1 – Leap Day Musings! It’s like the Blood Moon, a Notre Dame Final Four appearance, and Haley’s Comet all rolled into one! Let’s do this…
2 – Faster When It Matters: I wondered prior to the ongoing NFL Combine if Will Fuller’s remarkable game day speed would translate to the track, as some football players are simply faster when the ball’s in the air. Fuller subsequently clocked at 4.32, the fastest 40-yard dash among wide receivers and second only to Georgia running back Keith Marshall (4.31) to date.
He later starred in pass-catching drills, which from our point of view at Irish Illustrated isn’t surprising. I’ve always believed Fuller’s case of the dropsies at ND were due to concentration and technique more than his smallish hands – he officially tied for the smallest hands among pass catchers at 8-1/4 inch, and was likewise among the three lightest at six-feet, 186 pounds,
In fact, the only thing that remains surprising about Fuller is how good he became in a two-year span, and that, when the ball is in the air, earthlings have proven incapable of running with him to date. That will doubtless change in the NFL, but Fuller, the best weapon of the Brian Kelly era, showed well in his tracksuit tryout – and he should be even better on Sundays next fall.
If he’s fortunate to be selected in the later portion of the first round and subsequently joins a playoff team with a top tier quarterback as a result, Fuller could challenge for All Rookie honors.
3 – Poor Man’s Diet? Interesting note (credit the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen): Apparently Chris Brown gained 14 pounds between his all-star game appearance (Jan. 23) and last week’s official combine weigh-in. Brown told Hansen he began the season at 192 pounds but lost a dozen due in part to off-campus eating (lack of University provided “free” food) and the absence of a car.
His recently bulked up 194-pound frame could partly explain Brown’s decision to delay his workouts until Notre Dame’s Pro Day on March 31 when the still-developing prospect will be more accustomed to his sturdier frame.
4 – Which Reminds Me of a Favorite Story: It’s clear Brown won’t be the focus of any NCAA curiosities (too poor to eat sufficiently = no hand-outs offered…or at least accepted) as was former Irish star Derrick Mayes. As a junior, one of the best players in Notre Dame history proudly paraded around campus in a new, beautiful black SUV.
Asked about his decidedly unapologetic ride, Mayes offered of his fortunate lot in life: Any investigation will reveal a spoiled kid with generous parents…
Mayes, affectionately dubbed “Doughboy” by his Irish teammates due to his – how shall I put this? “Affection for the culinary delights” – had the opposite problem of Brown. That is, Mayes couldn’t keep the weight off, not that it mattered for the best pure pass catcher in South Bend during my lifetime.
5 – High Praise x2: Fox Sports college football analyst Charles Davis provided the best player comparison in recent memory over the weekend: Notre Dame’s do-everything Jaylon Smith to Carolina Panthers All-Pro ‘backer Luke Kuechly. Irish fans are familiar with Kuechly – he of the trio of 14-tackle outings vs. Notre Dame (2009-11) – largely because of prior comparisons to contemporary star Manti Te’o.
Kuechly has since developed into the NFL’s best linebacker – a stalwart against the pass, in space, and attacking the run. That’s Smith when healthy, and assuming he recovers fully from January’s devastating knee injury, he can begin his journey and development as the best professional linebacker – with due respect to Nick Buoniconti – to ever come through South Bend.
5 – Which Reminds Me… Is it “newsworthy” when a player that tore his ACL and LCL on New Year’s Day fails a medical exam in late February? Was he supposed to pass?
6 – Late Bloomer, Part 1: Two-time team captain Nick Martin will soon be rewarded for his tireless work, singular focus, and dedication to both personal and team improvement. Martin wisely fought to play center rather than guard as a collegian, a decision that will reap financial and professional dividends over the next decade-plus.
He should also be lauded for playing hurt and wherever needed prior to his final season ascent as Notre Dame’s pivotman. Few would have projected Martin as the best single-season center of the Kelly era entering Season 7 of the regime.
7 – Late Bloomer, Part II: One of the nicer, most humble stars of the Kelly era likewise improved his professional status last week. Senior C.J. Prosise – all 225 pounds of him – clocked a 4.48 40-yard dash. Prosise can take it the distance, break and elude tackles in space, catch the ball, and is a potential star on special teams, both in coverage and return.
That versatility will afford him the opportunity to contribute to any team that drafts him from the outset.
But unlike Martin, mental and physical toughness remain a work in progress for Prosise entering at the next level. Perhaps I’m overvaluing Prosise’s clear (and likely prudent) disregard for competition in the final game of his collegiate career.
But I doubt it.
8 – Poised to Bounce Back: A quick prediction after Notre Dame’s worst outing of the 2015-16 basketball season: Mike Brey’s Irish will win their next three games, lose in the ACC semi-finals, and find a way to win two more thereafter.
The squad isn’t close to the level of their predecessors, but they remain a tough out, and for all the supposed bad matchups the Irish could encounter in March, it’s seems necessary to remind the masses that their style and ability to play together on the offensive end remain the most vexing to defend of all.
The Sweet 16 remains a reasonable goal, but anything thereafter would be shocking.
9 – Spring Ball Starts in 17 Days: Here are your 17 most intriguing items entering the month-long session in no particular order:
-- QB1 vs. QB2
-- The new center, mano a mano
-- Hunter Bivin the OT vs. Colin McGovern the OG
-- Max Redfield vs. the system
-- New Blood: Miles Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown
-- Alize Jones plus Durham Smythe (together, often)
-- The progress of the very necessary Drue Tranquill
-- Josh Barajas and Asmar Bilal against (or at least along with) the incumbents
-- Nyles Morgan
-- C.J. Sanders with heavy reps (Torii Hunter will likewise be involved with baseball)
-- Jerry Tillery next to Jarron Jones
-- Jay Hayes as an option
-- The evolution of Andrew Trumbetti off the edge
-- EEs Hayes, Studstill, Stepherson, Kareem, and Perry
-- Tarean Folston’s progress
-- Mike McGlinchey…the leader
-- Three quality corners opposite Cole Luke
-- And bonus No. 18: Everett Golson’s 40-yard dash vs. his dash to the car in an effort to avoid speaking thereafter…
Until next week, Irish fans…