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Are Notre Dame’s NIL efforts enough? Is the O-line a concern? Fighting Irish mailbag


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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It’s Blue-Gold Game weekend and you’ve got questions. Less about the game itself than everything around it, from Notre Dame’s NIL push to the anticipated reveal of its next football building. There are also questions about punter departures, offensive line concerns and if it makes financial sense to book a hotel now for the College Football Playoff in December.

Let’s get started.

Why can’t any regular fan go online to the FUND website and in five minutes set up a one-time or monthly recurring donation? I imagine there would be thousands of fans more than happy to donate $20 a month, and a lot probably would donate more, and that could make a real difference. Other schools do this, why wouldn’t we? – Brian C.

You can go to the FUND website, fill out the “Contact Us” form and donate to the collective if you want to go that route. It’s not as quick as entering your credit card information straight into the site, but it’s not like FUND will turn down the donation. If you’re interested in contributing $20 per month to Notre Dame’s collective, the option is there.

But if you’re asking why Notre Dame doesn’t go directly to alumni and fans seeking donations to FUND, it’s my understanding that it doesn’t want to go retail while also creating the impression of asking for a double donation. There’s already donor fatigue at other schools — this story by Seth Emerson explains the issues — and Notre Dame doesn’t want to create a similar situation here. FUND is also very well, uh, funded. According to agents, Notre Dame is seen as aggressive and willing to pay. You probably noticed all the players Notre Dame has coming back this season, plus the next high-priced transfer quarterback on the roster. What the Irish are doing now is working.

In a lot of ways, other schools would prefer to take a page from Notre Dame, not the other way around.

Updates for the Gug are supposed to be released this weekend to coincide with the Blue-Gold Game. In an NIL era, are facilities still seen in the same light they once were with recruits? What would be your top-five must have updates for a new building/remodel? – Ryan C.

Interesting question. Facilities still matter, but with NIL carrying so much weight in recruiting these days, the functionality of those facilities now matters more than their style. To put it another way: When is the last time you saw an NFL free agent sign with the team because of its cafeteria or weight room? That decision is a business transaction. Now high school recruiting is more like that than when prospects had their heads turned by slides, lazy rivers or putt-putt golf courses. Instead of spending that money on construction projects, schools are better off spending that money on players … through a third party, of course.

As for Notre Dame’s new facility, nutrition should be priority No. 1. From everything I can gather, the plans should reflect as much. Notre Dame football should no longer be wheeling its training table meals down the sidewalk in carts, then putting them on an elevator to serve in a space that was designed to be a reception area/recruiting lounge. Notre Dame has come a long way from insisting football players eat at the dining halls because they needed to be close to the regular student body. This will be the next step in that evolution.

The Guglielmino Athletics Complex opened in 2005. (Matt Cashore / USA Today)

Second on my list would be recovery space for players. The Irish have invested here in recent years, both in personnel and product. It’s easy to find space for a person. It’s harder to find space for a wing of float tanks, cryotherapy chambers or laser therapy, depending on where Notre Dame wants to push forward in recovery. But when Notre Dame added a float tank later in Brian Kelly’s tenure, it basically shoehorned it into space dedicated to cold tubs.

Third would simply be space, whether that’s coaches offices or real estate for the players to get academic support. In Gug 1.0, one graduate assistant referred to his office as “the sweat shop” because basically three support staffers worked out of a utility closet. Jack Swarbrick has talked about stepping over players working on homework while sitting on the floor. The Gug was not designed for its current usage.

Surely there will be bells and whistles that Notre Dame includes in its new football operations center. For the expense of this project, it’s makes sense to put some style in it. But nutrition, recovery space, offices and academic real estate should be what drives the plans that come out on Saturday.

How concerned are you about the offensive line right now? Is pass protection the main problem or run blocking an equal concern? — Stephen O.

Concerned but not alarmed, if that makes sense.

The offensive line will take a step back this year, which is what happens when you lose a unanimous All-American at left tackle and a mid-round pick on the right side, even if Blake Fisher never quite took that next step during his junior year. The tackle position was going to need a lot of work. Not just this weekend, but all summer and then all preseason camp and likely during the season.

But the concerns at tackle seem to overwhelm what Notre Dame has going on the interior with Pat Coogan, Ashton Craig, Rocco Spindler and Billy Schrauth. No matter who starts at guard, the Irish will be confident about holding up going to Texas A&M. And the Aggies have recruited well enough along the defensive line that the Irish must manage those interior gaps to have a chance in College Station. Put another way, during last weekend’s scrimmage, it wasn’t like I noticed Rylie Mills and Howard Cross making a ton of plays. And it’s pretty clear both are NFL level players.

Last weekend’s scrimmage didn’t involve much run game success beyond the quarterback, which still counts. But the biggest concern was the inability to pick up pressures off the edge — both making sure the schemes were sound and simply holding up in one-on-one pass rush. Can Notre Dame get there before the season? Maybe. More likely, this offensive line feels little bit like the 2021 group, which fielded six starting lineups, including five in the first six weeks. Joe Rudolph shouldn’t need to go to that extreme, but it’s easy to look at the offensive line and wonder if it’s going to need some in-season work before the coaches truly have a handle on who can play best where.

Assuming the Irish aren’t over-run at Texas A&M, that’s fine. If all goes to plan, how Rudolph develops the offensive line to peak in December should matter more than how it looks during preseason camp or the Blue-Gold Game.



Notre Dame defense takes control in jersey scrimmage: Spring practice diaries

Welcome back! Three-point stance on the French Polynesian vacation … Island excursions or lounge chair and a cold beverage? Overwater bungalow or something else? Best part? — Jonathon G.

1. We did a cruise after spending time in Sydney. And for the record, Notre Dame really needs to look into a Shamrock Series game at the Allianz Stadium. From there, the cruise hit Fiji, Bora Bora, Mo’orea and a few other stops. Lots of scuba and snorkeling, so mostly excursions with beverages later.

2. Booking an overwater bungalow for two kids looking to check TikTok and play Fortnite? Nope. Interior cabins for everybody.

3. We did a scuba dive in Bora Bora where we saw seven giant oceanic manta rays, which was like being underwater with a 20-foot, two-ton alien.

Can you give us any information on the helmet communication? Is Notre Dame going to utilize this technology in 2024? Does it matter whether the opposing teams use the technology or not? Do you know if there is a helmet technology plan for the playoffs? — Kenny G.

Notre Dame actually gave the helmet communication a test run during bowl preparations but couldn’t use it in the game because Oregon State declined the opportunity to do it. Obviously, the Beavers had a lot of other issues going on with half the coaching staff leaving and double-digit opt-outs. But Notre Dame’s initial impression of the helmet communication was positive. Not much of a surprise there considering how absurd signaling has become in college football.

Incoming offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock is also on board with the helmet communication, although he’s not sure how it will impact the pace of play. As a reminder, the helmet communication rule would allow one player on each side of the ball to have a headset, which would cut off with 15 seconds remaining in the play clock or at the snap of the ball, whichever comes first. In theory, a team playing up-tempo could rush to the line of scrimmage, force the defense to align, then have the offensive coordinator call in an audible to the quarterback.

“We’re still going to have a way to kind of accelerate the speed of what we do,” Denbrock said. “I don’t know that it affects it. I haven’t found that so far. Maybe some of that information will come a little bit more clear as we move.

“But I like it so far, and the quarterbacks like it, because they’re not staring at the signal. They’re actually just looking at the defense or getting the offense lined up. I think actually in the long run, it will help us run more plays than less.”

One side note, unlike the Sun Bowl when Notre Dame couldn’t use helmet technology because Oregon State opted against it, teams wouldn’t need to agree on using (or not using) helmet communications this season. If you want to use it, great. If the opponent doesn’t, that’s their decision.



Helmet communication, 2-minute warning coming to college football

Why would our starting punter transfer? Is it a) Iowa offered an NIL bag or b) Mike Denbrock has a burn the boats strategy and we will never punt? — Nick J.

Behind the scenes, Bryce McFerson struggled with his consistency most of spring practice, more so than what showed during last weekend’s open scrimmage. As much as Notre Dame didn’t want to lose its starting punter during spring practice, the belief is the Irish will manage, whether that’s graduate transfer Eric Goins or finding something new in the transfer portal.

Consider the McFerson saga another example of why it doesn’t sense for a program of Notre Dame’s level to take scholarship kickers and punters out of high school, barring some unique circumstances. The Irish got somebody better than McFerson two years ago in Harvard transfer Jon Sot, who beat out the freshman. There’s a decent chance the Irish can do that again.

Anything you can do to make Aug. 31 arrive quicker, Pete? My NHL team is on the verge of missing the playoffs — again — and my MLB teams must have licensing agreements with Ambien. See what you can do please. Appreciate it. — Brian S.

As a Liverpool supporter, I hear you.

How soon is too soon to make my South Bend travel plans for Dec. 20 and 21 this year? — Patrick F.

I’ve been keeping an eye on hotel rates in the area for that weekend and it appears some of the chains are starting to catch on to the potential of a Notre Dame football game. The Courtyard in Mishawaka lists at $899/night that weekend and has a “Special Event” designation on the rooms, but the Fairfield Inn just 1.6 miles away can still be had for $271/night with the ability to cancel as late as Dec. 18.

Might be worth locking up that reservation in advance.

Remember, everybody is living through the expanded College Football Playoff for the first time. And there aren’t best practices for how to handle it. But if you’re college football fan who’s on their game, a cheap hotel room is a market inefficiency there for the taking.



Can CJ Carr get into the mix for the Irish at QB?

(Top photo: John Byrum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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