Chat Transcript: Talking realignment fallout, ND recruiting revolution, camp expectations

Eric Hansen
ND Insider

Eric Hansen: Welcome back to Notre Dame Football Live Chat. It's been way too long. And we'll jump right back into weekly mode, from now until the end of the season.

Almost every week, it will be on Wednesdays. There were be a couple of exceptions in August because of coverage conflicts.

PLEASE remember to include your name and hometown with your question. Let's get rolling.

Dan from Vernon Hills. Ill.: Eric, really enjoy the chats. With talk of conference expansion in the SEC and potential super conferences, would it become more difficult for Notre Dame to schedule opponents as an independent?

Eric Hansen: Dan, thanks. Whether the SEC annexing Texas and Oklahoma leads to super conferences or something else, it's hard to see a scenario in which the desire or logistics of scheduling games with Notre Dame would be diminished. Teams aren't going to want to play conference-only schedules. It doesn't benefit them in terms of producing maximum numbers of bowl teams and playoff teams. The Irish also bring big TV numbers, help boost home attendance and typically add to a conference team's strength-of-schedule rating, which can help boost a team into the playoff.

Jim from Oakwood, Ohio: Hi Eric, I hope you had a nice summer break and stayed healthy. I really liked all of the position breakdowns and comments from you and Tyler. Thanks to you both for all of your excellent work. My questions are all interrelated: What are your thoughts about the jump by Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC? … Any thoughts or views from Jack Swarbrick that you can share on the topic in general and specifically ND’s continued independence or courtship by The Big 10? … And the comments by the OSU AD recommending a pause of further expansion of the upcoming 12-team playoff “ until the dust settles” with the conference moves? Thank you and be well.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks for the kind words. I literally just got back to work Tuesday, so I haven't had a chance to check in with Jack Swarbrick on anything, quite frankly, just yet. I can tell you that nothing that's happened to this point would push ND off its desire to remain independent. If the Irish did find themselves in a position to be convinced otherwise in the next few years, it wouldn't be the Big Ten as a landing spot. Notre Dame and the 14 full-time ACC schools signed a grant of right agreement a few years ago. That runs through the 2035-36 school year. So if ND lost its desire to remain independent, the ACC would be the destination, not the Big Ten. ... I am curious to see how this might affect the 12-team playoff proposal, which a few weeks ago seemed like a sure thing.

Steve from Kenosha, Wis.: Hi Eric.  With two expected commits to announce this week, how many scholarships are left to offer and what positions do you expect to be filled?

Eric Hansen: With wide receiver Tobias Merriweather picking Notre Dame today (Wednesday) and wide receiver C.J. Williams expected to do the same on Sunday, that would put Notre Dame at 21 commitments in the class of 2022. I think they would go as high as 27, but it hinges on certain players. For instance, I think Iowa safety Xavier Nwanpka is probably the only DB they'd consider adding at this point. Ideally, they'd get two more offensive linemen, a fourth receiver or a second running back, an interior defensive lineman (Hero Kanu or Anthony Lucas) and possibly an elite edge player (Cyrus Moss is a target there).

Joey G from Philadelphia, Pa: Hi Eric. Great to be back! I’m very concerned about the rumors surrounding Jordan Botelho's status with the program. He is the player I was most anticipating to see play this year. ND needs players that have an edge to them, and Botelho brings a violent streak with him — something we haven’t since the days of Chris Zorich. Can you fill us in what happened? Also is there a suspension or transfer coming?

Eric Hansen: Joe, thanks. Great to have you back as well. This started percolating before I got back from vacation and really hasn't advanced much beyond the rumor stage. Here's what I can share. If sophomore defensive end Jordan Botelho or any other player were definitely going to miss the entire season or a significant part of it, Notre Dame would announce it. They haven't done so. That hasn't always been the policy, but it has been in the last year or so. Case in point was Kevin Austin's injury last summer. A case in point before that policy changed was Austin's suspension the year before that wasn't announced. So bottom line is I expect Botelho to be at practice when Notre Dame opens training camp on Saturday. His status could change, but that's not my read of the trajectory at the moment. I would expect we'll get more clarity from Brian Kelly on Saturday after practice.

Jay from Columbus: Biggest recruit for defense and offense yet to commit for 2022? Go ND!!!

Eric Hansen: On offense, it's kind of a tie. Merriweather (who committed a couple of hours after the chat concluded) and C.J. Williams are top-of-the-board targets at a position group ND really needs to upgrade. Guard Billy Schrauth or tackle Aamil Wagner would be significant because of the quality of player at a position group that's already strong and deep. Defensively, if ND were to land Xavier Nwanpka, that would give ND a dynamic player at safety would could play early, as Kyle Hamilton did. Taking need out of the equation, I really like DT Anthony Lucas. The Irish have a lot of work ahead of them to land either of those players but they're both in play.

More:WR Tobias Merriweather's verbal commitment ties in well to Notre Dame's big picture

More:Notre Dame football's home opener to be streamed exclusively on Peacock

ND Harvey from South Philly: E, ND Football is in the air. Two questions, who do you see as the No. 2 TE on the depth chart? Also, who will return punts? Be Safe. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: I think George Takacs starts training camp as a clear No. 2 tight end behind Michael Mayer. Sophomore Kevin Bauman will spend the month trying to leapfrog him. My sense is Takacs is ready for the challenge. Matt Salerno is the incumbent punt returner. Expect challenges from Lawrence Keys III, Chris Tyree and Lorenzo Styles Jr. I like Styles in that role.

Charley from Ridgeland, S.C.: Hey Eric, I recently scored tickets to the Ryder Cup, which is same weekend as the Wisconsin game.  Any hope that the game gets moved to prime time?

Eric Hansen: Congrats on the Ryder Cup tickets. The Big Ten has the TV rights to that game, and FOX Sports has designated it as its Big Noon Kickoff game that week. So unless you have influential friends at FOX and the Big Ten, the kickoff time isn't moving.

Andy from Elgin, Ill.: Eric, with recent SEC expansion, do you think it puts the Texas A&M and Alabama series in jeopardy?

Eric Hansen: Hi Andy. Even if the SEC decides to play nine league games a season instead of eight when Oklahoma and Texas are eventually added, I don't see a series matchup with the Irish as something either team would be willing to part with. It's quite possible the A&M series would be over before Oklahoma and Texas are released from their Big 12 obligations.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, while it is important for Notre Dame to better develop wide receivers, it appears the strength of this season's offensive personnel is the running back, tight end and offensive line positions. Would it not be in the best interests in winning games this year to have an offense that features the running game and intermediate throws to the tight ends? Thank you for answering my question.

Eric Hansen: Alan, I follow your logic in formulating your question, but I don't see it playing out that way. First, there is a lot of talent at the wide receiver position, but there's also a lot to prove from that group. If Notre Dame wants to evolve its offense, the wide receiver position upgrading has to be a part of that. With only three returning starters on offense, the Irish are counting on players throughout the offense to step into new roles and be productive. My expectation for the  offense is that it will be balanced, but the deep passing game will be one of the tweaks that will make it different from last year's offense.

Alex & Jack from Jackson, Mo.: Greetings from vacation in Destin, Fla. Hope the summer break has been a good one. Glad to have you back. We are wondering your opinion on the offense being more successful than last year?  We think the WR play will be more productive, but less so at O-line. We also believe the QB play could be better as well. Not sure how that all plays out in the stat line, however, and would love to hear your opinion. Thanks again.

Eric Hansen: Greetings to you from post-vacation destination South Bend, Ind. I'm less sure about the consistency of the offense than I am the vision for it and how it will be put together. I need to see how different Jack Coan looks in practice this month than he did in the spring — and, yes, the media gets to watch two full practices and portions of several others. We're going to see RBs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree on the field together more. We're going to see less ball control than last year, I believe, and more of a push to get the ball down the field faster and more reliably. I do think the offensive line will eventually be pretty good, but it will take a while to find that rhythm and chemistry. Still, there are two likely All-Americans on it. I remain convinced that wide receiver Kevin Austin, coming off a twice-broken foot, is a pivotal piece in both what the offense will look like and how dynamic it can be.

John from the GTA: Eric, it was just announced that the home opener against Toledo will be a Peacock streaming exclusive. That app is geolocked to the U.S. only. Do you know if there's any way (or even a plan) to allow non-American viewers to watch this game?

Eric Hansen: Tyler James just posted a story on the Peacock streaming exclusive. ... My knowledge of geographical acronyms is limited, but I am guessing GTA is Greater Toronto area? I know there are a lot of Canadians who follow ND (and many of them are at least semi-regulars on this chat). I can't research it while the chat is going on, but I can do so later this week. Please shoot me an email (ehansen@sbtinfo.com), and I'll try to find an answer for you.

