Chat Transcript: O-line questions and ultimatums, and who's best long-term at QB for ND?

Eric Hansen
ND Insider

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Cincinnati week. A couple of quick announcements before we get started.

A lot of you have offensive line questions, comment and ultimatums. We had former Notre Dame All-America offensive lineman Aaron Taylor on our Pod of Gold podcast last night. So if you want a deeper dive — and in more colorful language — I'd suggest you give it a listen.

You can listen while you're following the chat.

Eric Hansen: The second thing is if you've been considering a premium subscription to ND Insider, the price is now $4.99 a month, down from $9.99 a month. If you already have a subscription at the higher price, I'm told you can switch to the lower price when the current month's subscription lapses.

As for today's chat ... PLEASE include your NAME and HOMETOWN with your question. Let's get to your questions.

Steve F from Dallas/Fort Worth: Why not move Jarrett Patterson to left tackle, Zeke Correll to center and put Rocco Spindler at left guard?  Nobody wants Jack Coan to get hurt, and he is taking a beating. Tough QB!!!

Eric Hansen: Steve, if you're going to move pieces around, the only realistic window to do that during the season without more disruption is the bye week (coming up after the Oct. 9 Virginia Tech game). And even then it's risky. Here's why. Once you've settled into your best five linemen and have placed them into their positions, each week is an investment in chemistry, in them experiencing different scenarios together at game speed and developing solutions TOGETHER. If you start moving people around, you are throwing away that investment of continuity and chemistry — two unmistakable keys to offensive line play — and starting over. It's much easier to make personnel changes or switch positions elsewhere on the field.

Bill from Idaho Falls, Idaho: Good Afternoon, Eric. You are my trusted source for ND Football questions, as you always do your homework, before answering questions or you let the readers know you are just guessing. I have two questions for you today: 1. Offensive Line: I do not have the expertise, and I believe many readers on this chat don't either, to understand why the offensive line is not producing this year. What do your experts that you talk with tell you the issues are? QB failing to get them in the right formation? Tight end or running back missing a block? Line just missing one or two blocks?  And most importantly, are the issues fixable this year or are we waiting until next year? 2. Everyone agrees we need to get the ball to our playmakers — in particular Chris Tyree and Kyren Williams. In the first three games they had six to seven combined passes and got good yardage out of them. Against Wisconsin, they only had one combined catch. Why did Tommy Rees go away from getting them the ball in space? I did see Williams blocking a lot. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Bill. To your first question. Our podcast, with Aaron Taylor, can give you a lot more depth here, but here's my abridged and abbreviated version: Injuries at left tackle combined with newness at four positions combined with a quarterback with limited footspeed and escapability. And in some cases, it's just one thing gone wrong, but that can produce completely unblocked defenders. Aaron's assessment, when I asked him, is that the problems are fixable — this year. So, you're not going to get a Joe Moore Award finalist this year — but to get one that is presumably a functional O-line, that's average to above average, is realistic.

For your second question, defensive scheme, personnel and game plans vary from week to week, so your offensive approach should take those into account on a weekly basis. With Wisconsin, it was smarter to attack Badger defense downfield, because that was the best chance for success. And you needed big-chunk plays against that defense. You were not going to be able to consistently drive the ball. Cincinnati, for instance, is a different challenge, because their cornerbacks are as good as ND will see all season. So maybe Michael Mayer, Avery Davis and the running backs have more priority in the offensive game plan this week, because those are the more favorable matchups.

Dale from McDonald, Ohio: I know the coaches submit plays from the previous game to the conference officiating office for review or clarification. The missed holding calls on our defensive line in the Wisconsin game come to mind. Do you ever hear of any feedback from those submissions?

Eric Hansen: If we do, we hear them from Brian Kelly, and they're really only asked about (and followed up on) if a call directly influences the outcome of a game. For example, the offensive pass interference call in the closing seconds at Florida State in 2014 or the non-targeting call that took out Torii Hunter Jr. at Texas in 2016. That's not to say we're not curious, but there's so much ground to cover each week, and it's usually not a priority.

Dave from Ponte Vedra, Fla.: It’s fairly evident after four games that we cannot run the football. Despite that, if we can somehow get by this weekend, we might run the table. Am I crazy for thinking that?

