the country doing just that. I need to check back in on that, but my sense is May makes a lot of sense to try to make those kinds of determinations for Notre Dame.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hey Eric! Notre Dame student-athletes, for the very large part, are very well-spoken and polite whenever interviewed. I am almost always impressed with the quality of the interviewees. Do you know how much grooming, if any, goes on behind the scenes? Is there perhaps a small media component involved that the players participate in? Thanks very much. Hope you are allowed to see at least one practice.

Eric Hansen: I'm not sure with the current regime, but I know in the past there has been media training. That doesn't take away from some natural polish and personality of a lot of the players.

Terry from Alexandria, Va.: Hi Eric. It's always a pleasure listening and gaining wonderful and helpful insight. Thank you for the hard work you put day in and day. If nobody else appreciates your dedication and football knowledge, just know that I do LOL. Thank you again! Now, I know last year's offense was more geared to a smash-mouth, ball-control offense, that put up some good numbers and points. But, it wasn't enough to play with the big boys like Alabama and Clemson the second time around. Now, I'm not saying that we abandon the run game and start throwing the ball 60 times a game. What changes do you think Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees need to make for our offense to more effective, explosive and start putting up the video game points, like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and the 2019 champions LSU offense? It seems like having a good defense is enough for the regular season to get you to the playoffs. Things have changed over the years. Now, offense wins championships!!! Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Terry thanks for the kind words. I'm into overtime here, so I'll keep this concise. It starts with quarterback play. A top 15 pass-efficiency rating is essential. Top 10 is better. Jack Coan was 19th in 2019. It's critical that ND's speed receivers stay healthy and play up to expectations, most notably Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin. Find ways to use Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree at the same time. Oversimplified version of my answer, but this is the gist of it.

Caleb from Charlotte. N.C.: Eric, when evaluating players during the spring practices, do the coaches factor in their playing performance in the spring game? We've often seen players put up great stats in the spring game and are not major contributors during the season.

Eric Hansen: Not any more than what they've seen in the first 14 practices. It all goes in one evaluation pot.

Joey G from Parts Unknown: Hi Eric. I know all we are seeing are practice clips. But I’m still not sold on Houston Griffith. His unwillingness to play physical and his poor tackling skills are going to be difficult to change. He may start, but I believe a true freshman will take over. Which freshman do you think could step in? I’m pulling for Justin Walters.

Eric Hansen: I think Houston Griffith is going to make you eat your words.

Tyler - Cleveland: thanks for the time Eric! Looking in to your crystal ball. It’s 2022 and ND is kicking off at OSU. Who’s under center?

Eric Hansen: No one. The QB will be in the shot gun.

Eric Hansen: OK, that's going to have to do it. Have another assignment to run to. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll be back to do it all again next week.

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