Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shaking Down the Thunder...IN PRIMETIME

Today the University of Notre Dame officially announced the kickoff times for the 2011 season. Let's go ahead and run down them, shall we?

Sept. 3 - South Florida (3:30 p.m.)
Sept. 17 - Michigan State (3:30 p.m.)
Oct. 8 - Air Force (3:30 p.m.)
Oct. 22 - USC (7:30 p.m.)
Oct. 29 - Navy (3:30 p.m.)
Nov. 19 - Boston College (4:00 p.m. )

Go back up to October 22nd and stare at it again. Go ahead. Stare at the 7:30.


It'll be the first one since 1990, when the Irish beat Michigan 28-24. ND is 6-1 all-time under the lights, the only loss coming under Gerry Faust in 1984.

Southern Cal coming to South Bend for the first time with Lane Kiffin at the helm is huge. The first night game in 21 years is 0ff the charts. Rolling them together creates some sort of uber-event that I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around.

Videos, I need videos.



Now remind us what happened last year!

October 22nd. The countdown begins to a game for the ages.


RIP, Jim Seymour (1946 - 2011)

We have learned that Notre Dame legend Jim Seymour has passed away Tuesday. He was one of the most dynamic threats to ever line up at wide receiver for the Irish. In his very first game, Seymour burst onto the scene with 13 catches, 276 yards, and 3 TD's. The 276 receiving yards was a school record that stands to this day.

Here is some footage from that remarkable game.

The thoughts and prayers of all Notre Dame Nation go out to the Seymour Family.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The USF Question: Should it be Tommy or Dayne?

Notre Dame ended the 2010 season on a four-game streak that has fans and pundits alike boosting program expectations for this upcoming fall. The Irish now have a full season learning and implementing Brian Kelly’s philosophy, which should lead to significant strides on both sides of the ball.

Notre Dame returns one of the most experienced squads in the country and is staring a manageable schedule so the bar has been set at competing for a berth in the BCS.

There’s one giant question hovering over everything though: will Tommy Rees or Dayne Crist be the starting quarterback when Notre Dame takes the field against South Florida?

A lot of fans are arguing that Rees should be the starter because of how the team ended the year with him at the helm. I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. If Dayne Crist is healthy enough to go full speed on September 3 then he's the one should get the nod.

Before we go any further, let me say I’m operating under the premise that these are far and away the two most likely starters on opening day. There’s certainly a chance that the pair of talented quarterbacks sitting behind them—Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson—could have outstanding springs and be right in the mix, but odds are pretty slim it’d catapult them to the top of the depth chart for the first contest.

While they have enormous potential for the long term, Brian Kelly has two quarterbacks who have already started multiple games. Smart money says one of them will ultimately be chosen for game one.

Looking strictly at the stat lines from their first years starting, Crist and Rees are actually pretty similar.

Their accuracy was very comparable (Rees 61 percent, Crist 59 percent), yards per pass was almost identical (Crist 6.9, Rees 6.7), and a mere three points separated their final quarterback ratings (Rees 132, Crist 129.3). Tommy did average more touchdowns per game (2.4 to 1.9), but he threw more interceptions per game as well (1.6 to 0.9).

People in the “Tommy Rees Should Start” camp will recite four words as the reason why he deserves the nod over Dayne: Tommy is a winner. He may not have the physical skill set of many elite quarterbacks, but he led the team to a 4-0 record as starter while Crist’s record sits at an ugly 4-5.

To be blunt, that’s a bogus argument.

Tommy Rees did an admirable job after he was thrown into the fire for the final four-plus games of the season, but let’s stop acting as if he was the spark for the win streak (that would be the defense).

He did a nice job managing the game against Utah and Army and played great football for one half against Miami. There were some solid highlights and some undeniably great throws along the way—like the beautiful touch pass to Eifert against Army and the touchdown he threw to Kamara in the corner of the endzone against Utah.

There were also some ugly moments. Of course rough patches are to be expected from a first-time starter, but people seem to have completely block them out since the end result was a win.

Rees was absolutely atrocious against Southern Cal, to the point where one of the best Irish defensive efforts in recent memory was almost wasted. His final stat line does not reflect how shell-shocked he looked in the second half.

During the third quarter nearly every pass was either batted down at the line or delivered to the breadbasket of a player wearing maroon and gold. It was turnovers galore and all in the shadow of Notre Dame’s own goalposts.

The reason for pointing that out isn’t to rag on the kid; it’s to remind people that Joe Montana wasn’t quarterbacking like some seem to think.

For how positively fans view Rees thanks to his winning streak, they pull the exact opposite maneuver when remembering Crist’s season. By no means did Crist have a great season, but he had flashes of brilliance that seem to have been completely forgotten. Unfortunately his final outings—the debacle against Navy and the opening of the Tulsa game—leave a bad taste.

The disaster in the Meadowlands was a clear step backward and the start of the Tulsa game looked equally ugly. The confidence he’d built up over the first month of the season disappeared and he began regressing.

With every incomplete pass he’d look over at the sideline like a dog that knew he did something wrong and was about to get scolded—and every time Brian Kelly was there to fulfill Dayne's prophesy with a scathing expression and an earful of unprintables.

Crist’s season shouldn’t be defined solely by his hiccups. The real story of his first campaign as a starter when you study it was streakiness. When Dayne got in rhythm he had the look of an elite quarterback, one that just needed some experience and time to mature.

Go back to the tape of the Michigan State game and watched how good he was during the third quarter. It was a passing clinic. Crist possesses a rifle arm and for the most part he didn’t make a lot of killer mistakes. If anything he was actually overcautious too frequently—and if you want a first-year starter to be on an extreme of the spectrum you’d rather it be on the side of caution as opposed to recklessness.

The key to Dayne progressing and evolving into a top-level quarterback is figuring out how to eliminate the prolonged cold streaks. His main issue was that he’d hit eight passes in a row and then immediately follow it with six straight incompletions. The offense can’t maintain any sort of momentum if once or twice a game consecutive drives will be sabotaged because Dayne gets out of sync. That’s where the drastic improvement needs to take place—and he still has two full seasons to make it happen.

Tommy Rees is a smart quarterback and an asset to the team, but his ceiling is just not high enough. Physical he’s incapable of making all the throws that would make this offense operate at its peak and the running threat he presents is nearly absolute zero.

I appreciate his contribution last season and I’d love to have him around as a reliable backup that can come in and manage the offense in emergency situations, but that’s it. If he proves me wrong and seizes the starting job never to let go again then I'd be happy as can be. But my gut says there’s a much greater chance he turns out to be Matt Lovecchio: The Remix than a four-year starter at Notre Dame.

Dayne Crist is no slam dunk to be successful. There’s never a guarantee that players are going to maximize their potential and Crist’s propensity to get hurt might completely snuff out his chances to progress to an elite level.

But if his body cooperates and allows him to move forward, learn, and grow into his role as the leader of the offense then he possesses the potential to be great—something Rees does not. That’s the reason why he should—and will—get the starting nod against USF.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Irish Basketball: It All Falls Down

Late Sunday night, Notre Dame basketball’s dream season came to a screeching halt. Less than 100 miles from South Bend, the Florida State Seminoles smothered what was normally a well-oiled, high-octane attack and put the kibosh on any fairy tale runs the Irish Faithful had hoped to witness.

It was a surprising loss, but at the same time not really. The Seminoles were a long, deep, and extremely athletic club that played stifling defense. That’s the perfect recipe to knock off Notre Dame, who at its heart is a thin squad with limited athleticism. The majority of Irish fans had been waiting for the shoe to drop on this team since mid-January, but perhaps the boys’ blistering finish to the regular season had made people drop their guards if only for the first weekend of the tournament.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with Notre Dame football and basketball, dropping your guard is not a smart thing to do.

After sputtering at the beginning of January, the Irish began a methodical rise in the polls. Four ranked teams—including #2 Pitt—were among the victims of a 13-1 finish to the regular season. The boys won in every which way—whether it was a dazzling display of offensive firepower or a drag-out, defensive slugfest.

Unlike previous Irish outfits, this squad seemed to be able to adapt to whatever the situation called for and never miss a beat. Anchored by five seniors that played an incredibly smart brand of basketball, Notre Dame passed just about every test that came their way.

While every one of the seven players in Brey’s rotation played key roles in making things run smoothly, there was one guy who made the Irish go: Ben Hansbrough. From the opening tip against Georgia Southern in November until his final foul against UConn in March, Hansbrough was a once-in-a-generation competitor whose effort spurred the Irish to unseen heights.

On offense he was not only a sniper from three-point range, but also a sneakily effective player off the dribble who mastered the art of reading a defender’s hedge on a pick. If the defender hung back he fired a shot off. If the defender hedged effectively, Ben would often run right into his hip and draw a foul. If the defender overplayed the hedge, Ben had a lightning quick behind the back move that split the defense and got him into the lane with a full head of steam. His dissection of the defense in this simple play highlighted just how incredible his basketball IQ really was.

Defense was where he made his presence felt the most though. While he was rarely as athletic as his defensive assignment, Hansbrough never backed away from the challenge of guarding elite players like Kemba Walker. What he lacked in quickness he compensated for with sheer relentlessness and limitless energy. His effort rubbed off on the rest of the team and suddenly a perennially horrendous defense morphed into a reliable and consistent one.

The team fed off not only his effort, but also his cockiness and swagger. This group genuinely believed they could win every game because every time they looked to Ben he wasn’t backing down whether the Irish were playing in Purcell Pavilion, The Petersen Events Center, or Freedom Hall. Ty Nash had sound bites like, “we expect to win every game” and their head coach—usually the first person to try to temper expectations—was embracing the chase for a #1 seed in March.

Week after week the wins piled up, capped with a thrilling triumph at UConn to wrap up the regular season. For the first time since the glory days of Digger Phelps, the Irish found themselves ranked in the top five of both polls.

This couldn’t possibly be right, could it? Could Notre Dame legitimately be one of the best teams in the country and in the hunt not only for a tournament berth, but a Final Four berth? We all started to buy in that even if it wasn’t likely, it certainly wasn’t a far-fetched scenario.

But then something happened March 8th in New York at the Big East Tournament that I believe changed everything: Ben Hansbrough won Player of the Year.

His first game you couldn’t tell a major difference in his demeanor (mainly because the entire Irish team was on fire and Cincinnati was busy rolling over), but against Louisville it became very apparent something changed. He struggled to a 3 of 16 shooting night—far and away his worst shooting night of the year—as Notre Dame blew a big lead and lost in overtime to Louisville. Alarm bells began sounding in my head.

It wasn’t so much the off night of shooting because that happens to everyone, even great shooters. Something about him just looked off, almost as if he hadn’t slept the night before the game. In a word he was lethargic, which was startling since I was convinced he had an endless well of energy. In the first half it didn’t matter because once again his team came out like gangbusters and shot the lights out, but in the second half as the Cardinals closed in the team looked to their leader and he just didn’t have it. Even on the rare occasion he didn’t shoot well during the season he always was able to amp up the team with his energy. Not on that night though.

The result was the Irish crumbled. They couldn’t muster the defensive stops they’d become accustomed to getting over the course of the year and their offense sputtered under Louisville’s pressure. When Notre Dame had the ball on the final possession of regulation, Hansbrough forced up an off-balanced three pointer as opposed to attacking the defense like he normally would. It was a disappointing loss, but in the grand scheme of things not devastating.

His body language suggested that something was wrong, but I couldn’t really pinpoint it. Maybe he was sick, maybe he had a bad night’s sleep, or maybe it was something was weighing on his mind at home—it could’ve been anything. All I know is that he looked different and I hoped that when he arrived in Chicago he’d be well rested and the same Ben he’d been the rest of the year.

The Irish drew Akron in round one and as that game dragged on my observation was the same: something was just off with Ben. His calm, confident swagger that the team fed off had been replaced by a short fuse. It was as if the sudden burden of enormous expectations had overwhelmed him.

Notre Dame squeezed by Akron in an ugly affair and readied itself for Florida State. All I wanted was some early sign that the Ben from two weeks earlier was back. It never came.

In both of Notre Dame’s games in the NCAA tournament he snapped more at teammates, pleaded more with officials, and fired more off-balanced, almost hesitant shots than probably the rest of the year combined. The team seemed frazzled and tight from the get-go and the fact that their keystone was so wound up just exacerbated the problem.

When the Irish went to halftime down 11 I was worried, but still confident we could turn things around. Florida State had played their best half of the entire season and Notre Dame played one of their worst and ND was just 11 points behind. All it would take was a spark.

Then Mike Brey was interviewed coming out of the half and I knew we were in deep trouble.

Brey looked like he was staring a timebomb in the face with no idea how to disarm it. As he muttered about how he was happy to just be down 11 because it felt like 20, it became apparent he was at a complete loss for what was going on with his team. The group of five seniors that was supposed to kill teams with poise and experience was playing like a group of beleaguered underclassmen. Hansbrough, who Brey called “the straw that stirs the drink,” was completely out of sorts both physically and mentally.

We all know what happened next. The final margin was 14 points, but in reality the game wasn’t that close. It was truly painful to watch and the message board vultures immediately swept in to unload on Brey.

They knew it was a fraud all along. Once again lack of depth killed Notre Dame. Once again they fell short of expectations. Once again a poor shooting effort came at the worst possible time. They’re all signs that Brey is still a crappy coach and deserves to be canned.

People are idiots.

Listen, looking back on the season you can’t deem it a great success because Notre Dame once again failed to advance past the first weekend of the tournament. It doesn’t belittle the achievements of the regular season—which were great—but it casts a serious pall over how this year will be viewed in the annals.

Mike Brey shoulders plenty of blame for the Florida State loss because he failed to push the right buttons to refocus and calm down his team. His long-term prospects shouldn't, can’t, and won’t be determined by this single game though. What he does next year will tell us a lot about whether Brey really changed this year or if it was a fluke.

Does the team’s commitment to good defense depart with Hansbrough or will Brey continue to stress it? Will he set the bar high and strive to get back to the heights of this February or immediately try to temper expectations going into next season? Will the influx of talent on its way to South Bend mean he’s about to deepen his rotation a little bit? These are the major questions that will show whether he’s truly adapted and if he continues to adapt. None can be answered right now.

In the meantime we can only reflect on the season that was. I loved watching this team play. Ben Hansbrough became one of my all-time favorite players for all the reasons I’d stated earlier—he almost single-handedly molded the character and ratcheted up the expectations of effort for the entire team. I want to look back on this season fondly and first and foremost remember the team for its exhilarating run through the toughest conference in America. The problem is I won’t, because I can’t.

The wins over Pitt, Wisconsin, Villanova, and UConn are forever relegated to footnote status, the loss to Florida State elevated to bold font in the headline. The enduring lesson smacks both the fans and players in the face: all the great things achieved in the regular season can be washed away in the blink of an eye by wasting an opportunity to do something truly great in March.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yack Responds: "Bill, Grab Mooney and Hold on Tight"

Bill said what he had to say pre-game, but Yack won't go quietly into the night. Here is Slatington's favorite son's response to the Brolando, Florida resident.

- - - - - - - - - -

Well it's that time of year again. After going on a Charlie Sheen-like bender in Atlantic City and still smelling of $2 rum and cokes and Jack Daniels shots from my unofficial sponsors (the Wild Wild West Casino), I, John Yackabonis, was weary of texts messages from PSU fans. Already agitated by a Temple loss in the A-10 Tournament, the "upset alert" texts and trash talk made me giggle.

I thought out loud, "Why are these people all up in Temple's Kool Aid and they don't know what flavor it is!?!"

One PSU super fan specifically stuck out to this handsome young debonair; and that said person was Billy John Johnson.

Usually this pair of clown shoes sticks to football smack talk, but this year he realized PSU has a basketball team, which most of PSU's campus didn't realize until they'd scored 36 points and mistakenly beaten Wisconsin in a game that was on par with a Girls' PIAA Class A Semifinal.

Well Billy, after all these years and all these bets, let's make it REALLY interesting. If Temple beats PSU like the red haired stepchild they are, you and fellow PSUer Matt Mooney will hold hands for 15 minutes the next time we go to a bar.


Here's a lil clip for ya....

Does Billy Johnson scare me? NO! Am I calling the national guard? NO! The Rated R Superstar, aka Mr. Money in the Bank, aka Mr. Big Shot is not afraid of Billy Johnson. The question becomes is Billy Johnson afraid of this bet.

So what's it going to be, roody poo? In the words of Judge Smails:

What Will Really Happen

Say what you will:

Penn State isn't a basketball school.

-A 2009 NIT championship, a 1954 Final Four appearance, and my enrollment say otherwise.

Talor Battle is undersized.

-Bill Raftery says, "He's got a big ticker!"

Penn State is looking ahead in this game.

-One game at a time, we're just focused on beating San Diego State.

Ed DeChellis is God-awful.


For those that haven't been keeping up with the blog here, Penn State is playing Temple University in the 7 vs 10 game this Thursday at 2:00 pm. Mattare, myself, Mikey and special contributor Yack are all from the Lehigh Valley area. That's eastern PA for the Notre Dame fans wondering why they're reading this. Yack is an Owl alumnus after tricking the university into giving him a diploma.

I know pretty much everything about Temple basketball from how they form a lather train in the shower to demonstrate team unity, to the little known fact that Lavoy Allen likes to use nicknames like "Scootie Pahootie" and Jimmy "Hat" McDonnell to get them super psyched before games.

But the lather train stops here. The heroes of the hardwood have showed up to the dance, and we're intoxicated. Only the experts noticed the way we pacified Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, but soon the nation will know the sadistic brand of basketball Penn State has embraced as of late. No team can possibly have fun while playing the Nittany Lions. Just watching the games is as exhausting as running in sand. Couldn’t be more excited.

