Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Smith Switch | by Pat

After just losing defensive commit Justin Trattou to Florida, Notre Dame rebounded by securing the commitment of another defensive recruit in the form of Kansas linebacker Brian Smith. Smith, who publically committed to Iowa back in August, decided to take up the Irish on their late scholarship offer and made the switch late Tuesday night.

Coach Weis and the Irish had originally recruited Smith back during the summer, but after securing public commits from Aaron Nagel and Steve Paskorz, the Irish decided to pass on the then 3-star recruit Smith.

“We were contacted by the new defensive coordinator (Corwin Brown),” Smith said. “In the summer, (Notre Dame) was very well in the mix. I was just waiting on the offer so I could commit. But in June, I was told I didn’t fit into the old defensive coordinator’s plan. … I guess he wasn’t impressed with me, but the new defensive coordinator came in and liked what he saw.”
To be fair to Minter, Smith is an inside linebacker and at that time, ND was really in the hunt for speedy outside linebackers like Chris Donald, Martez Wilson, Lorenzo Edwards, and Malcolm Smith to upgrade the Irish defensive speed in the 4-3 defense. So in that regard, I can understand the decision to pass on Smith. However, with the likely arrival of the 3-4 defense, there is a greater need for inside linebackers and Smith certainly fits the bill.

Coach Weis, along with Coaches Brown, Ianello, Oliver, and Haywood all visited Smith last Sunday after offering on Friday. And after what I imagine was a pretty stressful decision, Smith scheduled an official visit to South Bend for this weekend. At that point, Iowa likely realized he was already gone and cut their losses.
“Me and my dad decided we were going to be up front,” Smith said. “We called (Ferentz) and let him know the offer came. Every time something new came up, we let him know what the status was.”

“I told them I was going to visit, and coach Ferentz said if I was going to make that visit, then we both have to move on.”

And so goes the vicious recruiting food chain cycle.

Currently a 4-star recruit on Rivals and a 3-star recruit on Scout, the 6'2" 225 pound Smith picked up offers from Nebraska, Michigan State, Arizona State, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri in addition to the Hawkeyes. ESPN's Scouts, Inc has him ranked in their Top 150, as player #150, and has few, hard to watch videos of him if you are interested.

What makes Brian Smith notable to Irish fans, other than the fact that he will join fellow linebackers Toryan Smith and Scott Smith, and safety Harrison Smith on defense, is that his father, Chris Smith, played football back in the early 80's for the Irish where he was a teammate of current coach Haywood. A bruising fullback, Smith was known for opening holes for Allen Pinkett as well as some solid individual performances carrying the ball. From the various scouting reports, Brian brings a similar physical mentality to linebacker, where he had 126 tackles and 9 sacks as a 1st Team All-State senior. Smith, though, hopes to make his own legacy.
“It’s great to follow in my dad’s footsteps, especially at a school like Notre Dame,” Smith said. “But I want to make a name for myself.”

A snowy welcome | by Pat

Taking a look at the ND webcams, I'm sure that California native Jimmy Clausen, South Carolina native Gary Gray, and Florida native Armando Allen are just loving their decision to show up at ND a semester early. Nothing like a dumping of snow to welcome the warm weather trio to campus.

Normally, the new freshman are placed off-limits to the media by ND while they acclimate to their new surrounds. But that didn't stop the Miami Herald, which interviewed local star Armando Allen about his famous roommate, Clausen. In a bit of an odd move for an established paper, they made available the recorded audio of the call as well. Just follow the original link to find it. The informal nature of the call makes me think that the Herald sneaked in a phone call past the ND Sports Information Department and will be quickly placed in the ND media doghouse.

The article itself is no great shakes, as it contains many factual mistakes, such as wrongly claiming that the Clausen commitment was carried live on ESPN. But it does contain some fun anecdotes about Allen and Clausen already being hounded for interviews, and the audio features Allen talking about his new classes and playing football in the snow. It also contains a casual reference by Allen to Clausen's elbow that I'm guessing is going to turn into one of the bigger points of fan interest heading into spring football.

Allen said Clausen has sat out a few of the early 7-on-7 drills because of bone spurs in his throwing elbow.
It's too early to tell if anything will come of this, but with a big four-way QB battle royale brewing this spring, "injury" is probably a four-letter word for the quarterback quartet. With a limited number of reps in spring practice, sitting out even a few probably isn't even a consideration for the four as long as they can move their arm. Most fans have in their minds already narrowed the race down to Clausen or charismatic freshman Demetrius Jones, but in a recent radio interview on, Darius Walker predicted that Evan Sharpley would come out on top. My guess is that Clausen will participate in the spring drills and, if surgery is required, get it after the Blue-Gold game when he has the summer months to recover.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

He's Number Two? | by Pat

It's sounding more and more likely that Brady Quinn isn't going to be the #1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. The latest bit of confirmation, if you can call it that, comes from that guy out in California.

Carroll hinted at who he expects the Raiders to select with the first pick of the NFL Draft. He said that Kiffin prefers a vertical passing offense that suits LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell better than Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.

"The kid from LSU is exactly what they're looking for," Carroll said, "more so than the kid from Notre Dame."
Honestly, Quinn is lucky if the Raiders go after someone else. Featuring a former Southern Cal assistant that many Trojan fans wanted fired in Lane Kiffin and his lovable new boss, the Raiders organization is hardly a stable and promising environment.

It's still a bit early to speculate where Quinn might end up, as teams might decide to work a trade and move up in the draft, but with the second pick in the draft, the Lions are a possible destination for Quinn. If the Lions opt for another wide receiver, the third pick will fall to either the Cleveland Browns or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A coin flip after the Super Bowl will determine which team gets the #3 pick.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Powlus to Prepare Pocket Passers | by Pat

Perhaps overlooked in the news of the hiring of Corwin Brown is the return of Ron Powlus to the Notre Dame sideline. Powlus served as the Director of Personnel Development the past two years, but this promotion gets him out from behind a desk and back on to the field.

Powlus joins offensive coordinator Michael Haywood as a former ND-player turned-coach, a situation that hasn't been all that common at ND lately, but has been pretty successful in the past. (I originally had a paragraph here wondering who the last player-turned-coach was, completely overlooking the obvious and easy answer in Haywood. Sorry about that Mike.) For the complete list of former ND assistants, check this out. How many former ND players can you find?

If you watched the press conference (the video is no longer available, but you can read the transcript here) you saw that Ron really seems eager to sell Notre Dame to future recruits. And what better person to do it than a guy who probably went through the ND hype and publicity ringer more than any other player in school history? If anyone can identify with recruits and give them a straight answer on the highs and lows of playing for ND, it's Powlus. He's already saying the right things about playing under the media spotlight.

People call it pressure. I call it attention. That's part of the game. That's part of what you buy into, and all the guys that come here expect to play and expect to be the starting quarterback of Notre Dame. If you don't, we don't want you on the team.

So every guy that walks in this door that plays the position of quarterback, I hope he expects to play. And that's the mentality that they should have coming in and that's the mentality of every one of the guys competing for that job, and we'll help breed a competitive environment and let the best guy get on the field.
Powlus reportedly did a bang-up job with the administrative aspects of recruiting last year and now will be in a position to hit the road and really test his abilities as a recruiter. However, despite having the background as a former ND student-athlete, once he's making in-home visits alongside head coaches from the SEC and Big Ten, it will take more than just stories about hanging out in Flanner Hall. Recruiting quarterbacks to Notre Dame likely won't be that difficult in the near future, so how Powlus fares with other recruits will be a sign of just how effective he can be.

As for the coaching aspect, it appears that at least initially, Powlus will take a backseat and serve more as an assistant QB coach to Charlie's lead.
Of course there's plenty to learn. I fortunately played the position for many years. Had a lot of experience. But bottom line I'll learn what it's like to teach the quarterbacks from one of the best quarterbacks coaches ever in Coach Weis. He's proven himself to be an outstanding head coach and outstanding quarterback coach. I'm going to be learning with the rest of these guys.
The change from Vaas to Powlus makes the Irish offensive staff a lot younger -- and a lot less experienced. With a wide-open quarterback derby looming large this spring, Powlus will certainly have his hands full. He got a taste of on-field coaching two Springs ago when QB coach Dave Cutcliffe left the program for health reasons. Weis petitioned the NCAA to allow Powlus to step in and serve as a temporary QB coach in Cutcliffe's stead. It will be very interesting to see how he adapts to the coaching and full-time recruiting and how the players respond to him. Ron became somewhat of a punching bag while under center at ND due to all the unfulfilled expectations; who knows, maybe he'll help bring those two Heismans to Notre Dame after all.

