Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Page’

Whiffed.

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Yikes. What a day. Within the last twenty-four hours, it seems that:

  1. A spot at Texas A&M opened back up for Kapron Lewis-Moore, who promptly recommitted to the Aggies;
  2.  Mike Martin canceled his visit to Notre Dame; and
  3. Kenneth Page gave a verbal commitment to Clemson.

And with those three strikes, it looks like the Irish are nearly out of non-longshot prospects for 2008. No word yet, though, on the academic situation of RB Milton Knox, who as I said on Tuesday may see an offer if his test scores are high enough, and has apparently shown some strong interest in ND. Georgia DE/OLB Keith Wells is scheduled to visit South Bend this weekend, apparently with his mother, so we’ll see how that turns out - but right now ND seems to be on the outside looking in on this one.

Don’t worry, though. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more drama before February 7th …

Holy. Freaking. Crap.

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Well, maybe it’s just because yesterday was a federal holiday and no one had anything better to than sit at their computers and rumor-monger, but there are TONS of recruiting whispers out there. I repeat: TONS. Including some rather unbelievable news on … well, you’ll just have to read to the bottom to find out. Remember, though, you’d already know all of this stuff and more if you’d been following what was being said on the IrishEnvy boards. But forthwith, a brief rundown of some of the highlights …

Off the Irish radar:

  • California RB/DB Thaddeus Brown, a high school teammate of commits Dayne Crist and Anthony McDonald, was briefly on ND’s radar as a potential recruit for the defensive secondary, but won’t be getting an offer because of academic issues.
  • California DE Datone Jones, currently a UCLA verbal, had a visit to ND scheduled for late January but has since canceled it, apparently because of academic issues once again.
  • No matter what they tell you, believe this: Texas RB Cyrus Gray is going to Texas A&M.
  • Kansas WR/QB Chris Harper has verballed to Oregon.
  • Missouri FB/ILB Will Compton was offered by the Irish, though as a fullback with a chance to play linebacker down the line. Apparently that’s not what he was looking for, and so his scheduled official visit to ND has been canceled. Last I heard he’s announcing today, between Nebraska, Missouri, and Illinois.

On the Irish radar:

Well, not quite “finally” …

  • There are … how shall I put it … lots of crazy [EDIT: and probably false. See the article linked here. And remember that I did call them "crazy" - don't hate on the messenger.] rumors flying around on the - yes, you are reading this correctly - Omar Hunter front, as ND’s courtship of him (and his of ND) may not be entirely a thing of the past. I can’t say more now, because much of this seems to be of the If I Told You I’d Have to Shoot You Fast Because My Source Would Be Coming to Shoot Me variety. Let’s just say you should keep your ear to the ground to see if these rumblings turn into a genuine earthquake … and remember, you heard it here first!

In defense of John Latina (?)

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

A lot has been made of the awful mess that was the 2007 Notre Dame offensive line. Some of this blame has gone towards Charlie Weis, in particular for to his decision to run non-physical practices that lacked real hitting. A significantly larger portion of the criticism has been directed at the offensive line coach, John Latina, who many believe has failed to generate a dominant unit in his tenure at Notre Dame.

I think both of these criticisms hold some merit, though neither gets at the whole story. My gut reaction on the criticisms of Coach Latina is to say “Hey, forget the situation - a winner wins and this man hasn’t been able to do his job.” Nevertheless, after reflecting on the situation it’s clear there are plenty of other reasons why the Irish have been hamstrung up front with the big uglies. As the season ends and the coaches head out on the recruiting trail, it seems increasingly likely that Latina - who has paid visits to Hafis Williams and Kenneth Page in the past few days - will be with the Irish into 2008. Thus it seemed worth looking more closely at the past three years to see whether the calls for his firing are valid or not.

First, though, a bit of background on Coach Latina for those unacquainted with his resume: during his six-year period as an offensive line coach at Temple from 1983-1988, Latina had three lineman drafted by the NFL and four signed as free-agents. Temple tailback Paul Palmer led the nation in rushing in 1986. Following that, he produced seven NFL linemen in five years at Kansas State (1989-1993), six All-ACC linemen at in five years at Clemson (1994-1998), and eleven NFL linemen in six years at Ole Miss (1999-2004). Ole Miss allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC, and in two of his years at Clemson the Tigers were among the top two in the ACC in rushing yardage.

All of this sets him up as a man who came to Notre Dame with quite a distinguished background and an excellent resume. But all that really ought to matter to Irish fans is the job he’s done since 2005. So let’s take a look, shall we?

2005

Situation: Weis is entering his first year and the Irish have an offensive explosion, jumping to one of the top rated offenses in the nation. Brady Quinn has a breakout year, and Darius Walker rushes for nearly 1200 yards.

Offensive Line:

  • LT - Ryan Harris (6-5, 288, JR) - Mike Turkovich (6-6, 290, FR)
  • LG - Dan Santucci (6-4, 290, SR) - Brian Mattes (6-6, 285, SR)
  • C - Bob Morton (6-4, 292, SR) - John Sullivan (6-4, 298, JR)
  • RT - Dan Stevenson (6-6, 292, SR) - Scott Raridon (6-7, 304, SR)
  • RT - Mark Levoir (6-7, 311, SR) - Paul Duncan (6-7, 292, FR)

Evaluation: This was clearly the best offensive line of the past three years. ND had an almost all-senior starting line and all were legitimate talents. The biggest glaring spots here are the lack of sophomore and junior depth as well as how light all these seniors were. Ty Willingham preferred the lighter/quicker offensive lineman, which doesn’t gel with Weis’s pro-style offense. Latina seems to have been able to install the system well with good players despite their physical limitations.

Grade: B+

2006

Situation: The Irish come into the year ranked #2 in pre-season polls and looking to improve on their 9-3 record and BCS bowl loss. Brady Quinn is looking to be one of the top Heisman candidates, and most of the skill players are back to back him up.

Offensive Line:

  • LT - Ryan Harris (6-5, 292, SR) - Mike Turkovich (6-6, 290, SO)
  • LG - Dan Santucci (6-4, 290, 5th) - Eric Olsen (6-4, 290, FR)
  • C - John Sullivan (6-4, 298, SR) - Bob Morton (6-4, 292, 5th)
  • RG - Bob Morton (6-4, 292, 5th) - Brian Mattes (6-6, 287, SR)
  • RT - Sam Young (6-7, 292, FR) - Paul Duncan (6-7, 292, SO)

Evaluation: The team as a whole didn’t live up to the hype, getting beaten soundly by top competition. While most of the blame lies with the defense giving out points to anyone who asked, the offense looked lost at times, and certainly didn’t dominate like they did in ‘05. The linemen were about the same size as the previous year, so either they hit a ceiling for gaining weight or they were not coached well in terms of gaining size. Young started all thirteen games as a freshman and did well for the situation while having some struggles. Clearly depth was becoming a pressing concern as the two-deep now had two sophomores, two freshman, and one starter being a potential backup for Sullivan. In the NFL draft, Harris was selected in the third round and Santucci in the seventh.

Grade: C

2007

Situation: Notre Dame is turning the page, having lost most of its starters from the previous year. Though no one is actively saying it is a rebuilding season, all signs point to a downturn from the previous two. Virtually the entire two-deep is being replaced along the line, and there are new receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks. However they are all more highly touted coming out of high school and ND looks to use youthful talent over experience.

Offensive Line: (granted there was a lot of movement)

  • LT - Sam Young (6-8, 310, SO) - Taylor Dever (6-5, 289, FR)
  • LG - Mike Turkovich (6-6, 301, JR) - Thomas Bermenderfer (6-5, 285, JR)
  • C - John Sullivan (6-4, 303, SR) - Dan Wenger (6-4, 287, SO)
  • RG - Eric Olsen (6-5, 303, SO) - Dan Wenger (6-4, 287, SO)
  • RT - Paul Duncan (6-7, 308, JR) - Chris Stewart (6-5, 339, SO)

Evaluation: Well, the team was awful, and a lot of the troubles extended from the o-line. The Irish gave up record numbers of sacks, penalties, and negative yardage plays. That being said, this fact can be traced largely to the fact that there were only had two returning starters among the ENTIRE two-deep, one of whom was a true sophomore. The unit showed moderate improvement as the year went on, but still lacked any real luster. Sullivan did not look like his old self, and Wenger actually looked like one of the best players on the unit by season’s end.

Grade: D

The upshot of all of this is that it would be wrong to lay all of the blame for ND’s struggles up front at the feet of Coach Latina. Sure, we’re three seasons in and the Irish have yet to have an overpowering offensive line unit, but a lot of it is attributable to size issues in 2005/2006, depth issues in 2006/2007, and inexperience issues in 2007. It seems that Weis may hold off passing judgment on Latina until the end of the 2008 season and I would advise others to do so as well. While we haven’t seen much in terms of a finished product, the Irish have been working hard to develop their current players (18 lbs. by Young in one offseason - whew!), and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll have another situation where they have to replace almost the entire unit in one season. In any case, next year eight of the nine players who were listed along the two-deep from the end of the 2007 season will be back: the line’s performance in 2008 should give us a much better indication of whether Latina is up to the task.