This game can’t really be described as the battle for Pennsylvania--Pitt has a #1 seed, and Bucknell has to be in that conversation too, no love for VillaNoFun (5 PA teams in the tourney, suck it Ohio.) When it boils down to it, this game is all about Yack and myself. Yack, The Eric Snow to my Allen Iverson, the Nate Dogg (RIP, you’re the greatest) to my Snoop Dogg, the hookers to my Charlie Sheen, wants to see his team step to MY team and win. Not going to happen.

Sorry buddy, but all the mini hot dogs, green bean casserole, burgers, cupcakes and cola that Mrs. Yack can conjure up won’t ease the pain of Talor Battle’s dagger three pointers from 25 feet. You might have to call in Mikey’s mom for some spaghetti pie after this one. We may have a pathetic fan base, but that’s because students are off enjoying all the cool free parties with dimes that Penn State has to offer. Unlike Temple where just to drink some keg beer, you have to first contribute to the house’s taquito fund. For shame!

Seriously if your Temple in this game don’t you ask the 5th graders that play at halftime if they want to switch opponents so they have a chance to win?

I propose that if Penn State wins, you will call Papa Johns in Orlando and have them deliver me a large supreme pizza. Pay with credit over the phone please. I look forward to Temple helping Penn State make history, and to signing the bill “Pete Lisicky.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 21-24

After a weekend hiatus the draft started back up again. We're winding down and filling out the 28-man roster. Here's the breakdown and analysis of rounds 21-24.

21.01 (UHND) - Mark LeVoir, OT

LeVoir was a Parade All American and 1st Team USA Today All American out of his school and then went on to start 35 games over a 5 year career. LeVoir will play left tackle forming me a nice pair of bookend tackles with Mike Doughty giving this team 7 years of starting experience at the tackle position." - Frank

21.02 (Domer Law) - Pete Bercich, LB

21.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Hunter Smith, P

"It's a game of field position, kids." - domer_mq

21.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Devon McDonald, OLB

"McDonald was a big, athletic outside backer that was capable of putting his hand on the ground and playing defensive end when the situation called for it. He'll start at outside linebacker and then replace Brian Hamilton at end in Nickel situations to bring some extra heat." - Mattare

21.05 (Subway Domer) - Randy Kinder, RB

"Complete stud, and adds more explosiveness to this already volatile team." - Subway Domer

21.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Dan Stevenson, G

"Another guard/tackle prospect for the offensive line, Stevenson finishes off my starting lineup up front. He gets extra points in my book because I did a feature story on him while he was in high school and before I was covering Notre Dame football. Solid guy, good attitude." - Pete

22.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Ryan Grant, RB

"I’m getting a solid back-up running back in Grant, who went over 1,000 yards as a sophomore before splitting time with Julius Jones the next season. Obviously, Grant has plenty of raw talent considering how long he’s stuck in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers." - Pete

22.02 (Subway Domer) - Kurt Vollers, OT

"Vollers was a pretty good tackle, and he was arrested for trafficking a whole lot of pot. I like the "danger" level he brings to my team." - Subway Domer

22.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Tim Ryan, G

"Ryan started at guard on the '88 national championship team as a sophomore and held down the position the next two years. He rounds out my offensive line, a bruising and dominant run blocking unit. We're going to be even more unstoppable than Eli Manning and his Citizen Eco-Drive watches." - Mattare

22.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Chris Stewart, G

"Really just sort of throwing darts at the big board at this point, but I think over the years Stewart showed a lot of flashes of a ton of potential, and in fact this last season he showed he was capable of taking a big step up in productivity. Wont shock me in the least if he hangs onto a pro job for several years." - domer_mq

22.05 (Domer Law) - Deveron Harper, CB

22.06 (UHND) - Tyler Eifert, TE

"This team needs a tight end and Eifert emerged as the next great tight end for Notre Dame down the stretch. Even without starting a full season, Eifert's numbers already compare favorably to some of the other tight ends who passed through Notre Dame in the 90's." - Frank

23.01 (UHND) - Tony Fisher, RB

"Jerome Bettis is going to play a lot of half back on this team, but adding Fisher creates a nice backfield tandem. Fisher gets overlooked because he followed Autry Denson and shared time with Julius Jones, but Fisher was more than a solid back." - Frank

23.02 (Domer Law) - Rashon Powers-Neal, FB

23.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Ian Williams, DT

"It seems like just yesterday we were focusing in on Ian Williams' freshman year accolades, including being named 1st Team Freshman All American by the Football Writers Association of America in 2007. And now, like that [poofing motion/sound from The Usual Suspects], he's gone. Try to imagine this kid playing under consistent, good coaching for 4 years and try to not shake your head while you do." - domer_mq

23.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - John Covington, SS

"Most Irish fans are familiar with John's little brother Ivory Covington because of his goal line stop against Army in '95. Well guess what? Big brother was bigger, stronger, faster, and more versatile. Over the course of his four years he saw time in the secondary, linebacker, and even defensive end. Pairing him with Deke Cooper in the secondary gives me an extremely athletic pair of safeties with range and serious pop." - Mattare

23.05 (Subway Domer) - Cedric Hilliard, DT

"I was looking for another power DT, and found him in Hilliard. A massive specimen of awesomeness, Cedric is a Subway Domer Disciple fan favorite." - Subway Domer

23.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Willie Clark, CB/S

"Big-time athlete good enough to be an early round pick in the NFL draft. I can play him at cornerback or safety like most of my defensive backs. Not necessarily a big name, but I'll take as many starting defenders from the early 90's as I can get along with Tom Carter, Chris Zorich, etc." - Pete

24.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Jabari Holloway, TE

"All-time nice guy at tight end giving me a menacing duo with Derek Brown. Holloway was criminally under-utilized at Notre Dame, but I won't make that mistake in my two tight end sets. Holloway is a complete tight end who won't be treated like a glorified offensive tackle in my world." - Pete

24.02 (Subway Domer) - Oscar McBride, TE

"First of all, I just wanted to take this moment to profess my dislike of Pete Sampson. Pete, you bastard, you literally picked the next two picks on my board. I am aware of your spies, and they will be dealt with accordingly. McBride was commonly referred to as ND's 3rd offensive tackle during his playing days. While that was mostly true, if the Irish would have thrown his way more often (as it was the case with all of ND's tight ends during the Holtz and Davie eras) Big Oscar would have had much better numbers. He will be a BEAST for me." - Subway Domer

24.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Pete Chryplewicz, TE

"Tight end fest continues. My bruising running game is mean a lot of two tight ends sets. Chryplewicz is a big body (6'5", 261lbs) that was a solid blocker equipped with soft hands. He won't be a frequent target because he'll be busy pancaking run blitzing linebackers, but every once in awhile when he lulls the defense to sleep he'll make them pay." - Mattare

24.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Lamont Bryant, DE

"Oh, what could have been...

I played against Lamont in high school. He was both the nicest and most terrifying person I've ever seen up close on a football field. During pre-game stretches, he walked right into our half of the field, got down on all fours, and started barking at us. It sounds dumb when I describe it, but it was effective. I thought he might have turned into one of those Devil Dogs from Ghotsbusters.

Later that night, during one of our dozen or so 3-and-out series, I was to block down on him from my SE position (he was playing MIKE that particular night), and so I did, and he never saw me coming. I hit him, he didn't notice, I became attached to him, he carried me back towards my starting point and tackled the ball carrier. He dislocated my shoulder during the play. After the whistle, he made sure I got attended to and helped me back towards my sideline.

I think he was pretty accustomed to injuring opponents. I could swear he even advised the trainers on how to handle this particular injury. Had YouTube existed back then, everyone in the country would have talked about him like we all talked about Jadeveon Clowney. I'm not kidding. He was like Jadeveon spliced with an angry war god. Hell, they'd have renamed it to "LamontTube."

Unfortunately, a serious car accident before his freshman year banged him up enough to keep him from seeing the field in 1995. And I don't really believe he was ever fully recovered after that. Must've been one hell of an accident." - domer_mq

24.05 (Domer Law) - Malcolm Johnson, WR

"110 catches, 1,737 yards in his career - not bad for a 3rd wide receiver. Yet another prolific target for Brady Quinn in what should be a balanced and extremely productive offense." - Wacko

24.06 (UHND) - Cierre Wood, RB

"I want a little lightning to go along with the thunder I already have in the backfield with Bettis and Fisher and in all honesty, has there been another back not named Julius Jones in the last 10 years to show the kind of speed and big play potential as Wood did last year? In his first season of action, Wood busted off two 30+ yard touchdown runs becoming the first Notre Dame back since Jones to have two 30+ yard TD runs in a season (in fact, no Notre Dame back since Jones has even had one 30+ yard TD)." - Frank

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 17-20

We're more than halfway through the draft and there are just a few holes left to plug in the starting lineups.

