Notebook: Tracking the rise of Carmody as Notre Dame OT Fisher is set to miss 8 weeks
SOUTH BEND — Surrounded by a relentlessly chanting, tomahawk-chopping, sometimes-besotted crowd Sunday night in Tallahassee, Fla., Rob Carmody’s first thoughts when son Michael came trotting into the game at left tackle were with Notre Dame freshman offensive tackle Blake Fisher.
On Thursday Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly revealed that Fisher — the second freshman in 50 years to start a season opener on the offensive line for the Irish — probably won’t play again until sometime in November, in a best-case scenario.
“Probably eight weeks for him,” Kelly said via Zoom Thursday. “So we're hopeful that we'll have him back this year."
No. 8 Notre Dame (1-0) hosts Toledo (1-0) Saturday (2:30 EDT; Peacock streaming) in the Irish home opener, with ND carrying a 24-game home win streak into the game and Kelly two wins away from tying Irish coaching icon Knute Rockne for all-time wins at ND.
Fisher underwent surgery Thursday, as did linebacker Shayne Simon for a torn labrum in his shoulder that Kelly reported will end the senior’s 2021 season almost before it started.
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Avon, Ind., product suffered a (knee) meniscus tear in ND’s 41-38 overtime enduring of Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium, with the 6-6, 290-pound Carmody, not only spelling Fisher but stepping into a storied lineage at the left tackle position.
Every starting left tackle during the first 11 years of the Brian Kelly Era has gone to to be a first-round (Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey) or second-round NFL Draft pick.
“Honestly, our first thought with having an older son (Notre Dame basketball player Robby) who’s been through a series of injuries, we said a quick prayer for Blake,” said Rob Carmody, the longtime boys basketball coach at Mars Area High School in Mars, Pa. “Knowing the fear that mom and dad have sitting in the stands when they see their son limping off the field or the court, that was really our first thought.
“We didn’t even think about ‘Mike gets to play.’ It’s really not a moment to take to celebrate. When you have a kid who’s gone through it, you feel for the parents, and obviously Blake has been incredible and earned that.
“So when we saw Mike go on the field, it was kind of bittersweet. Obviously, excited and happy for him, but you always have that in the back of your mind as a parent. Going through it, you just can’t help but feel that way.”
Michael’s older brother, Robby, a 6-4 guard for the Irish men’s hoops team, suffered a season-ending left shoulder injury as a freshman, a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee as a sophomore, and a season-ending broken left kneecap as a junior. He heads into his senior year academically with sophomore eligibility.
Michael was a high school basketball standout too, leading the nation in rebounding (19.5 per game) as a senior. His athleticism and lack of experience playing tackle make pondering what his ceiling might look like all the more intriguing.
He only had two years of playing tackle in his entire pre-Notre Dame career, having been a tight end as a high school sophomore and a quarterback and/or running back before that.
“This is no indictment on his high school football team, because they were very successful,” Rob Carmody said, “but Mike probably only pass set 10 times a year, because they ran the Wing T and they ran for 3,000 yards. So when he got to Notre Dame, he had to learn all of that.
“All you can ask for is when they get there, that they trust in what they’re being taught. They trust their eyes once they learn something. And then when they’re given an opportunity, do their job.
“And again part of the reason my wife and I fell in love with Notre Dame was obviously having an older brother there, but the football side of things, we just felt like (offensive line) coach (Jeff) Quinn was a guy who was going to be able to coach Michael up and get on him when he needed to. And he had a great demeanor with teaching.”
Michael Carmody, in turn, apparently has a great aptitude for learning. He had to leap over more experienced and often high-pedigreed players — some of whom moved to guard or center — to become a top option at tackle. That includes former top 100 prospect, sophomore Tosh Baker, who is now the next man in at tackle.
“Last year was so weird, with COVID and everything,” Rob Carmody said, “but in a lot of ways, it was really kind of a blessing in disguise. Things came in small pieces and not big chunks. There was no expectation or pressure there, with the guys they had, because the starting offensive line was already there. Mike was never gonna sniff the field.
“What it became was, ‘Hey this is a chance.’ Watch how they do things. Watch how they watch film. Watch how they prepare. Watch all this stuff, because they’re going to teach you so much about what it means to be at this level as a player and how you have to prepare. And he had a chance to do that.
“Credit to Mike in the spring and the summer. He just kept working and kept getting better. He's earned their trust, and we’ll see how he does from here.”
Fisher ended up playing 35 snaps as the starter Sunday night, with Carmody being credited with the final 37.
“There’s no assumption he’s starting until Blake gets back,” Rob Carmody said. “He’s got a long way to go. He’s not a finished product. But again, I think just like when he picked Notre Dame, he was at the right place with the right people teaching him.
“Whatever opportunities are going to come from that are going to be opportunities he earns. This is now a time for him to be a great teammate and step in and fill in for somebody and do the job.
“The expectation at Notre Dame is to win. To win every game. To win a national championship, and that’s why you pick to go there. Yeah, there’s pressure that comes with it. ‘Hey Mike, you wanted this pressure. This is why you picked Notre Dame. You wanted this opportunity to compete at this level.’
“I’m just thrilled for him that he’s done that and put himself in the position to help the team.”
Wide receiver shuffle
Since Sunday’s season opener, Notre Dame’s wide receiver numbers have shrunk.
Going from nine scholarship receivers to seven was the result of sophomore Xavier Watts moving this week to rover to bolster the injury-diluted linebacker corps, and senior reserve wide receiver Lawrence Keys III opting out for the regular season to focus on graduating in December and presumably transferring.
“One of my jobs is to get really good players on the field, and we had a little bit of a logjam at the wide receiver position,” Kelly said. “Xavier is a really good football player, and we need to get good players on the field.
“And then by happenstance, we get banged up at the rover position and then Jack (Kiser) gives us some flexibility at rover and inside ‘backer, so it just strengthened our hand.
“He certainly looks the part. It's early. We're gonna play him Saturday. Look, he doesn't have all the knowledge of the position. We're gonna pick our spots. You're not gonna see him line up there the first play or the first series, but we're gonna pick our spots and get him involved. This is a way to get him going."
More personnel updates
Of the three players who were unavailable for the Florida State game for undisclosed reasons, only freshman running back Logan Diggs will have a chance to play Saturday, per Kelly. Senior backup running back C’Bo Flemister and key sophomore backup defensive end Jordan Botelho won’t play.
• Backup tight end Kevin Bauman and senior rover Paul Moala also underwent surgery this week, on Wednesday.
Kelly said Bauman will miss six weeks with a broken fibula suffered in the Florida State game. Moala, previously announced as out for the season, had a second AchIlles tendon surgery in as many seasons, one on each leg.
“Our doctors have never seen it in their career, somebody tearing both Achilles tendons,” Kelly said. “Not only is it gut-wrenching and disappointing, but something that they've never seen medically as well.
“We have had more surgeries in the first week than you would want to have, so that's a concern. We cannot continue on this trend of having guys out for the entire season because of year-ending surgery.
“So, we hope that we've gone through that and we're going to trend on the right end of injuries.”
Notre Dame will have special programming both pregame and at halftime in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedies.
“There's incredible significance of 20 years post-9/11,” Kelly said. “I think it's etched in everybody's mind that saw it on that day. And if you didn't, our guys, it's not ancient history to them even if they weren't born.
“They have a family member or somebody that they knew that was part of it, and so it hits close to home to so many people. Notre Dame, in particular, will have a celebration, but for a large part, we will be in the locker room.
“So we are going to do something on social media that we'll get out here in the next 24 hours that lets everybody know how important it is to us as players, as coaches, as a football program, because sometimes it's like, ‘Well what does it mean to Notre Dame and Notre Dame football?”
“It means a lot. It's an important date and one that we carry with us every single day and remember it.”
Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI