Jaylon Smith's freak injury comes to mind as Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey skip bowl games

Jaylon Smith's freak injury comes to mind as Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey skip bowl games

Jaylon Smith hasn’t been specifically mentioned by LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, but both those star running backs couldn’t have avoided the freak injury that the former Irish linebacker suffered in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. 

Smith’s injury — a torn ACL and LCL, and more importantly for his draft stock, nerve damage in his knee — came on a relatively routine play after which Ohio State offensive lineman Taylor Decker shoved Smith to the side. Smith, being the athletic freak that he was, tried to plant his left knee in the ground instead of rolling to the turf, as most players without the physical gifts possessed by Smith would’ve been forced to do. 

It’s a gruesome injury to re-watch nearly a year after it occurred — Smith’s leg, from below his kneecap to his ankle, twisted in a sickening direction. These kind of freak injuries are a common occurrence in a sport as violent as football, though. 

It just so happened that injury probably cost Smith upward of $15 million. 

So that brings us back to Fournette and McCaffrey, both of whom announced this month that they will not play in their respective bowl games and will focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.  

More significant to both than what happened to Smith, though, is just how much both Fournette and McCaffrey have been used in the last three years. Consider this:

As for Fournette, he touched the ball 682 times over his three years in Baton Rouge. That’s a lot of battering, too. 

But given what happened to Smith, it’s hard to criticize either player for making a logical financial decision. Fournette appears destined to be a top-10 pick, while McCaffrey likely will come off the board late in the first round. Let’s say Fournette goes No. 3, where CBS Sports’ Rob Rang has him projected. Last year’s third overall pick — San Diego Charges defensive end Joey Bosa — signed a $25.8 million contract with a $17 million signing bonus (albeit after a lengthy, tumultuous process). If Fournette were to play in the Citrus Bowl against Louisville and suffer a significant injury, it could drop him out of the first round and cost him no less than $15 million and potentially more than $20 million. That’s generational wealth being taken away. 

The same goes for McCaffrey, where dropping out of the first round due to a significant injury could cost him around $5 million. Why risk it to play in the Sun Bowl, a game that in the grand scheme of things won’t do much to affect Stanford’s trajectory?

That may not be good for college football, but whatever impact it has on the quality of bowl season falls well short of the financial impact an injury could have in one of these games. After all, the NFL Draft is the first chance for any of these players to make money on their football abilities, and they should be allowed to take full advantage of it in whatever way they choose. 

It’s also worth noting that there was no consideration from Smith to not play in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, which certainly was a bigger game than the 2016 Sun Bowl or Citrus Bowl. And consider what Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who was with Smith in the University of Phoenix Stadium locker room after his injury, said after the game:

“This is such a special kid,” Swarbrick said. “His entire focus wasn’t a bunch of questions about consequences, it was, you gotta get me back out there so I can be with my teammates. That’s what we focused on, getting him showered, getting him braced and getting him back out there.”

There’s no wrong answer to the question posed to these highly regarded NFL prospects about participating in their team’s bowl game. Keep that in mind if this trend continues beyond Fournette and McCaffrey. 

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."

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Mike Elko's first coaching staff as Notre Dame defensive coordinator is beginning to take shape, with the Irish announcing Thursday the hiring of Clark Lea as linebackers coach. 

Lea spent 2016 as Wake Forest's linebackers coach -- under Elko -- and previously held positions on coaching staffs at Bowling Green, Syracuse and UCLA. 

"Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system -- having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

In 2016, Lea coached Demon Deacons linebacker Marquel Lee, who was the only FBS player with 100 or more tackles, 20 or more tackles for a loss and 7 1/2 or more sacks last fall. Nationally, Lee ranked 62nd in tackles (105), 10th in tackles for a loss (20) and 53rd in sacks (7 1/2).

Lea also worked with former All-American linebacker Akeem Ayers at UCLA. 

The Nashville native and Vanderbilt alum (he earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in political science) was also nominated by FootballScoop for its linebackers coach of the year award in 2012 while working with Elko at Bowling Green. 

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”