Last week, the Irish Illustrated staff was presented with another dozen questions relevant to the upcoming season. The pollsters, as always: Jake Brown, Jack Freeman, Steve Hare, Anna Hickey, Tim O’Malley, Tim Prister, and Pete Sampson.
1. What do you see as a bigger challenge for Notre Dame in 2015, defending the triple-option or defending up-tempo offenses?
Votes were split 4-3 in favor of up-tempo, with Jack, Prister, O’Malley and Sampson choosing up-tempo; Jake, Steve and Anna siding with the triple option.
Said Sampson on the subject: “Word around the staff is that they’ve worked overtime this off-season to install a better triple option defense, which has dogged Kelly’s staff since he arrived here and took a step back without Chuck Martin’s background last year. Up-tempo is an issue for everybody, option isn’t.”
While Jake offered: “Picked this one because of Georgia Tech. People thought Navy's option was tricky to defend? How about a souped-up version with big-time athletes? That's what Georgia Tech brings to the table. It'll be a problem.”
2. Notre Dame's "new" starter/key player in which you're most confident, is?
Two votes for both Malik Zaire and Mike McGlinchey with one apiece for Quenton Nelson, Andrew Trumbetti, and Aliz’e Jones.
Said Prister of McGlinchey: “His progress in the spring from his first start against LSU in the bowl game leads me to believe that this guy will be for real and consistent from the outset.”
I offered of Zaire: “The IT factor is present – and he has the talent to make “IT” matter.”
3. Age doesn't necessarily equate to improvement: The upperclassmen that would be a surprise to you if he were markedly better, is?
A disparate assortment with both Chris Brown and Joe Schmidt receiving two votes while Romeo Okwara, Corey Robinson, and Greg Bryant were each named as well.
Said Jake of Joe Schmidt: “Valuable guy, yes. But in terms of skill set, probably not the type that's going to make big improvements year over year, especially coming off injury.”
4. Malik Zaire will remind Irish fans that he's a relative rookie in which game?
A clear-cut winner here, with five for Clemson and two for Texas. The Longhorns’ offerings were the most intriguing:
Said Jack Freeman of Game 1: “Opener under the lights expect a bumpy first half,” with Steve Hare adding, “The Longhorns finished 11th in the nation both in passing yards allowed and team sacks. You can bet Texas’ game plan will be to go after Zaire to force him into mistakes.”
5. Who's most likely to be a consistent, "winning" football player for at least 10-11 games this fall: Elijah Shumate, Max Redfield, Jarrett Grace, or Jarron Jones?
Answers included four for Elijah Shumate, two for Max Redfield, and one for Jarron Jones. I offered the following of Redfield: “Now that he can react instead of think, his unique athletic gifts will be on display.”
6. Same question as #5 above, only regarding offensive players Mike McGlinchey, Steve Elmer, Corey Robinson, or C.J. Prosise?
Elmer took four votes while McGlinchey, Robinson, and Prosise each garnered one. Said Prister of Elmer: “He’s got enough talent and now the experience to be a bear.”
7. I think Notre Dame has a championship level unit at these positions: (A list from QB, OL, WR/TE, RB, DL, LB, DB, ST)
Seven votes for wide receiver, 6 for offensive line, 4 for linebackers, 2 apiece for defensive back and running back, and one for both special teams, and cornerback (Sampson broke DB into separate CB/S categories).
I was among the quartet to cast a vote for the linebackers: “A superstar in the making, a reigning team MVP, a future star in waiting, a pair of veterans, and a versatile youngster comprise this deep, athletic, and rugged group. And leadership abounds.”
Of note, the outlier of Special Teams was cast by Anna who offered, “Starters will heavily populate the units this season including the likes of Jaylon Smith.”
8. I think Notre Dame is a notch below title-contending level at these positions:
Another heavily populated answer set with 5 votes cast for quarterback, 4 for the defensive line, 3 apiece for running back and special teams, 2 for defensive back and linebackers, and 1 for the tight ends (separated from the WR by Jack for this answer).
Said Prister of his answers as they relate to No. 9 below: “Nos. 8 and 9 are basically the same, aren’t they?”
(Channeling Ricky Bobby?)
9. I think Notre Dame has work to do to be at a title-contending level at these positions:
Four votes were cast for the D-Line with 3 for the Irish special teams. Both safety and running back received 2 votes while QB, TE, and Defensive Backs received one.
Said Sampson of his answers after splitting DB into two categories: “Safety could move up a line if Shumate and Redfield are as good as the coaching staff has advertised. Don’t see defensive line or tight end have the material right now to be a championship group.”
Added Jake: “Zaire could very well get to championship level in a hurry but we just don't know yet. He's a championship level leader. Can he get there as a passer?”
Regarding questions 7-8-9 above: “Coaching” was also one of the original categories but wasn’t included in four of the seven responders’ answers. The three that included it rated it once at championship level, once at a notch below, and one as having work to do.
10. I think Brian Kelly's greatest strength as a coach is?
Quoting the seven of us:
-- Program Building
-- Program Management and Player Development
-- Organization/smooth functioning program
-- Player Development (non-quarterbacks)
-- In-Game Situations
-- Weekly Game Plans
-- Handling Pressure
Said Anna, “If talent is on a level playing field, there are not many coaches in college football I would take before Brian Kelly in regards to in-game adjustments or game plan.”
11. From what I've seen at Notre Dame, I think Brian Kelly needs to improve in this area as a coach?
Our answers were as follows:
-- Quarterback Management
-- Needs to learn to adjust faster/not try to be the smartest guy in the room
-- Pass/run balance plus recruiting difference-makers on the D-Line
-- Quarterback Development
-- Player Motivation
-- Adjusting on the fly; suiting his offense to match his talent
-- A focus on special teams
12. By the time they leave/graduate, Notre Dame's most productive/best college football player from its last two recruiting classes (2014 and 2015) will be? You can define productive or best any way you choose:
Answers were wide-ranging and included Nyles Morgan (twice), Aliz’e Jones (twice) Quenton Nelson, Justin Yoon, Josh Barajas, Jerry Tillery, Te’Von Coney, and Greer Martini.
Said Steve of the latter name on the list: “Martini proved to be a consistent performer in 2014 and he should continue to develop into a premier middle linebacker.”
For an in-depth discussion on the topic, check out this week’s Irish Illustrated podcast
Note – To read our past Staff Surveys this summer, click the links below: