IB Insider: Latest On Notre Dame Football
It has certainly been an interesting month, but the Notre Dame football players are back in school, the coaches are back on the road and it's time to start really focusing on the 2020 season.
I've been able to speak to a number of sources about a number of topics.
LATEST ON DB COACH
Notre Dame has yet to replace former cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght, but that seems to be closer to being done. According to multiple sources, former Cincinnati Bengals cornerbacks coach Daronte Jones is currently on campus and going through a formal interview with the Irish.
Sources said that Jones has met with a number of Notre Dame players and it is looking like he could very well be the ultimate choice.
With the semester and winter workouts already started it would seem that Notre Dame wants and needs to wrap this hire up as soon as possible. That would give the players and the new coach more time to get acquainted before spring ball starts.
For more on Jones, CLICK HERE.
ROSTER MUST SEE SOME REDUCTION
Per my calculations, based on what is known publicly Notre Dame is currently at 87 scholarships. If you include former walk-ons Colin Grunhard (OL) and Mick Assaf (RB), that puts the number up to 89 scholarships.
Notre Dame must get down to 85 scholarships by the time fall camp starts. Being at 89 scholarships to start the spring semester is actually a healthy thing for the program, but it does mean Notre Dame must clear up at least two spots to get down to 85. If the staff wants to keep Grunhard and Assaf on scholarship it will need to find four open spots, based on what is publicly known.
According to sources, senior wide receiver Isaiah Robertson is not expected to return in 2020. Robertson was an early enrollee, so he could be on pace to graduate this summer, which would allow him to transfer and gain immediate eligibility. Robertson would have two years of eligibility remaining.
Wide receiver Javon McKinley would like to return to Notre Dame for a fifth-season, but right now that is not looking likely. The latest intel I received is that McKinley wants to come back and the staff would like him back, but with the school ultimately making the final decisions on fifth-year players the odds of him getting cleared aren't high.
That is what I know from sources, but my opinion is that the final decision on McKinley has not been made either way. I would bet that we will hear back-and-forth information on this over the next few months until an ultimate decision is made.
Based on information I've gathered from several sources, there are three linemen (both sides of the ball) whose status is still a bit up in the air, due mainly to medical issues.
As is the case with all programs, there is always natural roster maneuvering that happens, especially once spring practice has concluded and the depth chart starts to fill out. For more information, CLICK HERE.
REES-TAYLOR RELATIONSHIPS IS KEY TO SUCCESS
Tommy Rees is now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Notre Dame. The 27-year old will have a lot of pressure on him next season, due to Notre Dame's likely preseason Top 10 ranking and the fact the roster is primed for a title run.
I don't care if you're 27 years old or 47 years old and a veteran of the professional, an offensive coordinator must be surrounded by other bright coaches, and he must have a strong working relationship with those coaches.
One of the things multiple sources have informed me of in the last week is that Rees and running backs coach/run game coordinator Lance Taylor have a very strong relationship.
That relationship could ultimately prove to be the difference between success or failure for Rees and the offense in 2020. Rees has very little experience outside of the Notre Dame program the last decade, so having someone he trusts with more broad experience as a coach could prove extremely beneficial.
Multiple sources I've spoken with that are close to the program said Taylor is extremely bright as a coach, commands respect from the players and that he needs a bigger voice in the program as he goes into his second season. Another source told me that Rees and Taylor have the kind of relationship where Rees will take full advantage of Taylor's knowledge and experience, and Taylor has a great deal of respect for Rees as well.
If this proves true over the next 11 months the Irish will have a chance to have an outstanding offense in 2020.
SKOWRONEK MAKING A SMOOTH TRANSITION
Anytime you bring a new player into a position group there are questions about how well he will connect with the current group of players.
A source I spoke with today said any concerns about that happening with Northwestern grad transfer Bennett Skowronek have been quickly dismissed. The source said Skowronek has clicked immediately with players on the team and at his new position.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR RISING SOPHOMORE LINEBACKERS
According to a source, the rising sophomore linebackers are going to be extremely hard to keep off the field in 2020. Despite the presence of older players that have a lot of talent, the 2019 linebackers (Marist Liufau, Osita Ekwonu, JD Bertrand) made a strong impression in their first season.
Ekwonu got some mention from sources late in the year for his physicality and athleticism, but Liufau is the guy every source I speak to brings up at some point, whether asked about it or not.
Liufau's combination of athleticism, toughness and instincts have allowed him to show big-time playmaking ability. One source had this to say about Liufau:
"He's going to be an All-American."
A CHANGE COMING FROM BRIAN KELLY?
Finally, a source said there has been a noticeable difference with Brian Kelly in the short time the team has been back from winter break.
Notre Dame was a solid program from 2010 to 2016, with some good seasons, one bad one and some other quality campaigns, but they weren't close to being what Notre Dame is supposed to be.
That started to change in 2017, when Notre Dame went from 4-8 to 10-3. In the last three years the Irish have gone 33-6.
It was well documented that following the 2016 season, Kelly spent time with his players and pushed them to share how he could make the program better. A source I spoke with today said Kelly is once again doing that.
The same source said players have noticed an energy with Kelly that is a bit different than the last couple of seasons, and it's been well-received thus far by the players. Continuing that throughout the winter, spring, summer and fall will be key, but that's certainly a good start for the program as it looks to take the next step.