FULTON COUNTY FOUR
Brian Kelly surprised some observers Wednesday with a statement regarding the playing status of freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson, sophomore running back Dexter Williams, linebacker Te’von Coney and cornerback Ashton White following their arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana (all four) and possession of an unlicensed handgun (Stepherson and Williams).
Asked if left to his discretion if the four underclassmen would play against Texas, Kelly said: “They’ll be available to play. Yes. They’ll be available to play.”
This statement came after Kelly acknowledged that the University could (and likely will) take action against the four, and that the matter is now out of Kelly’s hands after he “dealt with it internally” and “handled it within the program.”
No suspension from the football team? This could simply be semantics, knowing that the University will impose the penalty and not Kelly. Yet it was surprising to hear from the head coach at Notre Dame what sounds like a lenient decision in the aftermath of their arrests.
It should be noted that the four who were arrested in Fulton County (Ind.) were with a fifth player – Max Redfield – a senior. Are the four being cut some slack because the senior led them astray? Are there details of their participation in the joy ride that would prompt a more lenient approach?
Whatever the case, it would be a surprise if the four were allowed to play next weekend in Austin. Now that would be big news as it relates to the norm at Notre Dame through the years.
QUARTERBACK CAPTAINS A RARITY
Irish Illustrated editor Pete Sampson pointed out with the naming of Notre Dame’s captains Wednesday that in Brian Kelly’s seven years as head coach of the Irish, no quarterback has served as a captain.
After using game-by-game captains in his first year with the Irish, Kelly has now had five offensive linemen named captains, four linebackers, three safeties, two defensive ends, two wide receivers, two defensive tackles, a tight end, a running back and a cornerback.
• OL-Zack Martin (2), Nick Martin (2), Mike McGlinchey
• LB-Manti Te’o, Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, James Onwualu
• S-Harrison Smith, Austin Collinsworth, Matthias Farley
• DE-Kapron Lewis-Moore, Isaac Rochell
• WR-T.J. Jones, Torii Hunter, Jr.
• DT-Sheldon Day (2)
• TE-Tyler Eifert
• RB-Cam McDaniel
• CB-Bennett Jackson
The last Notre Dame quarterback to serve as captain was Jimmy Clausen (2009). Prior to that, it was two-time captain Brady Quinn (2005-06).
Since the “modern era” of Notre Dame football – starting with Ara Parseghian’s reign, which began in 1964 – here are the quarterbacks who served as captains prior to Clausen and Quinn.
• Jarious Jackson (1999)
• Ron Powlus (1996-97)
• Rick Mirer (1992)
• Tony Rice (1989)
• Blair Kiel (1983)
• Joe Montana (1978)
• Tom Clements (1974)
That makes just 10 quarterbacks who have served as captain out of 147 captains in 53 years, or just 6.8 percent.
In addition to the zero quarterback captains under Brian Kelly, there were:
• Three under Charlie Weis in five years (Clausen, Quinn twice)
• Zero under Tyrone Willingham in three years
• Two under Bob Davie in five years (Jackson, Powlus)
• Three under Lou Holtz in 11 years (Rice, Mirer, Powlus)
• One under Gerry Faust (Kiel)
• One under Dan Devine (Montana)
• One under Parseghian (Clements)
The last time a Notre Dame quarterback was named a captain and lost his starting job – 1983 when Kiel was unseated by freshman Steve Beuerlein – it turned into an uncomfortable, contentious situation.
So for those suggesting a DeShone Kizer and/or Malik Zaire captainship with the position unsettled as it relates to playing time, it’s better simply not to name either one.
MCGOVERN GETS THE NOD
It makes total sense – and is a good sign – that senior Colin McGovern has earned the starting nod at right guard over red-shirt freshman Tristen Hoge.
McGovern was my expected winner for the job heading into the spring, but injuries curtailed his progress as Hunter Bivin took most of the reps. It quickly became a McGovern-Hoge race during pre-season camp when Bivin was moved back to tackle.
McGovern should be the stronger and more technically-sound player with a two-year jump on Hoge. McGovern enters the 2016 season with two years of eligibility, which means all five starters would have eligibility in 2017. (Note: Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson could be ready to jump to the NFL by the end of the ’16 season.)
It also sets up a good situation with Hoge. He can enter the 2016 season as the top backup candidate at both guard positions and center.
I’ve never quite understood the rush to move a player from one position to another when a player has been lost at a position. It’s not a temporary fix; it’s a long-range fix, and right now, an immediate fix is in order with Max Redfield’s banishment from the team.
Among the suggestions in recent days were linebackers James Onwualu and Asmar Bilal. Onwualu has grown into a linebacker and one of the most reliable ones according to Brian VanGorder. Bilal is carving out his niche in Notre Dame’s speed package at linebacker.
Another suggestion was a call for former Irish safeties John Turner and Nicky Baratti. Both have graduated and neither has been training for football for more than a year. Baratti had a shoulder injury that would preclude it from happening even it he was still at Notre Dame.
Then there’s the proposed move of Malik Zaire to safety. Yeah, that would go over well.
How effective would you expect these players to be without any spring/off-season training at the new position? Why would someone who’s never played the position be better than Devin Studstill, who was an early-entry freshman that took most of the No. 1 reps in the spring, or Jalen Elliott, whom Todd Lyght was raving about before he even arrived?
Robbing Peter to pay Paul usually is a bad idea. You simply weaken two positions instead of one. Suggesting a cornerback or two moving over makes a lot more sense. At least they’re working on a comparable if not an exact skill set.
Freshman Donte Vaughn would make sense, particularly since he has the dimensions of a prototypical safety. But he, too, would be way behind Studstill and Elliott in a myriad of ways.
Kelly said Wednesday there would be no position shifts, other than (presumably) pushing Drue Tranquill from strong to free safety with sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian moving into the strong safety spot.
This is no longer a plug-and-play game. The schemes, both the one your team runs and those of the 12 opponents, are much too complex to expect any athlete to switch positions, let alone sides of the football.
The season starts in less than 10 days. There’s no shortcut to the football knowledge necessary to transition from one position to another. The answer is not further upheaval; the answer is more practice/meetings/film study for those who currently play the position.
Based upon Kelly’s comments Wednesday, it sounds as if Studstill will get the starting nod against Texas with Sebastian also factoring in, likely in run downs with the Longhorns’ 250-pound running back (Chris Warren III) and 238-pounder (D’Onta Foreman).
It’s very difficult to gauge which of the 23 true freshman football players will a) definitely play this season, b) perhaps play or c) not play at all during the 2016 season. The decisions are complicated by the needs on special teams, the development of players as the season progresses, and injuries that require freshman participation.
For example, it certainly didn’t look like Jay Hayes was going to play as a freshman. But when injuries struck along the defensive line, he was forced into action over the final three games. Notre Dame then preserved a year of eligibility during his sophomore campaign in 2016.
Some 10 days before the season-opener against Texas, here’s a best-guess with more detail to be provided in an upcoming story.
• Will play: RB-Tony Jones, Jr., WR-Kevin Stepherson, Chase Claypool, DE-Daelin Hayes, S-Devin Studstill, Jalen Elliott.
• Might play: WR-Javon McKinley, Deon McIntosh, OL-Tommy Kraemer, DE-Khalid Kareem, DE-Julian Okwara, LB-Jonathan Jones, CB-Troy Pride, Jr., Donte Vaughn, Julian Love, S-D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry.
• Won’t play: QB-Ian Book, OL-Liam Eichenberg, Parker Boudreaux, DE-Adetokunbo Ogundeji, OLB-Jamir Jones, LS-John Shannon.
What’s particularly difficult to project is which players will participate on special teams. Some are good athletes whom Notre Dame might not mind using up a year of eligibility to either a) put quality personnel on the field and/or b) prepare for extended playing time in 2017.
If Quenton Nelson could red-shirt as recently as 2014, so could Kraemer…unless injuries strike and there’s a great need. If the Irish are bent on preserving Brandon Wimbush’s sophomore season, Book could play (although Montgomery VanGorder would make more sense in mop-up duty).
How many cornerbacks will Notre Dame need? Which ones are too valuable not to have at least on special teams? Which youngsters are not projected to get much “important” playing time in 2016, but definitely will be needed to step up in 2017? Can they afford to preserve a year for a player and then thrust him into a significant role a year later?
These are all questions that will be answered in 2016. Usually by the bye week of the season – which falls on Oct. 22 this year – Kelly and his staff will have decided which players, all things being equal over the final five regular-season games, will not be needed this season.