Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

Bodies do not equate to depth along the offensive line, and six of ND’s 13 offensive linemen have never taken a snap. Never has the health of the front mattered more.

OFFENSIVE LINE SHUFFLE

The news of transfers by interior offensive linemen Tristen Hoge and Parker Boudreaux significantly impacts Notre Dame’s numbers along the offensive line.

Boudreaux wasn’t going to be ready to play this fall, and Hoge had struggled in his transition to the college game. But an injury to starting center Sam Mustipher would leave the Irish without a backup with center experience. At least Hoge had an extensive background snapping the football.

Irish Illustrated learned a couple of weeks ago that starting right guard Alex Bars would move to center if something happened to Mustipher. Bars has been working on snapping the football with the staff’s knowledge that both Hoge and Boudreaux were in the process of transferring.

Bars will, by September, be able to handle the job if necessary, but it’s not his natural position, and all the practice snaps cannot simulate live reps in practice, let alone on game day.

If Bars has to move to center, that would dictate a handful of potential scenarios:

•  Hunter Bivin – who hasn’t capitalized on opportunities in the past -- would have to start at right guard.

• Unproven red-shirt sophomore Trevor Ruhland would have to start at right guard.

• Tommy Kraemer would have to bump to right guard from right tackle, which means the Kraemer-Liam Eichenberg tandem on the right side of the line would enter the ’17 season with no playing experience.

• Early-entry freshman Aaron Banks would have to start at right guard.

With 13 scholarship offensive linemen – six of which have never taken a snap in a game -- it’s not an ideal situation. At least Hoge, who had threatened to earn a starting spot in the past, would have provided somewhat of a comfort zone. At least Bivin has four years invested in the program.

What if the Irish have multiple injuries up front? Some combination of Banks, early-entry tackle Robert Hainsey, and highly-regarded freshman tackle Josh Lugg may have to burn a red-shirt season.

Good thing Mustipher is as tough as a three-buck steak and won’t leave the field unless he has a bone exposed.

LOSING LENZY

Knowing that at the end of this recruiting cycle each of the Irish Illustrated staff members will rate the Notre Dame Class of 2018 one through 20-something, I’ve kept a running tab along the way.

Two players sat atop my list: Derrick Allen on defense and Braden Lenzy on offense. I wouldn’t have decided the order until after their senior years. But suffice it to say Allen, who still remains committed to the Irish, and Lenzy, who flipped to Oregon Wednesday, were the hands-down top two choices going into their senior seasons.

Now I’ve been doing this for a long time, so de-commitments are like the sun setting to me. It happens every day with the sun, and quite frankly, it happens several times a year with de-commitments. But damn, this one hurts.

Lenzy is a true difference-maker with game-breaking ability. Chances are the Irish will not land a receiver in the Class of 2018 as dynamic as this one. I doubt they’ll get Amon-Ra St. Brown or Chase Cota. Bryson Jackson is good, but he’s not as elusive and explosive as Lenzy, although he’s sturdier. I love Kevin Austin’s game, but he’s a different kind of receiver than Lenzy.

It would have been great – and I was kind of expecting – for Notre Dame to land both Lenzy and Austin.

There’s plenty of time to compensate for Lenzy’s loss, but unless St. Brown goes Notre Dame’s way, they likely won’t get someone as dynamic as Lenzy among that receiver type.

Wednesday night, tight end George Takacs helped ease Notre Dame’s pain by joining the fold, raising Notre Dame’s commitment list back up to 12.

For the record, here’s my how I have the 11 commitments rated at this time: 1. Derrick Allen, 2. Ja’mion Franklin, 3. Jayson Ademilola, 4. Phil Jurkovec, 5. John Dirksen, 6. Matthew Bauer, 7. George Takacs, 8. Ovie Oghoufo, 9. Markese Stepp, 10. Justin Ademilola, 11. Micah Jones, 12. Cole Mabry.

The ratings are subject to change based upon this fall. Look for a Takacs and Bryson Jackson film review later this week following my trip Thursday to Oxford, Ohio to visit with former Irish assistant and current Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin, who will bring his Redhawks into Notre Dame Stadium for Game 5 of the 2017 season.