Eric Hansen: On this point, you are not crazy. But if Notre Dame is not able to evolve in the running game as the season goes on, it makes the margin for error in each game thinner than it should be.

Steve from St Louis: Hope all is well Eric. What a run by the Birds! In regards to advantages/disadvantages, what are your thoughts on Marcus Freeman’s familiarity with facing the UC offense, and the UC staff knowing where to attack the defense. Also ND knew it would be tough to run up the middle last week. Were you surprised they didn’t try to go outside a few times, maybe even a jet sweep, just to see if they could open the middle? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Steve, the Cardinals' winning streak is surreal — and fun! ... There is so much familiarity on both sides in the ND-UC matchup, I think it all cancels each other out. I think the most interesting part of that is how well UC head coach Luke Fickell knows how Marcus Freeman thinks, and how well Brian Kelly knows how Mike Denbrock thinks ... and vice versa. ... I don't think a jet sweep would have been a bad idea, but I'm not sure it would have opened up the middle. It'll be really interesting this week to see the Wisconsin defense match up with a Michigan offense that has been running the ball well.

Chad from Denver: A wise journalist told his readers last week ND needs to lean on its defense and some help from special teams would be great, too. Look out Ms. Cleo, EH will give you a run for your money!! Is the formula the same this week for ND? Can ND mix in more run, or is Cincy tough on the run too like Wisconsin? Great work, as always, and I hope you and your family, as well as the people you work with, are healthy.

Eric Hansen: Hi Chad and thanks. That you know who Miss Cleo is really made my day. ... Notre Dame is going to likely have a different approach offensively on  Saturday. The Irish go from facing the nation's No. 1 run defense to facing the nation's No. 2 pass-efficiency defense (and No. 66 rush defense). It would seem that throwing passes to the backs and Michael Mayer, and the running game, might take precedence this week offensively. Defense is still going to have to carry this team — likely through October — until the offense can work through its current limitations.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. I hope you enjoyed Chicago. Thinking outside the box, would you consider putting Coan under center and then using different dropbacks to move the pocket? Or do you think he would just get sacked faster that way? Also would you consider very quietly bringing in an outside set of eyes to look at the O-line? Their inability to improve is frustrating. And if they could get to average, this team could be very good, in a year where even the Bluebloods seem flawed and the chances of an outside team winning the national championship is probably higher than usual. I would hate to see ND not take full advantage of the college landscape this year. Thanks for all your great insights!

Eric Hansen: Marie, I think Notre Dame ought to bring YOU in. Seriously. You do have some very good ideas from week to week. I know your own work, though, is extremely important and profoundly valuable. ... This is not a knock on offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, but if he could get an Aaron Taylor to come in or one of the guys playing in the NFL during a bye week, it's a great idea. Harry Hiestand used to bring Olin Kreutz in on a regular basis. As far as the first part of your question. I think Coan — with some exceptions — is better off in the shotgun. And yes, you could roll the pocket, but his footspeed doesn't allow you to take full advantage of that concept. ... and I don't mean to hammer the guy about his mobility. He is infinitely more mobile than I am.

Bob from Naperville, Ill.: I know Braden Lenzy is considered the speedster wide receiver, but it hasn't seemed like it has translated so far. Are you seeing that too, and what is the reason? Bad throws/underthrows, good coverage, or his injuries catching up with him?

Eric Hansen: Bob, I think we saw his speed translate pretty well in 2019, then not at all in 2020, when he battled injuries the whole season. This season, I agree, there's more out there for him, especially when the defense has to pay attention to Michael Mayer, Kevin Austin Jr. and Avery Davis. There have been times the ball was underthrown, and if it was thrown in rhythm, those incompletions would have been touchdowns. But Lenzy dropped a TD in one game and needs to be stronger on 50-50 balls. I think he has it in him to do that.

Tim from Goshen: I watched some of the IU/Cincy game, and there were tons of turnovers on both sides. Is that pretty typical for Cincinnati's offense and defense? How will that affect ND's game plan on Saturday?