17.01 (UHND) - Craig Hentrich, P/K

"This may be a reach here since I have plenty of other needs, but I want to maximize my roster and Hentrich takes up 2 spots with 1 pick. Hentrich was easily the best punter at Notre Dame in the last 20 years and until David Ruffer came along and made his first 23 field goals, he was easily the best place kicker at Notre Dame in the last 20 years too. Ruffer still has some work to do to match Hentrich, but there still hasn't been anyone to experience as much consistent success both kicking and punting at ND in the last 20 years as Hentrich." - Frank

17.02 (Domer Law) - Bob Dahl, DE

17.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - David Ruffer, K

"Yep. A kicker. It's getting too late in the game to risk any of you taking the most clutch kicker available in the pool." - domer_mq

17.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Nick Setta, K/P

"Uh ohhh, time to alter the strategy for the next two rounds. If there's one thing you don't want to be on the wrong side of it's a run on Notre Dame kickers of the last two decades. Kevin Kopka? Jim Sanson? Carl Gioia? Woof. Give me the golden right foot of Nick Setta and I'll set for both kicking and punting." - Mattare

17.05 (Subway Domer) - Sean Mahan, G/C

"Sean could play either guard or center for the Subway Domer Disciples... OH SNAP!!!" - Subway Domer

17.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Zack Martin, OT

"This might seem like a reach, but Martin was the best offensive lineman on last year’s solid front as a red-shirt freshman, making him better than two-year and three-year starters. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as Notre Dame’s highest draft pick along the line since Jeff Faine. Size, speed and strength, Martin can do it all." - Pete

18.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Kevin McDougal, QB

"Everybody needs a good back-up quarterback and mine 11-1 as a starter during the ’93 season. Take that, Tommy Rees. McDougal backed up Rick Mirer once and he’ll do it again on my squad. For a one-year starter, it’s amazing how many fans rank McDougal as their all-time favorite Notre Dame quarterback." - Pete

18.02 (Subway Domer) - Jeremy Akers, G

"ALL-AMERICAN." - Subway Domer

18.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Lee Becton, RB

"This team has officially morphed into a team that will run fifty times a game so I need another horse to accompany Reggie Brooks in the backfield. Becton was a hard runner with great vision, hands. and ankle-breaking wiggle. When Reggie needs a blow Becton will be able to step in and the offense won't miss a beat." - Mattare

18.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Mike Richardson, CB

"I'm as surprised as you are. Much like when I was totally stunned to see him come out in 2005 as a real asset to the defense. Kid couldn't cover me the year prior, and by mid-2005, he was baiting opposing QBs into throwing to his side of the field for picks. At this point, I've got no idea what I'm doing, but I need a safety, and this kid." - domer_mq

18.05 (Domer Law) - Maurice Crum Jr., LB

""Versatile and consistent, but also capable of taking over a game a la UCLA 2007" - Wacko

18.06 (UHND) - Derek Landri, DE

"My team is going to run a 3-4 defense and I already have my 3 starting DL's but there's no way I can pass up Landri this late in the draft. I can't believe he is still available. It was only 4 years ago Landri had his breakout season with 15.5 tackles for loss playing on a bad defense. Landri will get worked in as a DE in my defense." - Frank

19.01 (UHND) - Mike Goolsby, ILB

"I need another ILB to play alongside Bobbie Howard and Goolsby fits the bill perfectly. He's big and can drop back into coverage if need be. Goolsby gives me a linebacking corps of Bert Berry, Darius Fleming, Bobbie Howard, and Goolsby. Me likey." - Frank

19.02 (Domer Law) - Chinedum Ndukwe, S

19.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Jerry Wisne, G

"A 1995 USA and Parade All-American." - domer_mq

19.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Rodney Culver, FB

"The assembly of a monster backfield continues with #5 Rodney Culver. Culver was a captain and multi-year starter who shifted between fullback and tailback, but I'm plugging him into the fullback position in order to give my offense a dangerous threat right up the middle. Culver started at fullback as a junior and rushed for 700+ yards. That ability to gash the heart of the opposition will be huge in keeping defenses off-balanced." - Mattare

19.05 (Subway Domer) - Mike Heldt, C

"Because everyone has a little CAPTAIN in them." - Subway Domer

19.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Eric Olsen, G

"Despite not exactly taking my tweet about B.J. Raji correctly, I still like Olsen as a starting guard for my squad. Tough guy look, solid tats, just everything you’d want in an offensive lineman. Solid interview as well, which always plays well with the media." - Pete

20.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Scott Kowalkowski, OLB

"I’ve got a starting linebacker and special teams buzz saw in Kowalkowski. He’s not on par athletically with my other two starting linebackers, but he’ll bring a diehard attitude to the field that won’t be denied." - Pete

20.02 (Subway Domer) - Tyreo Harrison, OLB

"Harrison is athletic and gives me a quicker LB to go along with my power defensive front. Tyreo was underrated then as much as he is now. My plan is coming together like an all night drug binge with Charlie Sheen and Tom Sizemore." - Subway Domer

20.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Justin Hall, OT

"Hall started at right tackle for the Irish from '90-'92. I don't know if you've heard, but we ran the ball really, really well those years. We'll bump Todd Norman to right guard where he started as a junior and recreate the right side of that '92 line that paved the way for Brooks and Bettis." - Mattare

20.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Carlo Calabrese, MLB

"I think what we saw of the defense last year owed a lot to what Carlo can do against interior runs." - domer_mq

20.05 (Domer Law) - DJ Fitzpatrick, K/P

20.06 (UHND) - Harrison Smith, S

"I have long been a fan of Smith - even when he was this most maligned Irish defensive back this side of Clifford Jefferson. Once he was finally given a permanent position that he could excel at, he stepped up and delivered the game sealing INT against USC and then 3 picks in the Sun Bowl. Smith will be a captain for '11, but even if he never made another big play again, he'd still be the player who put the final nail in USC's coffin to end that awful losing streak to Southern Cal." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

I won't lie to you: Pete's selection of Kevin McDougal dropped an atomic bomb on my team. Everything had lined up so perfectly at every position, I was absolutely thrilled. When I woke up this morning I made a list of what I wanted my next six picks to be and at the top of it was McDougal.

I thought for sure he'd slip back to me. The only people picking were Subway Domer (who had Jimmy Clausen) and Pete (who had Rick Mirer). Forget the fact that we're not drafting full rosters and there's almost no need for a backup quarterback; those two were so set that there was no reason they'd need one period.

Then I received the email with Pete's selections. My heart dropped through the floor.

Whether he was legitimately concerned about having a backup quarterback or if he just wanted to cripple my team I do not know. I'd lean toward the latter, but frankly with my defense coming at his quarterback in waves and waves against a marginal defensive line there's probably a good chance he'll need to lean on a backup. Either way it was horrendous news for my team.

I regrouped though and altered my board. We were always going to be a running team, it's just been jacked up to a new level since the signal caller will not be Kevin McDougal as I'd assumed. First, I found Reggie Brooks a tag team partner in the backfield. Lee Becton wasn't the burner that Brooks was and his lack of speed ultimately kept him from having a successful NFL career, but he was a 1,000 yard rusher on the '93 squad and tough, incredibly shifty runner.

I'm sure plenty of younger Irish fans have no idea who he is, so let's educate with the magic of YouTube. Pay close attention to how he completely freezes a Florida State defensive back with a subtle little move at the 50-yard line at the 36 second mark and the Boston College linebacker that gets his ankles broken so bad that he just face plants at the 1:29 mark.

He's one of the forgotten and underrated backs of the last thirty years. He'll be a great addition.

Next I nabbed Rodney Culver (RIP). Culver was the lone team captain his senior season and a damn good runner capable of gashing the interior as a fullback or tailback. I want to be able to feed someone on the fullback dive and know I can pick up almost five yards every time. Looking at the other rosters in this draft, there's not one defensive line (with the exception of possibly UHND's) that will be able to contain a three-headed monster of Brooks-Becton-Culver running behind the hogs I've assembled up front.

Speaking of those hogs, Justin Hall was added to the mix in the 20th round. He's another forgotten guy but he held down the right tackle position from '90-'92 and found a lot of success pairing with Todd Norman to clear holes in the defense. Just ask Spurrier and his Gators how much they enjoyed going against Hall and Norman in the '92 Sugar Bowl--all three of Bettis' fourth quarter touchdowns were run right behind that duo.

I couldn't feel any better about the offensive line I've assembled. The big decision will be what signal caller they'll be keeping upright...and that's something I just can't answer yet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 13-16

Most of the glamour names are off the board at this point in the draft, which means extensive knowledge of the last twenty years really starts to come into play. The picks are coming so fast that we'll throw up four rounds this time.

