Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame on Thursday announced the formal hiring of two new assistant coaches, one of which featured a somewhat surprising postscript. 

The program's new wide receivers coach will be DelVaughn Alexander, who joins the Irish from Arizona State. Alexander coached tight ends for the Sun Devils in 2016 and spent 2012-2015 as ASU's wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Prior to his stint in Tempe, Washington was Wisconsin's receivers coach from 2007-2011 and also spent time at UNLV, Oregon State and San Diego State. 

"I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country,” Alexander said. “Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” coach Brian Kelly said “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

In addition to Washington, Notre Dame announced the hiring of Matt Balis as strength and conditioning coach, with Balis replacing longtime Brian Kelly lieutenant Paul Longo in that position. Longo has "taken a leave of absence" from the Irish, according to the program's press release. 

Balis has served in strength coach roles at Houston (2001-2002), Utah (2004), (Florida 2005-2006), Virginia (2007-2008), Mississippi State (2009-2013) and UConn (2014-2016). At UConn, Balis worked under former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco; while at Utah and Florida, Balis worked with current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. 

Whatever changes Balis brings to Notre Dame strength and conditioning will be necessary, as the Irish frequently ran out of gas late in games in 2016. By S&P+, Notre Dame had the second-best first quarter offense in college football last year, but ranked 90th in the fourth quarter. Similarly, Notre Dame's defense had its lowest ranking (61st) in the fourth quarter. 

Granted, some of those struggles were due to poor playcalling and gameplanning, but far too often did Notre Dame's players hit a metaphorical brick wall in the final 15 minutes. Perhaps an infusion of new energy into the weight room will help reverse that trend. 

"It's an honor and dream come true to be part of the Notre Dame football program," Balis said. "I'm humbled by this opportunity and I'll work hard everyday to give our players and program my absolute best."

"Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh," Kelly said. "He's already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn't be more excited to have him in place moving forward."

A safety at No. 3? Historically it's a reach, but maybe not for Bears in 2017

A safety at No. 3? Historically it's a reach, but maybe not for Bears in 2017

Since 1991, only eight safeties have been among the first 10 players selected in the NFL Draft. Of those, only three have been top five picks.

With the Bears having across-the-board needs, grabbing a safety with the No. 3 pick in three months may seem like a stretch. But ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Jacksonville Jaguars nabbing LSU safety Jamal Adams with the fourth overall pick, and mentioned on Thursday that the Bears could be in the mix for him as well. If Ryan Pace & Co. are looking for the best available player, Adams could wind up being that guy. 

Adams' versatility, notably, would answer a question Pace will have to pose when looking at a safety: Would he prefer a safety who can be a rangy cover guy, or does he want a physical, downhill player who can line up closer to the box? 

"He can do anything you want," Kiper said. "He can cover on the back end as a center fielder, he can come up in the box, he tackles well, he works hard. He's going to be a premier player."

The 6-foot-1, 213 pound Adams totaled 76 tackles his junior year at LSU, with 7 1/2 tackles for a loss, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and four pass break-ups. Kiper has him ranked sixth on his big board, though with the same grade as the third-best player on it. Scouts Inc rates Adams as the fourth-best player in the 2017 draft class. 

As things stand in January, Kiper has the Bears selecting Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen at No. 3. A defensive lineman would be a far more conventional pick at No. 3, where a franchise-altering talent can be plucked (the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers took defensive end Joey Bosa there in 2016). 

[MORE: A list of players drafted by those who coached them in the Senior Bowl]

The last safety taken in the top five was Eric Berry, who the Kansas City Chiefs took fifth overall in 2010. Since 1991, only one safety has gone higher than that — Eric Turner, who was the No. 2 pick in the 1991 draft by the Cleveland Browns. The success rate of top 10 safeties in the last 25 years is high, too. 

Turner led the NFL in interceptions with nine in 1994 and made two Pro Bowls, though his career was tragically cut short when he died of stomach cancer in 2000. Berry is widely regarded as one of the best safeties in the NFL and is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All Pro. 