Eric Hansen: Both ND's defense and Cincinnati's defense like to turn you over, and they're both very good at it. So far, ND's offense had the one bad turnover game and UC's has been pretty good too. The Irish are fourth nationally in turnover margin and second in takeaways. Cincinnati is No. 11 in turnover margin. The two teams are pretty evenly matched in a lot of other areas, so the game could well come down to a turnover or special teams play.

Mitch from Bremen: With three ND quarterbacks seeing playing time this year, can you give your opinion on who has the top traits? Best arm, best running ability, etc. Overall, who or which combination do you think gives ND the best chance to win?

Eric Hansen: Mitch, it's a really interesting puzzle, because of the experience quotient. If all three had the same amount of experience, the same amount of calm in big moments, the same demeanor, Tyler Buchner would win every physical skill contest. I think Pyne sees the field really well and understands coverages and pressures extremely well for a QB so young. Buchner will get there. Then there's Coan, who's a strong leader and is tested under the bright lights. With a more experienced offensive line around him, his stats would be better, but I don't think he's an ideal fit for THIS offense. I think it's significant that the two younger QBs so far have come in during high-leverage, high-pressure moments and handled those well so far. This is easily the most intriguing QB situation I've covered in almost four decades of doing this. So circling back to which QB combination is the best? I think the answer is going to change as the season goes on. Right now, it's Coan/Buchner with Pyne pressing.

Rich from Indianapolis: What is your dream Shamrock Series game? If you could schedule ND to play any opponent at any stadium, what would it be?

Eric Hansen: The dream location was/is Lambeau Field in Green Bay, which would have happened last year if things had been normal. It's now scheduled for 2026. ... A dream matchup as far as a team? Probably Oregon at Autzen Stadium, off the top of my head. Kind of curious what Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., would be like.

Brian from Dallas: Hi Eric. What is the status of Jack Coan, and do we see a greater amount of QB rotation against Cincinnati? Who gets the playing time after Jack?

Eric Hansen: Jack Coan practiced Tuesday. We'll certainly ask about him on Thursday, but I'm not sure Brian Kelly will provide an expansive/illuminating answer. If Coan is 100 percent or close, I think you'll see Coan/Buchner. If he's not, I think you'll see Pyne/Buchner.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Hi Eric. As always, wishing you the best. Now that he has been cleared to play, do you expect C'Bo Flemister to see some playing time this week? Given the issues with the O-line on short-yardage situations, a guy like him who can literally power his way to critical, chain-moving first downs could be a huge factor in a game like this. He's certainly proven that he can fill this role in the past. Your thoughts.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thank you and best to you. What we don't know for sure, is what kind of reps C'Bo has been getting the last four weeks. If he's sharp, yes, working him into the rotation makes sense. He's always been good with yards after contact. I'd like to see a handful of carries from him to see what that looks like.

Ryan from Mars, Pa.: Good afternoon, Eric. Is Michael Carmody or Kurt Hinish back this week? Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: I'll have updates on both in my Thursday afternoon notebook online (and in print on Friday). Hinish was progressing well through concussion protocol earlier in the week, and Carmody (ankle) seemed to be moving much better, per Kelly, so there's optimism for both of them. Again, I'll cover that in the Thursday notebook online. We get Brian Kelly via Zoom at noon.

Zac Patterson from Havre de Grace, Md. Hey Eric, hope you and the family are well. I asked before the season — why Drew Pyne wasn’t more of a thought. After his showing, do you believe we should step back and determine who our starting QB should be?

Eric Hansen: Zac, the coaching staff had all spring, all summer and all fall camp to make the distinction as to who would make the best No. 1 option. In the August practices we saw, Coan was more consistent. And his experience in big games helped the coaches trust him more. I also don't believe the staff felt the offensive line would struggle to THIS extent. Remember, we haven't seen Drew Pyne play in a full game, with a defensive staff scouting him and trying to get him to play to his weaknesses. But I too was impressed by what he did against Wisconsin. It's not insignificant. The guy absolutely works his butt off to get better. The plot really does thicken in this case.

