Explaining Eifert's absence from Notre Dame's passing game

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Explaining Eifert's absence from Notre Dame's passing game

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Notre Dame rolled past Michigan State and Michigan en route to a top-10 ranking, tight end Tyler Eifert's role within the Irish offense was been noticeably small.

Eifert led FBS tight ends with 63 receptions for 803 yards last year, topping Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen and second-round draft pick Coby Fleener. But the senior and Irish captain has just one catch in Notre Dame's last two games, which coach Brian Kelly brushed off as the result of using Eifert more as a blocker than a pass-catcher.

"You guys seem to think he's going to get 90 balls," Kelly chided after Notre Dame's 13-6 win over Michigan."He's a blocking tight end who has the unique ability at the end of the game to spread out as a wide receiver and catch a pass. The game was such that he was required to be inside blocking and he did a heck of a job.He just continues to open everybody's eyes about his ability to be a wide receiver and a blocking tight end."

Maybe that's just Kelly trying to help Eifert's draft stock, as most questions about his game translating to the NFL regarded his blocking skills. And there is something to Eifert blocking more as Notre Dame's offense has mainly relied on the run in the last few weeks.

Regardless, one catch in two games means something's out of whack. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin shed some light on what's behind Eifert's drop off in box-score production.

"I don't think it's as much right now a product of Tyler not being involved in the passing game, per se, as much as how efficiently we can throw the ball in certain situations and make good decisions and make good reads and get the ball where it needs to get to," Martin explained. "Trust me, Tyler's been doing awesome and he's been an unbelievable teammate and competitor, but not just for him, for us, we're a better team if the ball gets in 80's direction more. It's certainly not by design that the ball's not going there."

Last year, defenses weren't able to key on Eifert, as they also had Michael Floyd to worry about. This year, though, a developing group of wide receivers haven't posed the same matchup challenges Floyd did, so defenses often are sliding coverages to keep the ball away from Eifert.

At the same time, though, Martin said there have been some missed reads where Eifert could've got the ball, an issue that certainly could speak to Everett Golson's inexperience at quarterback. Eiftert's only reception against Michigan State and Michigan was thrown by Tommy Rees, for what it's worth.

"I think it's a product of both of them trying to maybe spend more attention to him and us maybe not always reading it as clean as we'd like to read it," Martin said, "but we're working on it."

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

Miguel Gonzalez will head on a rehab assignment.

The White Sox pitcher has been on the 15-day disabled list since August 12 with a right groin strain.

Manager Robin Ventura said Gonzalez pitched in a simulated game on Saturday and it “went well.”

“Everything’s good,” Ventura said. “Next step is he’s going to go out and see how that goes.”

After a bullpen session on Wednesday, Gonzalez said he felt “a lot better” and “didn’t feel anything” while throwing in the bullpen.

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If all goes according to plan, Gonzalez would be one of a few roster moves after Sept. 1.

How the White Sox will balance the rotation in his return is uncertain.

“We talk about that all the time,” Ventura said, “just being able to find the right spot to put a guy in, if a guy’s gonna come out of it, if we’re just gonna leave everybody in there and do it.”

Gonzalez is 2-6 this season with a 4.05 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 19 games (18 starts).

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — How does a walk-on safety have a Notre Dame game ball despite never actually appearing in a game?

On the surface, that sophomore Rob Regan received that family heirloom last October after Notre Dame’s win over Navy may seem weird given he didn’t play a snap that day. But to everybody who sees the work Regan puts in at the LaBar Practice Complex, especially during weeks in which Notre Dame prepares to face an opponent that runs the triple option, it’s anything but strange. 

“There’s no question about it,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said. “He deserved it.”

“I personally don’t know who we would’ve given it to besides him,” cornerback Cole Luke added. “If we didn’t have Robby, we definitely wouldn’t have been as prepared as we were.”

For Rochell, Luke and the rest of the Irish defense, Regan’s work as Notre Dame’s scout team — er, “Swag Team” — quarterback during triple option preparation was an important key to solving the antiquated-yet-confounding offense. It’s an attack Notre Dame faces more than most other Power Five schools with Navy on the schedule every year, but heading into last season, coach Brian Kelly & Co. had to double down on their efforts to stop it.

Notre Dame’s defense didn’t put up much resistance against Navy in 2013 (34 points, 5.3 yards per play) and 2014 (39 points, 5.9 yards per play), and with Georgia Tech joining the Mids on the schedule last year, fixing those triple option defensive issues was a paramount concern. Army is on the schedule in 2016, too, so for the second consecutive year Notre Dame will face two triple option offenses.

Former defensive coach Bob Elliott moved off the field into a special assistant role, with one of his chief tasks being to figure out a way to better defend the triple option. But the decision of Regan, who successfully ran a triple option offense at Hinsdale South High School in the Chicago area, to walk on to the team turned out to be a huge boost to those efforts.

In the past, Notre Dame’s scout team quarterback for triple option weeks wasn’t a natural at running it and had to read each play off a card. That lack of fluidity not only meant fewer reps for the Irish defense, but the quality of them was way off what they’d face from Keenan Reynolds or whoever the opposing quarterback on Saturday would be.

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said those sub-optimal triple option looks in practice are relatively common across college football, which makes sense — it’s not an offense used much at the college level. So having someone on your roster who ran in in high school can be a boon to preparing to face it.

Regan doesn’t have to read off a card because he knows the offense so well. And that means more plays and a look closer to what Notre Dame sees in games.

“It changes everything,” Kelly said.

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Of course, the scout team work can’t completely replicate game action — Notre Dame doesn’t do nearly as much cut blocking in practice as it’ll see in games from option offenses, given the injury risk involved. And guys like Navy’s Reynolds and Tago Smith, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw run the option faster than Regan can in practice, too.