Senioritis | by Pat

One of the more important NFL Draft prep weeks ended Saturday with the playing of the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, Alabama. The North defeated the South 27-0 in the game, but the outcome of the game is largely irrelevant when compared to the week long practice sessions in front of over 700 scouts that can help to make or break a college senior's draft hopes.

The Irish originally had five prospects in the game, but Brady Quinn sat out the week with a knee injury and Jeff Samardzija ended his football career when he signed a long term contract with the Chicago Cubs. Quinn still showed up to meet with various team reps, but didn't participate in any drills or practices. That left Ryan Harris, Rhema McKnight, and Victor Abiamiri as the lone ND players in the game.

The interesting thing about Senior Bowl week is that it just goes to show you that NFL draft scouting is very similar to the type of scouting that goes on with the recruiting websites. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and different sites will give you different takes on a player and his performance. Coming away with a clear consensus on how the Irish players fared is tough to do, although there seem to be a few common takes on the Irish trio.

Ryan Harris had perhaps the worst week of the Notre Dame players and his draft stock has likely dropped as a result. Technique-wise he impressed the scouts in attendance, but he struggled in the one-on-one drills with the speed rushers. One named mentioned as giving him trouble was Purdue's Anthony Spencer, and that makes sense as Spencer gave Harris fits during the regular season as well. Here's some video of the North team practice here where the NFL Network analysts discuss Harris' performance. NFL scouts surely do their homework before the Senior Bowl and already have a pretty good handle on what players can and can't do, but this week certainly won't help Harris and the former left tackle might find himself playing right tackle or even guard in the NFL. How he performs at the Combine in February might determine if he's a first day or second day draft pick.

McKnight struggled a bit early in the practice sessions with some drops on relatively easy passes before making it for it later with some great catches on the final practice day. Comments routinely mention his lack of top speed, but compliment him on his effort and willingness to fight for the ball. How McKnight runs at the combine will probably determine if he lands in the 3rd round or falls to the second day of the draft.

Victor Abiamiri had a strong week that didn't really help or hurt him too much. Physically he was mentioned as one of the most impressive athletes at the event and there certainly are NFL teams that draft based on "measurables". I have to think Victor had some fun in the one-on-one drills after facing nothing but a steady stream of double teams all regular season. There is still plenty of time left before the draft, but Abiamiri is looking like someone will grab him up in the 2nd round. I think it's safe to say that he'll be the highest drafted Irish player after Brady Quinn, but probably won't crack the first round.

There are some decent summaries of the week on and, but most of the interesting items on both sites are restricted to subscribers. NFLDraftCountdown has some free info, but keep in mind that it's just one amateur draftnik's opinion. If you want to make up your own mind, you can watch the game and video of the open practices here. It's a bit silly to realize you're watching a practice of a meaningless post-season bowl, but at the same time it's an interesting insider look for fans that don't really know what exactly goes on at a stereotypical collegiate/NFL football practice.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Shot Through the Heart | by Pat

In one of the bigger recruiting shockers that I can remember, defensive end Justin Trattou pulled a last minute stunner and flipped his verbal commitment from Notre Dame to Florida. The New Jersey native had committed to ND way back on June 2nd, but in the span of about a week, Trattou went from not seriously considering the Gators to their newest commit.

So what happened? How did it happen? Who's to blame? And where do we go from here?

What & How. The dizzying turn of events hit hard and fast. Last week, Justin Trattou and his dad made a trip down to Florida for a big Gator recruiting weekend. The trip was surprising news to ND fans, but many saw it as a chance to take a mid-winter vacation and hang out with a team still partying from it's BCS championship win. Justin returned, still committed to ND, and the Irish quickly set up an in-home meeting with him that Monday and arranged for an unofficial visit back to ND for this weekend. Charlie Weis and Jappy Oliver flew out to Jersey on Monday to meet with the Trattous, while Corwin Brown went to Chicago to visit Robert Hughes. Weis left with Trattou still in ND's corner.

Then, Urban Meyer flew up to Jersey on Thursday night (with two guys in tow who used to coach for the Irish, Greg Mattison and Steve Addazio, no doubt there to give Justin the "straight dope" on ND). Meyer left with a verbal committment from the talented defensive end, and Trattou's trip to ND was cancelled. As it stands right now, it appears that there's no chance for ND to get back into the race.

Who's to blame. It appears that the biggest culprit might be, ironically, our new defensive coordinator, and the new scheme he's bringing with him.

"Florida called me the day after they won the national championship and it really opened my eyes. Once Notre Dame changed defenses, I had to think about other options. Notre Dame is a great place, but it's just not for me...

"In a 3-4, they'd want me to play rush end or outside linebacker, and while that's tempting, that's not really where I see myself," Trattou said. "I've always been a down lineman and that's what I prefer. At the end of the day, that makes a big difference."
Irony of ironies: we clamor for a new defensive coordinator, and when we finally get one, it costs us our top defensive recruit.

Visiting sunny Florida in January and hanging out with the national champs certainly must have been a nice trip for the New Jersey native. But, in the end he made a football decision to attend Florida, and that's what really hurts about this. Notre Dame's defensive recruiting has been very shaky, and Trattou surely realized this (no doubt with some help from the Florida coaches) and made his decision. You really can't blame the kid for trying to find the best spot for his skills and cast his lot with a team that seems miles ahead of Notre Dame.

Where do we go now? The short-term consequence is that for the second year in a row, defensive recruiting will come up short. We've picked on Ty Willingham's lackluster recruiting and the holes he left in the depth chart, but now there are similar holes attributable solely to Charlie Weis. Consider that ND currently has six defensive recruits in the Class of 2007. Six. The quality of the recruits is higher than it has been in years past, but the quantity is sorely lacking, especially following a 2006 class that only had 9 defensive recruits (10 if you generously count Paddy Mullen, a TE/DL recruit). That's 16 defensive recruits versus 29 offensive recruits in the Charlie's last two classes.

It's clear that some of those offensive recruits will have to switch to defense. We're already seeing it with the news that OL recruits Andrew Nuss, and possibly Emeka Nwankwo, will start out on the defensive line. Furthermore, I wouldn't be surprised to see a number of different players already on the roster tested out at defense during spring practice, in an attempt to put the best 22 players on the field. That will make for an interesting and news-filled spring, but as we saw with the Travis Thomas to linebacker experiment, what sounds great in the spring doesn't always pan out in the fall.

Long-term, losing Trattou puts a real crimp in the depth of ND's defense. The defensive line and linebacker recruiting has not been up to par, and Trattou was a superstar. There definitely is talent there, but the numbers and depth are lacking, and that certainly will come back to bite ND in the future. And it also affects future recruiting. Great players aren't usually scared of competition (notice how Trattou is the 5th defensive end currently committed to Florida), in fact, it's just the opposite: great players want to be surrounded by other great players. Just listen to Trattou, back when he committed to Notre Dame:
I think with the next couple recruiting classes [at ND] that we’ll be competing for a national championship. I definitely want to play on a team with a bunch of good guys and I know over the years that I’m there that we’ll be a very competitive team.
Well, that's exactly what he's getting with Florida. As for ND...let's hope nobody else jumps ship.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

BGS Bulletins | by Pat

A quick recap of some news of note that have occurred over the past week or so....

On Campus

The second wave of early enrollment football players are now on campus and taking classes with their new teammates. Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, and Gary Gray are all expected to participate in spring drills and play in the Blue and Gold game this spring. It's possible that Allen, who is still recovering from a leg injury, might sit out the game -- like James Aldridge did last year -- if his progress isn't to the liking of the coaching and medical staff. Clausen, who endured all of the spiky haired ridicule that Quinn somehow avoided will look to continue to follow in Brady's footsteps and take over the starting QB role as a freshman. Gray will hit the weights and try to crack a secondary that is quickly filling up with talented players.