Taking Stock, Part III: Dig deep

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

(This is the third in a series of three posts analyzing the season so far and looking ahead to its remainder. Part I, “19 reasons why Notre Dame’s offense has sucked so badly in 2007,” is available here, and Part II, “Identity crisis,” is here.)

If it’s true, as I argued it is in the first two posts of this series, that the primary reason Notre Dame’s offense has been so bad this year is because of Charlie Weis himself, and that putting this season together with the last two gives us reason to think that the same characteristics that seem to make Weis a very good or even great coach for a bunch of hard-working, self-motivating, experienced veterans like the ones he had in 2005 and 2006, make him a downright awful coach for a bunch of unpolished youngsters like these ones, then an obvious question we need to ask ourselves is whether he’s going to be able to help this current group make the necessary transition. There’s no reason to think that the raw talent isn’t there; the issue is that of developing it in the right ways.

One aspect of this, which many people picked up on in commenting on the earlier posts (see OCDomer’s helpful response here, for example), concerns the purely “physical” aspect of their development. Can Weis and the rest of his staff help these players build the strength and stamina they need to perform at a high level? Can they teach them the “fundamentals”? Can they help players like Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen put on enough weight - of the right kind, mind you - to absorb the physical pounding that comes with playing D-I football? And so on.

But while I think these kinds of questions are really very important, they actually weren’t the focus of what I was trying to bring out in my earlier posts. At the heart of my argument on Tuesday was the idea that many of this team’s biggest problems so far have been mental rather than purely physical: they’ve been tentative, distracted, easily discouraged, and so on. Similarly, my argument on Wednesday centered on the proposal that there was something about the psychological make-up of the 2005 and 2006 teams that made them respond well to Weis’s coaching style in a way that this one hasn’t. To be honest, I have little doubt that these guys will get there physically; the real question for me is whether they can keep their heads in the game.

Here’s what Aaron Taylor had to say about this in a (somewhat over-the-top) post he wrote after standing on the Notre Dame sidelines for the USC game:

These players are done. They don’t seem to play with passion or even be bothered when things are going wrong. In fact, it almost seemed like they were used to it. Laughing and joking on the sideline by a select few players while receiving the worst beat down in the 70+ game history with USC. What’s worse than them laughing was that no one seemed to do anything about it. No one yelling at the players. No one holding each other accountable on their respective sides of the ball. No one finally saying, “enough is enough” and doing something about it. Blank stares and apathy by starters and veterans. Guys seemingly relieved when something goes wrong and it wasn’t their fault. Embarrassing … and they just seem to take it. Except for the defense, however, as Corwin [Brown] and his boys come to play.

In my mind, it’s this sort of thing that’s far and away the biggest threat to the development of the current freshmen and sophomores. If they get discouraged and hang their heads when things go wrong, then the way Charlie Weis coaches will consistently be received as overwhelming and overbearing. And if this kind of behavior really is characteristic of their mindset right now, then that gives us reason to think that they many never become the kinds of players they need to be if they’re going to become winners down the line.

While I obviously wasn’t able to be on the sidelines for the SC game, a worrying moment for me came right at the midpoint of the third quarter. The Irish trailed 31-0 following Vidal Hazelton’s touchdown reception, and faced a third-and-three after Armando Allen had churned out a seven-yard run. Evan Sharpley broke the huddle, and you could see Sam Young and Mike Turkovich give a half-hearted clap, sigh, hang their heads, and shuffle over to the line of scrimmage. It was the look of a group that had been whipped: a team that HAD said “enough is enough,” albeit not in the way one would hope for.

If Taylor’s diagnosis is right - and it should be said that similar rumors have swirled around this team for much of the season - then there’s a LOT to be worried about. One scenario this recalls is the end of the 2004 season, which started off with an embarrassing 2-6 record that included a 38-0 blowout loss on the road to Michigan, a 45-14 smoking at home against Southern Cal, and a 37-0 home defeat to Florida State. After squeaking past Navy and BYU at home and easily beating Rutgers (you know, back when they were awful) on the road, Tyrone Willingham’s Irish were left a chance to finish the season at 6-6 and put themselves in contention for a bowl invitation they’d almost certainly receive. We all remember how that ended: Notre Dame lost, 38-12, to a Syracuse team that one week earlier had been simply spanked by Rutgers. And in the eyes of many of the Irish faithful, the sorry performance on that day was an example of a team that had quit on their coach.

