Chat Transcript: Decoding Notre Dame's O-line development, gauging spring growing pains

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat — the pre-NFL Draft/Blue-Gold Game Edition. PLEASE remember to include your name and hometown with your question. We'll do another one of these next Wednesday after the draft and the Blue-Gold Game to kind of wrap things up before moving out of weekly mode and into intermittent mode for the offseason. OK, off we go.

Jeremy From Goshen: The small video snippets have shown the offensive line getting dominated by our front seven. The coaches are also moving lots of people around. Aaron Taylor says it's so important to have five guys acting as one. This speaks to continuity. Should we be concerned? If not yet, when? Also, please give me your prediction for who will be the five starting offensive linemen and their positions on opening day at Florida State.

Eric Hansen: I would not be concerned. I've said from the start, spring was about finding the best five linemen overall, then retro-fitting them to positions. The goal was not to look as good as possible on the highlight/lowlight reels. Marcus Freeman's defensive scheme was a great wrinkle for these tests and trials because of the pre-snap movement ... that helped a lot in evaluations. The Irish don't have Jarrett Patterson yet (because of injury), so that led to even more experimentation. I think it will be early in training camp before the lineup is set. Then chemistry will build — a process that will spill into the regular season.

I know Brian Kelly is considering Patterson for a guard. I think he could really play anywhere. My opinion on the starting five may change after seeing the Blue-Gold Game, but I'll go with LT: Patterson, LG; Rocco Spindler, C: Zeke Correll, RG: Josh Lugg and RT: Blake Fisher. Fisher and Lugg might switch places. I would think Jeff Quinn would want to break up the freshmen in the fall, even though they've worked in tandem this spring.

Jake from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Hi Eric. I’ve seen an article where Tommy Rees stated that a team doesn’t need to throw the ball over the top for big gains and that they can come from underneath throws in space. I agree they can, but I don’t believe they can if there isn’t an over-the-top threat (both receiver and QB). So my question is that while Brian Kelly continues to say he needs his upperclassmen to become elite, what is the tradeoff of the younger guys having more natural talent but not knowing the offense quite as well as the juniors and seniors? Hope this makes sense.

Eric Hansen: Jake, there is actually speed and talent in the upper classes too now (Avery Davis, Lawrence Keys III, Kevin Austin Jr., Braden Lenzy, etc.) What that group doesn't have (except for Davis) is a track record of health and consistency. Last year, there WAS a speed tradeoff at wide receiver, but some of that was because Lenzy, Austin and Keys weren't available for most of the season. However, I do think the development of Jordan Johnson, Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Xavier Watts is important as well, possibly as rotation pieces. Joe Wilkins is going to be part of the mix, too.

Javier from Florida: Eric, you are the best at the ND beat! Thanks for keeping us all up to date. My question has to do with the O-line. Seems like the staff is doing lots of juggling to find the best five players. Vets like Josh Lugg, Jarrett Patterson and Zeke Correll are a lock, but not sure at which positions. The question is: Does the staff bet on the young players with the most long-term potential (Blake Fisher, Rocco Spindler, Tosh Baker, Michael Carmody, Joe Alt, etc.) or do they give a chance to the veteran backups (John Dirksen, Quinn Carroll, Andrew Kristofic, etc.)? If they go with the young potential, would some of the upperclassmen enter the portal?

Eric Hansen: Javier, thanks so much. Jeff Quinn really keeps it this simple: the best players play. The five best. No matter what class. No matter what upside. Patterson, Correll and Lugg were locks to play somewhere, as you mentioned. The question was and is who are 4-5-6-7? Right now I'd say that's Fisher, Spindler, Baker, Gibbons ... But it's very close between 6-10. Things could shift during the summer. If there's an older player who gets leaped, I suppose they could jump into the portal, but those older players are in competitive positions and an injury away perhaps from getting their opportunity. Look at Trevor Ruhland in 2019. He ended up starting the final six games that season.

Cederick Qalker from Saginaw, Mich.: Do summer workouts begin June 13? Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Summer-term classes start June 14, and the players will start their summer program with director of football performance Matt Balis at that time.

Matt from Nappanee: Hi Eric, thanks for the awesome chats! At the end of the day who starts at rover in 2021? Jack Kiser, Isaiah Pryor or Prince Kollie?

Eric Hansen: Hi Matt, thanks for your awesome questions. I think Jack Kiser fits the sort of revised rover responsibilities very well and I anticipate he'll be the starter Sept. 5. That doesn't mean the others won't play. Marcus Freeman is open to rotating fresh players in if they can earn that status.

Josh from Wichita, Kan.: Hi, Eric. Thank you for your excellent work and commitment to these chats. In a previous chat someone asked how many players you expected to transfer out this summer, and you responded that it depended on whether we take one or two transfers in. On the surface, that seems backwards, but it supports a roster management theory of mine. Do you think there's an understood rule that if you have your degree and are buried on the depth chart that you're not guaranteed four years if your spot is needed?

Eric Hansen: Josh, it's more of a dance than it is one side or the other dictating terms. Now in terms of the extra COVID year, that's definitely not guaranteed with scholarship money, and I think you'll see very few of those being exercised at ND, moving forward. But just conventionally in regard to your question, the staff sits down with each player at the end of the year and kind of takes inventory with them. What are the player's thoughts and goals? Then how does that fit with the team's projections? Those answers help drive the decision of the player whether to return or move on. Once they have their degree, there is not an urgency to keep them at ND if they're not going to get an opportunity. I hope that answered your question.

Ryan near San Francisco: I recently listened to a podcast with Charlie Weis, Sr. He talked about how they shouted plays to a young Golden Tate from the sidelines as a way to illustrate that you can/should get new wide receivers on the field if they are talented enough. I dare say Brian Kelly would never do this. We all know the critiques here, but how do you feel about the notion that this position doesn't need much experience and that maybe thinking outside the box about how to get raw talent on the field is worthwhile?

Eric Hansen: Now remember, Golden Tate was a high school running back, so his transition to wide receiver was more of a labor than it was for similarly talented players, like Michael Floyd, for instance. I think there's middle ground between what Charlie said and what Brian Kelly does with young receivers. With Kelly, those guys need to be more-than-adequate blockers, for instance, where Charlie could live without that aspect. To borrow a baseball analogy, Charlie can live with home run hitters who strike out a lot. BK can't. Again, I think the best solution is finding some middle ground you can live with as the young receivers develop the other required skills.

Nick from Minnesota: We discuss a lot about how Notre Dame's unique academic profile affects recruiting — closing doors with some recruits, but perhaps helping make ND's case stronger with others. Is there any similar dynamic resulting from the school's religious character? Are there kids who are especially interested or uninterested in going to a Catholic or religious school?

Eric Hansen: Nick. I've heard kids discuss a special spiritual feeling when they visited campus and that ended up being a contributing factor to them choosing ND. I would imagine there are others who are turned off by having to go to Mass or having stricter rules. That probably evens itself out.

Michael from Costa Mesa, Calif.: Eric do you think Kelly will play Audric Estime only four games? Or will we really need him for more games?

Eric Hansen: It depends on the health of Chris Tyree, Kyren Williams and C'Bo Flemister AND whether he's a must-have on special teams. And Brian Polian is excited about auditioning Audric Estime for a significant role(s) on special teams. Keep in mind too, at 6-1 and 215, he is significantly bigger than the other backs.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Eric, based on the information that you've received so far, what would be the position group on the team that will need to improve the most before the Irish play Florida State this fall?

Eric Hansen: Still cornerbacks, even though there are players surging and emerging in that position group. Cornerbacks.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif..: Hi Eric and the very best to you as always. Can you see the possibility that Tommy Rees and Brian Kelly might create a package of plays for Tyler Buchner in the event he doesn't start, which at the present time seems most likely? Given his multiplicity of skills and his ability to make things happen with his feet, I can foresee certain circumstances and or places on the field where he could be a real asset for the offense. Moreover, this would be a great way for him to gain some valuable experience, which would certainly hasten his development. On the surface, this would seem like a real win for both the team and the player. In your opinion, does this scenario have any chance of coming to fruition? Take care and thanks for all you do.