But Regan still gives Notre Dame as good an option look as it could ask for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“You can sit and practice against Navy out here and your scout team can do a good job, but it can’t touch what that look like at game time,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “They’re exceptional at it, it’s happening so fast. But the faster we can get it, the closer we can move it to it, the better.”

Regan doesn’t shy away from absorbing hard hits too, which helps Notre Dame’s defense play faster in practice. Former Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace marveled at how Regan was able to take so much physical punishment during practice — “I don’t know if it’s extra ice, if it’s shaking up the Space Jam water to get jacked up out there,” he said — while junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said earlier this month Regan’s role is “one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever seen."

“I like giving hits and taking hits,” Regan said. “I’m a physical guy — when I’m running the ball, I’d rather run him over than juking him out.

“I enjoyed it. It definitely took a toll on my body, but I was glad to be able to contribute to those wins.”

Regan initially played wide receiver for Hinsdale South, but was moved to quarterback two games into his junior year. Hinsdale South went 5-4 his junior year, then went 9-3 and reached IHSA 6A quarterfinals in Regan’s senior year. Regan rushed for 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2014.

“He’s a football kid,” Hinsdale South coach Mike Barry said. “(He) grew up playing football, has football smarts. We refer to guys as instinctual at times — he’s one of those type of players where he just has a feel for the game."

Regan was thinking about attending high-caliber academic institutions like Penn, Princeton, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago before Notre Dame came along. Kelly was in the Chicago suburbs to scout four-star Hinsdale South defensive end Joshua King — who went on to commit to Michigan State — and was pitched on Regan by Barry.

Once Notre Dame came into the picture (Regan, as you’d guess from that above list of colleges he was considering, had the grades to get in) it was an easy choice for him to head to South Bend. The combination of academics, football, location and faith made Notre Dame “the best fit for me,” Regan, who’s studying chemical engineering, said.

“(He’s) somebody that recognizes that, first of all, what a degree from Notre Dame is going to do for him, and somebody that’s got a lot of pride in playing team sports,” Kelly said. “He loves to play team sports. He knows that he’s got value.”

Regan’s ultimate goal is to get into a game before his time at Notre Dame is up — he’s hoping to get on a special teams unit, make a difference there and hope to get in a game at safety.

But he’s already been recognized by coaches with an honor only a handful of others received in 2015. Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to 22 points — 15 of which came in garbage time — and Navy to 24 points, totals that represent the kind of improvements made by the Irish in defending the option.

And Regan, the 6-foot-2, 200 pound walk-on, played a major part in those improvements. Even if he didn’t play.

“It was awesome,” Regan said of receiving the Navy game ball. “I never expected that I would be recognized like that. It wasn’t just me, it was the whole Swag Team, but I guess I was kind of the leader of that team. It meant a lot that coach Kelly took the time to recognize our hard work.”

And as for the game ball, which is in a case back home in Darien, Ill.?

“It might be a hand-me down for a couple generations,” Regan said with a smile.

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

The current state of affairs for the 2016 Bears is seriously concerning when, after adding multiple starting players and investing high draft choices, the best that can be said about the Bears defense is that it isn’t as bad as the Bears offense.

A unit predicted to contend for a spot among the NFL’s top 10 this year was pushed around for 378 yards and 23 points in a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To push all of it off onto the fact that it was a preseason game won’t work, if only because the No. 1 defense allowed 239 of those yards and 20 of those points in the first half.

One mitigating fact is that the Bears offense hit a new preseason low and was coming back off the field before most members of the defense had had time to look at photos and to hydrate. Five of the Bears’ first seven possessions lasted less than 1 minute 30 seconds. Defensive players usually had time to get water or get with their coaches; not both.

And the defense did stiffen in the red zone, forcing the Chiefs twice to settle for field goals with the ball inside the Chicago 10 and a third time at the 23. And players at least bristled at the suggestion that the Bears are soft. “I take that personally,” said safety Harold Jones-Quartey. "I have never heard that word… . The first time I’ve ever heard anybody call us ‘soft’ is [now].”

Coach John Fox found some good in “the way our defense improved. We got a couple turnovers down in the lower-red area.”

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But those were scant positives in a game that saw Kansas City put together drives of 50 yards or longer five of the first six times it had the football, and those were against the supposed front liners.

The Chiefs drove 53 and 62 yards on their first two possessions, which included conversions of third-and-5 and third-and-14, part of the Chiefs converting six of 10 third downs in the first half. (“Obviously our third-and-long defense wasn’t real sufficient,” Fox allowed.)

Kansas City piled up 106 yards in the first quarter and what defensive “stops” there were might just as easily be credited to Kansas City execution as Bears playmaking. The Chiefs arguably had their initial drive stopped as much by tailback Spencer Ware colliding with blocking back Darrin Reaves on a third-and-short (2) for no gain. A fourth long drive of the half ended only when the Chiefs had a Bears blitz blocked, only to have Smith miss wide open wideout Albert Wilson inside the Chicago 10.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points.

The game, in which starters and first-alternates play the longest of the preseason, had its points of player evaluation. Rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, whose preseason has been marked by impact plays (not all of them good, of course), did generate another in the third quarter with an interception that thwarted a Kansas City scoring drive deep in the Chicago end. This was, however, after he had lost the ball and the receiver on a 58-yard completion the previous Chiefs possession.

And rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard, after missing practice last week to attend to family matters, collected two quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for loss among his three solo stops, according to initial game stats.

But rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has missed practice time with three different health issues since the start of training camp, was limited in practice this week with a hamstring strain, and missed an important opportunity for much-needed work against unfamiliar competition.

“We got a chance to look at some young guys and make evaluations,” Fox said, “and that’s what preseason’s for.”