Brian from Greenville, S.C.: Eric, thanks for doing these chats, and I am so glad we are getting back to football!  It seems that ND is continuing to improve in nearly all areas, but the one key missing piece in comparison to the Top Teams (tOSU, Bama, Clemson, Oklahoma) is that signature QB to get them over the top.  What are the chances we get a top QB recruit in the next couple cycles, or do you think Tyler Buchner can be that piece?

Eric Hansen: Brian, thank you for being part of the chats. I know our new website design and format makes it a little more challenging to find them. I wouldn't rule out Tyler Buchner being that piece. There's a lot to like about the freshman from San Diego. In terms of future classes, Notre Dame has made Dante Moore of Detroit a top priority in the 2023 class. He's already visited Notre Dame twice this summer and raved about both visits. There's a long way to go, but ND is off to a strong start. He's rated as the No. 30 prospect regardless of position in the 2023 class by Rivals and No. 17 by 247Sports.

Ced Walker from Saginaw, Mich.: Will the South Bend Tribune have the ND football team depth chart for non-subscribers?  I see Notre Dame going 12-0 or 11-1.  I see players playing as true freshmen as Blake Fisher, Rocco Spindler, Lorenzo Styles Jr., Audric Estime, one of the tight ends, Philip Riley, Ryan Barnes and Justin Walters.

Eric Hansen: Hi Ced. We've lost a lot of our autonomy in building our website as Gannett has taken more control of what we can and can't do. So we won't have a static depth chart that's available 365 days a year, but we will publish it regularly and update it regularly throughout training camp and during the season. You'll just have to look a little harder for it. ... And I think Brian Kelly would like your season prediction.

Mike from Rochester, N.Y.: Hi, Eric, so happy to see the chats back, a great reminder that football will be back soon.  Can you update us on how the scholarship calculus stands at this point? And who do you expect to open as the cornerback and nickel back against FSU, beyond Clarence Lewis?  Thanks, and I hope the new owners are treating you and the rest of the staff well!

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks. Happy to be back. Because of the COVID exemption rule, ND was able to be at 87 scholarships this year (super seniors Jonathan Doerer and Kurt Hinish took advantage) instead of the normal 85 limit. The Irish are actually at 84, so they could award a scholarship to as many as three walk-ons if they chose to do so. Next year, the hard cap for all teams will be back to 85. As camp opens, Cam Hart and TaRiq Bracy (nickel) would be the favorites to be the answer to your question. There's going to be a lot of competition this month, so that could change. But my expectation is Hart and Bracy would join Lewis at the top of the depth chart.

Steve from St. Louis: Will there be an ND Insider magazine this year?

Eric Hansen: Steve, there are a lot of advantages to being part of a big corporation, which we are now. Producing a magazine isn't one of those advantages. It's something for which we advocated — relentlessly. What that conversation evolved into was us producing a kind of hybrid preview this year. We had an eight-page print section, with all the content also available online. And then we had quite a bit of content that was online only. All of that ran last week and is still available.

Pat from St. Paul, Minn.: Missed you Eric! Who starts the year at QB? Any buzz behind the scenes on the QBs during summer workouts? Thanks!!

Eric Hansen: Pat. Missed everybody here as well. I still think Jack Coan ends up starting the opener. As for the summer buzz, since I get to see these guys in person, I'm going to start there and work my way back to what happened this summer. This should be entertaining. Stay tuned.

Denny from Liberty Hill, Texas: Eric, do you think Rocco Spindler is one of five best offensive linemen and will ultimately start his freshman year?

Eric Hansen: I think Rocco is one of the best six. Now someone like Tosh Baker and say Andrew Kristofic could have blurred that line this summer, but I think Rocco starts camp Saturday in the top six. When we were working on our season preview, Brian Kelly told me he intended to keep Jarrett Patterson at center. If that is still the case on Saturday, it gives Rocco a chance to either start or push for a time share with Zeke Correll at guard. So Fisher, Madden, Patterson and Lugg will all start, with a battle for the fifth spot.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, so glad to have you back with the ND chat. You have been missed. I would like to hear your perspective on the comments from Marcus Freeman during his podcast with Chris Zorich in early July. For those unfamiliar, during that discussion Freeman said he impressed upon the ND football staff that they should be recruiting the best talent, and not just "ND type guys" (please correct if poorly summarized). This could be a major philosophical shift in ND football recruiting. I am curious as to whether you see it as evolutionary or revolutionary? If it takes hold, how will it change the competitive profile of ND football for the next 4-6 years? Much thanks-

Eric Hansen: Jeff. Great to have you all back. In talking to recruiting analysts, such as Tom Lemming and Steve Wiltfong, Marcus Freeman has helped revolutionize ND's recruiting. In the instance you cited, I don't think Freeman is dismissive of fit. I think his point is Notre Dame needs to get out and recruit the top talent early. Offer early. Evaluate early. Then later during the process, they can assess whether there's a fit. They can always move off the prospect if there's not a fit. The old way was to determine whether there was a fit first before ever offering. The problem was that ND too often was in a state of playing perpetual catchup. I believe you'll see this shift pay off in a big way in the 2023 class.