Eric Hansen: Hi Jim, and best to you as well. I wouldn't rule it out. Buchner has a running skill set that's superior to the other QBs on the roster. There might be an occasion here or there where that makes sense. If he were more similar to the others, it wouldn't make sense. That's probably a question to throw at BK in fall camp.

Chad from Denver: Eric thank you for your chats and podcasts. I love the accurate and fair reporting you do day in and day out. Based on the information you are getting and the progress that is being made, should Irish fans expect a 10-, possibly 11-win season or still way too early? Just get the feel some key position groups are making some big steps forward that may push the win total up. Thanks for your time.

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Chad. There are two factors that make me hesitant in picking a win total at this point. 1) I have not seen ND practice in person (but will Saturday). 2) I have not studied yet how the opponents are evolving during their spring practices. Here's what I will tell you: There hasn't been anything that's happened in the spring that's been unfixable or a dead end as far as finding a solution. We've seen progress across the board. Kevin Austin becoming the player most of us in the media think he can become is important in 2021. Kyle Hamilton getting/staying healthy is critical. ND needs positive bounces in addition to simply developing over the summer. There's a good vibe about this team with plenty of work still to do.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, something I always wondered about with recruiting. Why would ND make an offer to a recruit when the player has a commitment to another school, with no indication that they are waffling on that commitment? Is it just to be able to say we tried/made an offer to a desirable recruit? Is it that they get some new intel that the recruit could be unsure of their present commitment and have interest in flipping to ND? Or is it just the general philosophy that Jim Carrey used on Lauren Holly in "Dumb and Dumber"...."so you're saying there's a chance ...."

Eric Hansen: Notre Dame will not pursue a recruit committed to another school unless that prospect is open to communicating. Sometimes that happens later in the process. If he's willing to communicate, there's always a chance (a real one) to change that commitment. Brian Kelly has been very successful ln landing big-time players who have been committed elsewhere. ND flipped eight players in the 2021 class. During the Kelly Era, the Irish have flipped five 5-star recruits.

Todd from Buffalo, N.Y.: A two-part question. Part 1: Is there any concern that the apparently significant roles Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler are playing on the O-line this spring will lead to upperclassmen entering the transfer portal and leaving to find playing time elsewhere? If so, are there certain players whose departure would significantly weaken depth? How is the staff dealing with this? You owe it to the team to put the best unit on the field, but keeping the group (and therefore depth and continuity) intact has to be part of it. Or is the answer that they are all big boys and if they can't deal with the competitive aspect of determining who plays, so be it?

Part 2: Concerning the transfer portal — what, if any, protections are being put in place to prevent coaches/programs from pushing a player out the door if after a year or two they conclude the player isn't going to develop as planned and looking to replace them with someone from the transfer portal? It's my understanding that scholarships are only guaranteed for four years if the school decided to do so. And even with a guarantee, it's not hard to imagine ways to make life uncomfortable enough that guarantee, notwithstanding, a player exits.

Eric Hansen: I addressed Part I a little bit earlier. Offensive linemen tend to be more patient than some of the other positions, just kind of the nature of it being GENERALLY a position group in which development takes time. Roughly five years ago, the Power 5 schools and ND passed a rule making it illegal to drop an underclassmen for ATHLETIC reasons. They could for other reasons. Certainly, there can be mutual parting of the ways, where the player and coach agree future playing time isn't likely. I'm not saying some schools might not contort that rule.

Transfers could weaken the depth if there were a whole bunch of them, but I don't envision that happening, not even with the more liberal transfer rule. Keep in mind that after this season, if you're an underclassman transfer and you don't want to sit out a year, you'll need to be in the portal by May 1. This year, the deadline is July 1.

Jim from Berlin, Conn.: Eric, it's great that you're still answering our questions this far into the new year. Two questions for you: If Tyler Buchner doesn't get any playing time this coming season, do you think he'll look to transfer to another school? And with the Irish losing so many standouts on offense, will the defense be expected to come up with the big plays in crunch time to pull out victories against the likes of Wisconsin, Cincinnati and USC?

