Irish secondary a primary concern
March 20, 2012 11:30PM
SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits to enter the field with his team before a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brian Kelly R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\16-Sep-10_102306225JD056_Michigan_v_N.jpg
Updated: April 22, 2012 10:17AM
The Answer Man returns, fresh from a two-week vacation, with a clear head and plenty of Notre Dame stuff to pontificate about. Let’s get started.
The Answer Man hates to be so pessimistic about the state of Notre Dame football as spring practice starts Wednesday, but it’s hard to feel optimistic on the heels of last week’s news that freshman cornerback Tee Shepherd, the second most heralded recruit in the 2012 class, left school. Aside from quarterback Gunner Kiel, there was no more important recruit this year.
The loss of Shepherd means the program failed to address cornerback, its greatest area of need in the last recruiting cycle. Shepherd was expected to compete for a starting spot. His departure leaves the Irish with just five cornerbacks on the roster. That is a dangerously low number for a team to go into a season with.
Notre Dame struck out earlier with Ronald Darby, another highly ranked cornerback from Maryland, who ditched the Irish for Florida State after committing to Notre Dame last spring. Shepherd’s cousin, Deontay Greenberry, a wide receiver, also jilted the Irish, de-committing on national signing day.
What does this mean for the Irish program?
The loss of Shepherd by itself isn’t that alarming. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly cited privacy laws for not talking about why Shepherd left. The fact that Notre Dame is so vulnerable at that position is problematic. Notre Dame recruited three players at cornerback — Yuri Wright, Shepherd and Darby — who the Irish either ultimately rejected or who rejected them. Wright was a cornerback from Don Bosco prep school in New Jersey who ended up choosing Colorado. How do you strike out on all three without some kind of a backup plan? Kelly’s RKG (right kind of guy) mantra rings hollow when he can’t bring AKG (any kind of guy) in for a depleted position.
Is this evidence that Kelly is headed down a path that will take him back to his mid-major roots as a coach sooner rather later?
It’s hard to be a BCS contender when you don’t even have at least six pretty good ones on the roster, preferably seven or eight.
The cornerback failure is the latest in a series of preventable mistakes by the coach. Not that the Answer Man is counting but here is a running total: Badly mishandling the quarterback situation this year, Twitter-gate (the social media meltdown where players like Manti Te’o expressed their frustration with Kelly’s public beat down of them after the USC loss) and now the gaping holes in the latest recruiting class.
The Answer Man sure hopes that Kelly has the answers for all these obstacles that are certain to crop up next season in the face of difficult schedule. But he is very worried that these seemingly unrelated problems for the program are the symptoms of larger issues and that the program is trending down, not up.
The schedule this year, with games against Miami and Oklahoma in addition to the usual menu of good teams, won’t help.
In other news that could just make Notre Dame the unluckiest team in college football, Kelly revealed that running back Amir Carlisle, a transfer from USC, broke his ankle last week in a non-contact drill. Carlisle is expected to miss spring practice, but return this June. ... Troy Nicklas has switched from outside linebacker to tight end. ... Kelly expects four quarterbacks — Tommy Rees, Gunner Kiel, Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson — all to get equal reps at that position.
Bowman and playing slow: The Answer Man believes that Bowman will win Saturday against Park Tudor if the Eagles can show the kind of proficiency they exhibited against Tipon in its half court offense.
The Eagles have been typecast as mostly a team that goes hard after teams with its full-court press. The Eagles cleverly pulled back against Tipton in the second half after the Blue Devils started to crack the code and score easy baskets.
They played a soft full-court, man-to-man press against Tipton for a good chunk of the second half. What surprised the Answer Man is how good they were in half court sets against Tipton.
Elijah Ray, who is a 3-point shooting whiz, scored almost all of his 22 points backing his guy down in the post. They also got great production from Michael Ford, who finished with 19 points. It was a critical part of their success because DeJuan Marrero was on the bench in foul trouble.
The Answer Man believes that Park Tudor point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell will destroy the press and that Bowman will have to win in a walk-it-up-the-floor kind of game.