Josh from New York City: With the caveat that I don't know who won the coin toss each week, has Brian Kelly been asked whether he's reconsidered his "take-the-ball" if we win approach, given the protection issues? The last two games Jack Coan was sacked on his first pass attempt, leading to three-and-outs and the opponent getting great field position (and momentum) to start the game. Seems like this team is built much better to have the defense on the field first, hopefully forcing a three-and-out, and creating momentum for the offense.

Eric Hansen: Josh, I'm not trying to pick on you here, but I have gotten this question intermittently every season that Brian Kelly has been at Notre Dame. I'm running out of ways to answer it. I'm going to give the guy who just broke Knute Rockne's record and is 37-5 since 2018 the benefit of the doubt on this. You can make a case for both ways, but consider this. Cincinnati is 25-4 under Luke Fickell when the Bearcats score first and 20-0 when they lead at the end of the first quarter. So if ND defers and Coan gets sacked and the Bearcats already scored on their first possession, now they have the lead and the same good field possession. There may be a game in which switching things up makes sense, but this is a formula that has worked well for Brian.

Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Congrats to your Cardinals, Eric. I think of you each time a cardinal feeds on our bird feeder. Immensely enjoyed the Pot of Gold podcasts of both Bob Morton and Aaron Taylor.

I would have liked to have asked Aaron Taylor the following question, but since I can’t I’ll ask you. What is the downside of more frequently giving the left tackle help, understanding that it give you one less receiver to have to cover and thereby freeing a defender to create issues, for example, on the other side of the line?

Eric Hansen: Thank you ... I think. ... As long as you're not trying to say my columns are for the birds. ... To your question, you answered it yourself. You have one less option to throw to, so maybe that means a defense can now give safety help on Michael Mayer and bracket him when you wouldn't otherwise been able to do so ... or you can blitz a cornerback. Things like that. To provide the extra protection, you have to give something up. If you're pressed to do it, it's good to mix it up and not do it every passing down.

Thanks for understanding I wasn't trying to pick on your question.

Tim from Darien: Brian Kelly will never fire Jeff Quinn, so let's get that out of the way first. With that in mind, what are some things Kelly and Quinn can do in the short term and in the long term to help bring a presentable O-line to the table? Can they bring in Chris Watt or someone like him to help out? There's an issue at the line that's deeper than just a "rebuilding year" issue, and someone's foot needs to be put down or put in someone's rear to get it together.

Eric Hansen: Tim, I'm going to address your statement first. I think it's unfair. First, you're implying Jeff Quinn deserves to be fired. I don't agree. Screamed at through the TV? Ok, I can live with that. Second, BK was never going to fire Harry Hiestand — because, why would you? But you could imply otherwise with a question like yours. I think I know what you're getting at. If Brian Kelly hires someone he's familiar with and has worked with, for some fans it's automatically a bad hire — even if other head coaches do the same? BK has a track record of hiring and firing both familiar and less familiar assistants. ... As far as your question, I understand your frustration. Chris Watt has a full-time job as Tulane's offensive line coach. As I mentioned in Marie's question, sure other resources could be helpful. But just to be clear, does someone's foot need to be put down? Or in someone's rear? Not sure you could do both.

Tony from Lake Mary, Fla.: Hey Eric, thanks for taking my question on the Smith/Hamilton debate last week. Il admit I was not quite as keyed into appreciating Smith while there. As for my question. I have not noticed much of Houston Griffith. I think that's a good thing, no? What is the assessment of his play so far? Is he being the safety valve to let Hamilton play aggressively or is he not on the field? I haven't had a chance to really look at that, so curious if you have.

Eric Hansen: You're welcome. Tony, to be honest, I haven't watched Houston much the past two weeks compared to some other parts of the defense. So let me put that out there first. He played 50 snaps last week in a game when the defense, as a whole, made a strong surge forward. He has 14 tackles on the season with one QB hurry ... but no pass breakups, no interceptions, forced fumbles, recovered fumbles or tackles for loss. But maybe that's what ND needs from him. ... to be assignment-correct and steady rather than spectacular. I think that's who he has become.

Todd from Goshen: Most of ND's opponents having byes before their game has been mentioned a lot. How much of an advantage do you think it is?