13.01 (UHND) - Oliver Gibson, NT

"There was a time when a former USA Today defensive player of the year had to wait his turn at Notre Dame because there were talented players ahead of him. This was the case with Gibson who had to sit behind Bryant Young before stepping into a starting role in 1994. Gibson will be the anchor of the 3-4 defense my team will run." - Frank

13.02 (Domer Law) - John Sullivan, C

13.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Kinnon Tatum, OLB

"Some of us are now old enough to remember his great play at LB for ND more than his stint on Charlie Weis' coaching staff. Gulp." - domer_mq

13.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Lake Dawson, WR

"I can't let him fall any farther. Dawson was the number one receiver in back-to-back seasons, an explosive threat that had great hands and could stretch the field. Pairing him with Floyd gives me a tandem that's a force to be reckoned with on the outside. Load up against the run, I dare you..." - Mattare

13.05 (Subway Domer) - Paul Grasmanis, DT

"Big. Strong. Defensive tackle. PLUG HIM IN!!!!!!!" - Subway Domer

13.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Andre Jones, DE

"I need a speed rusher to complete my defensive line, so I’m going with Jones coming off the edge. If I’m shifting to a 3-4 look he could turn into an outside linebacker too. There might be better individual defensive ends, but the tandem of Jones and Abiamiri is one that should get the collective job done." - Pete

14.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Derek Brown, TE

"I’m picking a NFL first rounder in the 14th round of this fantasy draft. A 6-foot-7, 245-pound stud, who I’m actually going to throw the ball to. Talk about a value pick to mix with my top-flight receiving corps. I can’t believe this guy is still on the board this late in the game." - Pete

14.02 (Subway Domer) - Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE

"On a 4 man front, KLM pairs up well with Irons." - Subway Domer

14.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Irv Smith, TE

"If I'm going to be jamming the ball down the opposition's throat I need a nasty blocking tight end to line up alongside Aaron Taylor to help pave the way. Irv Smith was a first rounder who is not just a bulldozer in the run game, but a guy who can also provide a threat down the seam that's borderline impossible for defensive backs to bring down. Just ask the secondary of Indiana (see below)..." - Mattare

14.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Lyndsay Knapp, OT

"I almost missed him, b/c I was assuming he was already taken. I've now checked the spreadsheet 3 times to make sure he really wasn't. Lindsay was a College & Pro Football Newsweekly All-American in 1992 and went on to play a few years of pro ball." - domer_mq

14.05 (Domer Law) - Sam Young, OT

14.06 (UHND) - Bobbie Howard, ILB

"My defense needs an inside linebacker and Bobbie Howard, a captain of the '98 Irish, is one of my favorite players from the last 20 years. He was a tad undersized but he always played big especially when he picked off Herb Tyler and raced 89 yards for a touchdown in the '98 LSU game. Oh, and he had 16 tackles in the game." - Frank

15.01 (UHND) - Mike Doughty, OT

I waited a little while to pick an offensive tackle, but I could do worse than selecting a 4 year starter at tackle for the Irish. Doughty started from '94-97 at right tackle for the Irish and will play next to Mike Gandy on the right side of the offensive line.

15.02 (Domer Law) - Melvin Dansby, DE

15.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - David Bruton, FS

"I have fond memories of watching Bruton play in 2007 - the worst season ever. One play, in particular, sticks out, when ND played MSU in South Bend, and the MSU QB threw up an arching bomb to the boundary, and Bruton was about 30 yards from the intended receiver. From the stands, you saw the ball at the top of the arch, saw where the receiver was, saw Bruton, and before the ball even began its decent, you knew Bruton was going to pick it off. And you were right. It was the sort of pick ND hadn't made in half a decade. Bruton, despite the oft-displayed incompetence of the 07 squad, was living proof that ND still attracted world-caliber athletic talent. You just had to know what you were looking at." - domer_mq

15.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Brian Hamilton, DE

"I've surveyed the landscape of the remaining defensive lineman and decided that I just can't afford to wait any longer to fill the final spot on my defensive line. Adding big Brian Hamilton to the mix means that I have 3/4 of the 1993 squad's line along with Renaldo Wynn. Two words: Rock Solid." - Mattare

15.05 (Subway Domer) - Arnaz Battle, WR

15.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Rod Smith, S

"That’s a wrap on my starting secondary with a stud starter at cornerback or safety who was good enough to be a second round pack in the ’92 draft. And he backed up Stan Smagala before that. I like what I’ve got at the back end with Tom Carter, Glenn Earle, Brock Williams and Smith. Four big-time athletes." - Pete

16.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Tony Brooks, RB

"I’m late to grab a running back, but I’m happy with the other Brooks brother (thanks, I’ll be here all week), who’s a dynamic, powerful rusher. I hear he’s got a really talented son coming up through the football ranks too. Obviously, that kid is a lock for Notre Dame. Wait, what’s that?" - Pete

16.02 (Subway Domer) - Carlyle Holiday, WR

"Yes, my starting 2 WR's are former QB's that made the switch. Both Battle and Holiday have more NFL playing time than quite a few of the other picks at WR in this draft. The Floyd-god doesn't count." - Subway Domer

16.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Deke Cooper, FS

"I've pondered taking him the last three rounds and luckily he's still around. Cooper came to campus as a wideout, but when coaches found out he was capable of nearly decapitating ball carriers they shifted him to safety where he flourished. The reality is that Deke was capable of lowering the boom like few other Domers over the past two decades. Of course all Irish fans remember him leveling Mike Cloud at the goal line on fourth down to beat BC, but some may forget Cooper was an incredibly fierce hitter that made receivers think twice about stretching out for that ball over the middle." - Mattare

16.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Lance Legree, DT

"Criminally under appreciated at ND." - domer_mq

16.05 (Domer Law) - Anthony Fasano, TE

16.06 (UHND) - David Givens, WR

"I will gladly take Givens as my #2 wide receiver. Givens was horribly underused by Bob Davie and company during his Notre Dame career and his NFL success, before knee injuries derailed his career, are a testament to that. Givens is a great complement to Rocket Ismail." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

I decided it was time to show a little love to the aerial attack in rounds 13 and 14. First I found Michael Floyd a partner in crime with the clutch and explosive Lake Dawson. He was a three year starter from '91-'93 and the favorite target of both Rick Mirer and Kevin McDougal. His reliable hands and ability to stretch the field deep provide a nice complement to big #3 on the opposite side.

Now I know the pool of talent at tight end is actually really deep, but I thought it was worth using a pick at this point to ensure I got one that was both an effective receiver and a bruising run blocker. Irv Smith was both in spades. Upon completion of his career at ND he was a first rounder in the NFL Draft and left behind this phenomenal clip that served as warning to any defensive back who was thinking they could tackle him by himself (or even with just one other person).

Beast mode.

Of course I couldn't go three offensive picks in a row so I shifted back to defense for the next two rounds. The talent pool at defensive end is just about empty at this point so I feel fortunate Brian Hamilton fell into my lap this late.

Hamilton was a team captain and multi-year starter who played inside and outside on the defensive front. Picking him means I have three of the four starters from the 1993 squad, which I couldn't draw up much better.

I sweated out the next couple picks because I had this terrible feeling Pete was going to poach the guy I'd been torn on taking with each of my last four selections: Deke Cooper. He's a big safety (6'2", 220lbs) with great range and a penchant for bone-rattling hits. Opponents' receivers will grow a whole lot of alligator arms knowing that Deke is prowling over the middle.

And if it ever comes down to a goal line situation, we all know he can lower the boom in a tight area...

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 11 & 12

The picks are coming in fast and furious. Here's the recap from the 11th and 12th rounds.

11.01 (UHND) – Darius Fleming, OLB

"This might be a bit of a reach, but in looking for an OLB to start opposite Bert Berry it’s slim pickings. Fleming has led the Irish in tackles for loss the past two seasons and led the team with 6 sacks in 2010. A similar season campaign in 2011 and Fleming will end his career in the top 5 TFL all time at Notre Dame." - Frank

11.02 (Domer Law) - Brandon Hoyte, LB

11.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Kyle McCarthy, S

"First DB in ND history to tally more than 100 tackles in a single season. Oh those were good times." - domer_mq

11.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Gary Gray, CB

"Time to get Awesome Rossum some company in the secondary. This may seem like a bit of a reach to some, but the reality is that Gary Gray is the best cover corner of the last ten years not named Shane Walton. Throw in the fact that he's a phenomenal tackler from that position and it's a no-brainer." - Mattare

11.05 (Subway Domer) - Darrin Walls, CB

"The formation of my defensive backfield is complete. You will bow down and fear me." - Subway Domer

11.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Courtney Watson, LB

"Watson led Notre Dame in tackles as a junior and senior, earning some All-American notice before getting picked in the second round of the draft. Aside from Te’o, he’s also one of the few Irish linebackers with legitimate speed in the past decade. Watson gives my team a boost of athleticism at linebacker." - Pete

12.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Jordan Black, OT

"I’ve got to add to the offensive line and some point, so why not do it with a four-year starter who can play guard or tackle? Black was a solid offensive lineman throughout his Irish career and gives my team a reliable cog on the front. Black’s mean streak doesn’t hurt his cause." - Pete

12.02 (Subway Domer) - Rocky Boiman, OLB

"Boiman was a non-stop terror for the Irish, and he went on to have a 7 year career in the NFL. If you knew nothing else of Boiman, you have to know that he rocked out to Metallica before every game. The announcers were obsessed with this, and rarely failed to mention as much every Saturday... on NBC, at least." - Subway Domer

12.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Anthony Denman, LB

"Denman is often one of the most overlooked defensive stars of the past two decades, but anyone who has vivid memories of the 2000 Nebraska game remembers the beating he laid on Eric Crouch on what seemed like every other play. He lettered all four years, started his last two, and in his final season led the team in tackles, tackles for a loss, and forced fumbles. His quickness and aggressiveness are going to be perfect alongside Michael Stonebreaker in the front seven." - Mattare

12.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Rhema McKnight, WR

"...pre-knee injury, if I may. Definitely in my top-5 all time "oh what might have been..." - domer_mq

12.05 (Domer Law) - Ryan Leahy, G

12.06 (UHND) - John Merandi, C

"Merandi often gets overlooked by his successor, Jeff Faine, but Merandi was no sloutch as a two year starter. Merandi also started along side an earlier pick of mine, Mike Gandy." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

I felt I couldn't wait any longer to lock up another cornerback because to say the pickings become slim would be an understatement on par with "the loss to Southern Cal and '05 was disappointing" and "The Day After Tomorrow's plot had some holes." Gary Gray had a couple lowlights last season (it's tough to forgive him for completely giving up on that pass over his head against Navy), but by and large he was incredibly consistent and productive.

Gray is a ferocious tackler with pretty good ball skills, especially when you compare him to what we're used to seeing this decade. I think there's a legitimate chance that he plays himself into the 2nd-3rd round range of the NFL Draft this year and clearly establishes himself as the best Irish cornerback in almost ten years. I'm very comfortable pairing him with Rossum; I have a hunch if we held this draft at the end of the 2011 season that Gray we be long gone at this point.

In round 12 I locked down one of the most underrated linebackers in Irish history, Anthony Denman. Ol' #39 was a key cog in a strong Bob Davie defense, a hard-hitting, sound tackler that was a captain and MVP of the entire team his senior season.

I was tempted to pass on Denman because Michael Stonebreaker already occupies the middle linebacker position in my 4-3 alignment, but he's got plenty of experience on the outside from when he back up Kory Minor his first two years on campus. There's a good chance he never would have budged had ND not been so starved for middle linebackers after Bobbie Howard and Jimmy Friday graduated. He's proven before he has no problem shifting positions for the good of the team so outside linebacker it is.

With Denman and Stonebreaker lying in waiting behind my rock solid front line it's going to be damn near impossible to move the ball against my defense. We're looking prettaaaaaay, prettaaaaaay, prettaaaay good!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 9 & 10

The Draft is picking up some steam and we've plowed through a couple rounds this afternoon. Onward!

9.01 (UHND) - Jarious Jackson, QB

"I'll end the game of chicken WNG and I are playing at quarterback and take Jackson here. I had figured I would be fine with either Jackson or Kevin McDougal, but in looking at the stats, Jackson's numbers are far more impressive. Jackson also worked with a lot less talent and worse coaching but still was able to lead the Irish on some wild comebacks in his career. With Jackson I now have a mobile quarterback that can still sling it over the field. Pretty happy to land Jackson this late." - Frank

9.02 (Domer Law) - Maurice Stovall, WR

"Sometimes overshadowed by Samardzija and Tate, MoSto put up some pretty impressive numbers over his career at Notre Dame as well. This is going to be one prolific offense." - Wacko

9.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Kyle Rudolph, TE


9.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Todd Norman, OT

"Time to give big Aaron Taylor some company up front. Todd Norman was a versatile lineman who started at guard and paved the way for Brooks and Bettis on the '92 squad and then moved outside to play bookend opposite Taylor for the '93 campaign. If you look back at Jeff Burris's touchdown runs in the game against Florida State, you'll notice he went into the endzone nearly untouched running off right tackle both times. Why did that happen? Because Norman sealed the hole and FLATTENED the defensive lineman on each play. Get used to that sight, it'll be common on this team." - Mattare

9.05 (Subway Domer) - John Carlson, TE

"This was supposed to be the pick where I grabbed Rudolph. Somehow, I'm not all that pissed off." - Subway Domer

9.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Glenn Earl, S

"Not only do I get a heady safety in Earl, I get a special teams weapon at the back of my secondary. I was torn on whether I liked Gerome Sapp or Glenn Earl more with this pick, but with Sapp already off the board this was an easy pick. Earl should keep my defense in good position." - Pete

10.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Brock Williams, CB

"Three-year starter at cornerback and one of the better defensive backs on the board, Williams helps push my secondary toward completion. Williams brings attitude to the defense as well. He’ll start opposite Tom Carter on the other side of the defense, giving me two high quality corners." - Pete

10.02 (Subway Domer) - Lyron Cobbins, MLB

"Big, physical inside linebacker. Cobbins was a 3rd team ALL-American his senior year. He wore a dark visor and had a single digit number (#6) as a linebacker. I'm blushing." - Subway Domer

10.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Dusty Zeigler, G/C

"I'm going to continue building up the offensive line with the versatile and reliable Dusty Zeigler. He was a multi-year starter for the Irish and a captain his senior year. His ability to play guard and center gives me some flexibility in the next couple rounds depending on how the picks play out and gives me three strong pillars up front to pave the way for Reggie." - Mattare

10.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Matt Shelton, WR

"Because, look at him, 5 foot nothin', a hundred and nothin', and he finished 6th among all-time Irish footballers in career yards per reception at 18.9 ypc, with an astounding 40 yards/TD reception rate. HOME RUN." - domer_mq

10.05 (Domer Law) - Ryan Roberts, DE

10.06 (UHND) - Tony Driver, FS

"Driver was one of the best pure athletes to come through Notre Dame in the last 20 years. Had Bob Davie not decided to flip him back and forth between offense and defense Driver would have been an All American safety. Driver is still the only Notre Dame player to ever return 2 fumbles for touchdowns in the same game (Navy 2000)." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

I felt it was time to sure up the offensive line and ensure that I'd be dominating the line of scrimmage on each side of the ball. Norman is someone that many fans won't remember, but when you read up on the '93 squad it's not just Aaron Taylor receiving the praise--it's the trio of Taylor, Norman, and Tim Ruddy. Fellow offensive lineman Mark Zataveski commented that they were "the core of the can run anything behind those three guys."

And run behind them I will...

With my bookend tackles taken care of it was time to sure up the interior of the line. Dusty Zeigler started at center as a junior and guard as a senior. If you need a reminder of how effective he was just take a look at the yards per carry statistics of the fullbacks he paved a path for in the triple option. In '94 Ray Zellars went for 5.9 per carry while a year later Mark Edwards rumbled for 5.1. When's the last time an Irish running back averaged 5+ yards per carry, let alone a fullback?!?

Zeigler's versatility gives me the option of plugging him into the lineup at either guard or center depending on who becomes available during the rest of the draft, a nice luxury and the talent pool gets more and more shallow. The construction of the line is not complete, but I've got some great pieces to work with moving forward.

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 7 & 8

We're back from a weekend hiatus with rounds seven and eight. The ticker should now updated as well.

7.01 (UHND) - Trevor Laws DE

"My team certainly has bigger needs, but I am going to secure another player at a position where Notre Dame has lack playmakers over the last 20 years. Laws 100+ tackle season in 2007 was absurd and he will team very nicely with Anthony Weaver on my defensive line." - Frank

7.02 (Domer Law) - Autry Denson, RB

"I'm amazed nobody has picked the most productive running back in the past 20 years, so I'm going to do that right now." - Wacko

7.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Mike Rosenthal, OT

7.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Reggie Brooks, RB

"My squad is going to be committed to running the ball early and often so I'll snatch up a guy who averaged a staggering 8.0 yards per carry his senior season. The only player to average more in ND history? George Gipp (8.1ypc). That's not bad company to be in." - Mattare

7.05 (Subway Domer) - Ray Zellars, FB

"Super Beast Mode." - Subway Domer

7.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Derrick Mayes, WR

"I’m having a hard time believing Mayes is still on the board at the end of round seven, so I’m going to add him to my receiving corps that already includes Golden Tate. Mayes could have put up numbers comparable to Tate and Michael Floyd if he played in a more modern Irish offense. Now he will." - Pete

8.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Tim Ruddy, C

"I’ve got to make a play for an offensive lineman at some point, so I’m starting with genius center Tim Ruddy. All the guy did was start on the ’92 and ’93 teams while carrying a 4.0 grade point average both years. A 10-year NFL career followed. My team shouldn’t have any trouble calling out protection schemes." - Pete