Unlike Willingham’s team, which headed into that last game with a shot at a .500 regular season record, the current group of players has no hope for a postseason bowl. But that doesn’t make the end of their season any less important. It’s not just that the Irish need to win out these last four games and end the year at a somewhat respectable 5-7, or even that they need to generate some positive momentum heading into the offseason, but that they need to show that they aren’t going to go the route that the Irish of 2003 went against the Orangemen. This team needs to show some heart, some spirit, some drive: they need to push around their undersized and under-talented opponents, to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, to hit - hard - and wrap up, to give evidence of what Weis’s offense and Brown’s defense can do when the balance of the talent is on their side. In a word: they need to show that they’re not going to quit.

Let me reiterate: the primary reason I say this is not because of the remainder of the 2007 season itself. This year is lost, no doubt about that. The key issues have to do with the development - in particular, the psychological maturation - of the young players: are they going to allow themselves to be mired into a cycle of losing, with everything that attends it? Or are they going to break out, push harder, and continue to improve themselves? Are they going to develop the tough, dedicated, non-defeatist mindset that allowed Brady Quinn and his colleagues to play so well under Weis in 2005 and 2006? Or are they going to go a different route?

After the sorry performance against USC two weeks ago, and Taylor’s description of the mood on the sidelines, it’s natural to think that this team has already made its choice. But I want to suggest briefly that such a judgment would be unfounded.

In the first place, it’s worth pointing out that the practice reports we’ve seen following the SC game have generally painted the picture of a pretty fired-up team. Here, for example, is Ben Ford’s account of what things were like just three days after the loss:

The energy level was extremely high, starting with the defensive linemen, where Justin Brown and Kallen Wade raced to the blocking sled. Wade — who’s got a much longer stride — won by a length. (Sorry, that’s a little Breeders’ Cup excitement working its way into a football blog.)

But the receivers were by far the most energetic group today. Coach Rob Ianello had them running the running backs’ gauntlet — that’s a first, as far as I know — and the players let loose with some great Captain Caveman-style yells, especially [Robby] Parris and walk-on Nick Possley.

But in my mind, the far more important sign is another thing that happened right after the USC game: Michael Floyd and Jonas Gray, two highly-regard recruits who had been watching the game from the same vantage point as Aaron Taylor had, made verbal commitments to the Irish, turning down offers from numerous teams having considerably more on-the-field success. They had been with the Irish players before, during, and after the loss; they had gotten an in-depth look at what the attitude of the team was like. And yet - or and so, we might think - they decided that this was a group that they wanted to be a part of.

It might be easy to chalk this up to a couple of kids looking for early playing time, but that would be a mistake. Floyd, for example, had an offer from his homestate school, the woeful Minnesota Gophers, where he could likely have started from day one. Gray’s case is even more instructive in this regard: in giving his pledge to the Irish, he reneged on an earlier commitment to Nebraska, a move that suggests that in his mind anyway, the two programs are headed in quite different directions. Notre Dame, he seemed to be saying, is genuinely rebuilding, while the Huskers are simply falling apart.

It’s hard to imagine how Floyd and Gray - as well as other recruits, like Trevor Robinson and Kenneth Page, who were also high on the Irish after visiting for the USC game - could have gotten such a positive impression if the attitude on the team had been as thoroughly defeatist as the picture Taylor paints. Notre Dame’s recruiting successes this year suggest, not just that Weis, Brown, and the others are terrific at that aspect of their jobs (though they surely are), but also that there is a sizeable contingent of players who are happy to be at Notre Dame, genuinely excited about the direction the team is headed, and devoted to turning this ship around.

All that really matters, of course, is what happens on the playing field: and that’s why these next four games are so important. In the first place, if the Irish continue to be embarrassed and fail to show tangible signs of improvement, it’s easy to imagine that a good number of their committed players might decide that they’ve been mistaken about the overall direction of the team, and jump ship. Secondly, though, there’s the psyche of the current players - the ones who will make up the core of this team in 2008 and beyond - to consider: any positive momentum they can build over the remainder of 2007 will do wonders for their confidence, and go a long way to making them the kind of “Weis guys” that I’ve been arguing they need to become, while continuing to struggle in the ways they have so far will seriously undermine this possibility.