WEIS: AN ASSISTANT COACH RETROSPECTIVE

On Wednesday, Irish Illustrated ran the fourth part of a five-part series taking a look at the assistant coaching staffs from Lou Holtz to Bob Davie to Tyrone Willingham to Charlie Weis, with Brian Kelly’s staff and subsequent moves coming next week.

Perhaps it’s too easy to say that if Weis simply had made some more astute choices after the successful 2005-06 seasons, many of the issues that cropped up from 2007-09 – when the Irish went 16-21 -- could have been avoided.

But a couple crucial choices certainly contributed to Weis’ downfall.

During the Weis days, I had developed a good enough relationship with the Irish head coach that upon the conclusion of each recruiting campaign, I would make a lengthy visit to his home to recap of the season/recruiting, and look ahead.

My “favorite” Weis quote of all-time was his comment in February, 2007.

In talking about the loss of talent from the 2006 season -- which included quarterback Brady Quinn, receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, running back Darius Walker, offensive linemen Ryan Harris, Dan Santucci and Bob Morton, defensive linemen Victor Abiamiri and Derek Landri, and defensive backs Mike Richardson and Chinedum Ndukwe – Weis made his most fateful statement during his five-year tenure at Notre Dame.

“I hear what people are saying about the (personnel) losses we’ve had,” Weis said. “Okay, we’ll see. What are we going to do, go 4-8?”

Well, no, but how about 3-9? And the Irish had to win games against Duke and Stanford closing the regular season to avoid the worst record since 1963.

In recapping the assistant coaching staffs Weis had at Notre Dame, there were three decisions that – if avoided -- could have changed the path of 2007-09.

• Ron Powlus for Peter Vaas: This is not a slam on Powlus as much as it is a statement about replacing a veteran football coach with a first-time coach. Brady Quinn was gone. Now it was up to inexperienced Demetrius Jones, inexperienced Evan Sharpley and the second coming – Jimmy Clausen – under Powlus’ inexperienced tutelage.

The 2007 offense was a disaster. Jones was atrocious in the opener against Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets rolled over the Irish, 33-3. Notre Dame failed to exceed 20 points in each of its first eight games.

Would a veteran like Vaas have made a difference? Maybe, maybe not. Weis was the true quarterbacks coach from 2005-09. But few assistant coaches develop as close a relationship with their players as the quarterback coach. This was an unnecessary move.

• Corwin Brown for Rick Minter: Minter was a bend-but-don’t break defensive coordinator, much like 2010-13 coordinator Bob Diaco. Minter’s 2005-06 defenses finished 53rd and 67th nationally in points allowed.

Not great, but keep in mind that the Irish had zero defensive players drafted following the 2005 season. The personnel was better during the ’06 season and the defense probably should have ranked higher than 67th in scoring defense with second-round defensive end Abiamiri, fifth-round defensive tackle Landri, sixth-round cornerback Richardson and seven-round safety Ndukwe.

Brown had zero experience as a coordinator. But Brown’s playing career had crossed paths with Weis at New England and the New York Jets, and Weis respected Brown as a player. Weis tabbed Brown coming off three years as defensive backs coach with the Jets.

Chaos ensued. Little did we know at the time the emotional issues with which Brown was dealing. They came to a head at Notre Dame where his relationship with the assistant coaches was, shall we say, compromised.

Minter’s defense wasn’t going to put extreme pressure on the quarterback, but his system was fundamentally sound and he was a stable influence – the exact opposite of Brown.

• Jon Tenuta-for-Bill Lewis: Following the 2007 season, Weis realized Brown needed help with the defense. That forced Lewis into a “retirement” that he didn’t want, booting him into administrative work.

Could Lewis – who coordinated the Georgia defenses from 1981-88 before a nine-year stint coaching nickel coverage for the Miami Dolphins – been a viable option?

Brown, still the choice of Weis, was in turmoil. Weis brought in Tenuta to coach the linebackers while still letting Brown coordinate the defense. By 2009, Tenuta had become the co-defensive coordinator.

For all of Tenuta’s personality issues with the media, Notre Dame’s defensive players respected him. He was a proven defensive coordinator, so good in fact that only his inability to deal with public relation responsibilities prevented him from becoming a head coach along the way.

A simple Tenuta-for-Brown exchange would have done wonders for the Notre Dame defense.

INVASION WRAP

By now, you’ve read/heard all the opinions about the top participants in Notre Dame’s annual Irish Invasion held inside Notre Dame Stadium last Saturday night.

Verbally-committed recruits Markese Stepp, and Jayson and Justin Ademilola, were on hand, as were Irish offers Jayson Oweh, Shayne Simon, Cam McGrone, and D.J. Johnson from the Class of 2018.

So were George Karlaftis and Brian Williams from the Class of 2019, although Williams did not participate. Austin Stogner arrived a day later along with Phil Jurkovic and George Takacs.

Camps certainly don’t tell the whole story. In fact, game film says more. But when a program has an opportunity to not only see prospects run around a football field and, almost as important, interact with the young men, you have a great opportunity to fine-tune a program’s thinking on a prospect.

What I’ve always found striking in camp settings is the physical maturity of these kids. Not young men, but kids, although their physical maturity is that of young men. Think about this: Most of the seniors-to-be are 17-years old while most of the juniors-to-be are 16-years old.

I can remember attending the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Chicago’s Soldier Field in the summer of 2013. Because the names and their reputations precede them, you think in terms of elite major college talent. But they are young teens, and it’s rather astonishing to realize how physically/athletically developed they are.

That weekend in Chicago, we saw guys like Bo Scarbrough, Leonard Fournette, Elijah Hood, Damien Mama, Demetrius Knox and Alex Bars, among others, whose size/strength is overwhelming for prospects at such a young age.

That camp featured an incredible group of receivers that included JuJu Smith-Schuster, Adoree Jackson, Travis Rudolph, Josh Malone, Justin Brent (who looked good), KD Cannon, Artavis Scott and Michiah Quick, among others.

Three of the most impressive juniors-to-be were cornerback Iman Marshall, receiver Christian Kirk and quarterback Josh Rosen.

They’re just kids, but contrary to the average population in America, they are young men ahead of their time.

DURHAM IN THE FOLD

UConn’s loss is Notre Dame’s gain.

Earlier this week, Juwan Durham – a 6-foot-11, 207-pound freshman with the Huskies during the 2016-17 season – announced his decision to enroll at Notre Dame a couple months removed from his decision to leave Storrs.

Durham went to Connecticut as a top 100 player out of Tampa (Fla.) Prep after averaging 22.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocked shots as a junior. He suffered a right torn ACL in his final game of his junior season (February, 2015), and a left torn ACL in September, 2015, or just prior to the start of his senior campaign at Tampa Prep.

Durham averaged 8.3 minutes per game as a freshman at UConn, scoring a season-high eight points in an early-February game versus South Florida.

Durham played a season-high 25 minutes in a non-conference game against Chaminade and an AAC-high 24 minutes at SMU in mid-January, scoring five points and grabbing four rebounds.

Durham averaged 1.6 points and 1.5 rebounds per game with nine blocked shots in 233 minutes of action. He converted 20-of-41 from the field (.488) while making 3-of-8 from the free-throw line. He made both of his three-point attempts.

He missed time as a freshman at Connecticut due to a foot injury.

Clearly, the Irish are getting a player with injury in his background, but if he can get stronger and get those knees approaching 100 percent, there’s no reason why he can’t return to his junior year in high school form.

“Juwan will bring a lot of length, skill and versatility to our frontline,” said associate head coach Rod Balanis to Irish Illustrated prior to Notre Dame’s announcement earlier this week. “He needs this year to get his body right. He has as much natural ability as any big guy we have had.

“He came to the right guy (Brey) at the right time. It will be great for him and Bonzie (Colson) to go against each other every day.”

When healthy, Durham is an above-the-rim player, which is assumed for a 6-foot-11 guy, but not always the case, particularly at Notre Dame. Martinas Geben (6-foot-10) is not an above-the-rim player, and he’ll be gone by the time Durham is eligible to play.

Durham, with his incredibly long reach, has shot-blocking/rim-protecting ability on the defensive end, which is something the Irish must face without their own weapon on the defensive end. Durham finishes around the basket in decisive fashion. When in doubt, he just slams it home. He made a living in the prep ranks on alley-oop slams.

Durham has 15-foot shooting range with a deep release and a soft touch on the rim. He also has a very quiet, soft release from the free-throw line.

There’s a long way to go before Durham is a) completely healthy and b) strong. He’ll be worth the wait until 2018-19 with three years of eligibility.


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