Eric Hansen: Jim, thank you. Tyler Buchner is an incredibly intelligent and mature kid. He knows he has to earn playing time. He knows he'll get a chance to compete for the starting position in 2022. He knows he's played one season of football in the past three years. That hardly lends itself to a recipe for a rash transfer even if playing time is limited in 2021. ... I think the defense will be an important factor in those games, but the offense better be as well.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, I hope you are well and I am sure you must be looking forward to the Blue-Gold Game this weekend. There is a lot of talk about both Rocco Spindler and Blake Fisher starting. I know they are both super talented, but does this raise any red flags to you with regard to both development of the current upperclassmen, and also evaluation of these same players when they were recruits? Were they possibly not developed well or inaccurately evaluated? Has there ever been a team to win a National Championship starting a true freshman on the O-line? Thanks for all your great work!

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. Doing well here and very happy about seeing the Blue-Gold Game, thank you. First, there have been national champion teams with one starting freshman O-linemen. Not sure about two. I'll have to research that when I have a little more time.

To your main question, let's look at this a couple of ways. Let's look at purely their star rating and national class standing coming out of high school. Here's how they stack up:

Fisher 5-star No. 25 overall nationally regardless of position

Spindler 4-star No. 67

Q Carroll 4-star No. 68

Z Correll 4-star No. 114

Baker 4-star No. 137

Carmody 4-star No. 231

Lugg 4-star No. 236

Kristofic 4-star UR

C Johnson 4-star UR

Spears 4-star D-line UR

Patterson 3-star UR

Dirksen 3-star UR

Gibbons 3-star UR

Alt 3-star UR

Coogan 3-star UR

Based on the blend of raw talent and experience, the players who are emerging are kind of the ones you'd expect to. Patterson has way outplayed his ranking and has for some time. Alt likely will be another guy like that.

The fact that three-star prospects Gibbons and Dirksen are competing for spots higher on the depth chart is a testament to them. ... Injuries can play a role as they have for Gibbons and Quinn Carroll.

Finally, if you listen to the superlatives from teammates, you understand Spindler and Fisher competing for starting jobs is not a default outcome ... Remember Fisher was ranked higher than all four recent O-line first-round draft choices coming out of high school (Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin).

Larry from Topton, Pa.: Hi Eric. Last week, you briefly discussed your radio career, and I would like to follow up. I used to be an everyday listener of "that station," and now I am a no-day listener. You mentioned that you wouldn’t anticipate returning to that particular station. Is there a station where we will be able to hear you? If so, please tell. You asked for feedback on the Pod of Gold podcasts — Fantastic! You and Tyler do a great job!! My only complaint — we need more of them (again, I was used to hearing you five days a week). Thanks for taking my question, Eric!

Eric Hansen: Larry, thanks for giving Pod of Gold a chance. We're proud of it and working to make it better. As far as another station potentially, I'll have a better feel for that this summer. Thanks for the kind words.

Adam: Hi Eric! Adam from Grand Rapids, Mich. Curious what your prediction is for the Irish players in the draft. What round/order. Also, if you had to guess who the first Irish player taken in the 2022 draft would be? Thanks for all you do!

Eric Hansen: Adam, Hi. I will probably stick with the experts and go Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (round 1), Liam Eichenberg (2), Tommy Tremble (3), Aaron Banks (3), Ade Ogundeji (4), Daelin Hayes (5), Robert Hainsey (5), Ian Book (7), Tommy Kraemer (7). ... Kyle Hamilton will be ND's top draft prospect next year if he comes out (which I expect). Former NFL exec Gil Brandt believes he'll be the No. 2 player taken in the first round in 2022.

Mary Long from Indianapolis. Can I get the Blue-Gold Game on demand from Peacock? Or is it just live if I miss it? I won’t be home when it airs. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: This is from Tyler James' recent article: The Blue-Gold Game will be available on-demand following the live stream both on Peacock and on Fighting Irish TV, a separate video platform on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV.

So the answer is a resounding yes.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric, as we look forward to the spring game and the end of spring practice, my question is what is next for the players? Do they go home for a little while? When do the non-early enrolled freshmen report? What is their regime for the summer? Is it just strength and conditioning, or is there any working out for the receivers and QBs? When does fall practice begin? Thanks for all your hard work and I look forward to your recap of the spring game and team progress. Go Irish!!!!