Eric Hansen: Todd, I did a deeper dive on this in 2019, and what I found is that some coaches are WAY better with that extra week than others. I'm going to throw out 2020, because those bye weeks were tainted by the COVID stuff and often weren't planned. But ND went 7-0 in those situations in 2019 and the Irish are 1-0 this year. I would say, by and large, having that extra week is a significant advantage but certainly not one you can't overcome. You can heal from injuries. You can put in some wrinkles schematically that you couldn't otherwise pull off without the extra week. You can do some self scouting. BUT if not handled right, you could also break momentum. I think in this particular game — UC vs. ND — the place it's most likely to show up is the Bearcats doing some different things with their defensive front to try to add to ND's O-line challenges.

Pat from South Bend: Who would be your pick for offensive and defensive MVP so far? What about most improved player?

Eric Hansen: Offensive MVP of the first third of the season: Michael Mayer edging out Kyren Williams. And Williams' blocking and receiving have been really impressive. Defensive MVP: Kyle Hamilton. Most improved: JD Bertrand.

Tim from St Louis: What was the personal foul call on Brian Kelly, and have you ever seen that call before?

Eric Hansen: The short version is this: Two Wisconsin players clearly took a cheap shot at Kyle Hamilton — far away from the action — on a punt coverage play. Brian Kelly saw this, and thought there should have been a penalty. When he expressed that, probably colorfully, he got the flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. Here is his take on the situation:

"Yeah, we had it pretty clear. I mean when two guys take a run at somebody, I guess that's not targeting somebody, I guess. But if you try to stop somebody from going in the end zone, that's targeting. We just don't have it right yet. Your eyes should tell you what's going on in the game, but sometimes we hide behind the rulebook.

“It just wasn't officiated in the manner that I thought it should have been. So, they thought that because I went three feet out on the field, that I should get a flag for them not officiating it correctly."

As far as whether I've seen that before. Yes, unfortunately. Many decades ago, I was a youth football coach. The guy who coached with me one weekend was at a wedding, so I was by myself. One of my players suffered an injury.

I told the kids to huddle up, so they weren't hovering over us as we tried to get him medical attention. The refs told me that was cheating. And I didn't handle that stupid comment very well. So 15 yards was charged to me.

The great thing was, there was a kid on our team who was kind of selfish, didn't work hard, etc., and was a real challenge up to that point. But he was absolutely incensed about what happened and he took over the game and won it for us. 

Shaw from St. Augustine, Fla.: Eric, thanks for your insightful info and answers on these chats! Truly makes a difference in our Notre Dame lives. Did we get great fan support for the Wisconsin game? It seemed almost all RED when the stadium was "camera panned." If we did not, what do you think was the problem?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Shaw. A very good showing for both teams. Lots of Irish fans, maybe camera shy.

Franz from Niles, Mich.: I am curious as to what role Mike Mickens played in the Marcus Freeman hire.  At the very least, if he didn't have a high opinion of everyone involved, I doubt it would have happened. Coach Mickens has extensive knowledge and longstanding relationships with both Kelly and Freeman and could speak volumes about both sides and also about the unique strengths and challenges of the Notre Dame environment. At the very least, I suspect he was a good conduit for information going both ways between the two camps and I wonder if he was even more of a facilitator during the courtship.

Eric Hansen: Franz, I'm not sure you knew but Mickens and Freeman were high school teammates, so they've been close for a long time. But Mickens didn't need to sell Brian Kelly on Marcus. Freeman was in demand, and LSU made a nice offer that the Irish trumped. If anything, Mickens' experience at ND helped sell Freeman on Notre Dame (as a factor, not the main reason) and not the other way around.

Doug from Norfolk, Va.: Hi Eric. Thanks for the great coverage, as always. I have a follow-up question from one(s) I had last week on NIL. You seemed to scoff at the thought of a "no transfer" clause with NIL, but that seems to be exactly what is happening at BYU, especially with the walk-ons. They're getting this deal specifically because they're at BYU and presumably wouldn't get it if they transferred. That's as much of a "no transfer" clause without calling it as much.  our thoughts on this and what would happen should this type of thing spread to more schools?

Eric Hansen: Doug, thanks for your question. Just because those BYU players have a deal doesn't mean they CAN'T OR WON'T transfer. Kids at Notre Dame are guaranteed a world-class education, and some of them transfer to places where that isn't the case. And the school those BYU kids might transfer to may have a better market for NIL deals. Like Dude Wipes. (kidding) Doug, I don't want to get too far into the weeds on this, because we both agree there needs to be more structure to this NIL stuff. And I'm not going to vet every hypothetical until that happens. But I do understand your curiosity and concern.

Mike S in L.A.: Eric! I think this is Luke Fickell's audition for the USC job. He wins, and SC comes after him. He loses, he stays at Cincinnati. So what would you want? Going against Fickell ever year with much superior talent or just this one-off with SC looking in another direction?

Eric Hansen: I think USC would be stupid to pin that pursuit on one game. Then again, they haven't made a lot of smart decisions in recent years regarding coaches and athletic directors. ... as for ND going against Luke Fickell at USC potentially, it doesn't matter to me who the Trojans' coach is, and it shouldn't. But if he did go there, I think the series would be more competitive. I think he's really good.

Ed from Ocala, Fla. by way of Niles, Mich.: Eric, I often have read the experts say about a QB — and I have heard it about Jack Coan — “He doesn’t have the best footwork." Please explain what that actually means to us lifetime football fans but not necessarily expert evaluators. Thanks Eric!

Eric Hansen: Ed, what they're saying about Jack's footwork is two-fold. First, he's not fleet of foot, so he can't run his way out of mistakes (his own mistakes or those of his offensive line's) very easily. Two, I think sometimes he shuffles his way into a sack, instead of sidestepping the pressure and buying himself more time.

Tony from Lake Mary, Fla.: Hey Eric, sorry for second post, but I just found out that YouTubeTV and NBC are having a spat because NBC wants to force YouTubeTV to bundle Peacock. And if they don't make a deal by Thursday, YouTube TV will drop NBC. As a YouTubeTV subscriber and vocal dissident of Peacock, I might be stuck having to watch the games on PeacockTV. Ughhhhh. Anyone have a another cable streaming service I can borrow creds for?

Eric Hansen: Tony, we are aware of this, and sometimes deals get done at the 11th hour — or later. I'm going to be at the stadium, so you can come to my house and watch it there, as long as you're nice to my son and his kids.

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Eric, JD Bertrand has turned into a tremendously productive player, but I don’t hear him talked about much as a pro prospect. Do the coaches think of him as a Joe Schmidt type — that is, a guy who maximizes his talent and is a natural leader but has a lower ceiling because he is not that physically gifted? Thanks, as always..

Eric Hansen: Bruce I wouldn't put him in the same category as Joe Schmidt, but I wouldn't put him in the category of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, either. He's such a surprise with such a small sample size, I think everyone — including pro scouts — is trying to learn more about him. Is he an elite coverage guy in addition to getting all those tackles? What's his straight-line speed like? His change of direction? As we get deeper into the season, I'll do a pro potential story on the current roster, so thanks for giving me a nudge on that.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric. The defense evolved considerably against Wisconsin, and ND has three QB's who are game ready. I think this is the deepest ND has been at the QB position midseason during BK's tenure. With Mike Denbrock at UC and Marcus Freeman at ND this game should be an interesting battle. Since UC has not faced an opponent with ND's talent level this year, I believe ND will prevail. How do you think the two teams match up?

Eric Hansen: I think Cincinnati is closer to a final product than Notre Dame is, and that's why playing the first week in October is a lot different for the Irish than a mid-November matchup might be. Wisconsin was a difficult matchup, particularly defensively, for ND's offensive weaknesses. Cincinnati matches strength vs. strength. Cincy QB Desmond Ridder's speed is a real wild card on offense. I like the team that gets off to the better start and controls the turnovers better to win this one.

IrishRob from Scranton, Pa.: Eric, I am confused. And while I readily admit that is not a rare occurrence, perhaps you can help. ND fans have been gushing over the potential of Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler. The question was asked if coach Kelly would have the guts to start two freshmen on the left side of the offensive line to start the season. Fast forward, and not only has Spindler not started, he hasn't played. That wouldn't be as perplexing if the offensive line wasn't, by far (like distance to the moon far), the biggest problem on this team. My confusion is on what this says about Spindler as a player right now, that he can't get any reps with Madden and Correll struggling mightily right now on a consistent basis. Is there anything you are hearing or any prognostications on why he hasn't even been given a chance so far?

Eric Hansen: IrishRob, keep in mind Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin — four of the best linemen in the NFL — all couldn't get on the field as freshmen at ND. There have been nine freshman offensive lineman in 50 years to play at all at Notre Dame (two this year, Joe Alt and Blake Fisher) and only two to start an opener. So Rocco not playing yet in 2021 is not a knock on his potential. As I mentioned earlier, O-line doesn't lend itself to moving people around and lineup changes if you're trying to build consistency, chemistry and continuity. Maybe during the bye week, but don't count on it. ... But count on this, Rocco Spindler is going to be a star down the road.

Bill from Buffalo, N.Y.: Hi Eric. Just wanted to say a big thank you for taking your time to open things up a bit from the fans. I've always appreciated your honesty and integrity in answering some difficult questions. Here's mine; Can you name three of your top players who you enjoyed the most to interview and why? Who is your go-to guy from this year's team? I can imagine each team has some real characters that you can get great quotes from. ... LOL.

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Bill. This is tough off the top of my head, because I inevitably will forget someone. But Louis Nix III was funny, mostly unfiltered, authentic, thoughtful and kind. He's No. 1. I loved talking to Jay Hayes for similar reasons. Malik Zaire had no filter, but sometimes he didn't have perspective, either, about his own abilities. As an analyst, he's perfect. Dayne Crist was a great interview for different reasons. I remember talking to him when he was 17 and he was so mature, I almost asked him if he could be my dad. As far as the current team, it's a little different postgame, because all interviews are done at the podium. And you don't get to pick. Lots of good talkers, though, for midweek interviews. Kyren, Michael Mayer, Kyle Hamilton, Kurt Hinish, Jarrett Patterson. Hard to pick one. I really want to interview Jordan Botelho. Haven't had the chance yet.

Jeff from Phoenix: Good morning, Eric!  What a game, lots to chew on for us chatters. So, first just a comment in that Kelly and staff now appear to be clairvoyant in taking Coan and Madden last spring via the transfer portal as those positions were hurt by injury and attrition. So now to my questions: First, if Drew Pyne had been hurt and couldn't continue when he was sacked and fumbled, would Brendon Clark have been able to play or who would have been the QB?  Second, if Kelly divides the practice work for QBs 60/40 for the starter and backup, who gets those percentages this week? Thanks for your insights.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, Kelly joked that they would have gone to a Wildcat formation if Pyne got hurt. At least. I think he was joking. Brendon Clark would have made the most sense. If not him, Avery Davis in the Wildcat. I still think it's essentially 60/40 Coan/Pyne reps depending on Coan's ankle. Buchner has an RPO package he works with, and that certainly might get expanded in the coming weeks. The compelling issue to me is what will those percentages look like at the end of October?

Will Vandiver, Seattle, Wash.: Eric, thanks for bringing this every week! Two questions: 1) Do you think a Skyline Chili franchise would succeed in the South Bend metro area? 2) We’re all happy with the apparent jump the defense has made over the past two weeks. Can the offensive line progress as much in the near term? Or, do we have to wait until 2022 to see a meaningful improvement? Thanks again!

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Will. If South Bend couldn't/wouldn't support a Skyline franchise, I would wonder what people are doing with their lives. 2) The answer to this question lies in between the two options you gave me. No, you don't have to wait until 2022. No, it's not going to be as quick as the defense found itself.

Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric. Any chance Michael Mayer and/or Kyle Hamilton come back next year? Or is it slim and none? Thanks as always.

Eric Hansen: Mayer is only a sophomore, so he's not draft-eligible. Hamilton is draft-eligible and likely a top 5 pick, so I don't see him being at ND in 2022.

Eric Hansen: OK, sorry I'm out of time and have another commitment. Thanks for all the great questions. The Aaron Taylor podcast, hopefully, will answer some of those I couldn't get to. We'll do this all over again next week at noon EDT.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI