Posts Tagged ‘Demetrius Jones’

The Irish by the Numbers, Part I: 2007’s Offensive Breakdown

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

With the new year in full swing and school starting up again (welcome, Trevor and Sean!), it’s time to start looking back at 2007 and ahead to ‘08. Oh, that and wasting time thinking about ND football when we really should be writing our dissertations. So with that in mind, the Irish Roundup is proud to bring you “The Irish by the Numbers,” a multi-part series where we break down what happened last year and consider what’s to come.

First up, a great break-down that IE poster Jonathan (”Fishin’ Irish,” for the in-crowd) put together of the offensive numbers from the 2007 season. It was supposed to get up over break, but better late than never. I’ll be back later this week with a breakdown of some of 2007’s numbers on defense.

The Irish by the Numbers, Part I: 2007’s Offensive Breakdown

Here’s a breakdown of the team’s offensive stats by class from the 2007. By “seniors” I mean to include both fifth- and fourth-year guys, since none of 2007’s fourth-year seniors on offense will return for a fifth year anyhow.

Rushing*

Freshmen: 140 Carries, 646 Yards, 4.6 YPC, 6 TD’s**
Sophomores: 128 Carries, 469 Yards, 3.8 YPC, 0 TDS
Juniors: (i.e. Asaph Schwapp): 12 Carries, 14 Yards, 1.2 YPC
Seniors: 37 Carries, 93 Yards, 2.5 YPC, 5 TD’s

Passing***

Freshmen: 139 Completions, 246 Attempts, 6 INT’s, 56.5%, 1264 Yards, 7 TD’s, 103.85 QB rating****
Juniors: 77 Completions, 140 Attempts, 3 INT’s, 55.0%, 736 Yards, 5 TD’s, 106.66 QB rating

Receiving

Freshmen: 66 Receptions, 636 Yards, 9.6 YPR, 6 TD’s
Sophomores: 64 Receptions, 616 Yards, 9.6 YPR, 1 TD
Juniors: 32 Receptions, 258 Yards, 8.1 YPR, 2 TD’s
Seniors: 55 Receptions, 494 Yards, 8.9 YPR, 3 TD’s

Things seem to be looking up, huh? I’m sure I made a math error in there (I did a lot of it in my head), but you get the idea. Freshmen led EVERY SINGLE CATEGORY here in terms of production. That’s simply amazing. The more you look into this, the better this gets:

  • I’m willing to bet that all five of Travis Thomas’s touchdowns occurred when we were in the “goal line” formation. I feel pretty confident when I say that losing him here won’t hurt us, as either James Aldridge or Robert Hughes should be able to pick up improve upon where Thomas left off in that department.
  • The passing game should only improve next year now that Jimmy Clausen has had time to get his feet wet. A deeper, more talented, and more experienced offensive line should help, and the only starter graduating from the line is center John Sullivan. (However, some may see him leaving as a good thing …)
  • The only loss worthy of note in the receiving section is John Carlson. He’ll be tough to replace, but Will Yeatman, Mike Ragone, and incoming freshmen Kyle Rudolph and Joseph Fauria look to fill his place. Also, look for to-be-freshmen wideouts Mike Floyd and John Goodman to make an impact on next year’s depth chart, if not on the gridiron itself.

Obviously, there are lots of uncertainties that need to sort themselves out, and these young players have to become a lot more consistent if the Irish are going to return to ‘05-’06 form. But there’s reason for hope, anyway …

[NOTES:

* I'm factoring out sack yardage here, as well as leaving out Demetrius Jones's numbers, since he left the team mid-season.

** Here's where there's some wiggle room in the stats. JC's two rushing TD's are included here, but his attempts and yards were not. I didn't want to include sacks, as I thought it would detract from the main idea, and I wasn't about to dig through game play-by-plays to find his actual attempts/yardage sans the sacks.

*** Once again, Jones's numbers are factored out.

**** Clausen's Passer Rating. Armando Allen's passing stats were not included in the class QB rating.]

Thought experiment

Monday, November 12th, 2007

From a commenter, identified as “Hal,” on a post at Blue-Gray Sky:

I’d like to do an experiment:

Take a team like Michigan and put them in ND’s shoes. Remove Hart and Henne for the whole season, and replace them with Frosh and Sophs. Take away Manningham and replace him with a Frosh. Then, remove a couple of O-line starters. Lastly, take the junior and senior classes and remove a dozen of the most talented guys, including those who might fill those holes in the O-line. Throw in a bit more inexperience at some key positions on D.

What’s Michigan’s record now? I’d say 3-8, 4-7.

I’m not picking on Michigan, and I’m not saying we should be losing to Navy and Air Force. I’m just saying that there are some pretty serious extenuating circumstances going on here. This is hard to stomach, but it’s not inexplicable.

It’s not time to panic.

At this point in the season I’m about as despondent as one can be about the future, and pretty much fed up with excuse-making, but something about this really speaks to me. A few other variables not mentioned here include:

  • Playing an insanely difficult schedule, composed almost entirely of away games, to start the season.
  • Having your best quarterback trying to recover from off-season elbow surgery, with your top two tailbacks coming off of injuries as well.
  • Seeing lots of key players (Aldridge, Grimes, Wenger, Kuntz, Bruton, etc.) go down with injuries at various points during the season itself.
  • Bringing in a brand-new defensive coordinator who’s trying to implement a new scheme using personnel recruited for the old one.

Add to this distractions like the Demetrius Jones situation and the (rumored, though perfectly predictable) tensions between the upper and lower classes, and you’ve got a recipe for a season that starts badly and quickly snowballs into mind-numbing awfulness. No doubt the coaching staff has failed MISERABLY in getting things back on track, but that doesn’t change the fact that the circumstances they’re dealing with have been, as Hal says, “serious[ly] extenuating.”

THAT’S why Charlie Weis will be back in 2008, this year’s suckitude notwithstanding. And it’s also why I’m done complaining about 2007 … unless we lose to Duke, that is.

Taking Stock, Part I: 19 reasons why Notre Dame’s offense has sucked so badly in 2007

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I don’t know about you, but it feels like the middle of the season to me: Fall Break and the bye week are behind us, the complexion of the schedule has changed dramatically, and we’ve hit what can only be described as rock bottom after the Loss that Shall Not Be Discussed. So it’s in this spirit that the Irish Roundup brings you “Taking Stock,” a three-part series (wow, doesn’t that sound fancy?) evaluating the 2007 season up to this point and looking ahead to its remainder.

Up first, a detailed evaluation of why the Notre Dame offense has been so dreadful this year. We all know the statistics, so I’m not even going to bother listing them again: the question I’m going focus on here is “Why?” rather than “How bad?” Here are what I - with the invaluable help of the rest of the IrishEnvy crew - take to be the nineteen biggest problems, in inverse order of importance:

19) Too much hype: No doubt Charlie Weis did the right thing by refusing to throw his players under the bus by calling 2007 a “rebuilding” year, but did we all have to believe him? Nearly all ND fans had the Irish winning at least three of these first eight games – a clearly unreasonable expectation. The team’s current 1-7 record would be completely satisfactory if they’d played hard, scrappy football and shown improvement from week to week, but the burden of everyone’s high hopes can’t have been a help in making that happen.

18) Scheduling: A calendar front-loaded with top-notch opponents, with all of the easy games at the end of the year. Four of the first six games played on the road. A bye week after USC (though having extra time to prepare for Navy never hurts). No doubt it’s difficult to put together ND’s schedule, but this year’s version was just atrocious.

17) Recruiting: Many are going to wonder why this isn’t higher on the list. The reason for that is that the talent gap between the Irish and their opponents doesn’t even begin to account for the awfulness of their offensive (ha!) game. No doubt the paucity of upperclass talent feeds into many of the more serious problems in a major way, but in itself it’s only the tip of a very large iceberg.

16) Too much shuffling of the depth chart: I’ve already been over this in some detail, and I still stand by the analysis I gave there, namely that while many of these shifts have been due to injuries or other unpredictable things, some – in particular taking so long to settle on James Aldridge as the #1 tailback, and even then giving too many carries to other players – were clearly mistakes.

15) Distractions: The obvious example of this is Demetrius Jones not showing up for the team bus to Michigan, after which the Irish played what was clearly their worst, and least-inspired, game of the season. But there have been other cases as well, such as Derrell Hand’s arrest, the ongoing quarterback controversy, the departures of Konrad Reuland and Matt Carufel, the rumors of dissension among Irish players, and so on. These are not the sorts of things that help a young team get over their struggles.

14) Penalties: Obviously there are some – Mike Turkovich’s touchdown-negating hold against BC, for one – that stick in the forefront of your mind, but the fact is that false starts, holding calls, and other offensive penalties have been a huge problem all year long, regularly putting the offense in a position where it has to pick up huge yardage to move the chains. Thankfully there were far fewer such mistakes against USC, so maybe that’s the beginning of a trend.

13) Injuries: Aldridge, David Grimes, Matt Romine, and Dan Wenger have all missed significant time with injuries, and Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate have been banged up as well. For a team as thin as this one is, having front-line players like these get injured is obviously a big problem, and keeps the squad from developing a consistent rhythm.

12) Play-calling: Once again, this is a factor that a lot of people are going to want to put a lot higher, though see my lengthy post from after the BC game for why I thought that in that case at least, this issue was WAY overblown. There’s no doubt, though, that there have been some huge mistakes made in this department: the obvious examples are the crazy schemes employed at the starts of the games against Georgia Tech and Michigan, though there are others as well. This team has to do more than just develop its “bread and butter” plays in practice; it has to run them on the field as well. Of course, that’s hard to do when players consistently fail to execute the plays you’ve called.

11) Inexperience: You could try to lump this in with recruiting, but it’s really a different issue, since it’s meant to pick out the fact that many of even the more “veteran” players – Turkovich, Paul Duncan, Evan Sharpley – saw very little playing time before this year, and so aren’t able to do as much as one would hope to bring the younger players along. I’ve been told that last year, Bob Morton and the other offensive linemen were telling Sam Young what to do on almost every play – this year, there’s only one lineman with more than one year of experience other his belt.

10) A rift within the team itself: I’m putting this right in the middle of the list only because I obviously don’t know if the various rumors that have swirled around are true. But the fact is that there have been some pretty clear signs – both on the field and off – that this squad hasn’t really come together well. Some of this is natural, as younger players and veterans compete for playing time, but if it’s as bad as some have said it is, then its ramifications may be extensive indeed.