He's got a knee

Speaking of Quinn, the Cingular Player of the Year announced that he will sit out the Senior Bowl this weekend due to a knee injury. Quinn will still take part in the week long meet and greets that are an integral part of the post-season bowl game, but after meeting with doctors decided it was in his best interest to rest his knee.

"I don't know exactly when it happened," said Quinn. "I don't think it was on a sack.

I think I got hit one time after I threw a ball away. "It's nothing major, just a minor issue with some swelling. It's similar to the injury Peyton Manning had after his senior season."
With Samardzija opting for baseball and Quinn sticking to the social side of the Senior Bowl, that leaves Rhema McKnight, Ryan Harris, and Victor Abiamiri as the last remaining Irish reps in the game.

Headed North by Northwest

I can't really find any other mention of this, but it looks like Joey Hiben, who left the football team to concentrate on his studies has transfered to Minnesota.
Joe Hiben of Waconia, who earned a football scholarship to Notre Dame and then decided to leave and enroll at Minnesota, will be a good addition to the Gophers track team. He threw the shot put 61 feet in high school.
I wouldn't be surprised to see him pop back up on the Golden Gopher football roster in the future considering he's an athletic tight end and Minnesota just hired the former Denver Broncos tight end coach.

Screen gem

Funny note from the practices for the Shrine Game last week.
Noteworthy: Notre Dame guard Dan Santucci got an offensive linemen's dream when Michigan State defensive tackle Clifton Ryan deflected a screen pass into Santucci's arms. Santucci ran about 30 yards with the ball, though none of the defensive players seemed too motivated to tackle him. …
Maybe those trick passes to Ryan Harris that ND tried a few times should have gone Santucci's way.

Stuck between stations

Coach Minter, who is in Mobile at the Senior Bowl with other recently displaced coaches looking for work, offered up his take on his dismissel to ESPN's Ivan Maisel.
"I understand because I've been in his shoes," said Minter, the head coach at Cincinnati from 1994 to 2003. "You have to make some hard decisions. Would I have let me go if I were in his shoes? No. But I think Charlie will be more comfortable with somebody from the Belichick-Parcells family. Charlie has brought in a young guy who doesn't have my experience. But he'll be more comfortable with him."
He has a good point about the experience aspect, but clearly things weren't going right with the Notre Dame defense. It makes you wonder if Charlie should have hired a different Rick Minter.

Hughes News | by Pat

Number nineteen is in the books. In front of family and friends, Robert Hughes selected Notre Dame and became the 19th public member of ND's Class of 2007. Irish fans may have been extremely happy with the aerial fireworks of the past two years, but I'd bet that a vast majority still have a soft spot for the kind of blue-collar, run the ball down their throat, power football that physically and emotionally drains the opponent. Good news for them then as Hughes is a 5'11" 225 pound running back with the size and strength to be an immediate and productive contributor to the Irish running game.

A two-time All-State selection at running back, Hughes had offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Miami among others and in the end decided upon the Fighting Irish over the home state program, Illinois.

Hughes, in announcing his decision before about 120 friends, family members and teammates at Hubbard, cited three key factors: 1) where he would have the chance to "showcase my athletic skills early and on a national level;" 2) "where I want to earn my degree from;" 3) "where I feel most comfortable."
The recruiting sites were also pretty unanimous in their take on Hughes' abilities as he was ranked a 4-star, Top 100 player on Rivals and Scout and included on ESPN's Scouts, Inc Top 150 list. He's only the 5th recruit in the current class to be included in all three lists (others are Jimmy Clausen, Gary Gray, Duval Kamara, and Mike Ragone). Combine Hughes with Clausen, Kamara, Greg Little, Ragone, Armando Allen, Golden Tate and I think this is the best offensive skill player recruiting class at ND in a long, long time. (We'll save talk about the defense for another time).

Hughes' commitment also gives ND another player from the Chicago area, joining Aaron Nagel and last's years recruits Demetrius Jones and Serigo Brown. Weis had mentioned the importance of re-gaining a foothold in Chicago and getting these players is a good first step. Hughes and Jones are also notable because they attended schools in the Chicago Public League, a fertile recruiting ground that hadn't seen many Irish players in year's past.
Former Notre Dame and Bears defensive tackle Chris Zorich, who attended Hughes' announcement, said he's encouraged by the Irish's recent efforts to sign Public Leaguers.

"There has been such a gap, and I don't want to blame the coaching staffs from that time period," said Zorich, a Chicago Vocational product. "But do you want to tell me that there haven't been good enough athletes in the Public League? Obviously, that's not true."
Given the surprise departure of Darius Walker for the NFL, the running back corp is short on experience and production for next year, but the collection of youth and talent is a great sign for the future. Hughes will add a very physical dynamic to the group and honestly I wouldn't be surprised to see him get the ball next year in short yardage situations. ND only averaged 3.42 yards per carry on third and short this year so getting a bruising running back with fullback size will certainly help. Especially one that relishes in the physical aspect of running the ball.
"That's just how to describe it," Hughes said. "Any time I see a tackler coming up, I take it personal."
Past player comparisons are all over the map for Hughes, but names like Greg Jones of Florida State and ND's own Ray Zellars keep popping up, and if that means we're in store for runs like this or, even better, this, then sign me up. You can catch a few video clips of Hughes in action here if you want to make up your own comparison.

ND is entering the stretch run of the 2007 recruiting season with only twelve days left until Signing Day. The Irish might pick up one or two more recruits, and there is always the chance for a surprise, but it's looking like this year's class will number between 19 and 22, meaning that next year there will be 30 players who are 5th years, seniors, or juniors, and 47 to 50 players that are sophomores and freshman.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Meet and Greet | by Pat

Corwin Brown finally stepped up to the podium and was introduced as an official Notre Dame coach a few days ago. Click over to here to check out the press conference video, or read the transcript here.

I think the main thing people are interested in is what Brown plans to do to revamp and reinvigorate the lackluster Irish defense. As one might expect from an introductory press conference, there were plenty of generalities and coach-speak. Brown did give a few quotes that ND fans can parse until spring football kicks off in a few months...

On whether ND will be running a 3-4 defense or sticking with the 4-3 defense they ran last year:

I have a background in both, both the three-four and the four-three, and what we'll do is look at our personnel. When we get into the game plan, we will see what's the best way for us to be successful as a defense and as a team and we're going to go from there.
On recruiting:
Well, I have a very strong base. I'm from Chicago. A lot of my friends are coaching there now, especially in the public league. And I would like to think that by me being here, but also this university, without me, this university, like Coach Powlus talked about, it gives you an opportunity to move on in life, regardless of football. You take football out of the equation, which at some point every young man will have to do, whether he plays long or not.

What you have to do is you have to see what's going to give you the best opportunity to succeed in life. And I think University of Notre Dame does that. So that's something that I will be able to relay to those guys. Not only in Chicago but also across the country, because I play in college. Played in the NFL and I can tell those guys, hey, this is what I did. These are some of the things that you may experience. This is what Notre Dame has to offer, and I would think that would be very, it would be very inviting to any young man.
On transitioning from the NFL to college:
I think there is an adjustment, because they're younger and also these guys are students so you don't have them all day. But at the same time at the end of the day it's still football. And it comes down to two things. Blocking and tackling and how you play and getting after the guy with the ball. So at the end of the day I would like to think that the guys that we got, those 11 guys they're going to play together. They're going to play hard and they're going to play tough. That's what I feel.
On if he will be a position coach in addition to being defensive coordinator:
Well, the thing that I've done through the past years is I've worked with the skilled positions, the safeties and corners and linebackers on occasion, so the thing that we're going to do here is I'm going to be able to work with all of the skilled positions, the linebackers and the corners and safeties, but I will also have an opportunity to visit with the D line at times and to move as we see fit as a staff.
On if there will be additional coaching changes, or if he is set with the current staff:
Yes, we have a staff in place.
Brown sounded impressive at the press conference (albeit with a vague no-answer to the staff question) but most coaches sound great when they get up and talk about being aggressive, tackling, and recruiting kids that welcome the pressure at Notre Dame. The key will be to watch and see what changes he makes once the team starts spring practice and how the players respond to these changes. Given the positive impact of recent DB coaches-turned-defensive coordinators at Michigan and UCLA, Brown's coming in with some sky-high expectations.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cubs Coup | by Pat

As we wondered how Jeff Samardzija's desire to keep playing baseball would affect his NFL draft status (heck, just a couple weeks ago, Shark himself was still on the fence), the debate was rendered moot yesterday when he officially gave up playing football.

"Obviously, my decision means I have played my last football game. That does not mean I have lost my passion for the game. I will always love football. My four years at Notre Dame - playing for the Fighting Irish - were amazing. I could not have asked for more from my teammates, our fans, and our coaches. I appreciate fully that another amazing experience awaited me in the NFL. But, as much as it seemed like a real possibility last summer, I have concluded that playing two sports professionally is impossible.

"I understand that some people may be skeptical of my intentions. I cannot lie: leaving football will not be easy. But playing baseball is my first love. It is what I want to do for a living.

You can watch the press conference here.

Making the decision easier was the 5-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Cubs that includes a $2.5 million signing bonus, a no-trade clause, and an option to extend the deal to a 7-year, $16.5 million contract. Samardzija was projected as a late first round, early second round NFL draft pick, but concerns about his desire to keep playing baseball might have moved him lower. Now officially a one-sport player, Samardzija probably made the right choice as football careers are notoriously short while a decent pitcher can last in the majors for much longer. (Then again, he is a young pitcher with the Cubs. Watch that pitch count, Jeff.)

Samardzija was also in the news a few days ago when he was named a Consensus All-American and in the process became the 17th two-time Consensus All-American in ND football history. But then the NCAA stepped in and admitted that they made a mistake adding up five different ballots and, in fact, Jeff was not a Consensus All-American. The five All-American ballots that make up the Consensus tag include the American Football Coaches Association, the Assosciated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and the Walter Camp Foundation. Samardzija was named 1st Team AA by the FWAA, but 2nd team by the rest. Once the NCAA added in The Sporting News ballot they forgot the first time, Samardzija lost the Consensus tag and will have to settle being only a two-time regular All-American.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Corwin Quotables | by Pat

The press conference to introduce new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and new QB coach Ron Powlus is going on now. In the meantime, Notre Dame finally made it official that both Brown and Powlus have been hired. Follow the link to read about Brown's past and recent history with the Jets.

At the end of the press release are some pretty impressive quotes from the Parcells-Belichick coaching tree about Brown.

What they're saying about Corwin Brown:
"I knew Corwin wanted to be a coach six months after I met him his rookie year in 1993. I know he will be successful."
-Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells

"Corwin Brown has proven himself as a key component in our defensive system over the last decade, first as a player and now as a bright young coach. I respect Corwin for his team oriented attitude and his ability to relate so well to everyone he interacts with. Corwin will be an outstanding addition to Charlie's staff and the Notre Dame football program."
-New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

"I coached Corwin in the 1993 Senior Bowl, with the Patriots and Jets, and he was on my staff at Virginia for three years. His core has always been the same - passionate about football, hard working and dependable, tough minded, a great teammate and committed to winning. He's a member of the Tribe and will bring all those qualities to Notre Dame"
-University of Virginia head football coach Al Groh

"Corwin Brown was a fundamentally sound football player and is a fundamentally sound football coach. He brings energy, enthusiasm and expertise to his position and will be able to relate to his players. He will work hard and provide a plan for continued success at Notre Dame."
-Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel

"This is a well-earned opportunity for Corwin. Since his days as a player, you sensed Corwin would excel as a coach. We appreciate Corwin's contributions to the New York Jets and wish him the best in his new position."
-New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini
These quotes are interesting as they basically trace the career path of Corwin Brown from his days as a player to his most recent job. And while all of these guys are friends with Weis and Brown and you would expect them to speak highly about the hire, it's still nice to read, especially the parts about relating well to the players and being energetic. The quotes also help to give Brown some instant credibility with high school coaches/recruits as he jumps back into the world of recruiting. We'll put up more after the press conference is over and more quotes come out about what he plans to bring to Notre Dame.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

the Nine | by Pat

Snuck in at the beginning of Darius Walker's recent press conference was a statement from Charlie Weis on the likely 5th-year seniors returning to the program next year. They all still have to go through the application process and be accepted by the University, but I don't foresee any of them not being back next year.

The nine players listed by Weis are: Tom Zbikowski, Travis Thomas, John Carlson, John Sullivan, Trevor Laws, Dwight Stephenson, Joe Brockington, Ambrose Wooden, and Geoff Price.

Every player on the list, save Dwight Stephenson, was a starter at some point during the season and likely will be next year as well. My guess is that Travis Thomas will slide back over to running back full-time as the experiment at linebacker didn't exactly work out as hoped. And while he only played 9 minutes this year, Stephenson doesn't really have too much veteran competition and has every chance to earn a starting defensive end spot next season.

The depth the returning nine bring the team will sorely be needed as the early departure of Darius Walker drops the senior class to only seven remaining players: two on offense and five on defense. Even worse, only two of the seven, Maurice Crum and Terrail Lambert, are projected starters next year.

So that means team will return only 9 of 22 starters next year -- 4 on offense, 5 on defense -- and 5th year seniors/seniors only account for 6 of those returning starters. Some of the younger players on the team will need to step up; the junior, sophomore, and freshman classes will cover up to 15 of the 22 starting spots next year.

The sorely deficient second- and third-year recruiting efforts of Ty Willingham are coming home to roost. However, despite the absolute truth in that statement, it can't be used as a crutch to absolve next year's results. Coach Weis and his staff are ultimately responsible for what happens next year, even if the team will have more assistant coaches than starting seniors. (Think about that for a moment). Thankfully, the return of so many 5th-year eligible players will lend a few more veterans to what is going to be an extremely young team next year.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Little Big Man | by Pat

In a a surprise twist last week, the Irish grabbed another offensive lineman for the Class of 2007. Chris Little, from Jeffersonville, Georgia, reneged on an earlier commitment to Florida State and now will be headed to South Bend in the fall.

The 6'5, 340-lb Little was rumored to be a heavy lean (so to speak) to the Irish for the past few weeks, but during the U.S. Army All-American bowl he announced his decision to attend Florida State. Six days later, Little switched his commitment to Notre Dame and became the fifth offensive lineman in the class of 2007. Little's high school coach, Dexter Copeland, suggested it was a miscommunication between Chris and his mother that led to the confusion.

It seems Little thought his mother wanted him to stay close to home. Once aboard the plane, however, she told him that her first choice had been Notre Dame.

"Chris and his momma had a communication problem," Copeland said. "Chris went, 'I wish you'd have told me that.'"

So Little had a big predicament on his hands.

What Copeland suggested was that Little rethink his decision. And when he did early this week, Little decided he should renege on his Florida State commitment and follow his heart. On Thursday, Little became Notre Dame's 18th known verbal commitment for the recruiting class of 2007.
But there's another explanation floating around that isn't so motherly. Florida State recently hired West Virginia's offensive line coach and according to rumors, when his vision of the future of FSU's offensive line didn't include Little, the Seminoles pulled his scholarship offer. The reason for the rumored snub, which was denied by Copeland, supposedly had to do with Little's ballooning weight.

As a junior, Little was a 6'5, 305-lb pound tackle who earned first team all-state honors and set himself up to be one of the top recruits of the Class of 2007. Rivals named Little to their Top 100 Juniors to Watch list back in 2005, and offers started to pour in for him even before last year's Signing Day in February. By March, Little was up to double-digit offers, including Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Tennessee, and Clemson. Offers from LSU, Florida State, and Notre Dame followed shortly thereafter and Little has his pick of just about any school in the country.

But Little kept getting bigger, and in April he weighed in at the Nike camp in Athens at 342 pounds. Still, that added weight his senior year didn't prevent him from earning 1st Team All-State honors and most impressively, 1st Team USA Today All-American honors.

Yet, it sounds like the added size did worry at least one recruiting service; Rivals dropped Little from their Top 250 list. Things started to get interesting when Little attended the U.S. Army Bowl earlier this month. A reported groin injury had slowed Little down recently and according to various reports, Little was even bigger than his previous weigh-in of 342. In the Army practices & game he had some trouble keeping the speed rushers at bay from his right tackle spot, and afterwards both recruiting services downgraded him in their rankings. And then came the supposed snubbing by FSU.

So there you have it, the saga of Chris Little, another example of why I consider recruiting to be a soap opera for football fans. It's always a drama of scandalous story lines, jealous battles, and sudden plot twists.

But really, I'm not worried about the exact reason why Little switched from FSU to ND. He's not the first kid to change a public committment (Bob Morton, Munir Prince, and Gary Gray all come to mind) and he won't be the last. And if FSU's new coach wanted to go in a different direction with his line, that doesn't mean that Little isn't going to be a good college lineman.

My guess is Little will go on the Chris Stewart makeover plan once he hits campus so it might take some time until he's physically ready to go. In the meantime, I suspect he'll be given a shot at tackle and if he isn't able to hold down that spot will slide into guard. What he will give ND is another huge body as the Irish line is slowly changing from one filled with 290 pound lineman to one filled with multiple 300+ pound players, including the two heavy hitters in Stewart and Little. At the very least, I foresee a strong OL that should be much more effective in short yardage situations. If Little is able to get into great shape, he has the potential to be a very, very good offensive lineman for the Irish. It will be interesting to watch and see how he develops over his college career.

P.S. One impact of the addition of Little (and Matt Romine) is that recruit Andrew Nuss, who was originally considered an offensive lineman, will now come in as a defensive tackle (Scout premium article). The move isn't entirely a surprise as there was talk about Nuss's ability on the defensive line when he originally committed. Recruiting isn't over yet, so I'll wait until Signing Day to dig into what ND did and didn't get along the defensive line, but moving Nuss from OT (where most schools recruited him) to DT isn't exactly an optimal solution.

the Price of Competition | by Jay

"Coach Stoops at Oklahoma earns more in a year than the entire cost of our football program. Which raises the question of why the big dogs need to spend the kind of money they're spending when we can reach this level of success."

-- Boise State president Robert Kustra

There was an interesting article on the front page of the LA Times yesterday, talking about the escalating salaries among college coaches.

The Times article reminded me about a fascinating series in USA Today back in November that explored a number of these issues in depth (and included an insightful database of coaching compensation). Of course salary is only one part of the compensation package for a top coach. Kirk Ferentz of Iowa, for example, has a base salary of only $1.4 million, but is guaranteed another $1.4 million in supplemental compensation for media and other obligations. In addition, many coaching contracts have a number of substantial perks, incentives and disincentives built into them. (For example, many coaches have an "out" clause for highly-desired jobs; check out Les Miles' penalty for taking a job at Michigan). As a case study of how football success (and increased revenue) ripples through an entire institution, USA Today looked at Oklahoma and Bob Stoops, who until Nick Saban was lured to Alabama was the only college coach to surpass $3 million in annual base salary. The whole series of articles is well worth a read.

Notre Dame has always spread around the windfall generated by football, injecting it into other parts of the University that need it. Last year, the Fiesta Bowl proceeds (about $11.2 million after expenses) were split up among a variety of causes, including purchases for the library, student financial aid, and equipment for Jordan Hall. But it was only until Charlie's contract that the University would pay top dollar for coaching talent commensurate with the revenue the football program generates. An article in Forbes recently named ND the Most Valuable College Football Team:

The Fighting Irish football program is worth $97 million based on what the team contributes to the university’s athletic department for non-football sports ($23.5 million), the University’s academic use ($23.2 million), and the incremental sales to South Bend, Ind., and the surrounding county when the team plays games at Notre Dame Stadium.

Big advantage for the Fighting Irish: A $9 million annual broadcasting fee from NBC, owned by General Electric, by far the most for any team. It also helps Notre Dame that it plays as an independent team, not belonging to an NCAA conference--so it doesn't have to share its broadcasting and bowl revenue the way other schools do.
More on this in a bit.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Contest Winners | by Jay

A few months ago we announced a Posting Contest, with the two winners receiving a copy of the new Fighting Irish DVD Box Set. We apologize for the delay; we had hoped to get this finalized by Christmas, but holidays and the New Orleans hangover conspired against us.

Nevertheless, we're pleased to announce our two winners: Steve Kelley, for "A Lifetime of Reasons", and Michael Bangert, for "Hardware Hopefuls". Below you'll find Steve's winning entry, and we'll run Michael's soon as well.

We'd like to thank all of our entrants for their fine submissions, including Sean Harmon, Gene Zychowicz, Greg Rowe, Jon Murphy, Brandon Crouch, Ted Heffernan, Ryan Moran, Patrick Stoecker, Matt Menegay, John Lewinsky, William Edwards, Bobby Metzinger, Dave Fotopolous, Joseph Stachler, Pete Falzarano, Chris Fillio, Tammy Summers, Nate Ledbetter, Paul Cleveland, Bill Tunnell, Justin Kay, and Chris Lawler. Unfortunately we only had 2 box sets to give away, and it was a tough decision to narrow it down so much.

Here's Steve's winning post. Enjoy.

A Lifetime of Reasons

By Stephen Kelley ‘86

It was cold. Really, really cold. I looked over at my dad. He loved Notre Dame and this was the 1977 Cotton Bowl against Texas and the fabled Earl Campbell, but my dad had to be cold, too. Texas had just scored, and I was expecting to see a mix of discomfort and disappointment, but instead he looked at me with an oddly content smile. I looked back at him, puzzled. I determined that given the frigid temperature and the turn of events on the field, the smile had to be an act. This was my first Notre Dame football game. I was twelve.

It is twenty-nine years later and my wife is both angry and genuinely puzzled. “Why do you care so much?” she asks as I stomp around in my living room like a little kid, yelling at the television set in response to a Notre Dame turnover. All this is much to the delight of my nine-year old, who is amused by the sudden juxtaposition of maturity levels. My wife is not similarly amused.

“Really, why do you care so much?” She repeated the question with an audible expression of exasperation. It was not the first time she asked me that question. Indeed, I think the questions probably started with that game in Ann Arbor fifteen years earlier. . .

It was my first trip to the Big House, a deserving name if there ever was one. Thanks to Lydia, I was seated in the Michigan alumni section at the fifty-yard line along with Lydia’s parents, who also just happened to be rabid Michigan fans. Indeed, the Michigan connection runs deep for Lydia’s family and even includes a relative with a building on campus named for him. Clearly, I had slipped behind enemy lines.

Lydia and I were law school classmates. I had been trying to figure out how to up the ante on our relationship from the very first day we met during our first year. Three years later, having graduated and working in Chicago, I had made embarrassingly little progress. That is, until the unlikely invitation to the Notre Dame game in Ann Arbor with her parents, whom I had met only briefly at a law school reception they hosted. Even I recognized that this was my big chance.

The afternoon was rainy and cold, but neither the elements, nor Michigan, could stop Raghib Ismail, nicknamed, appropriately, “the Rocket”, from returning two kickoffs for touchdowns as the Irish prevailed. After he broke free on the first return, I instinctively bolted to my feet and cheered wildly as he streaked untouched down the sideline. It was far too late when I realized that I was the only person standing for what seemed like miles in a vast expanse of maize and blue. I could feel the stares from hundreds of pairs of eyes belonging to angry Michigan alumni burning holes right through me. I am certain they were wondering why anyone in their right mind would give this Notre Dame fool tickets in the inner sanctum of the alumni section. My guess is that Lydia, and her parents, were thinking the very same thing – particularly when I staged a repeat performance during Rocket’s second kick-off return.

I often wonder what Lydia would have that thought if someone told her that day that she was going to spend the rest of her life with that idiot with the moth-eaten “lucky” Notre Dame shirt, who was jumping up and down like a little kid, arms wildly flailing about, completely oblivious to the sea of stoned-faced Michigan alumni surrounding him in every direction. Did she have any idea that a decade later she would be nursing our youngest son in that same stadium while watching yet another Notre Dame game?

Lydia would eventually solve part of what she calls her “Notre Dame problem”-- which I think refers to what she considers my unhealthy addiction to Notre Dame football and not to me, generally -- by quietly ceding her place at my side for Notre Dame games to others more tolerant of my behavior. As a result, when Pat Terrell knocked down the pass from Steve Walsh to secure Notre Dame’s victory over Miami and Coach Jimmy Johnson in 1988, my best friend from high-school, Tommy Elpers, was the one standing at ground zero.

Tommy weighed in at least 220 pounds, but as the failed two-point conversion bounced harmlessly on the turf, I wrapped my arms just below the paunch that stuck out over his belt and lifted as hard as I could. Never mind that he moved only about an inch, he moved and, more importantly, the two-point conversation had failed. Notre Dame Stadium and its 59,000 occupants convulsed into a shared delirium of joy in the fading sunlight of that unusually warm October day. I would fondly recount that glorious moment, and my attempts to lift Tom, just a few years later at his funeral after his untimely death.

A national championship only served to supercharge the addiction and I repeated my demonstration of the adrenaline-fueled clean and jerk, this time with my brother, after Charlie Ward’s fourth down pass was batted down in yet another “Game of the Century” in 1993. My brother was again at my side one week later as I watched in horror as our undefeated season ended on the toe of some Boston College kicker whose name I have permanently erased from my memory. I can still see the ball tumbling end over end, seemingly in slow-motion, right at me and my end-zone seats. I could not read newspapers or watch television for a week.

Why do I care? I stared back blankly at my wife and cocked my head much like our Labrador puppy does when my wife speaks to her. I close my eyes and the movie in my mind begins. A montage of Notre Dame football images appear. Scattered in my brain like an unorganized picture album, I see Reggie Brooks somehow snaring the pass from Rick Mirer in the snow. I see Ivory Covington defying physics by stopping an Army tight end twice his size in his tracks at the goal line.

The images speed up. I see myself in Notre Dame Stadium in bright September sunshine and under blue gray October skies. It is warm, it is cold. I am in various stadiums around the country: Ann Arbor, East Lansing, West Lafayette, Miami, and Phoenix. I am in my parents’ living room on Thanksgiving, a crowded bar on New Year’s Day, an empty apartment in September. I am accompanied by friends, my parents, my kids and by no one at all. It is a dizzying ride. Winning games, losing games, night games, day games, blue jerseys, white jerseys, gold helmets . . . and then it stops. A new scene flickers on the screen.

It is cold. Really, really cold. I cannot tell what team Notre Dame is playing. I look over at my son sitting next to me in his lucky Notre Dame shirt. People have always said he looks just like me when I was his age. Sitting in that stadium, he is a dead ringer. A warm feeling wells up within me. Apparently something bad has happened on the field for the Irish. He looks over at me expecting to see and hear anguish, but instead I am smiling contently. He looks puzzled. I know that he thinks the smile is an act. This is his first Notre Dame football game. He is twelve.

I open my eyes and the movie abruptly ends. My wife is still staring at me, her question still pending, but now I think I know the answer.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Corwin Brown, Come On Down | by Jay

Looks like the cat is out of the bag, even without an official hiring notice (nor a public pink slip for Rick Minter yet). Per numerous sources including the Chicago Tribune, Corwin Brown is your new Irish defensive coordinator.

Brown, formerly the defensive backs coach for the New York Jets, is expected to be named the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. It is not clear whether current defensive coordinator Rick Minter will stay on in another capacity or leave the program.

Brown has been the defensive backs coach for the Jets since 2004. He spent the previous three seasons as a special teams coach at Virginia.

Brown and coach Charlie Weis have known each other for more than a decade. Brown, a safety, played for the New England Patriots from 1993-96, during which time Weis was variously the tight ends, running backs and wide receivers coach for head coach Bill Parcells.

The two were also together with the New York Jets in 1997-98, Brown as a player, Weis as the wide receivers coach. Weis became offensive coordinator in 1998.

Brown played high school football at Chicago's Julian High School, where he was an all-state player. He played college football at Michigan.
The Sun-Times also put out a release, as well as Eric Hansen writing for MSNBC. Nobody has offical comments from either Brown or ND just yet.

Among all the possible coaches being bandied about over the past few weeks, Brown's name just popped up the day before yesterday. And yet here he is, the new defensive coordinator of the Fighting Irish. Nobody saw this coming. My first reaction upon getting the news was saying, "Who?" -- and then immediately dialing up Google.

The picture came into sharp focus pretty quickly. For better or worse, we just hired the polar opposite of Rick Minter: younger versus elder, loquacious versus reserved, urban Chicago versus Texas, novice versus veteran, black versus white. When Brown graduated college, Minter had already been a coordinator for nine years. We jump from a guy in the twilight of his career to a guy just starting out.

Talk about a fast track. Brown's been a coach all of six years, going from special teams at UVa to defensive backs in the pros and now to defensive coordinator at a major college program in rapid succession. He might have been here even sooner: rumor has it Charlie wanted to hire him in some capacity two years ago, when he first got the ND job.

There's tremendous risk in tabbing a rookie like Corwin Brown to head up a unit that requires such serious remediation, especially at a high-profile place like Notre Dame. While he's got experience in positional coaching, scouting, and gameplanning, he's still never been the primary architect of a defense nor has he ever called a game in the heat of battle. Make no mistake, this is a huge gamble on Charlie's part, and if Brown can't get the job done, it's going to reflect very poorly on Weis -- doubly so than if he had hired a proven commodity, like a Jim Bates or a Bo Pelini.

But it looks like a gamble worth taking. Throughout his career as both a player and a coach, Brown has been a natural leader and a serious student of the game. He was his team captain at Michigan his senior year, and in the pros he was a popular personality whose teammates were dismayed when coach Pete Carroll cut him:
"He's gonna be missed," said Whigham. "We have some very heavy shoes to fill around here now."

Whigham acknowledged that while he got much of the individual glory for the performance of the Pats' special teams last fall, Brown probably was deserving of at least a share of the Mackey Award he received. "Corwin has been captain of our special teams every year I've been here," observed the AFC's special teams player of the year. "Do you think that was by accident?"

Veteran fullback Sam Gash, who occupied a locker near Brown and who was a frequent victim of the safety in chess, said the Pats will have to make "a pretty difficult adjustment" this fall. "Corwin knew what he had to do on the field and he knew what you had to do, too, for the team to be successful," said Gash. "He wasn't afraid to speak up if he didn't like what he was seeing and guys respected him for that."

Perhaps, but no one respected Brown more than Hitchcock, who had a big brother-little brother relationship with the Chicago native. "He'd talk to me about what happened to him when Myron Guyton was brought in," said Hitchcock, referring to the former New York Giants' safety Parcells signed and installed as a starter ahead of Brown. "That was a tough experience for him, but he survived it. I guess what he was trying to tell me was that I could make it, too, if I was just willing to hang in there."

When he wasn't bucking up Hitchcock while sitting on opposite sides of the chessboard, Brown would be talking finances to the rookie.

"He was pursuing his MBA, you know, so he was always keying me in on what to do with my money," said Hitchcock. "Corwin is a great businessman who invested his money carefully. He knew how to put it away and he wanted to help me do that, too."

Among his other virtues, Brown was a presence in the community, especially in Boston's poor neighborhoods where he frequently appeared at assemblies and recreation centers to encourage young people to stay in school. "He did a lot of good things that didn't get reported," said Hitchcock. "That's going to be missed."
Brown adds an element of youth and energy that this staff has been lacking, and there's lots of exciting questions to ask as he takes the reins. What kind of scheme will he end up running? How will he mesh with Bill Lewis? Will he be a good recruiter? Will that pesky Michigan diploma interfere when it comes time to sell Notre Dame to recruits? How will the players respond to him?

Most importantly, how fast can he turn this thing around?

the file on Corwin Brown...

• Brown's parents were both teachers in the Chicago public school system.

• Brown was a very tough player as a safety at Michigan where he was a team captain and and first-team All-Big 10 as a senior. Here's a great photo of him from his senior year.

• Brown was an English major at Michigan.

• You might remember Brown from such notable ND highlights as Rocket's two returns in 1989 (at least we think it's him -- look for #20), and the play where Reggie Brooks gets knocked unconscious but still scores (still one of the most unbelievable runs in Irish history). Ironically, Brown was across the field from Rick Minter in that game in 1992, and had a big day for the skunkbears: 11 tackles, a forced fumble, a blocked field goal and a game-saving pass deflection. The game ended in a 17-17 tie.

• Brown was drafted by Bill Parcells and played four years for the Patiots under Parcells (and Charlie Weis). After being cut by Pete Carroll, he followed Parcells over to the Jets, signing a free agent contract in 1997.

• In '97 he was voted a Pro Bowl alternate, mostly on his reputation as a special teams demon.

• Parcells praised him as "one of the five toughest I ever coached."

• He was a volunteer coach at Division 1-AA Boston University while with the Patriots.

• As a player with the Jets, Brown worked with Jets’ coaches and scouts at the 1998 NFL Scouting Combine, evaluating college talent and helping to prepare for the draft.

• He went to the Lions as a free agent after the Jets, where he proceeded to knock the crap out of Keyshawn Johnson in what was voted the Lions' Play of the Year.

• After hanging up his cleats, Brown was hired by Al Groh as a Special Teams coach at Virginia. Here's his UVA bio.

• While at Virginia, Brown was known as an excellent recruiter and a key member of recruiting coordinator Al Golden's team. He was instrumental in getting safety Nate Lyles to commit to the Cavaliers out of Hubbard High School in Chicago, the same school that the currently-undecided recruit Robert Hughes attends.

• His first job in the NFL was an internship with the Patriots while still at UVA, where he met then-assistant Eric Mangini.

• In 2004, Herm Edwards of the Jets hired Brown as a special teams and assistant defensive backs coach, but Brown was promoted to head DB coach before training camp when Doug Graber left. Said Edwards at the time: "I like him, I like what he does. He had to work very hard as a player and made it with his intelligence and toughness.

• Jets defensive back Ray Mickens, in the curious position of having been a teammate of Brown's and now one of his players, anticipated his coaching success. "The situation might seem unusual for some of the rookies here. But Corwin knows what he's doing...I tell you what, Corwin Brown is going to be a great coach in this league."

• In 2006, Mangini would become the head coach of the Jets, and retain Brown as a defensive backs coach. (If you read any of the Jets pressers over the past few years, Mangini constantly mentions Corwin Brown and his impact on teaching the Jets secondary.)

• Brown is well-schooled in the 3-4 Defense, having coached it both at UVA and with the Jets, but also has experience in the Tampa Cover 2 favored by Herm Edwards.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Walk On... | by Pat

It's now official that Darius Walker will enter the NFL draft and bypass his senior year at Notre Dame. At his press conference yesterday, which you can watch here, Darius made it clear that he plans to move on.

You know, coming to school here and meeting the people, you just feel it. You really do. And I think anyone who has been to Notre Dame or been around Notre Dame or met some of the people here knows what I'm talking about. You feel it. I felt it when I went to the Grotto, even though it was cold I felt it. And I felt it when I spoke with the coaches and the people, and I knew that this definitely was a special place and the right place for me.

I really have had a great time here. This, again, I really couldn't have found a better players than Notre Dame with the tradition here and all of the special people that I've met. And thankfully for me, I've been playing football since I was five years old, started out peewee, a little boy at five. So I know forever my dream was to play pro and to go to the NFL. And thankfully, with the blessing of God, that opportunity has permitted me now.

So I've decided to forego my senior year and to make myself eligible for the NFL Draft. And I definitely want to thank the entire Notre Dame community, their fans for supporting me and being behind me and this team my entire time here. You really can't find a better bunch of fans.
The decision is a big surprise, but as I touched on earlier, it's not a dumb or rash move.

Walker claims in the press conference that he didn't really make up his mind to leave until after the Sugar Bowl, and I'm sure his excellent performance against the tough LSU defense influenced his decision. He likely has a realistic picture of where he will go in the draft, and decided to make the move now rather than wait and be drafted in a similar spot (or lower) next year. My guess is that some team in the middle of the draft will be interested in a smart running back with excellent vision, great hands, strong passing blocking ability, and experience in a pro style offense. Walker has all the makings of a dependable 3rd down back in the NFL a la New England's Kevin Faulk, a player that Weis has used as a pro comparison for Walker in the past.

Walker will leave Notre Dame as its 4th all-time leading rusher with 3,249 yards. His 1,267 rushing yards this year is good for 5th all-time on the single season list (he missed 4th place by a yard). Other marks that Walker will leave in the ND record book include 3rd all-time in career carries (693), 3rd all-time in average yards per game (90.3), 11th all-time in career receptions (109), and 6th all-time in all-purpose yards (4,065).

Darius was a fan favorite from his very first game freshman year, when he was instrumental in beating the Wolverines in a comeback win at home. Wearing the highly regarded number #3 jersey, Walker has played a part in some of the best Irish games from the past few years. Rakes of Mallow captured some of their favorite Walker moments. To those highlights I would add the Georgia Tech game this year, with his go-ahead TD run past cornerback Kenny Scott, and the Pitt game in 2005, when Darius turned a screen pass into a 51-yard touchdown run, a play which signaled the birth of the Charlie Weis era.

I'm disappointed I won't get to wear my "Darius Will Carry Us" shirt to games next year, but we wish him luck and hope to watch him for years to come on Sundays.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Recruiting Romine | by Pat

The future of college football was on display last Saturday at the 7th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl. I know it was the future of college football because I was told so numerous times by the commentators. And not just the future of college football, mind you; it only took the announcers three minutes to mention measurables, and how every player on the field resembled a corresponding NFL great. Welcome to the wonderful world of recruiting hyperbole.

If you've read my previous takes on this glitzy showcase, you know I have a love-hate relationship with it. As an avid ND fan, I enjoy seeing the incoming Irish recruits for the first time on something other than a small, choppy, internet highlight video. It's nice to put faces (and occasionally voices) to 40 times, star rankings, and offer sheets.

On the other hand, the cheese factor is so over the top, and I really hate that look I get from my friends and my wife when they notice something labeled "High School Football" saved on the Tivo. I think next year I'll just have to make up a drinking game for the contest, as drinking games make all sorts of things, like Brent Musberger, more bearable. (One drink for high schooler to NFL Pro Bowler comparison, two drinks for every ND mention by NBC employee after the first 10, finish beer if player is said to be "best ever", etc.)

Anyway, on to the game. Just like the last two years, the Irish received one public commitment during the game itself. Following in the footsteps of D.J. Hord in '05 and Matt Carufel last year, Oklahoma offensive lineman Matt Romine put on the interlocking ND hat (above, right) and became the 17th recruit in the Class of 2007. Here's video of him picking the Irish.

Romine picked ND over childhood favorite Oklahoma as well as Michigan, Florida, and Miami. The Sooners were especially hard for Romine to turn down, but according to him, he couldn't pass on the Irish.

"Notre Dame was just the total package with the academics and the football tradition and the football program Coach Weis is building there," he said. "It's just impossible to beat."
Romine came into the All-American game as a 4-star recruit according to Rivals and Scout and played strong enough during the week of practice to be named a captain for the West Team. At 6-6, 275 pounds, the 1st Team All-State lineman has the size and speed to play tackle for ND and could form a quality bookend with Sam Young in the coming years.

Getting back to the game, unlike 2005 where D.J Hord was the only Irish representative there, the Irish had nine players this year (cue NBC/Tom Lemming conspiracy theories). Two players, running back Armando Allen and tight end Mike Ragone were coming off injuries and didn't play. The others were quarterback Jimmy Clausen, cornerback Gary Gray (sporting a Leprechaun shaved into the back of his head), wide receivers Greg Little (left, arms crossed), Duval Kamara (left), linebacker Aaron Nagel (left, #20), defensive end Justin Trattou (left, #71), and Romine. Clausen won the U.S. Army Player of the Year award (video here) and Trattou was named one of the East team captains for his play during the week of practice.

There was some disappointment for Irish recruitniks when three highly regarded defensive prospects listing ND as a finalist -- defensive end Ben Martin, linebacker Chris Donald, and safety/linebacker Lorenzo Edwards -- all chose schools not named Notre Dame. Martin and Donald picked Tennessee while Edwards selected his home state Florida Gators. While ND is having a solid year recruiting again, it seems as if the Irish are still having a bit of trouble landing those top-level defensive players. With less than a month to go until Signing Day, it will be interesting to see how the Irish close on the defensive side of the ball.

The actual results of the game don't really matter much (the West team won 24-6) as it's just a meaningless exhibition, and no one got hurt, which is really all that matters. Still, if you're curious to check out the action, NBC Sports has the entire game available to watch online as well as the college choices of all publically committed recruits in the game. Keep in mind that it was an All-Star game with modified rules (no blitzes, 4-3 defense only, etc.). The Irish guys all looked pretty good to varying degrees, as did some future opponents like Michigan's Ryan Mallet and Southern Cal's Everson Griffen and Chris Gallippo (game MVP). Scout has a free recap of the game for those interested. (One mistake they made: it was ND's Greg Little, not Duval Kamara, who caught the only touchdown pass for the East).

Finally, BGS reader Dan Jones sent us some pictures from the event and you can check them out here. Don't worry folks, Dan works for the Army and wasn't out stalking high school kids with his polaroid.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Darius Departing? | by Pat

Turns out the press conference tomorrow isn't likely going to be to announce any coaching changes.

According to a TV report on WNDU, it's to announce that Darius Walker is going to pass up his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

Good luck to him. We'll have much more on this later.


There seems to be some wiggle room in Jeff Jeffers' statement on WNDU.

NewsCenter 16’s Jeff Jeffers spoke to a source very close to Darius Walker. “That source told me Darius will very likely test the NFL waters, and enter April's draft,” Jeff Jeffers explains.
Underclassmen need to submit paperwork to the NFL if they plan to enter the draft. The deadline is January 15th. There is, however, a grace period where the player can decide to forgo the draft and return to school without losing any eligibility. That deadline for returning to school is January 18th. It's possible that it will be announced tomorrow that he is merely 'testing the waters', but it sure sounds like he has a plan to enter the draft.

We'll talk more about this surprising development once the conference is over and more facts and quotes are out there, but to me this is a reasonable, if not smart, move on Walker's part. With a new QB, new WRs, and a new OL next year, he'd be the only known commodity for the Irish offense and opposing defenses would be gunning for him. In addition, every running back only has so many carries in him, and Walker has carried the ball a whole lot in his career at ND (he's already 3rd all-time at ND in career carries). Darius likely knows he's not a 1st-round draft pick now, but he also knows he won't be one next year. A 3rd/4th/5th-round slot now with a team that knows how to use him is better than the possibility of him dropping even lower next year. And with his performance against the LSU defense, he's certainly leaving on a high note.

The impact to ND's offense next year is that there will be unproven players at just about every position. Some of you may be excited about wiping the slate clean and given a lot of fresh faces a shot. I know I am. But not having Darius Walker anymore is not good news for the team, regardless of how excited you are about James Aldridge, Armando Allen, or even an increased role for Travis Thomas.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Pot Boiler | by Jay

The tide of whispered coaching changes has finally washed over the seawall: today there's a cover article on Irish Illustrated claiming that UCLA defensive coordinator Dewayne Walker was contacted by Charlie about a job (premium article) over a month ago, but he declined the offer. Walker goes back a ways with Charlie, having coached the secondary with the Patriots under Belichick when Charlie was there.

I think it's safe to say that Rick Minter's days under the Dome are over, and the rumors are thick that he won't be alone on the bus ride out of town. Irish Eyes is reporting that there's a press conference scheduled for Thursday at ND; perhaps then we'll hear about some firings and hirings. Until then, we've don't have much information beyond conjecture and hearsay (which are kinds of information, but still...)

(Or maybe the presser is for a completely different purpose. Start spreadin' the news...?)

Rumor Board. Stuff we've heard over the last few weeks. Take this all with chunks of basalt until we hear otherwise.

Bill Lewis is retiring...Minter was fired after the Southern Cal game...Oliver is gone...Polian is gone...Randy Shannon was offered the DC job before getting the HC job at Miami...Dewayne Walker was contacted about the DC job...Rich Bisaccia was spotted in ND garb at the Sugar Bowl, and is waiting in the wings to take over special teams for the Irish...former Irish assistant John Palermo was contacted about the DL job before going to Tennessee Tech as a DC...Bo Pelini would be interested in the DC job, if offered...former Dolphins head coach and Packers DC Jim Bates was contacted...Ken Norton was contacted (although this rumor looks particularly specious)...

Chomp! | by Jay

41-14! (Sound familiar?) Congrats to Florida and all our Gator friends, including Gina's husband, my wife's grandmother, and of course Orson and Stranko. With a little luck (thanks, UCLA!) and some tenderness (thanks, BCS voters!) Florida made it to title game, gave up the opening kickoff for a touchdown, then unleashed hell for the following 59:45 minutes and took home the crystal egg. It's a well-deserved honor for the Gainesville Gators; this one's a no-doubter, and there won't be any split champions this year.

A lot of folks are talking about the confusion Urban inflicted on the Buckeyes with his multiple-look, spread option attack, but I think the real kudos go to the Florida defense. They destroyed the Ohio State OL, held the Bucks to 82 yards, 1/9 on third down conversions, forced the worst game of Troy Smith's career, and most importantly, put the Gator offense in position to score all night long. Here's a summary of the Gator scoring drives & where they started:

Start Result
A couple of timely penalties on kickoffs and poor special teams play helped put OSU in the hole, but it's still pretty amazing: that's an average starting position at the Ohio State 40 yard line every time the Gators scored.

And what should we say about our one-time prodigal son-turned Benedict Arnold? Only one thing, I think: his calculus two years ago was exactly correct, and Florida was much closer to a title shot than Notre Dame.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Upon Arriving Home from the Big Easy | by Jay

I opened up the Trib and found these letters to the editor:

Notre Dame's bowl game losing streak is completely unsurprising. Ever since Lou Holtz retired, they've gone to better bowl games than they deserve strictly because of who they are. This favoritism is written into the current BCS agreement. The predictable result: nine straight bowl losses, seven by double digits.
Congratulations to the Tribune for mesmerizing/brainwashing staff reporter Avani Patel into thinking season-long overrated Notre Dame could compete with legitimate football programs this year (see Ms. Patel's prediction of Notre Dame 20, LSU 17 in the Sugar Bowl).

However, despite nine consecutive bowl losses for the always "highly touted" Irish, there will be little argument in most Midwest cities when the Golden Domers receive a No. 2 ranking again next season.
Some more thoughts on the Sugar Bowl (and the season) coming up.

Carry On Up The Charts | by Jeff

With twenty-five games in the books, Weis continues to stack up well against the pantheon of Notre Dame coaches who proceeded him. Comparing '06 to '05, the losses were bigger and the wins were closer, but ND has posted it's best two year record since Holtz went 21-2-1 in 1992-93. After 15 games, Weis was tied for 8th place among ND coaches and after 20 games, he moved to 6th. He currently he resides in 5th place, exactly matching Devine's margin of victory total. With some key personnel losses this season, staying on track in '07 might be tough, but the future certainly looks bright.

First 25
Win Pct.
Career Pct.
Knute Rockne 22-1-2 .920 +539 .881
Jessee Harper 22-3 .880 +740 .863
Ara Parseghian 21-3-1 .860 +552 .836
Frank Leahy 20-2-3 .860 +413 .855
Charlie Weis 19-6 .760 +239 ?
Elmer Layden 18-6-1 .740 +172 .770
Dan Devine 18-7 .720 +239 .764
Terry Brennan 18-7 .720 +165 .640
Bob Davie 16-9 .640 +97 .583
Hunk Anderson 15-8-2 .640 +369 .630
Lou Holtz 15-10 .600 +220 .765
Ty Willingham 15-10 .600 +1 .568
Gerry Faust 12-13 .480 +125 .535
Joe Kuharich 10-15 .400 -53 .425

The last four times we posted 3-loss seasons ('05, '02, '00, '98), I was pretty satisfied with the result. So despite being disappointed with 10-3, the overall feeling is that things are definitely moving in the right direction. Thanks, coach.