8.02 (Subway Domer) - Gerome Sapp, S

"Sapp will be the perfect companion to Burris. Sapp was one of the more underrated players for the Irish in the past 20 years." - Subway Domer

8.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Jim Flanigan, DT

"I'm continuing the defensive avalanche and picking up the perfect cog to stick next to Bryant Young on the interior of my 4-3 front. Flanigan and BY were both 10+ sack guys in the NFL and will provide a dynamic pass rush right up the gut of the opposing offense. Jim will be ready to strike another SI cover pose with the same caption after this team takes the top spot." - Mattare

8.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Kory Minor, LB

8.05 (Domer Law) - Vontez Duff, CB

"The first player in ND history to return an interception, kickoff, and punt for a touchdown in the same season. Plus, a hell of a cornerback." - Wacko

8.06 (UHND) - Mike Gandy, G

"It is about time I pick an offensive lineman and I'll start with the Buffalo Bills 3rd round pick in 2001 NFL Draft. Gandy was the Guardian of the Year in 2000 and was one mean, tough lineman who will anchor the interior OL on this squad." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

Still very pleased with how my squad is shaping up. The talent pool at running back is pretty deep so it's tempting to wait awhile to grab one, but I couldn't imagine the guy who averaged eight yards per carry would be around much longer so it was time to make a move. A lot of people may forget just how good Reggie Brooks.

Sure, everyone remembers the catch in the back of the endzone to win the Snow Bowl over Penn State and the touchdown against Michigan where he was knocked unconscious (he also showed us during that run that Corwin may not be the best person to coach players on how to tackle). But those were just two plays and this guy averaged EIGHT YARDS PER CARRY!

Come on, let's go to the tape. Pay close attention to the 58 second mark when he finds and hits a crease between three members of the Southern Cal secondary and gets through it so quickly they don't even get a hand on him.

So beautiful that it brings a damn tear to the eye.

With my 8th rounder I scooped up Jim Flanigan, a relentless, athletic tackle who also happened to be Bryant Young's running mate on the interior during the 1993 campaign. The duo terrorized defenses and made life a living hell for Charlie Ward in 1993's Game of the Century against Florida State.

My goal going into this draft was to put together a defensive line that would dominate any offensive line another owner threw out there. We'll, we're a little over a quarter of the way through the draft and I've already locked down the #1 and #3 defensive tackles on my board as long as the #2 defensive end. So far so good if I do say so myself...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 5 & 6

The owners' teams are starting to take shape. By email, by text, by fax, and by telegram the picks continue to flood into Fantasy Draft Headquarters. Here's the picks and analysis for rounds five and six.

5.01 (UHND) - Bert Berry OLB

"Sticking on the defensive side of the ball I wanted to add some pass rush skills and Berry fits the bill perfectly. Notre Dame has not had many great OLB in the last 20 years, but Berry was great in 1996 with a team leading 10 sacks. The lack of other great pass rushing OLB at ND from the last two decades pushed me to draft Berry maybe a little higher than I would have liked, but with Weaver, Berry, and Lyght on my defense I have a very solid foundation." - Frank

5.02 (Domer Law) - Demetrius DuBose, LB

"It's time to start building up my defense a bit more, since I know I'll be scoring points in bunches." - Wacko

5.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Ron Powlus, QB

"Good luck to those of you without a QB picked." - domer_mq

5.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Renaldo Wynn, DE

"A big part of me wants to pick one of the three quarterbacks I had rated substantially higher than Powlus just because, but I'll resist (little known fact: Powlus was an understudy in the movie Happy Feet...his feet were happier than the lead, it just turned out he wasn't a penguin). The building of a dominant defense continues with ND's last defensive lineman to be picked in the first round. Young and Wynn up front with Stonebreaker patrolling behind them? Matty likey..." - Mattare

5.05 (Subway Domer) - Grant Irons, DE

"Grant is going to play defensive end for the Subway Domer Disciples. His versatility plays an important part." - Subway Domer

5.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Rick Mirer, QB

"I can’t believe Mirer is still sitting on the board at the end of this round and he won’t be there when my next two picks come around, so I’m going with the guy who captained the ’92 team and went on to be the second pick in the NFL Draft. The guy won 29 games in three years, an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl. Winning." - Pete

6.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Victor Abiamiri, DE

"It’s getting late for quality defensive ends in this draft, so I’m grabbing Abiamiri to stick next to Zorich on the defensive line. The guy was a specimen and three-and-a-half year starter for the Irish who finished with 20 sacks. He gets lost in the stardom of Justin Tuck, but Abiamiri actually went higher in the draft." - Pete

6.02 (Subway Domer) - Julius Jones, RB

"I had thought that I would wait a few more rounds before I grabbed a full-time running back, but I have missed put on a few players that I had circled and I don't want JJ to be another one. Jones is an explosive back that when given the rock on a consistent basis, he proved he could stack up the yards and TDs. Jones is also a dangerous kick returner. Deuce, deuce!!!" - Subway Domer

6.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Allen Rossum, CB

"We continue loading up on the defensive side of the ball with the best cornerback available, Allen "Awesome" Rossum. He was a multi-year starter at cornerback and a dynamic, record breaking returner that adds speed, speed, and more speed to my squad." - Mattare

6.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Marc Edwards, FB

"I play my football with a fullback." - domer_mq

6.05 (Domer Law) - Tom Zbikowski, S

""I'm at Bengal Bouts right now so it's only fitting that I draft the baddest ballhawk/boxer in Notre Dame History." - Wacko

6.06 (UHND) - Shawn Wooden, CB

"With only a few solid corners left, I wanted to make sure I had a pair of great corners patrolling the secondary. Wooden was a great corner for the Irish in the mid 90's and made one of the most memorable plays in the last 20 years by knocking down Charlie Ward's final pass in the '93 classic with FSU." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

What wins championships? Defense. And through six rounds I've got the makings of a damn good one.

In rounds five and six I grabbed Renaldo Wynn to be one of the bookends of my 4-3 defense and Allen Rossum to lockdown a cornerback position. I feel as if Wynn is overlooked by most Irish fans and at least not remembered as fondly as guys like Justin Tuck, Victor Abiamiri, and Grant Irons. Fact of the matter is he registered 19.5 sacks over the course of his career and to date is the last Notre Dame defensive lineman drafted in the first round.

(Aaron Lynch will be changing that in a couple years, but Renaldo will carry that title at least a little while longer.)

To refresh everyone's memories on just how good Wynn was in college, let's go to Dr. Lou. This is a quote from Holtz during an interview in 1996, Renaldo's final season at Notre Dame:

"He's the aircraft carrier of the defense. They know one thing -- when we go out there, there isn't anybody who's going to knock Renaldo Wynn off the line, nobody is going to be able to block him one on one. And when Renaldo says something people listen, including the coaches."

That's pretty high praise from the Little General. The trenches are where games are decided. Heading into battle with Bryant Young and Renaldo Wynn leading the charge is a pretty good position to be in if you ask me.

With the second pick I snatched up Rossum, far and away the best cornerback left on the board. He was a three year starter during a time where the Irish weren't on short supply of solid cornerbacks. When he'd wrapped up his career, Rossum had snared seven interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns.

He was also fast. Real fast. How fast? He broke Rocket's 55-meter indoor track record. That fast.

While no Notre Dame fan would argue Rossum was a more explosive returner than Rocket, there's certainly a legitimate argument that he was equally as productive. Awesome Rossum returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, averaging 30.7 yards per return whenever the opponent was dumb enough to test him. His punt return numbers weren't too shabby either: three more touchdowns and a 15.8 yard average.

The nine total touchdown returns (3 kickoff, 3 punt, 3 interception) set the NCAA record. He also ran back a blocked PAT but that doesn't even count for the record books. The bottom line is that he had a nose for the endzone. And he was fast. Lightning fast.

Unfortunately YouTube let me down and only has one of his returns available to enjoy. I suppose--as the Texas Tornados so wisely said--a little bit is better than nada. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 3 & 4

The draft rolls on! For the results of round one and two click here.

3.01 (UHND) - Jerome Bettis, FB

"Thought about going defense again here, but it was too hard to pass up Bettis with this pick. Bettis will play RB in my offense and will give me the flexibility to play FB if I want to get Rocket some carries out of the backfield." - Frank

3.02 (Domer Law) - Ryan Harris, OT

3.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Jeff Faine, C

"Badass." - domer_mq

3.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Michael Floyd, WR

"I'm sticking on the offensive side of the ball for round three and snatching up a guy who will have rewritten the entire receiving record book at Notre Dame when all is said and done. Of course I refer to one Michael Floyd, the most impressive physical specimen to ever line up out wide for the Irish. He's proven in three years that it doesn't matter who is throwing him the ball, he's going to go up and get it and likely drag a couple defenders for a ride once he comes down." - Mattare

3.05 (Subway Domer) - Bobby Taylor, CB

"None of you are going to be able to throw the ball on the Subway Domer Disciples. Believe that." - Subway Domer

3.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Golden Tate, WR

"After going defense with my first two picks, I need a playmaker and Tate has Rocket-type versatility as my starting wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner and Wildcat back. Plus, Tate is a legitimate deep threat to bust the lid off opposing defenses. Sure Floyd, might drag a couple defenders along for the ride, but those same defensive backs won't get a hand on Tate. If he'd stuck around for his senior season, this is Notre Dame's most prolific wide receiver of all time." - Pete

4.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Tom Carter, CB

"Getting back to the defensive side of the ball with this elite cornerback who was a first round pick back in '92. There are bigger names in the secondary during the past 20 years, but Carter provides a lockdown defensive back for my defense. Obviously the genes are good as Brian Kelly offered a scholarship to his son, Alex Carter." - Pete

4.02 (Subway Domer) - Luke Petitgout, OT

"Hogs are needed along the trenches, and this former Irish tackle was one of the best to come out of South Bend in the last 20 years. His name means "petite gout-lover" in Portuguese." - Subway Domer

4.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Michael Stonebreaker, LB

"Pete said when he picked Te'o that there was a significant drop off at the position after Manti. I have to respectfully disagree. National championship pedigree? Check. All-american? Check. Clutch performer? Check. Tough as nails? Check. Great in coverage and run support? Check. Greatest name for a linebacker in history? Check. Stonebreaker bows to no Hawaiian." - Mattare

4.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Shane Walton, CB

4.05 (Domer Law) - Mirko Jurkovic, OG

4.06 (UHND) - Anthony Weaver, DE

"When Tuck was selected I debated which DE I would go after and ended up targetting the 2001 Team MVP and 2002 2nd Round Draft pick. I thought about other DE's here but Weaver's guady 21 tackles for loss in 2001 and 42 in his career - both good enough for 2nd all time at Notre Dame - pushed him ahead of the pack. Weaver is a big DE who can move inside if necessary who will anchor my DL." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

I think the instant analysis pretty much covers the entirety of my feelings on the Stonebeaker pick, but the Michael Floyd analysis does little to articulate how much I went back and forth on that pick. The two I was waffling between were Floyd and Bobby Taylor, a lockdown corner in a 20-year stretch where lockdown corners were few and far between in the South Bend. There were three things that pushed me to ultimately choose offense over defense in this instance.

First, there's the fact that Michael Floyd is a touchdown machine. He's averaged just a shade under a touchdown per game for his entire career, a mind-blowing statistic. It doesn't matter who is throwing him the ball--Clausen, Crist, Rees, whoever--he finds a way to come down with it.

The second reason is the because he is an absolutely devastating run blocker. If you go back and look at a lot of the big gains the Irish had on the ground this year on the edge you'll find #3 making a key block in many of them. If I ultimately end up going with an offense based heavily on the run (which is probable given the fact that the only two pure passers ND has had since Beuerlein are off the board) then he's going to be an incredibly valuable asset whether the play call is pass or run.

The final reason is that Floyd is the type of leader I want on this team. Coach Kelly has called him the hardest worker he's seen since he's been in coaching, which is a scary thought since he also happens to be one of the most physically gifted receivers in all of college football. Also let's not forget that Floyd had a legitimate opportunity to go pro after his junior season and choose to stay around. Bobby Taylor bolted for the NFL a year early.

I wanted those touchdowns, that willingness to do the dirty work, and that relentless work ethic. When I pulled the trigger I felt comfortable knowing the (soon to be) most prolific wide receiver in school history would help spearhead the WNG offense no matter who ended up under center.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Irish Fantasy Draft: Rounds 1 & 2

The fantasy draft is in full swing as you can see by the ticker located on the right sidebar. Here's a quick breakdown and analysis of the first two rounds of picks from the owners.

1.01 (UHND) - Rocket Ismail, WR

"I went back and forth on this pick for a while, but at the end of the day, I couldn't pass up Rocket simply because no player who has played for the Irish in the last 20 years could change a game the way he could. Not only is Rocket the most explosive player for ND in the last 20 years, but he may also be the most versatile. I can use him as a receiver, kick/punt returner, and even out of the backfield." - Frank

1.02 (Domer Law) - Brady Quinn, QB

"With Rocket off the board, I decided to take a signal caller with the second overall pick. It was a tough decision between Brady and Clausen, but ultimately I liked the way that Brady battled in close games better than Clausen's accuracy. If I was picking purely on skills, I'd have selected Clausen. Instead, I'm drafting the gamer." - Wacko

1.03 (Her Loyal Sons) - Ricky Watters, RB

1.04 (WeNeverGraduate) - Bryant Young, DT

"It's very tempting to take Clausen here, but I can find a solid quarterback with stronger leadership qualities later on. I'll snatch up the most disruptive defensive lineman ND's had since Browner and happily plug him in the middle of my 4-3 defense." - Mattare

1.05 (Subway Domer) - Jimmy Clausen, QB

"Where's my limo?!?" - The Subway Domer

1.06 (Irish Illustrated) - Chris Zorich, DT

"The two-time All-American brings national championship experience to my team to go with the kind of “bleed blue and gold” mentality that’s at the foundation of all great Notre Dame squads. And he’s going to knock your quarterback out of the game, so that helps too." - Pete

2.01 (Irish Illustrated) - Manti Te'o, LB

"The most gifted Irish linebacker in the past 20 years will run my defense and be able to make plays all over the field with Zorich in front of him. The Irish haven’t been flush with talent at this position and there’s a drop-off after Te’o." - Pete

2.02 (Subway Domer) - Jeff Burris, S

"Not only was Burris an All-American Safety, but he was also Notre Dame's top choice at running back near the goaline. Burris will play the same role as a Subway Domer Disciple." - The Subway Domer

2.03 (WeNeverGraduate) - Aaron Taylor, OT

"My goal going into this was to assemble a squad that was going to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Bryant Young will be the keystone of that strategy on defense and Aaron Taylor will be the same on offense. WeNeverGraduate welcomes the best offensive lineman ND's produced in the eligible time period (by a wide margin) to the team. Aaron, please feel free to place your 1993 Lombardi Award on my mantle." - Mattare

2.04 (Her Loyal Sons) - Justin Tuck, DE

"Because I'm coaching this team and I'll never fail to unleash hell." - domer_mq

2.05 (Domer Law) - Jeff Samardzija, WR

2.06 (UHND) - Todd Lyght, CB

"I wanted to go defense here and the linemen I wanted were off the board so I went with the 2x All American and #5 overall draft pick in the '91 Draft. Lyght gives my defense a lockdown corner to build around." - Frank

- - - - - - - - - -

Couldn't be happier with my first two picks. I reeled in a pair of All-Americans and first round picks to build around on each side of the ball, guys I had at #1 and #4 on my overall draft board. What makes them especially valuable is the fact that there's a very significant drop-off at their positions after them in terms of the talent pool. You could argue that Zorich is on the same tier as Young and I'd probably agree, but there's no one in the same stratosphere when it comes to Taylor at left tackle.

Passing on Clausen at #4 was a difficult decision. Jimmy had arguably the best season for a quarterback in school history in 2009, could make all the throws with pinpoint accuracy, and came up huge in the clutch week after week in the most stressful season in the history of football (10 games decided by a touchdown or less).

Some claim he's not "a winner" like Brady Quinn was, but I don't really buy into that. It wasn't his fault the Irish defense was the worst in school history his junior season. Had he been supported by even an average defense there's a good chance Notre Dame woud've landed in a BCS bowl. Would that have transformed him into a winner? The reality is without Jimmy that team easily could have gone 2-10.

What made me ultimately choose against him though was the fact that there's one thing that always bothered me about him: he made it crystal clear from day one that he was at Notre Dame for self-serving reasons and couldn't have cared less about the tradition, school, or history. He was using it as a three or four year class with Charlie Weis, nothing more.

I don't doubt he busted his butt to try to win, but my belief he didn't care enough was confirmed when I witnessed the way he reacted after losing his final home game to UConn (a game that delivered the final nail in the coffin for his head coach). Instead of being broken down and devastated post-game like freshman Manti Te'o was, he was smiling and taking pictures with his family on the field. He even went as far as to sneak his helmet to his brother to bag as a memento.

To me it brought his career in South Bend full circle. It started with the self-indulgent, grandiose announcement of his commitment to Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame where he made clear he was headed to Notre Dame not because he loved the school, but because he wanted Charlie Weis' tutelage and the exposure being under the dome brought him. It ended with smiles and laughs despite a devastating loss because he at least thought he'd achieved his ultimate goal of being groomed to be an NFL superstar.

It rubbed me the wrong way then and it rubs me the wrong way now. He never truly got or embraced Notre Dame and that's not the type of guy I need leading my squad.