by Mike Coffey
Once again, the start of the season looms, and it’s time to kick off the regular season editions of the Irish Blogger Gathering. This week, Keith Arnold of NBC’s Inside the Irish answered my five … er, three questions, and you can read his contributions below. My questions were provided by Aaron Horvath at Strong & True, and my answers can be seen there**. Be sure to check out the other exchanges on Her Loyal Sons and Subway Domer.
Me: One of the issues with ND’s Weis-coached teams is their tendency not to hit in practice, which reflected in poor on-field performance when the time to hit came. Brian Kelly’s teams certainly hit in practice, but we’re seeing the cost of that this season with some untimely injuries. Would you agree the perceived cost is just one of the things you have to deal with in football and ND will still benefit down the road this season by practicing at full speed?
KA: Absolutely. If anything, the rash of injuries will force one of this team’s greatest assets to show itself early: Depth. Nobody should be in the business of making the claim that this team will be better without guys like Danny Spond and Tony Springmann, but having talented youngsters like Jaylon Smith and Isaac Rochelle — while platooning with other established veterans — is about the best thing you could ask for if an injury is going to occur.
Of the Weis-coached teams’ issues, hitting in practice might have been a product of a stunning lack of depth, which was a product of Willingham’s recruiting failures at the end of his tenure as well as Weis’ yo-yo’ing back and forth with defensive schemes and learning how to evaluate recruits as a first time college coach. After watching five seasons of Notre Dame routinely being the less physical team playing on Saturdays, a few camp injuries are an acceptable price to pay for the transformation of this program.
Me: Building on my first question, who do you believe has been given the greatest opportunity by the rash of injuries, and how do you predict that player will respond?
KA: No question it’s got to be Jaylon Smith. With Spond in front of him and Ben Councell also able to contribute, Smith looked fairly blocked from the field, especially considering how this coaching staff plays freshmen. But with Spond’s injury all but forcing Smith into the rotation, I’m borrowing from something I’ve already been writing, but we’ll see if Irish fans ultimately remember Spond as something of a Wally Pipp.
This time of year, optimism and expectations often times take us to crazy places. But I think Smith will rapidly present himself as one of the team’s top playmakers on defense, and play his way to a consensus freshman All-American spot. It’s crazy to think about it, but Smith might be the team’s best cover corner, their best linebacker in coverage, and their best pass rusher. I feel a little bit like Beano Cook just writing that sentence, but he’s got a skill-set that could be that good.
Me: What are top three things you want to see this team accomplish in the Temple game (other than the win, of course)?
KA: (1) Dominate an inferior opponent without showing anything other than the strictly vanilla, (2) Make one big play in the special teams game and don’t make any bad ones, and (3) Play a clean game on offense with no turnovers.
** It’s been brought to my attention the answers I submitted to S&T’s questions were altered slightly prior to their publication on that blog. The only change I’m aware of is the “but don’t gamble, it’s bad” parentheses in my first answer, but apparently some sentences were also removed.