Hiring Chad Bowden and Dre Brown as internal recruiting directors/analysts was another Freeman idea that's paying off. I think beyond all that, there's a willingness and confidence to aim higher in recruiting, which falls in line with Brian Kelly's ambition and recent directives.

I think this is a necessary step if Notre Dame is going to win playoff games.

Jason from Orlando, Fla: Hi Eric, I know that Marcus Freeman hasn’t even coached a game yet, but is it too early to name him the coach in waiting for when Brian Kelly retires? (Hopeful after he wins a national championship in about three years). Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Marcus Freeman has done such a good job in recruiting that I'm convinced this will be a staple of every chat for weeks to come. I was often asked the same about Clark Lea. Here's my short answer: I think it's a rare occasion in which the coach-in-waiting concept actually works well. That's not to say Freeman wouldn't make a great head coach in time. It's the concept I have the problem with, and most ADs do too.

Kip from Oklahoma City: What have you heard from the coaches on Cain Madden and his ability? Doing some research on my own, it seems like he's shorter than listed, more like 6-1 than 6-3, has short arms and is not very athletic. This obviously hurts his ability to pull and move in open space. Is he a guaranteed starter or will shortcomings show up in his game when the pads come on against better competition than he faced while at Marshall?

Eric Hansen: Grad transfer Cain Madden measured in at 6-2 1/2, 306 when he arrived in mid-June for summer school and summer workouts. Both from the Irish coaches and impartial observers outside the program, the consensus has been that Madden is a significant addition to the Irish roster. That doesn't mean he's without facets of his game that need improvement. He will face consistently better competition at ND, though he faced Boise State, Cincinnati, UCF and Virginia Tech as a starter at Marshall. No, he was not guaranteed a starting spot with the Irish, just an opportunity. My expectation is that he'll take full advantage of that opportunity and be an elite guard.

K.J. from near the Channel isles, Calif.: Hi Eric. Glad you’re back with the chat! Been a long time. Do we have to worry about COVID protocols this year, or are we vax safe?

Eric Hansen: Notre Dame had more than 90 percent of its student population vaccinated in the spring and will require all students in the fall to be vaccinated (with some rare exceptions). That's a good foundation if you're Brian Kelly. With the highly contagious Delta variant, we are seeing some breakthrough infections. Statistics show there are fewer of those in populations where the vax rate is higher. That's another plus for Notre Dame in a purely sports context. There is some modeling by epidemiologists that the current Delta wave may start to recede by the time football season starts. More potential good news.

Having said all of that, there will still be protocols in place. High vax rates are not universal among college football teams. Conferences have hinted at forfeits rather than rescheduling games if there are disruptions this season. Barring a new COVID curveball in the fall, my expectation is that ND will play its 12 regular-season games as scheduled and with fans.

A final note on this: I feel its my obligation to answer these COVID-related questions to the best of my ability rather than ducking them. You don't have to agree with the answers, but it's part of the sports landscape. It's not about politics for me. If anyone emails me and tries to make it so, you will be deleted and blocked.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Thanks for being here! What is the biggest reason to be hopeful for this season, and one reason not to get our hopes up too high?

Eric Hansen: Reason for hope? The culture that's been in place since after the 4-8 cratering in 2016. Reason to be cautious? Only nine starters are back.

John from Des Moines, Iowa: Eric, does ND have the talent in its current stable of WRs to present a deep passing threat in the 2021 season?

Eric Hansen: The speed is there, but there is not a track record of health, experience and/or consistency with that speed. August should tell us a lot about whether that group can transcend all of that,

Mike from Chicago: Hi Eric. Any thoughts on the Kyle Hamilton & Co. podcast? I found the tidbits about the early freshman WR meetings quite interesting. Potentially explains the JJ situation?

Eric Hansen: Loved it. At least the first episode (Inside The Garage Podcast). I haven't had a chance to take in podcast No. 2. Informative, funny, just really, really good.

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

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI