Marcus Freeman is a busy man. Between recruiting, the spring ball, training with the team and his family, it’s amazing that he has time for something else on top of that.
He found time to meet with the Notre Dame quarterbacks once a week. As ISD’s JOHN BRICE wrote last week, it was a way for him to get to know those players who hold the most important position on the pitch. His previous role as defensive coordinator was not designed for him to create a relationship with them and it’s great to see him take the initiative to change that.
The link with the players is important. I don’t want to take anything away from that aspect for Freeman and the quarterbacks. However, I’m equally interested in how his perspective on the other side of the ball can help quarterbacks on the field.
Bill Belichick built his coaching reputation on the defensive side of the ball, but he will forever be linked to Tom Brady with all the success they had in New England. In 2009, NFL Films released “A Football Life: Bill Belichick” and that show went behind the scenes with him, which included a look at his weekly meetings with Brady.
The most famous part of those meetings that was shared was a discussion between Belichick and Brady about Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed.
In ESPN’s recent “Man in the Arena” series on Brady, he opened up about how much those meetings meant to him when it came to his growth as a player.
“When I think back to that time (in New England), it was really a growth stage in my career,” Brady said. “It was a development of myself as a player but also a person off the pitch. I was absorbing all the information. Even today I look at some of these young players and they say to me, ‘What do you think- you of this guy in his third or fourth year?’ In my head, I say to myself, OK, he has talent, but who is going to teach him how to evolve and grow, who is going to help him learn what football is, what is his knowledge?
“I had Coach Belichick there to teach me. Every Tuesday we would meet and go through the entire starting defensive lineup and their strengths and weaknesses. What we could attack. What he was looking at and how I was able to see the things he saw so I could gain confidence and look ahead.
I don’t know if the inspiration for these meetings came from the Brady-Belichick dynamic or if the main goal was to better connect with the players as individuals, but the benefits of having these meetings with a coach defensive-minded leader are obvious. While Tommy Rees will be most responsible for their development, Freeman can offer a different perspective which should be extremely valuable.
What will be interesting to see is how far these fixtures will evolve from where they started in January to where they can be over the course of the season. Not only that, but it’s exciting to think it could go even further with the quarterbacks in the room right now, all of whom still have several years of eligibility left.
Freeman is not Belichick and none of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks are Brady. I also don’t know if it’s going to propel any of these players to incredible heights like it did with Brady. I just know that these meetings can help to deepen the knowledge of these players in addition to establishing a better relationship with their new head coach. On the football side, this might be the best thing Freeman has done so far since taking office.
2. I knew Notre Dame had a lot of talent on their linebacker roster this season and had an infusion with four freshmen already signed up this spring. Still, I was a bit surprised that of the 11 stock linebackers on the list, nine of them were top-notch rookies (rated 4 or 5 stars).
The only two that weren’t? That would be Jack Kiser, who just finished with the 8th best PFF rating for a Power 5 linebacker in his first season as a starter, and Marist Liufau, who is expected to be the team’s top linebacker.
They will certainly be no less talented in the years to come with another pair of 4 stars engaged in Drayk Bowenand Preston Zinter. They will most likely add to that in this recruiting cycle as well.
Al Golden has entered into a rather pleasant position in his position. It’s not quite what Georgia had with Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall, but it could be on its way.
3. I certainly want to hear more about Adidas’ plans to open up their NIL network to all school athletes under contract with Adidas, but it looks like this is going to be the start of something for these companies.
I have to imagine Notre Dame partner Under Armor will do something similar in the near future.
The details are important in this regard, especially in terms of what the athletes can get out of it, but I wonder if this is something that could cause Notre Dame to finally walk away from its UA contract. It’s pretty clear that they lag behind Nike, Jordan Brand and Adidas in popularity and in the grand scheme of money made from NIL I don’t think it helps to be partnered with the least popular of this group.
4. Kirk Herbstreit will announce Thursday night NFL games with Amazon as well as his regular college football duties for ESPN. It’s hard to blame him for hitting while the iron is hot and getting double payday, but I don’t see that making him any worse at his college football gig.
There is no doubt that he is polite enough to come in and do well in both jobs. I thought Drew Brees did a solid job with Notre Dame games on Saturday and then covering the NFL for Football Night in America on Sunday. But Brees has the advantage of having the Irishman week after week and only having to meet new opponents half a dozen times in a season. It will be very different for Herbstreit who will call different NFL teams each week, then travel across the country to do College Gameday…then do the Saturday Night Game involving two different college teams for ABC.
I know there are a lot of college football fans who don’t like him. I am not one of them. I don’t think he’s the best college football analyst overall, but he’s better than most. I just don’t see how that makes him any better at what he already does now and I’m sure anyone can really be great at analyzing NFL and college games with the amount of preparation it takes to do both.
5. Most people may be focusing on Kyle Hamilton turning 40 at Pro Day at Notre Dame on Friday, but I’m really interested to see how Kyren Williams tests. His NFL Combine numbers were disappointing. Nor were they entirely unexpected.
He was always a better footballer than an athlete. This usually doesn’t translate well in these testing situations and even with plenty of time to prepare, it would have been surprising if it showed some weird numbers.
He ran a 4.65 and had a 32-inch vertical in Indianapolis. Theo Riddick, who was an inch shorter and seven pounds heavier, ran a 4.68 and also jumped 32 inches while at the NFL Combine following his Notre Dame career. I know Williams wants to prove he can be more than a third back and his college film suggests he could be more than that. Then again, his test numbers and his strengths as a player suggest he could very well be a Riddick-type player in the league. He played seven years at the senior level and was very productive in his role.
I bet a bunch of running coaches will want Williams and a bunch of scouts are more lukewarm based on his athletic profile. We’ll see if he can put together a day on Friday that wins over some scouts and makes those RB coaches fight harder for him.
6. I’ll be in town for Pro Day and open practice on Saturday. I’ll do my best not to overreact to a day because it’s just practice. It’ll be tough, though, because that’s all we’ll see until the Blue-Gold match.
It’ll probably be unfair to a few players who get criticized for not showing enough in the brief time the media has access to (think Isaiah Foskey last summer) or those who might get too much hype. in one big day (think Kevin Bauman last summer, whose season was derailed by injury).
The reality is that there are very few players who don’t have good days and bad days. Even All-Americans have their ups and downs, much like Julian Love did in the summer of 2018. If we had only seen a practice at the start of camp, we might have thought he was ready to step back as a junior. We got to see several practices during this year and in the end he was as good as everyone expected.
So as everyone prepares to freshen up to read the training reports on Saturday, remember the warning not to overreact to someone having a good day or someone else who’s debate. It could swing the other way the next time they practice.