9) Lack of leadership: This isn’t just about the veterans; underclassmen can be leaders as well. Some of this is the result of the “musical chairs” that has been played with the depth chart, whether due to injuries, poor personnel decisions, or surprising performances by players (whether of the good variety or the bad). No matter what the cause, though, not having players who can bring everyone together in the huddle or on the sidelines and focus their energies on the task at hand is going to be a huge problem for any team.

8) Failure to execute the “finesse” plays: What I have in mind here are the dropped passes or missed receivers that we’ve seen so often this year. In countless cases, a player has been open and either the ball has gotten there and he’s failed to catch it, or the ball has been thrown over his head or at his feet. Mistakes like this stall an offense like nothing else, except perhaps for …

7, 6) Poor pass- and run-blocking: I can’t figure out which of these to put first, since each feeds into the other in countless ways. But it’s important to emphasize that the problems here haven’t just been with the offensive line: whether it’s tailbacks whiffing or getting run over on pass protection, fullbacks failing to open up holes in the running game, or wide receivers missing blocks downfield, there’s no getting around the fact that the blocking on this team has been atrocious at every level.

5) Lousy position coaching: When you have a team composed almost solely of either young players recently out of high school and “veterans” who’ve barely played a down, what you need is a group of assistant coaches able to teach them the proverbial fundamentals. So far this year, there’s been little evidence that that’s happened, and the lack of week-to-week progress suggests significant deficiencies in the sort of training these players are receiving.

4) Practice routines: The influence that having had contact-free practices for so much of the season and pre-season has had on this team probably can’t be overstated: once again, many of these players are new to college football, and they just don’t know what real “game speed” looks (and feels) like. But there have been other problems as well: to give just one example, there is no doubt that the decision to develop overly creative plays rather than taking a “building-blocks” approach did a great deal to set this team back and prevent real progress in the early weeks.

3) Tentative play: The USC game was a paradigm of the tendency among offensive players to look like they’re more concerned with avoiding mistakes than with doing something right. Whether it’s the overly-complicated character of the offense they’re running, the shock of game speed, the burden of high expectations and the consequent fear of criticism, or whatever, there’s no doubt that many of this offense’s failures – dropped passes, missed blocks, inability to hit holes in the running game, and so on – can be attributed to an all-around tentativeness.

2) The “snowball” effect: With the exception of the post-halftime spurts against Purdue and BC, one steady tendency for this team has been that when things go bad, they get worse. The offense has shown very little resiliency, whether to their own mistakes or to those of the defense and special teams, and we’ve often seen the proverbial wheels fall off at the first sign of difficulty (the Michigan State game was the paradigm instance of this). Once again, this can be traced to many of the other problems above, but it’s clearly a place where this team’s many defects have often come to a head.

1) Charlie Weis: Sorry coach, but the buck stops with you. I’m going to have more to say about this in a post tomorrow, but for now just let me say that I think Weis has done a simply terrible job coaching this squad, and while I don’t think this one season is sufficient to show that he’s the “worst coach in the universe,” I also don’t think that the old “learning curve” excuse is good enough. In my mind, there’s reason to think that Weis is a good-to-great coach for seasoned veterans, and an outright terrible one for young players. If this is right, then the key question is whether he can transition this group from the latter category to the former without doing irreparable harm to them – I’ll have much more to say about this tomorrow and Thursday in Parts II and III of this series.

Unsettled?

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

One thing that has been partly a symptom but also to some extent a likely cause of Notre Dame’s struggles this year is the way the lineup has shifted around from week to week. As I’ve discussed in some detail (see here and here), each of the last two weeks has seen major changes to the Irish depth chart, and when we compare the chart from the current week from the one at the start of the season (helpfully summarized here by Ben Ford), we find a remarkable number of changes:

  • At only three offensive positions (tight end (with the exception of Konrad Reuland’s departure), “Z” wide receiver (with the exception of Barry Gallup dropping off the chart), and fullback) and four defensive ones (defensive end (with the exception of Derrell Hand’s return from his suspension), “Mike” linebacker, free safety, and right cornerback (with the exception of Munir Prince catching up to Raeshon McNeil)) is the depth chart the same at mid-season as it was at the start.
  • Six players (Duval Kamara, Eric Olsen, Robby Parris, Evan Sharpley, James Aldridge (who is low on the depth chart this week only because of injury), and Kerry Neal) currently listed as starters weren’t starters or even co-starters at the beginning of the season, and two other current starters (Sam Young and Paul Duncan) have switched positions. (Sharpley was of course officially listed as a co-starter, but only as a smokescreen.)
  • A total of eight players (Young, Taylor Dever, Thomas Bemenderfer, Dan Wenger, Olsen, Brian Smith, Anthony Vernaglia, Morrice Richardson) are listed as having switched positions. (Though note that most of those switches, with the exception of Vernaglia’s, are relatively minor, and simply involve being on the other side of the offensive line or linebacking corp.)

Moreover, in part because of injuries but also because of depth chart changes, only ten positions (left guard, center, tight end, fullback, left defensive end, nose tackle, “Jake” linebacker, both safeties, and right cornerback) have had the same starter for each game so far, and only twelve players (Duncan, Young, Mike Turkovich, John Sullivan, John Carlson, Trevor Laws, Pat Kuntz, John Ryan, Maurice Crum, David Bruton, Tom Zbikowski, and Terrail Lambert) have started at some position or other in every game so far. (Since they opened with three wide receiver sets, Asaph Schwapp wasn’t in on the opening plays against Michigan or BC, but perhaps he should count as number 13 on this list.)