It’s time for this team to show us what they’ve got, and to decide for themselves what kind of team they’re going to become.

Big Red Mess: Former Nebraska verbal Jonas Gray commits to Notre Dame

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Rivals.com is reporting that Detroit tailback Jonas Gray, who up until this past weekend was verbally committed to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, gave a verbal commitment to Notre Dame on Monday night. The 5′10″, 213-lb. Gray is a four-star recruit on both Rivals and Scout, and has been clocked under 4.4 seconds in a 40-yard sprint. He is the 21st player overall to commit to Notre Dame’s 2008 recruiting class, and the first running back.

Gray was recruited by several top programs, including Nebraska and Michigan, early in the year, and he made a verbal commitment to Nebraska in early August. There were reports that Notre Dame had planned to extend him an official offer earlier in the year, but it never came to fruition. Then, after Nebraska followed up a strong start to their season with a five-game slide that included blowout losses to USC, Missouri, and Oklahoma State, as well as startlingly narrow wins over Ball State and Iowa State, and rumors began to surface that Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan might be on the hot seat, Gray - together with decommitted offensive lineman Trevor Robinson and linebacker Will Compton, who I believe is still officially committed to Nebraska - was one of three Nebraska recruits to attend Notre Dame’s game last Saturday against USC. The Irish lost that game, of course, but something must have been going well on the sidelines, as superstar wide receiver Michael Floyd committed shortly thereafter, and Gray’s commitment followed quickly upon his. (South Carolina offensive lineman Kenneth Page was reported to have been so excited about his official visit that same weekend that he nearly committed on the spot, but he is currently holding off on his final decision.)

As trouble continues to brew in Lincoln, the Irish appear ready and willing to capitalize on the Huskers’ misfortunes, as they are seem to be strongly in the running for Robinson’s services as well as those of Compton, should he in fact decide to reopen his recruitment. In any case, Gray’s decision is clearly great news, and counts as further evidence that the mood among Irish players is not nearly as negative as some have thought it might be.

Welcome to the ND family, Jonas!

[UPDATE: I should have included this quote from Jonas's IrishEnvy profile, left by his uncle back in September of 2006:

Thanks for the love...Jonas sure appreciates it.....Notre Dame is his first choice, and thats a fact....he's loved that school since the Jerome Bettis days.

But he didn't receive a formal offer yet from the Irish...he did receive an invite to come to some of their home games this season.....hopefully Coach Weis will send a formal offer soon.....he'll be getting a great football player, but a better person in Jonas

Awesome stuff! It's great to have another kid on board who bleeds blue and gold. And let me just add that for this reason, I think CW at Rakes of Mallow is wrong to say that "before we get too excited, please remember signing day is still many a day off. If a player is kind enough to renege on one verbal, he just might pull out on a second." By all appearances, Gray decommitted from Nebraska only because of the turmoil within their program, and - as this quote indicates - Notre Dame looks to have been his first choice all along. His situation, in other words, is much more like Brian Smith's than Chris Little's.]

Friday Night Lights update, Part II

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Here’s a rundown of how Notre Dame’s primary remaining recruiting targets for 2008 fared in their high school games this past weekend (the current commits were covered yesterday):

That’s all for now! I’ll be back later today with some analysis of some pretty significant changes to ND’s depth chart.

This weekend’s Friday Night Lights roundup (10/1/07)

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Here’s a rundown of how Notre Dame’s current group of 19 committed high school seniors, as well as their primary recruiting targets, fared in their football games this past weekend. (Note that I’m no longer tracing the stats for Frostproof (Fl.) tailback Carlton Thomas, who committed to Georgia this past weekend.)

Commits:

Recruits:

This weekend’s Friday Night Lights roundup

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Here’s a rundown of how ND’s current commitments and primary recruits did in their high school football games this past weekend.

Commits:

Recruits:

That’s all for now! We’ll be back next week with more.

Irish Roundup: Friday Night Lights Edition, 9/17/07

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Here’s a rundown of how our currently committed players and primary recruiting targets for the current year fared in their games this past weekend.

Commits:

Recruits:

Want to learn and talk more about Irish recruiting, our our currently committed players? Want to discuss this article and others? Head over to IrishEnvy.com

Irish Roundup: Friday Night Lights Edition, Part II

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

Here’s a rundown of how those of our committed players and primary recruits for the ‘08 class whose games I didn’t cover yesterday fared this week: