Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 FEBRUARY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED G i v e n t h e s t a t e of Brian Kelly's union with his team as Notre Dame's head football coach, the ongoing offseason exo- dus of his players, assis- tant coaches and recruits appears as a full-blown flight pattern to many of the Irish faithful. Yet in reality, these re- cent defections are prob- ably nothing more than natural attrition that hits most top programs this time of every year … note the word probably. Of course, to say a 4-8 season doesn't bring some offseason instability and internal houseclean- ing would be naive. An overhaul of the Irish coaching staff was expected and necessary. So far, Kelly has replaced all three of his coordinators — offense, de- fense and special teams — he reas- signed his director of strength and conditioning, and he lost arguably his most trusted and loyal assistant in associate head coach Mike Denbrock. But keep in mind, Kelly's two most successful seasons at Notre Dame — a final ranking of No. 4 in 2012 (12-1) and a No. 11 finish in 2015 (10-3) — came immediately after losing four assistants apiece from the previous offseason. On the roster front, cornerback Devin Butler became the most recent player with eligibility remaining to leave the team when he announced last month that he will finish his ca- reer at Syracuse. In all, six Irish players who were eligible to return in 2017 have an- nounced they will not be back, none of which should come as a major sur- prise or much cause for concern. A f t e r n u m e ro u s c o n c u s s i o n s and injuries, wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. is retiring from football to pursue a professional baseball career. Seldom-used offensive lineman John Montelus is transferring to Virginia to find some playing time. Quarter- back Malik Zaire is leaving to find greener pastures via the graduate transfer route, as is junior wide re- ceiver Corey Holmes. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer — who had two years of college eli- gibility remaining — announced in December that he is leaving school early for the NFL Draft in a depar- ture decision that is becoming more prevalent at schools throughout the country, including at Notre Dame. Since NFL Draft rules were up- dated in 1991 to allow underclass- men to join the draft party after their third college season, 14 Irish players have exercised that option. Nine of those 14 early draft en- trees from Notre Dame occurred since Kelly took the head coaching job here in December 2009, and six of those defections have come since 2014, including Kizer this year along with wide receiver Will Fuller and linebacker Jaylon Smith in 2015. Two other current Irish juniors — linebacker Nyles Morgan and offen- sive guard Quentin Nelson — filled out evaluation for the 2017 NFL Draft, a couple of decisions that NFL Draft analyst and president Scott Wright said will paint a clearer picture to how the Irish play- ers feel about their head coach. "It's not necessarily going to be fun, and there is going to be a lot of pressure after a 4-8 season," Wright said, pointing out that Jan. 16 is the deadline to declare for the NFL Draft. "If the program is trending in a nega- tive direction, certainly that's a contributing factor for guys leaving early." Wr i g h t s u g g e s t e d keeping a close eye on Nelson's decision. Like Kizer, Notre Dame's A l l - A m e r i c a n l e f t guard sat out his fresh- man season in 2014 so Nelson is actually only a redshirt sophomore with two years of eligi- bility remaining. "If he goes to the NFL, then I think maybe that's an indication that there is something in this program the guys are worried about," Wright theorized. "I think Nelson might be the litmus test for Notre Dame to take the temperature inside that program." Stay tuned. While the coaching changes and player departures were expected and could be considered routine, the loss of committed recruits is more trou- bling. With heavy coaching turnover and some uncertainty surround- ing Kelly's long-term future after a crummy year, the decommitments from four recruits since the start of the 2016 season — Beaver Falls (Pa.) High defensive tackle Donovan Jeter (Michigan), Indianapolis Cathedral linebacker Pete Werner (Ohio State, Winter Park (Fla.) High wide receiver Jordan Pouncey (to be determined) and Mansfied (Texas) High corner- back Paulson Adebo (to be deter- mined) — can create unrest. Despite all the chatter that Kelly is the sole reason for the exodus of his players, assistants and recruits, these offseason activities don't necessarily stray too far from business as usual, at least to this point. But if the hits keep coming within his program, especially within the 2017 recruiting class, Kelly needs to look at internal issues as the cause more than routine attrition. ✦ Mass Program Exodus Is No Cause For Panic UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at The last two times Brian Kelly made changes to his coaching staff — three new assistants after the 2011 campaign and four after the 2014 season — the Irish went 12-1 with a No. 4 final ranking in 2012 and 10-3 with a No. 11 final ranking in 2015. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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