(A more complete breakdown, both of game-by-game starting lineups and of depth chart changes, is available here. Note that I haven’t included any of the special teams positions, though there has also been considerable variability at punter, place-kicker, and on kickoffs.)

No matter how you spin it, that’s a lot of guys moving around. (For comparison’s sake, last year’s Irish team had sixteen players start in every one of their thirteen total games, not including Zbikowski, who sat out against Stanford with an injury.) And it’s easy to look at this situation and think that it reflects poorly on Charlie Weis and his staff: either they did a poor job of evaluating talent at the start of the season, or they’ve been doing too much shuffling around from week to week and so have kept the team from settling into a real rhythm, or whatever. But when we look more closely at where many of the changes have come, we see a different story.

Here are the cases where the need to make changes in the depth chart clearly wasn’t the fault of the coaching staff:

  • “X” receiver: George West was listed as the starter here at the beginning of the year, but now the true freshman Kamara, who was originally third-string behind West and D.J. Hord, has moved up to the #1 spot. This is clearly a matter of a player showing what he brings to the field and taking the job away from a more experienced guy who was legitimately ahead of him at the start of the year, not a case where talent was misevaluated in any way.
  • “Z” receiver: Parris is now listed ahead of Grimes for the #1 spot, but that may be in part a product of Grimes’s injury. In any case, Grimes’s solid play last year clearly earned him his early-season starting position, just as Parris’s play this season (second on the team in receptions with 19 and the first in receiving yardage by a long shot with 272) may have done the same for him at mid-season.
  • Right guard: Wenger was the starter here at the beginning of the year, but he suffered an injury against Michigan and hasn’t played since. (He should be back this week, though, and Weis has indicated that he’ll be the primary backup for all of the interior positions along the o-line.) Matt Carufel was Wenger’s replacement for three games until he was beaten out by Olsen last week - but once again, having a player perform surprisingly well at a “need” position (especially when he overtakes someone who was originally a backup) is hardly something a coach can be criticized for.
  • Right defensive end: Early season co-starters Justin Brown (who missed several games with an injury) and Dwight Stephenson Jr. started off dividing playing time between them, but Stephenson has now risen to the #1 spot. During one of the games when Brown was injured, Derrell Hand started in this position, and there have been others where the team started off in a nickle package and either Neal or John Ryan was listed as a defensive end.
  • Right outside linebacker: This is where Neal has been playing extremely well, and taken the starting job away from the once-again disappointing Vernaglia (who’s now listed as the backup to Crum at the “Jake” linebacker spot).

In other words, all of the above personnel shifts can be chalked up either to injury (Grimes, Wenger, Brown) or unexpectedly solid play from underclassmen who hadn’t seen much if any game action before (Kamara, Parris, Olsen, Neal), and so it would be wrong to blame the staff for them.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t some other positions where the coaching staff is arguably at least partly at fault for the fact that there was so much uncertainty through the early part of the season:

  • Running back: This one really is something of a head-scratcher, since it became clear to most fans that Travis Thomas wasn’t going to get the job done long before he stopped getting a significant number of carries, and even though he didn’t actually start after week one, it took until the Michigan State game in week four for Aldridge to take over that position instead of Armando Allen. Allen has shown himself to be a good change-of-pace back who has a chance to be a dynamic every-down player in the future, but he’s not there yet, and trying to work the offense around his speed instead of building around the skill and power of Aldridge was pretty clearly a bad decision. When the guy who is obviously your best running back is basically your third option for the first third the season, something seems to have gone wrong in decision-making.
  • Quarterback: It’s been argued - with considerable force, in my mind, though I don’t think Jimmy Clausen deserved to be pulled before this week - that Sharpley should have been named the starter at the beginning of the season, and that the team would have been better off in the long run if that had been the decision made. It seems clear enough in hindsight that the choice of Demetrius Jones as the starter against Georgia Tech was a disaster, and that the time spent practicing a spread-style offense would have been better used working on more traditional sets. If Clausen would in fact have been the starter if not for his elbow surgery, then replacing him with someone who would run the same type of offense may well have been the best bet. Once again, this seems to be a matter of the staff getting to “cute” with schemes and crafty personnel decisions rather than taking a more careful, “building-blocks” approach.
  • The offensive tackles: The two-game experiment with moving Sam Young to right tackle clearly didn’t go very well, though it’s not as if he’s been stellar since going back to his original position. But if Young is in fact that much more comfortable playing on the left side of the line, then there’s a natural argument that says he never should have been moved in the first place. [EDIT: See Matt's comment below. What I should have said was that the experiment with putting Duncan on the left side of the line and leaving Young on the right did not work well, though it's not as if the line has been airtight since they were switched back. But the need for a mid-season switch like this with relatively veteran players suggests that there were some mistakes made in preseason evaluations.]

The fact is that these four positions - tailback, quarterback, and the two exterior linemen - are obviously crucial to the success of a football team, and so if Weis and his staff did make bad decisions with how they managed them, then it’s very likely that that had adverse effects on the way the team played on the field, as well as on the overall progress the team was able to make, through the early part of the season. And while in each case the questionable decisions I’ve highlighted here were understandable, it seems reasonable to put some blame at the feet of the coaching staff if they really did mis-evaluate their talent in these kinds of ways.

But at the same time, looking at these position changes as a whole reveals two really positive things about the state of the Irish: first, that there are lots of talented underclassmen playing extraordinary football; second, that the coaching staff has continually been willing to put those players on the field and even in the starting lineups, no matter how much seniority may have been had by the players they were replacing. If we continue to see more personnel moves over the remainder of the season, it will probably be for these kinds of reasons rather than the more worrisome ones suggested in the second category above. This is an extremely young team, and it’s going to take everyone a while to settle in.

Attrition

Friday, September 28th, 2007

In 2006, after Charlie Weis’s first season as Notre Dame’s head coach and a 9-3 record, the Irish pulled in Rivals’s eighth-ranked recruiting class: 28 players, with an average rating of 3.46 stars. Now three of those players - QBs Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones, and TE Konrad Reuland - have all left the team, and another - OL Chris Stewart - is thinking of doing the same. In each case, these have been players low on the depth chart - Frazer was the #4 quarterback and Jones was a backup at best, Reuland was reportedly in a battle with freshman Mike Ragone for the #3 spot, and Stewart hadn’t seen the field at all this year - apparently looking for a place where they’ll have a better chance to play. Following up on a suggestion from domer.mq at Her Loyal Sons, though, it seems worth comparing this rate of attrition with those at other top programs.

Let’s start with Southern Cal, which had the #1-ranked 2006 class according to Rivals, with 25 total players. That class has seen the following players depart (USC’s current roster is here):

Florida’s second-ranked class is considerably more intact (official roster here), as their only transfer so far out of 27 total players was that of 3* ATH Derrick Robinson, who quit the team to pursue a career in professional baseball. But Florida State’s third-ranked class has lost four players out of their original 31 (official roster here):

Similarly, Georgia’s fourth-ranked class has lost three players of its original 28 (official roster here):

And the University of Texas (official roster here) has lost five players from their original 25, which ranked fifth:

In sum, ND’s transfer rate so far is not much to worry about. As I said, all of the players who have left, or are thinking about leaving in Stewart’s case, seem to have done so primarily because of depth chart issues, and when four-star highschoolers don’t manage to get on the playing field, that suggests that the talent level - in ND’s case, among the underclassmen - is very high.

Moreover, note that with an NCAA-imposed limit of 85 total scholarships, having a class of 28 can be a bit problematic. The Irish can get away with it - and indeed, can use all the bodies they can get - right now because of their incredibly small junior, senior, and fifth-year classes, but the size of the ‘06 class could have posed a problem down the line. That said, other schools make up for players who transfer away from their program with others who transfer TO it - whether from junior colleges or other D-I programs - and ND has a policy of not doing this.

Don’t jump, though. At this point there’s every reason to think these transfers have been a product of what’s happened on the practice field and the players’ inabilities to rise to the top, rather than ND’s lack of success this season on Saturday afternoons.

News and Notes: 9/27

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

As noted by BGS, Michael Rothstein reported yesterday that freshman Andrew Nuss has moved from the defensive line, where he started the season, to the offensive line. This may have something to do with the injury to Dan Wenger, who Charlie Weis said will not be playing against Purdue:

“I’d say, optimistically, it looks like maybe UCLA,” Weis said. “He’s not going to be a go this week, but he’s out there running around now. (UCLA is) what he’s shooting for right now.”

In other news on the injury front, defensive end Justin Brown still seems a bit hobbled in practice. Weis admitted that he “still doesn’t look full speed,” but insisted that Brown “looks a heck of a lot better than any time last week.”

[UPDATE: Rumors abound that sophomore offensive lineman Chris Stewart is going to be the latest player to transfer from ND. This could have something to do with Nuss's move to the OL, though I didn't see Ford or Rothstein mention Stewart being absent from practice yesterday. We'll have to see.]


In other d-line related news, Derrell Hand spoke to the media yesterday for the first time since his arrest for solicitation:

He expressed regret and knew he did a bad thing. And more than anything else, Derrell Hand thanks those who stuck by him as he went through his suspension from the beginning of training camp until last weekend.And in that time, the junior from Philadelphia went from suspended to starter. Hand had been suspended the day before Notre Dame training camp started in August for soliciting a prostitute in South Bend.

“I think I survived it pretty well,” Hand said. “I have a huge supporting cast. What happened was unfortunate. I learned a huge life lesson and I’m just happy I got a second chance to be a part of this Notre Dame family.

“These first four weeks couldn’t have happened any better.”

An injury to starter Justin Brown placed Hand in the lineup in his first game back. He said it was difficult to hear himself associated as someone with bad character but had a bunch of people helping him out.

And he wasn’t surprised with the way Notre Dame chose to handle it, by allowing him to stay in school.

“I feel as though I’m a good kid. I made a lot of close friends, students and faculty, and I just feel like what happened was bad but I feel Notre Dame handled it the way Notre Dame handles these things.”

Best of luck to Derrell as he works to get things back in order. ND can certainly use him on the field, especially if Justin Brown is not 100%.


According to the Cincinnati Post’s Jeff Katzowitz, former Irish QB Demetrius Jones might end up at the University of Cincinnati - Jones was at the Bearcats’ practice on Wednesday, and UC coach Brian Kelly, who recruited Jones out of high school when he was the head coach at Central Michigan, said that he and Jones had been in contact:

We had a good conversation. We talked about the situation here and what we think our strengths are. He’s in that evaluation process now. He’s looking at his options. We’re one of a few of the options he has. He thinks highly enough of us to drive five hours to come up and visit.

