Welcome, one and all, to another year of the Irish Blogger Gathering! A new regime is underway in South Bend and optimism is running high all across ND Nation. This year, the Gathering maintains its current membership (at least I think so) and would like to invite all Irish Blogs to join up and let your voice be heard. ( Simply e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and post the questions and responses on your site).
The IBG was planned for an earlier date this month, but I really wanted to wait until after the initial Brian Kelly Press conference to start spring ball. No dramatic changes were made or announced, but I think we as fans may have a slightly better grasp as to the overall plan that Brian Kelly has in place.
Enough of the intro- time to get to work…
1. Notre Dame is looking at vast changes on both sides of the ball. Kelly will implement his version of the “Spread,” which is run at an excruciating pace, and the Irish defense will, once again, make the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Asking to pick one side of the ball that intrigues you the most would be a disservice to us all. Instead, list your biggest hope and your biggest fear for both the offense and the defense.
Offense: My biggest hope for the offense is that by the Purdue game (the first game) they are clicking as a unit. This could really make or break Notre Dame’s season as they play their usual Big Ten front loader. If the offense pulls it together, it could mean that they could be in for a very big year. That is why this spring is so important. Now is the time to make the mistakes and correct them- that way, come the fall, they will be able to go, go, go like a Brian Kelly offense is supposed to work.
The biggest fear is Dayne Crist. He must stay healthy first and foremost. I have all the confidence in the world in Crist to perform well in the new system, but he will still be a first year starter, and he will need to perform well to be able to be THE leader that the team needs. If Crist is unable to perform due to health or due to a lackluster performance, then we may be in a wee bit of trouble.
Defense: My biggest hope is that the unit will thrive in the switch back to the 3-4… a system that most of the players were recruited for to begin with. I think Kelly and Diaco have positioned the players well according to what their talents dictate, such as Brian Smith moving back to the outside and putting their bigger bodies in the middle. These small but important tweaks can make a huge impact, and in some cases it could revive a players career.
My biggest fear is in the secondary- mainly at safety. Notre Dame has recruited very poorly at safety over the past two years and it shows along the depth chart. I think Harrison Smith can be the safety we all hope that he can be, but I cringe when watching film from 2009. Can the new staff really help him that much? Jamoris Slaughter looks to be the guy that will play next to Smith and he has put on 10 more pounds to make the switch from corner to safety. Will this bring more athleticism back there, or will it be a case of a “bigger corner” playing safety that lacks the tackling skills needed?
2. The mainstream media, and ESPN in particular, have been riding Brian Kelly’s jock for about a year now, and were collectively praying for Notre Dame to fire Weis and hire Kelly. Do you agree, or disagree with this statement? What changes in media coverage do you think we will see in 2010 and beyond?
Of course I agree with this statement- it’s mine. The media fallout with Charlie Weis was a quick and harsh event. They labeled him as brash as he started his career, but that was said in an endearing sort of way. Charlie was always very open with the media and answered at great length many tough questions. He was polite in interviews and press conferences and never shied away from a tough topic. It was after the 2006 Sugar Bowl and into the 2007 spring where the media started to get really fired up. Charlie was hush, hush on the QB situation and his policy about freshmen having very limited media access was the last straw. 2007 saw a ton of freshmen playing key roles, in particular Jimmy Clausen. No time with Jimmy meant “Screw you Chuck,” as far as they were concerned.
As early as halfway into the 2008 season, Brian Kelly’s name was being dropped all over the media and in particular ESPN as a guy Notre Dame should go after. Kelly “wowed” all of the ESPN guys, and that sales job to ESPN is as good as gold when it comes time for features and stories. Kelly understands what ESPN means to the National Title picture, the Heisman Trophy race, and the recruiting wars. It is just the way it is. Kelly will probably allow a greater amount of media coverage on the team and more access to himself as well. With that, the media will most likely give Kelly and company a little slack if things don’t get off to a good start. If ND does fire out of the gates- watch out. Opposing fans and their local media will trash ND more then ever while ESPN will push us back to a place not seen in sometime. It’s the nature of the beast.
“If this doesn’t work out Brian, we’re both fucked.”
3. With new regime changes, players that were once lost in the muck sometimes find themselves in a situation to become key members of the team- or even starters. Identify one of those players that will be that “sleeper.” Explain, in brief detail, why your guy will rise above and become the proverbial; CREAM. Oh yeah… it must be a junior or older to qualify.
