Jones expected to help fill Notre Dame's leadership void in 2013


Jones expected to help fill Notre Dame's leadership void in 2013

As Robby Toma walked off the field for the last time as a college player, he had a message for senior-to-be T.J. Jones: lead them next year.

For Jones, that role began to come into focus in 2012.

I knew once the senior class graduated that a lot of eyes were going to be on me as a leader, Jones said. I tried to lead this team as a junior, and next year I plan to be the leader of this offense, just with my experience being a senior and being in the role Ive played in the offense these last three years, I feel its only necessary.

Notre Dame is losing three of its four pillars from the 2012 locker room next year, with only offensive lineman Zack Martin returning among the teams captains. Gone, too, are seniors Braxston Cave, Theo Riddick and Zeke Motta, among others.

Replacing Manti Teos presence in the locker room wont be easy -- obviously, neither will replacing his presence on the field, too -- seeing as this was a linebacker who calmed down quarterback Everett Golson at Oklahoma, the site of Notre Dames biggest win of 2012.

Whereas Teo, Martin, Tyler Eifert and Kapron Lewis-Moore were impact guys, Jones hasnt proven to be that over his first three years at Notre Dame. Solid is a better descriptor, as the undersized Jones caught 50 passes for 649 yards and four touchdowns in 2012.

His ball skills are ridiculous, gushed offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. It's hard to throw a ball he won't catch for you. He's a great route runner. He's super quick. He understands the game, he's tough. He has all the traits.

One of those traits, too, is in his leadership ability. Its one Notre Dame will count on next year, as its underclassmen look to a new crop of seniors for guidance.

He's really set the tone as leadership for our offense how he practices every day, Martin said, which is what we're most thankful for him because we knew he could play.

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick tells ESPN Brian Kelly will be back in 2017

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick tells ESPN Brian Kelly will be back in 2017

Brian Kelly's job at Notre Dame apparently is not in jeopardy despite the team's 2-5 start to the 2016 season. 

Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told that Kelly "will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year."

Kelly has come under fire for his perceived penchant for criticizing players before himself as well as his behavior on the sidelines as Notre Dame's chances of becoming bowl eligible have slipped this season. The seventh-year Irish coach, though, was praised for his relationship with his team by Swarbrick, who told ESPN it's "probably as strong as any that I've seen with him at Notre Dame." Multiple players said after Notre Dame's loss to Stanford last weekend that they didn't believe Kelly had lost the team

Kelly and Notre Dame agreed to a six-year contract extension in January that runs through the 2021 season. 

Notre Dame grades: Highs and lows on special teams

Notre Dame grades: Highs and lows on special teams

With Notre Dame in its bye week, we’re grading each unit on the 2-5 Irish. We’ve covered the coaching staff, offense and defense, so today we’re closing out the midterm report card with special teams. 

Placekicking: C

Justin Yoon already has more misses (three) on nine kicks than he had last year (two) on 17 attempts. A blocked attempt at Texas and a miss against Duke hurt in three-point losses, though his grade gets boosted a bit given he managed to connect on a field goal at N.C. State, which looked akin to kicking a bag of wet rags from a puddle (full credit to long snapper Scott Daly and holder Montgomery VanGorder, too, for successfully getting the ball down for Yoon in those awful conditions). 

Punting: C

It’s been a boom-or-bust season for Tyler Newsome, who’s blasted some bombs, like a 69-yarder at N.C. State, but also has had a few shanks, like his 24-yarder that gave Texas the ball at its own 32-yard line before the Longhorns drove to briefly take the lead in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s season-opening loss in Austin. Newsome ranks 29th in FBS with an average of 43.69 yards per punt, though this unit’s grade is dinged thanks to allowing that blocked punt/touchdown at N.C. State that wound up being the difference in Hurricane Matthew. 

Kick/punt returns: B+

C.J. Sanders remains an explosive returning weapon, taking a kick back 93 yards for a touchdown against Syracuse and nothing 40- and 24-yard punt returns in Notre Dame’s first two games of the season. A few points are taken off the grade here for a Michigan State punt bouncing off Miles Boykin’s calf and being recovered by the Spartans, which sparked their 36-point surge in mid-September. 

Kick/punt coverage: D+

Yoon has done a good job kicking directionally on kickoffs — he deftly placed a pair of kicks into the back corner of the end zone against Stanford, which would’ve been huge had Christian McCaffrey played — which is probably the biggest positive here. Shaun Wilson's 96-yard kickoff return took the shine off Notre Dame’s 14-0 early lead against Duke and helped propel the Blue Devils to a 38-35 win; on punt returns, the Irish rank 122nd in FBS, allowing 15.77 yards per return. 

Jarron Jones: A+

Jones gets his own grade here for his unique and, quite frankly, incredible knack for blocking kicks. The graduate student blocked a pair of PAT attempts against Texas and Syracuse that were each returned for two-point scores, with the one against Texas tying the game at 37. Jones has six blocked field goals/PATs in his career, earning himself a special distinction here in the special teams category.