When Katzowitz got Jones on the phone yesterday evening, Jones denied rumors that he’d made a final decision, but said that watching the UC practice was “nice.” More on this story as it comes in.

[UPDATE: It's official. Jones walked into Kelly's office this afternoon and told him he wants to play for the Bearcats. Apparently Notre Dame has given UC the go-ahead. Jones will pay his own way for the coming fall quarter, and then will be on scholarship starting in January once several seniors have graduated.]


Meanwhile, want another example of the difference between a respectful sports journalist and an inflammatory hack? Compare Al Lesar’s article about the Purdue offense (it’s a “work of art,” the headline tells us) in today’s South Bend Tribune with the latest screed from the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz, who was recently, and rightfully, named “Asshat of the Week” by KGreen:

Here was Purdue football coach Joe Tiller’s challenge for Tuesday’s media briefing: Find something nice to say about this week’s opponent, Notre Dame. Try to convince the media and, by extension, his players, that Notre Dame is still Notre Dame and not Apalachicola Junior College.

“They have the fourth-ranked pass defense in the nation,” Tiller said flatly.Give the guy credit: He said it with a straight face.

Holding up Notre Dame’s pass defense is like complimenting the movie “Beer League” on its soundtrack.

Are you kidding me?

Of course the Irish have impressive pass defense numbers. It’s because they have the 111th-ranked running defense in the nation. Nobody passes on Notre Dame because nobody needs to pass on Notre Dame. Opponents get huge early leads, then run off tackle the rest of the game.

Next thing, we’ll hear that Notre Dame has a sparkling personality and practices good hygiene.

I’ll let that one speak for itself.

Bob Kravitz: Still an asshat.


There’s also a bit of recruiting news to report. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Irish DL commit Omar Hunter received an official offer from USC on Tuesday, and expressed some excitement about it:

When Pete Carroll talks, recruits listen. Even ones already committed to Notre Dame. Buford’s Omar Hunter visited with Carroll over the phone Tuesday and received an offer from the coach of top-ranked Southern Cal.

“It was pretty exciting. Southern Cal, that’s pretty big,” said Hunter, who verbally committed to Notre Dame in June.

That doesn’t mean the blue-chip defensive tackle has changed his mind about heading to South Bend.

“I’m sticking with Notre Dame for right now,” Hunter said.

At this point, there’s no reason to worry too much about this, since Hunter has said that his commitment to the Irish is solid, and this sort of thing is really a normal part of the recruiting cycle. But it’s certainly a situation worth keeping an eye on, and I can guarantee you that Weis and the coaching staff will be doing just that.

Some news and notes

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

According to both Ben Ford and Michael Rothstein, Irish offensive lineman Dan Wenger was absent from practice once again on Tuesday. Wenger suffered an undisclosed injury and has reportedly been seen around campus with a cast on his leg. ND head coach Charlie Weis didn’t address this in his press conference on Tuesday, but he did say on Sunday that Matt Carufel looked “decent” playing in Wenger’s place against Michigan State.

Another worrisome bit of news on the injury front comes from Rothstein’s remarks on Justin Brown, who as noted earlier missed the MSU game with an injury:

Defensive end Justin Brown stretched with a trainer again and when the rest of the linemen were doing drills, he was off to the side, clearly hobbled. If we were to guess, we wouldn’t think he’ll be ready for Saturday, but it is still early in the week.

Weis said on Sunday that sitting Brown was a “game time decision,” and that he’d be “able to go” in practice that day. ND is far too cagey about things like this to think we’ll know anything about Brown’s status before the Irish take the field against Purdue.

One other notable thing from Tuesday’s practice reports is that, as Ford notes, it was “extremely physical at the start,” much as it reportedly was through all of last week. Weis spoke to this issue in his press conference on Tuesday, saying that they planned to find a sort of middle ground this week:

Q. Could you kind of outline your practice week in terms of compared to what you tried last week and what you did last week?

COACH WEIS: We still have to have elements of last week in there, because I think last week helped us — what we did last week helped us in the game. So today the first half of practice is going to be dedicated to ones versus ones, full speed, take them to the ground. What I didn’t do was I didn’t do full speed, take them to the ground on Sunday, because I had a bunch of guys beat up. So it becomes counter productive. You have to be objective, too. And you want to be tough, and you want to have a mentality at the same time you want to be intelligent and not do something stupid.

So today, they all know that we’re going ones against ones and it will be the first hour of practice. Then we’ll have a break and we’ll practice special teams. And then after that break, the rest of the practice will be dedicated to Purdue first and second down.

Q. From that point, it’s kind of Purdue the rest of the way?

COACH WEIS: I think it will be a little bit closer to a normal schedule come tomorrow [i.e., Wednesday].

Most of the press conference, as well as what’s been said about practices so far this week, has been pretty standard stuff.


One other bit of news worth noting, though: according to the Chicago Sun-Times, former Irish QB Demetrius Jones has had a brief telephone conversation with Northern Illinois football coach Joe Novak, but he hasn’t been practicing with the Huskies football team and in fact isn’t even enrolled at NIU:

”The last I heard, he’s not [enrolled],” Novak said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. ”He has got a lot of things available to him.”

Jones was listed in NIU’s online student directory two weeks ago, then wasn’t listed last week. To transfer directly from Notre Dame to NIU and be eligible to play in 2008, he would have to have been enrolled by the 12th day of classes (Sept. 12) for this semester to count toward the year he would have to sit out.

He does have the option of enrolling in a school, such as Northwestern or Ohio State, that uses the quarter system and started fall classes this week.

A source familiar with the situation said Jones might have another option to be eligible to play for the Huskies next fall. The source said Jones has accumulated 40 credit hours at Notre Dame and could earn an associate’s degree at a junior college by completing 20 hours by the end of next summer, then enroll at NIU.

This is a bit puzzling, since as the Sun-Times notes it contradicts much of what has been said in the media. It is unclear whether this has anything to do with ND’s refusal to release Jones from his scholarship to play for NIU. Look for more details to come out on this soon.

Attention ND recruits: Charlie Weis isn’t going anywhere

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

When a poster on the IrishEnvy boards wrote that there were “reports out of Chicago” that Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis was going to leave his alma mater to take up the head coaching position with the New York Giants, I was puzzled. I mean, I remembered reading an OPINION column from the Chicago Sun-Times in which Irish-hater and all-around asshat extraordinaire Jay “Mute Him, Please” Mariotti wrote this:

Don’t be shocked, should the Flailing Irish start 0-8 and finish 2-10, if Weis seeks a convenient escape hatch in January: the New York Giants. How interesting that Tom Coughlin’s tenure is ending as Weis, a New Jersey native and former Giants assistant under Bill Parcells, stumbles in his so-called dream job. … Very quietly, as we see happen every year in the coaching racket, politics will move incrementally to airlift Weis from his South Bend nightmare and into the Meadowlands. The longer he stays, the more sheen he loses from his once-golden reputation. And with the Chicago Public League becoming a recruiting problem zone after the fiasco involving benched quarterback Demetrius Jones, who was used as an unwitting short-term pawn while designated hotshot Jimmy Clausen recovered from injuries, Weis is falling out of favor in too many places.

This, of course, is hardly a “report”: it’s just a columnist with nothing intelligent to say, making things up to stir the pot. But this didn’t stop other newspaper and internet columnists, gullible bloggers, and - apparently, reading between the lines of that original post as well as this one - sports talk radio hosts from treating Mariotti’s idle musings as if they were based on some sort of inside information.

On closer inspection, it turns out that Mariotti wasn’t even the first columnist to “break” this non-story: almost a full week earlier, Akron Beacon Journal columnist George Thomas had written of “[r]umors swirling around Weis and his future and how the New York Giants would love to make him mentor to Eli Manning as that team begins its free fall.” The fact that this sentence occurred just two paragraphs before the claim that “None of today’s high school seniors were born” (!!) would, one might think, be enough to discredit such “rumors” altogether.

But it won’t, nor will the fact that Mariotti and the rest of his ilk haven’t got a leg to stand on, let alone anyone “inside” ND or the Giants organization to back them up, when they make claims like this. Mariotti happily reminds us, of course, that Charlie Weis reportedly called the Giants his “dream job” when he interviewed with the Giants back in 2004 for what is now Tom Coughlin’s position. But even if that story - which is once again all that it is, mind you - is true it’s hard to put much stock in what someone says when he’s angling for a promotion. Meanwhile, Mariotti naturally fails to mention that Weis said a year or so ago, when first round of unfounded Weis-to-the-Giants speculation started rolling, that “I’m staying here until they fire me or I die.”

My real gripe, though, doesn’t lie so much with idiot sports journalists as with the nefarious ends to which desperate coaches will employ their musings. Georgia defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who committed to the Irish over the summer, has reportedly said that opposing coaches are using rumors like this one to encourage him to jump ship. This, of course, is scuzziness of the worst sort, but it’s hardly unsurprising to anyone who follows recruiting much.

But Big Omar is not one to be swayed by such nonsense, nor - hopefully - are the rest of our recruits. By all accounts, Weis and the rest of the coaching staff have been doing a great of staying in touch with his committed players, to make sure that they’re up to speed on what’s happening with the program, that their questions are answered, and that they have no reason to worry about whether he’ll leave his beloved alma mater hanging out to dry. That this kind of thing needs to be done is certainly clear enough to them after the fiasco that was the end of the 2007 recruiting season - and with defensive coordinator Corwin Brown as his right-hand man, there’s no reason to think that Weis isn’t more than capable of keeping this little brushfire under control.

Have you heard, though, that Urban Meyer and Pete Carroll are on the short lists for 0-3 Buffalo, St. Louis, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Miami? Watch out, kids …

Look at me, Ma!
I’m a shameless rumor-mongerer and an all-around jerk!

Konrad Reuland is leaving Notre Dame

Monday, September 24th, 2007

After rumors began to surface yesterday evening that sophomore tight end Konrad Reuland, currently #3 on ND’s depth chart at his position behind senior John Carlson and fellow sophomore Will Yeatman, was going to transfer from ND, they were quickly squelched as just that - rumors - and some even reported to have positive evidence of their falsity. Things looked a bit bleaker this morning, though, as an Eric Hansen article in the South Bend Tribune quoted Reuland as saying last night that “I’ve still got a lot to think about,” and suggested that an answer would be forthcoming today.

Apparently that was accurate, as a current headline on Irish Illustrated announces that Reuland is in fact leaving the team, a report apparently confirmed by the same source who denied it yesterday:

the same source that told me yesterday he wasn’t leaving told me today he’s left. … It’s a small school (source didn’t say where) , but he wants to play in the pac10 next year so he’s going D2 im assuming or D3.

This last remark - that Reuland will transfer to a Division II or III school for the rest of this academic year and then enroll at a school in the Pac 10 for 2008 (he was recruited by both USC and Stanford out of high school) - seems to square with the rest of what’s being said. It’s perhaps worth noting that Konrad’s brother Warren, a senior in high school, is currently committed to Stanford as a wide receiver.

Obviously this loss hurts the Irish, though clearly Reuland isn’t the WORST person who might have left the team. Tight end is a position of real strength for the Irish, with Carlson and Yeatman ahead of Reuland on the chart, freshman Mike Ragone behind him, and five-star senior Kyle Rudolph committed to enroll next year. Nevertheless, Reuland’s talents will surely be missed, both this year and on down the line.

Best of luck to Konrad - who has apparently handled all of this with real maturity - wherever he ends up. ND’s youth movement just got a little younger.

[UPDATE: The SB Tribune is on it now, with this quote from Weis:

After meeting with Konrad Reuland on Sunday, he has decided he will leave the team and withdraw from Notre Dame. I appreciate all Konrad has done for Notre Dame, and I wish him nothing but the best.

HLS and SI have the story up as well, and so does Subway Domer.

One more thought, though: if ND applies the same standard to Reuland as they did to Demetrius Jones, then he won't be allowed to transfer to either Stanford or USC, since both of those schools are scheduled to play the Irish from now until eternity.]

Some thoughts on Chris Harper’s recruitment

Friday, September 21st, 2007

An interesting article in today’s South Bend Tribune discusses the intriguing possibility that the departure of Demetrius Jones might give ND a better shot in their recruitment of Kansas QB/WR/Athlete Chris Harper, listed as a four-star prospect on both Scout and Rivals, who will be an official visitor to South Bend this weekend for the Michigan State game. The article quotes Harper’s high school coach, Weston Schartz, as saying that while Harper’s interest in ND had previously been about a 7 on a scale of 1-10, “it’s up much higher than that now.”

The reason for this, of course, is that while Harper clearly has the ability to be a terrific wide receiver in college, he’s made it clear that his real desire is to have a shot at quarterback - and ND’s sudden lack of depth at this position clearly increases the odds that this might happen. Moreover, Charlie Weis said in a press conference earlier this week that he’d consider recruiting an extra QB in 2009, so long as it was someone who’d also be able to play at another position - a remark that seems clearly to apply to 2008 as well.

When this possibility first started being discussed, I wrote that in a way the Demetrius Jones situation could be viewed as a cautionary tale that would militate against recruiting Harper as a QB:

ND doesn’t run an option offense, and with Clausen at the helm now and Crist coming on board next year it would take some serious self-deception for Harper to convince himself that he has a real shot at playing QB at ND. Such self-deception could, of course, be aided by the coaching staff if they wanted, but with the way the Jones situation panned out it’s hard to imagine them leading a kid on when they know full well he’ll end up unhappy.

This opinion squared with what Mike Frank was quoted as saying in an article on Harper in the Observer:

“He’s kind of a combo guy and the Irish have a shot,” Frank said. “The problem they’re going to run into is he also wants to play quarterback and Notre Dame is recruiting him as a wide receiver. So, that could be a little bit of a problem. … They have to convince him that wide receiver is his future.”

My worry, in other words, was that if Harper was recruited as a possible quarterback, he might quickly be disappointed when he doesn’t see the field in that capacity, which could lead to frustration and even a possible transfer. But the more I think and read about this, the more I think I was wrong.

Here’s why: even if Weis and the rest of the coaching staff tell Harper that he has a shot to play quarterback, he has know fully well that he’s not going to supplant Jimmy Clausen, and so that if he wants to have a chance to play during his first three years it will have to be somewhere else on the field. By all accounts he’s more than capable of doing this as a wideout:

“He’s not a pro-style quarterback that’s going to drop back and throw 35, 40 times a game, but he’s just a great athlete,” Schartz said. “He could play receiver for anyone in the country. As a matter of fact, if he was playing receiver, I think he’d have 50 offers. But he doesn’t play receiver.”

This last sentence, though, comes with a big fat qualification:

“The only place he will consider, and maybe I’m talking out of turn here, but after my conversations, to play receiver at would be Notre Dame and the University of California,” Schartz said. “And don’t ask me why.”

Because of Jones’ departure, the Irish coaches have told Harper they are recruiting a quarterback who can play another position.

“All he wants is a shot, I think,” Schartz said. “If it doesn’t work out, he will get snaps as a freshman at receiver, he’s that type of kid. I’m not kidding you. He can come in any place and play receiver.”

In other words: it seems entirely possible that Harper might come to ND and play receiver for his first three years. At that point, with Clausen gone, he’d compete with Dayne Crist and whomever else the Irish have recruited in the meantime to be the starting quarterback. If this doesn’t work out, he could either go back to wide receiver or be the backup QB for a year (or two, if he redshirts).

Harper’s situation is unlike Jones’s in that Harper HAS said he’s willing to play WR for the Irish, while Jones always insisted that he wouldn’t. If Harper does just this for his first few years, obviously he wouldn’t be able to transfer even if he doesn’t succeed in the competition for the starting QB position. As I said, this possibility is intriguing, to say the very least …