Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

It would be great if the ND defense could dive headlong into the consumption of Mike Elko’s scheme. But it doesn’t have that luxury. Extreme fundamentals are a must.

SAD BUT TRUE

Brian Kelly’s explanation for why the implementation of Mike Elko’s defensive scheme is on the backburner in the early portion of spring drills makes complete sense.

It’s also a sad realization of what Brian VanGorder’s approach did to Notre Dame defensive football.

“I’m not really that interested in who’s winning what position (this spring),” said Kelly Wednesday after the third practice of the spring.

“I’m more interested in teaching, getting the right traits built into this team, and the carryover. I’m more interested in that being built now…We’ll tackle a lot this spring to make up for some lost ground.”

An NFL approach to defensive coaching where it was assumed that the fundamentals were in place created the “lost ground” in the art of tackling at Notre Dame. With players fresh out of high school and not always the elite football prospects in the world – as is the case in the NFL – you have to start with the basics and work up.

When it came to installing more scheme or making sure the tackling technique was in order, scheme won out.

And Notre Dame paid for it.

Make no mistake, this situation ultimately falls on Kelly’s shoulders. He’s the one who allowed it to happen under VanGorder’s watch. A truly benevolent head coach spots it as it’s happening and prevents it from continuing.

With a personality like VanGorder’s, Kelly wasn’t going to get him to alter his approach. The only way for it to change was to fire VanGorder, which is what Notre Dame did after four games in 2016.

By then it was too late. At the very latest, it needed to happen after the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, thus ending VanGorder’s tenure with the Irish at two years/26 games.

But it extended to 30 games – which meant another spring and pre-season without the proper attention to fundamentals – and now Notre Dame/Elko have inherited the repercussions.

I’ll be very interested to discuss this topic with Elko Friday when the media is provided access to the Irish assistants.

PROTECTING – WHILE MAXIMIZING – WIMBUSH

Notre Dame’s backup quarterback situation is shaky with unproven Montgomery VanGorder, Ian Book and yet-to-arrive Avery Davis.

That requires a reasoned approach to the way in which red-shirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush is utilized within the running game.

“I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling quarterback power or singular runs,” Kelly said. “He’s going to have options to hand it off (or) throw the ball out on the perimeter. I think you’ll see more of that than you will (designed) quarterback runs.

“We had a little bit more of that last year with (DeShone) Kizer, but you’ll see that (Wimbush) has an option to get the ball out of his hands more so than the (designed) runs.”

With Kizer listed at 230 – but probably closer to 240-245 – he was sturdy enough to take that pounding. Wimbush is listed at 6-foot-1½, 226. He doesn’t have Kizer’s frame or the additional padding.

Why not give him more actual option choices? Plus, in Chip Long’s system, the fake option handoff/pass is in play.

It’s a sound way to diversify the running game while protecting a very valuable asset at the quarterback position.

DEFENSIVE LINE TALENT?

When Brian Kelly said it, our minds immediately began to race. Who could he be talking about?

“I think we have a lot more on the defensive line than many people think,” Kelly said. “We have some edge players with athletic ability. We’re physical inside. There’s a lot more than what people have made out our defensive line to be.”

A quick scan of the defensive line depth chart doesn’t reveal many obvious candidates for Kelly’s praise.

At right (weakside) end, there’s Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji.

At one tackle spot is Jerry Tillery, Daniel Cage and Brandon Tiassum.

At the other tackle spot are Jonathan Bonner, Micah Dew-Treadway, Pete Mokwuah and Elijah Taylor, who likely would be No. 2 on this list behind Bonner if not for his right lisfranc (foot) injury.

At left (strongside) end, there’s Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes and Khalid Kareem.

What has Kelly seen from this unproven crew that would indicate “more on the defensive line than many people think”?

Maybe it’s part of the old line of thinking under VanGorder in which talent seldom was maximized. Maybe’s Elko’s scheme will create productivity and make the sum greater than the individual pieces.

Or maybe Kelly is right. Perhaps Daelin Hayes is ready to emerge, and Okwara’s still-thin frame can be compensated for with quickness off the edge. Maybe Tillery is ready to emerge. Perhaps Cage will be a force. What if Trumbetti and Jay Hayes are all grown up?

We shall see later this spring and definitely this fall if Kelly is correct.

ACC BITES THE DUST

It’s too easy to simply look at the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and say the ACC was overrated, the Pac 12 and Big 12 are king, and the Big Ten and SEC were underrated.

While fans place the most importance on the post-season tournament, and understandably so, that doesn’t render a two-month body of work meaningless because just one ACC team advanced to the Sweet 16.

Why did it happen? There are multiple reasons. No. 2 Louisville ran into the Michigan buzzsaw. If Oregon or Baylor or most other Sweet 16 teams had been the Wolverines’ second-round opponent, they probably would have fallen too.

Agreed, Florida State was overrated, and they ran into a tournament-tested Xavier program.

Duke is making a habit of falling to lower seeds, including No. 15-seed Lehigh in 2012 and No. 14-seed Mercer in 2014. Virginia was in rebuild mode and didn’t have enough offensive firepower to accentuate its defensive prowess.

Miami lost to Tom Izzo and Michigan State. Everybody loses to Tom Izzo and Michigan State early in the tournament (except Middle Tennessee last year). Tournament-tested Wisconsin defeated un-tournament-tested Virginia Tech.

As for Notre Dame, the Irish simply did not bring their level of play from Brooklyn to Buffalo.

Notre Dame played predominately outstanding basketball in the ACC tournament against Virginia, Florida State and, for the most part, Duke.

They couldn’t match that in the NCAA tournament against Princeton, always a difficult matchup when they make the post-season, and West Virginia, which had a ton of motivation after falling short of playing the Irish the year before due to a Stephen F. Austin upset.

Did the ACC’s brutal schedule against one another play a role? That would sound like an alibi, but there may be some truth to that. Wait until the conference schedule goes from 18 to 20 games in 2018-19.

The ACC was a great conference this season. It just didn’t show itself last weekend.

A CASE FOR THE BIG 12

Bob Huggins is an interesting cat. Not so interesting that I’d like to cover his program on a regular basis because that, likely, would be a lot more aggravation than it’s worth.

But I respect the man’s body of work at Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia, where he has won 649 of his 813-victory total.

The day before the Mountaineers took on the Irish, he was asked about the old Big East days, and then offered the following about his current conference – the Big 12.

“The coaching in (the Big 12) is terrific, and there’s no bottom,” Huggins said. “The reality is for as great as the Big East was, there was a bottom. There were nine or 10 teams that were really good and then there were about five or six that weren’t so good.

“Honestly, sometimes I look down there (at the other team’s bench) and think, ‘I might be a little smarter than that guy down there.’ I’m looking down there in the Big 12 and I don’t see anybody I’m smarter than.”

He makes a good point. Starting from the bottom of where teams finished in the Big 12, there’s Shaka Smart (Texas), Lon Kruger (Oklahoma), Chris Beard (Texas Tech), Jamie Dixon (TCU), Bruce Weber (Kansas State) and Brad Underwood (Oklahoma State, who just left for Illinois). Only Beard is unproven among the Big 12 teams that finished .500 or below.

In the top half of the Big 12, there’s Steve Prohm (Iowa State), Huggins, Scott Drew (Baylor) and Bill Self (Kansas). The relatively-unknown Prohm finished second in the Big 12 in his second season. 

I find that interesting and certainly food for thought.

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION

Notre Dame will await a decision regarding Bonzie Colson’s final year of eligibility with the Irish. But he is expected to ultimately choose to remain in school for another year, which would provide the foundation – along with Matt Farrell – for another talented and exciting Notre Dame squad.

Not every ACC team has been so fortunate. Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Wake Forest’s John Collins all have decided to bypass their remaining eligibility and enter their names in the NBA draft. Bacon and Collins are departing after two seasons and Tatum after one.

North Carolina players tend to “get old” in their system, but Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II – both juniors – will have decisions to make. Louisville sophomore Donovan Mitchell and junior Quentin Snider should remain in school, but we’ll see. What about freshman Dennis Smith Jr. at N.C. State?

There are others.

This is one of the reasons the Irish continue to excel, although the early departure of Demetrius Jackson was only offset because Farrell was such an extreme outlier. Over the long haul, Notre Dame benefits from a diminished inclination to enter the NBA draft early, and Mike Brey knows how to maximize his talent.

ODDS AND END(ZONES)

• We learned something from Chase Claypool during the 2016 season: You can’t elude him in a one-on-one tackle situation. During Wednesday’s practice, he showed that you also can’t tackle him in a one-on-one situation. No wonder he’s such an intriguing prospect on both sides of the football.

• Just to clarify: I’m not saying red-shirt freshman Nikola Djogo is going to be a great basketball player at Notre Dame. I have no idea how he’ll blend into the system. But I am saying that when you factor in his dead-eye left-handed shot, his wiry length, his athleticism and his all-day stamina, he has the ingredients of one helluva college player.

• I obviously always pull for the United States in international competition. But there was a part of me that wouldn’t have minded if Puerto Rico had won the World Baseball Classic, knowing how much it would have meant to their country.


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