Emeka Nwankwo. First of all… I am not saying that Nwankwo will unseat Kapron Lewis-Moore or Ethan Johnson as a starter at defensive end. Please let that sink in deeply. Emeka is a player that has all of the physical tools to be a star, and he has that boarderline homicidal edge that you need to be great along the defensive line. His problem may have been a combination of a lack of effort and a troubled attitude with the former staff. That is what is so great about new coaching staffs. Clean slates and hungry upperclassmen.
Emeka has two years of eligibility left and most likely he will have Ethan Johnson and KLM as teammates for those two years. I think Emeka will be able to come off of the bench and relieve one of those guys and have a decent rotation- hockey style. Great defensive lines have solid rotations to stay fresh and put as much pressure on the opposing offense as possible. Just watch Florida for the past 5 years and you will see how much the D Line dominates because of their rotation. With the offense playing a fast paced game that could either score quickly or punt quickly, the defense will need fresh bodies as they should be out on the field much longer. ( Hopefully not too long ahem, ahem). Nwankwo is already the “People’s Champ” at Subway Domer, taking over for the now graduated Sergio Brown. Get ready for more Nwankwo campaigning.
4. If you could change the Blue-Gold Game experience in any way- what would it be? Some years, the game can be quite boring and offer no real insight for the upcoming season. Are we all doomed to be underwhelmed every year, or can you make the change that makes spring ball slick like Rick on a pogo stick?
I had a recent discussion with In The Bleachers about this very topic (coincidence?). Basically, spring football is spring football- not fall football. We could spice it up a lot and try to have a mega scrimmage with a big school like Oklahoma or Ohio State, but those schools would never reach a common ground with Notre Dame- or any other big school on rules, money, and location. Not to mention the huge buildup for such a matchup would only really lead to an equally huge letdown because of the scrimmage formats.
I do have a compromise…
Bring in Eastern Michigan, or any MAC school for your spring scrimmage instead of playing them in the fall. This would be a way of still creating a more competitive atmosphere, while also being able to dictate how things would be run. Any school in the MAC would jump at the chance to travel to ND stadium for this event and I would bet that attendence would increase as well. In a case like this year, Notre Dame needs to concentrate on itself, but there would be years where this format would help the team improve more. Just a suggestion, but like I said… this is spring, not fall.
MAC: “We are ready for you to beat us!”
5. EVERY coach talks about the importance of special teams, and says that they are a major priority for the team. Is there anything that Coach Kelly has done to back him up on his own statements? What phase of special teams would you like to see more improvement from?
This is kind of a trick question, because he hasn’t been able to do much yet. However, he has proven himself most recently at Cincinnati as a coach who will play his frontline guys on special teams- and those teams played very, very well.
I thought the kicking game was solid in 2009, and the punting game’s lack of success was most likely due to having a freshman punter. In 2010 I really want to see our return game become elite once again. Notre Dame has the players to make that improvement in Allen, Riddick, and even Cierre Wood. Can this new staff help push that potential to awesome new levels of awesomeness?
6. Last topics are a bit, off topic… A)With the arrival of Spring Football, comes a lot of “color” discussion. “The Shirt,” is always a favorite subject of debate for Irish fans. What is your opinion of “The Shirt,” and if you were in charge of it all- what would it look like? B) There is a lot of talk about the Notre Dame uniforms possibly being altered. What would you like to see, even if they aren’t changed?
A) I think that the concept behind the shirt is nice. It also is a charity and you can feel good about helping a good cause by purchasing one. However… this has got as corporate as it gets. The cheese is as cheesy as Munster cheese. The quotes from the fight song every year, and the constant changing of the colors has gotten worse and worse. 2009 saw an abomination with the “Rise and Strike” on a Sea of Flesh. It was worse than 2005’s Joe Theisman cheesy quote on top of the Sea of Piss- and I didn’t think that’s possible. All they need to do is keep one color, green… one shade of green. Make them simple and include the current year. PEOPLE WILL STILL BUY THEM!!!! The changes are only coming so people will feel inclined to buy them every year. How about something like this:
Which you can buy HERE.
B) This debate keeps coming up every year- especially in the offseason. This year, there has been more fuel to the fire due to some website not having any jerseys for sale- or something like that. Personally, I liked the Holtz / Davie era jerseys. But, I will reach a bit on this and state a hope that I have regarding the jerseys and what changes may come… Madonna Blue. Bring it back, for good. It is the school color for Pete’s sake and was the color worn for many, many years at this powerhouse traditional school. Bring Madonna Blue back, or put up a Jumbotron- the choice is yours…
One Foot Down bolts off the starting line.
Domer Law litigates his points.
Her Loyal Sons gets prepared as domer.mq goes all “Biscuit” on everyone.
Charlie’s Nasties still rocks the name and answers the call.