Irish coaching shuffle pays off for secondary

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Irish coaching shuffle pays off for secondary

Among the plenty of feel-good stories about Notre Dame's championship run is one that hasn't been covered too heavily: All those coaching shifts and additions that happened last winter wound up paying off for the undefeated Irish.

After last season, offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, offensive line coach Ed Warinner and running backs coach Tim Hinton left the program. Chuck Martin was moved from safeties coach to offensive coordinator while Tony Alford shifted from wide receivers to running backs, filling those two holes internally. Veteran position coaches Harry Hiestand and Bob Elliott were brought on to coach Notre Dame's offensive line and safeties, respectively, to round out the staff.

Specifically, the addition of Elliott has been key in guiding the growth of Notre Dame's safeties. That's not to say the other coaching shifts haven't been beneficial -- Zack Martin said a key reason for his 2013 return was getting to play another year under Hiestand, while Everett Golson has been appreciative of his offensive coordinator's tough love.

And Matthias Farley, a greenhorn safety, credited Elliott for steering him through a sharp learning curve.

"It's been monumental in my growth, because coach Elliott has taken time out his days, after practice, his down time in between coaching meetings he'll sit and watch practice film with me after each and every practice he'll critique it and see areas I need to improve on, on and off the field," Farley said. "It's been a huge asset to have him in my corner."

Farley was a player Elliott figured would fit in on special teams when he first evaluated him in the spring. But when Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season in Week 3, Farley had to step in, and he's done a solid job alongside Zeke Motta since.

Elliott wasn't some unfamiliar face, though. He coached defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks during each's playing days at Iowa, and brought to Notre Dame 33 seasons of coaching knowledge.

"He's somebody that has a great deal of experience as a coordinator on the BCS level, incredible amount of experience, and he doesn't have an ego," coach Brian Kelly said. "He wants to just fit into the staff dynamics. For us, that's one of our key ingredients to success is to have a staff that puts their egos aside and really works on the development of their players. He's done an incredible job."

While Notre Dame's secondary looked like a major weakness heading into the season, it's grown into a solid group -- even if three of its four starters didn't play much of their current positions in high school. Farley, who was recruited to Notre Dame as a wide receiver, and Bennett Jackson, a high school receiver as well, gave plenty of credit to Elliott and Cooks for their development in 2012.

"A lot of credit needs to go to the coaches and how they've developed us," Farley said. " I have confidence in the fact we can do the roles that are asked of us. Bennett, KeiVarae (Russell) are very athletic, very talented but to also have great coaching behind them is a great combination."

"We would not be where we are without those coaches developing those players to the level they are today," Kelly added.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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