Eric Hansen: Tom, thanks. They will have an opportunity to go home between spring semester and summer term. But not for long. Because of the late start (and finish) to spring semester, the break will be less than four weeks. Freshmen start classes on June 14, with everyone else, and report a day or two before that. There's strength and conditioning this summer, but also informal team football workouts with no coaches present. There were no OTAs in June last year because of COVID. As was start to get back in a normal routine, I'm going to assume they will happen this year, though perhaps in a compressed time frame. Fall camp should start around Aug. 6-7.

Don from Phoenix: Eric, hope all is well on your end. Vaccinated and traveling this weekend and will miss the Blue-Gold Game. Your coverage will be first read. My question is defense. I know Marcus Freeman is an excellent coordinator and brings a different philosophy from Clark Lea. What is the advantage of his scheme vs Lea's? If done right, does Freeman's D have the potential to stop the potent offenses? Or is that a thing of the past and the only way to beat is to outscore them, like 'Bama did against Florida.

Eric Hansen: Don congrats to you! The advantages of Freeman's scheme is you don't have to be in the perfect alignment pre-snap. Pre-snap movement in the front 7 is another difference, and it's difficult for the offense to deal with. It's an aggressive and attacking scheme. If ND is solid in the back end, it's going to work well. Both systems worked very well the past three seasons. Clark produced three straight top 15 scoring defenses at ND for the first time in 50 years. Freeman had a top 25 scoring defense in 2019 and top 10 in both 2018 and 2020. Yes defense still matters. You have to be dynamic on both sides of the ball. Alabama, ND and Clemson were 13th, 14th and 18th, respectively, last season in scoring defense, even with some high-scoring games mixed in.

Jason from Mattawan, Mich.: Thank you for being so accessible to the fans and display such skill in what you do. Do you think we will see an entirely new offense that will make us look twice come next August?

Eric Hansen: Jason, thanks. I don't think it will be entirely new, but I think different aspects will be emphasized and I do think it will be more dynamic. Before I get too far ahead of myself, I'd like to see Jack Coan and the receivers in person. But Tommy Rees and Brian Kelly being committed to new ideas and concepts is very encouraging. Now it's about implementing and executing them.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Hi. I hope that you and your family are doing well. Do you think the College Football Playoff will expand in the next five years from the current for teams? Do you think it should expand? If so, how many teams?

Eric Hansen: Caleb, thanks and same to you and yours. Yes I do think the CFP will expand in the next five years. The Athletic had a story on that today, about momentum for more than eight teams. The CFP is studying six-, eight-, 10-, 12- and 16-team models. I do think it should expand. To how many teams, I haven't given it much thought. Off the top of my head, I kind of like 12, with byes for the top four.

Ed from Sayville, Isle of Long: With a new starter at QB, how big a consideration is the value Jarrett Patterson can bring with line calls etc., vs. what his overall abilities could bring at one of the tackle positions? In short, can the success he has had at the position be of greater importance to a line breaking in several new starters? Thank you Eric and thank you for leading these chats.

Eric Hansen: Ed, from Jack Coan-land! I think by the time we get to August, Zeke Correll would be able to make the line calls as well as Patterson does, and so that really frees ND up to play him at tackle or guard. Why I like Patterson at tackle is his athleticism, smarts, frame, footwork. But he could just as easily be an elite guard. If Correll were not on the roster, there's no way I'd move Patterson away from center.

Matt in Augusta N.J.: How do you see the linebacker depth chart this fall? Will guys like Bo Bauer, Shayne Simon and Jack Kiser play a bigger role in the new scheme. I see it as the deepest position on the team, lot of options. Also will rover position change in the new scheme.

Eric Hansen: My guess is that Drew White, Marist Liufau and Kiser will eventually be the starters, with Bauer, Simon and Isaiah Pryor as rotation guys. JD Bertrand has had a good spring too and freshman Prince Kollie is intriguing. Paul Moala, when he recovers, is a wild card, so lots of capable players in the mix. And yes, the rover is closer to a traditional strongside linebacker now.

Chris from Louisville, Ky.: Great chat as always, Eric. With the departure of Kendall Abdur-Rahman, where does that leave Notre Dame with regard to the scholarship limit? Has there been any talk of looking at the transfer portal for a cornerback or defensive end?

Eric Hansen: They can be at 87 scholarships this year because of the two COVID exemptions (Kurt Hinish and Jontathan Doerer). They're at 88. Yes, they continue to monitor the transfer portal and grad transfer market. I'd add safety as a possible spot to add in addition to the two you suggested.

Mark Kruz from Mishawaka: Eric has there been any concern this spring about kicker Jonathan Doerer taking a step back last season compared to the nice season he had as a sophomore?

Eric Hansen: I asked Brian Polian about that earlier this spring. Here's what he said: “There were some mechanical issues, something that he couldn’t quite get comfortable with, and then it became a confidence thing. ‘Hey, I’m going to be super careful here and instead of getting up there and swinging at the ball, I’m just going to try and ease it through the uprights.’

“It’s frustrating to him and it’s frustrating to me that I couldn’t help him more at the end of the year, because you think back to the (first) Clemson game and we don’t win that game without Jon Doerer.

“We know he can do it on the biggest stage, so we have to help him get back to making sure that we’re rock solid mechanically, so then the confidence comes with that.”

Dave from Livonia, Mich.: Hi Eric, I always look forward to these chats. I love your insight and the way we are kept up to date on the football team. My question is on Avery Davis. I know he's bounced around a little finding a position. How is the spring camp going for him? Is he locked in at wide receiver now?

Eric Hansen: Locked and loaded. Has had a great spring. I expect him to be a captain in the fall.

Tom from Yakima, Wash.: I would like to see names on the backs of the Irish jerseys. I think it was Lou Holtz that had them removed. I know there are more pressing items than this, but do you think there is any possibility of their return? Thanks for all you do for us fans!

Eric Hansen: Tom, I don't see momentum for that other than for bowl games.

Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: Saw where coach Kelly stated the frosh D-lineman Will Schweitzer had surgery last week. Any idea on the nature of the injury?

Eric Hansen: It was a knee injury. Brian Kelly said the surgery went well.

Erik from Granger: Thanks for being here! I’m taking my son to the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. What three things (e.g. position battles, schemes, storylines) should we focus our attention on the most?

Eric Hansen: Erik, thank you. I assume you are faculty/staff, because only they, students and families of the players are being allowed in. Just wanted to warn you just in case. So three things ... Wide receiver play, quarterback play and cornerbacks.

The Gipper from Omaha, Neb.: In all the coaches' comments so far on spring practice, there has been no mention of Xavier Watts, who was the No. 1 player out of Nebraska a year ago. What's the word as to when he will see the field this season? ND needs to get players like him that can stretch the field on the field as soon as possible. With our wide receivers having so little experience, he should be right up there for paying time with his talent. What gives?

Eric Hansen: I've noticed that too. He's on my list to ask about Thursday, so stay tuned.

Denny from Liberty Hill, Texas: Hi Eric! Following recruiting this year is exciting. The Irish seem to be in on a lot of superb players. I remember losing out on so many in the past that it is hard to imagine pulling in the top prospects. This year feels a little different. Of course, we will have disappointments, but can you give your thoughts on three high-profile recruits on offense as well as defense that are most likely to be Irish in the end? I hope coach Freeman is a great closer for all the interest he is generating for the "D!"

Eric Hansen: The offense is more difficult to predict, so I'll start with defense: LB Jaylen Sneed and LB Niuafe Tuihalamaka ... and I'll go out on a limb a bit with DT Anthony Lucas ... On offense TE Holden Staes, OL Billy Schrauth ... and I'll go out on a limb with WR C.J. Williams.

TJ from Vero Beach, Fla.: Hi Eric. Thanks for all the excellent sports coverage and analysis from you and your team! I enjoyed your article, Tommy Rees 2.0. What do you think needs to do to show that he has (or will) make that next-level leap? Even if he can design the appropriate game plan, call the right plays, etc., can the offense be consistently good in all areas to execute the strategies successfully? What would have to happen (besides the stars aligning perfectly) for this year's team to surprise everyone and get back to the playoff?

Eric Hansen: Two really good signs I saw/heard on our recent Zoom was the acknowledgement that ND had to get more dynamic, the list of things Rees learned as a first-year coordinator and the material he has to work with. If he can turn Jack Coan into a top 10 passer nationally, the rest will follow. .. to get back to the CFP, that's No. 1. Wide receiver development, better red zone production and better in-game adjustments also must happen.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, it's always good to chat with you! Do you expect to see any surprises on either side of the ball in the 2021 Blue-Gold Game and will the results be an "honest" indication of what we can expect for the upcoming season? Thanks mucho. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Eric Hansen: When Junior Jabbie wins MVP of a Blue-Gold Game and people remember that more than a decade later, it goes to show how the spring game lends itself to surprises, not all of which are sustaining ones. I think the BGG is good for impressions, not good for conclusions. So NO, there's not much staging, too much mirage to take Blue-Gold at its face value without some decoding.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, I have a lot of respect for Avery Davis and his sticking with the Irish through several position changes when it would have been very easy to transfer to a program that offered consistent playing time earlier in his career. As Notre Dame's most experienced returning wide receiver, what are realistic expectations for Davis this season? Thank you for answering my question.

Eric Hansen: Alan. I think you'll see significant improvement and more production from Avery this season.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric, Tony Dungy had said that he felt Ian Book could be successful in the NFL because he had escapability, poise and a decent arm. Will be interesting to see how his NFL career goes. Your thoughts on ND having another QB who plays for three seasons at ND?

Eric Hansen: I think Tyler Buchner has the chance to be a three-year starter.

Jim from St. Louis: Hi Eric. Thank you for your coverage of ND sports. You truly are excellent at what you do. A little outside-the-box here, but any chance we see substantial investment in Link Jarrett and the ND baseball team? Many within the industry think Jarrett has the ability to build a consistent national power at ND if given the opportunity.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Jim. I don't see why ND wouldn't do that.

Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: And good afternoon Eric. Coach Kelly spoke about getting all early enrollees involved for a specific reason, which I forget why except they are a big part of the team now and deserve, not earn, reps. Question is, is it even more important these days because of freshmen can play four games and need to be prepared early more then ever to contribute? Yes/no? Also, saw clip of Jack Coan, and I am excited as I would call him greatly (is that a real word?) capable. Do you think he is going to have a super exciting season — I mean, off-the-charts type season? I do. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Mike. I don't think what you posed is Kelly's reason for playing the EEs more. I think it's more about their overall development and investing in that early ... whether they play in four, zero or 13 games in 2021. ... I need to see a lot of Jack Coan before I'd make a bold prediction like that. And by a lot, I mean in August too.

Andy from Lima, Ohio: Eric, really appreciate your great coverage of ND. You and the venerable, late Lou Somogyi have always been my favorite writers to follow. You both have always given fair, objective, and very informative analysis. My question: How are things going with Matt Balis and the strength program? Haven't heard much about him lately. I am interested in hearing where we are (overall team strength and conditioning level) compared to 2016. Obviously, strides have been made and the evidence is in our team's performance the last few years and in the number of draftees we will have this weekend. But I find it interesting and almost hard to believe that two freshmen offensive linemen can possibly start or at least play a lot for us on the offensive line. That and hearing about Josh Lugg's problem with carrying too much bad weight last season concern me a little. Just wondering what you have been hearing about Balis lately. Why don't we ever hear about testing numbers in different lifts, 40 times, vertical jump, etc.? Thanks again!

Eric Hansen: Andy. thanks. Notre Dame isn't real eager to give the testing numbers away on a wholesale basis. Maybe the player or Kelly volunteer something here or there. I think why you don't hear about Balis as much anymore is that it's not a novelty anymore. His high standards have become routine and part of the culture, so there's the expectation that's going to be a big part of player development every year now. I did something with him last May, though it was pretty COVID-specific. Once we get wider (and in-person) access, I'd like to revisit a story on that side of the program. Thanks for bringing it up.

Eric Hansen: That's going to have to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. As I mentioned at the top of the chat, I'll be back next Wednesday at noon EDT to wrap up the draft and the Blue-Gold Game and take your questions.

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