Roy Williams (2002 No. 8, Dallas) was a five-time Pro Bowler for the Cowboys; Sean Taylor (2004 No. 5, Washington) was a two-time Pro Bowler who died far too young at the age of 24 in 2007; Donte Whitner (2006 No. 8, Buffalo) made three Pro Bowls, though none with the Bills; and LaRon Landry (2007 No. 6, Washington) reached the 2012 Pro Bowl but was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in 2015 for a third violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug testing. 

Stanley Richard (1991 No. 9, San Diego) and Michael Huff (2006 No. 7, Oakland) are the only players among those eight top-10 safeties who didn't go on to reach a Pro Bowl.

Those eight players, though, only represent 3 percent of top 10 picks since 1991. Conversely, 20 percent of the top 10 picks in the last 25 years have been defensive linemen. 

Or, to put it another way, only 2 percent of top five picks since 1991 have been safeties. That would signal that, most years, taking a safety at a pick as high as the Bears have is a reach. 

Still, Kiper doesn't necessarily see Adams like that at No. 3. But given the recent history of success with highly-picked safeties, perhaps the Bears will wind up considering him with such an critical selection. 

"Chicago certainly could use a player with his capabilities," Kiper said. "He's going to go very high. … Anywhere in the top five, he could go."

Former White Sox OF Tim Raines elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

Former White Sox OF Tim Raines elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

On his tenth and final year on the ballot, Tim Raines finally earned enough votes to earn the title of being a baseball immortal. 

"Rock" Raines will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer after 86 percent of voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America cast ballots for the former White Sox outfielder. Raines played for the White Sox from 1991-1995, but was best known for being a star outfielder for the Montreal Expos from 1979-1990.

Raines received the second-highest vote percentage among the three players who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell (86.2 percent) and former Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez (76 percent) will join Raines in the class of 2017. 

Over his 23-year career, Raines put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume in spite of being overshadowed by fellow leadoff hitter and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. Over 10,359 plate appearances (63rd all-time), Raines stole 808 bases (5th), drew 1,330 walks (38th), scored 1,571 runs (54th), hit 113 triples (118th) and had an on-base percentage of .385 (135th). His 69.1 WAR ranks 73rd in major league history and is squarely in the realm of plenty of current Hall of Famers, including Barry Larkin (70.2), Carlton Fisk (68.2), and Ryne Sandberg (67.5), among others.

Raines made seven consecutive All-Star teams from 1981-1987 and won the 1987 All-Star Game MVP. He led the National League in runs scored twice, led the National League with 38 doubles in 1984, hit a league-best .334 in 1986 and stole 70 or more bases in six consecutive seasons (including 90 in 1983).

[WHITE SOX TALK PODCAST: Going deep with 2016 first-round pick Zack Collins]

In 1993, Raines was an integral part to the White Sox American League West crown, with the then-33-year-old hitting .306 with an .880 OPS, both of which were his best marks of his post-Expos career. 

"We got a guy at the top who could steal bases," former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura, who played with Raines from 1991-1995, recalled last summer. "He got on base and did a lot of things. A switch-hitter that could get on base and steal some bases. He was a definite impact, similar to what Rickey did with the A's and some other teams. He just immediately gave credibility at the top of the lineup.

"… When you break down his numbers with some other people, I think he ranks right up there with anybody."

Still, Raines' Hall of Fame election has hardly been a sure thing since he debuted on the 2008 ballot. His year-by-year vote percentages reveal gradual progress, then a surge in 2016:

2008: 24.3 percent
2009: 22.6 percent
2010: 30.4 percent
2011: 37.5 percent
2012: 48.7 percent
2013: 52.2 percent
2014: 46.1 percent
2015: 55.0 percent
2016: 69.8 percent

"This is probably the first year out of the nine years that I've been on the ballot that I really, really feel like I have a chance," Raines said last May. 

What began as a sort of fringy, sabermetric-oriented campaign to get Raines elected eventually received a groundswell of support from a broad voting audience. And because of it, on July 30 this summer, Raines will head to Cooperstown to take his place among the greatest players to ever play the game.