When was the last time the Notre Dame football program destroyed the combine? Not just had a guy do well in a particular drill, a la Will Fuller in the 40, but across the board. Has it ever happened?
Whether it has or it hasn’t, it happened at the 2019 combine.
Miles Boykin was obviously the headliner, who started to create a buzz on the internet with his 43.5 inch vertical leap and 11 foot, 8 inch broad jump, among the best ever at the wide receiver position.
Then came the 40, and a video posted by Chase Claypool of Boykin’s teammates celebrating his time that took the hype to the viral level, with writers like The Ringers Robert Mays commenting on the show of jubilation and camaraderie.
This is so damn fun. https://t.co/6MeSjhi63K
— Robert Mays (@robertmays) March 2, 2019
The performances didn’t stop there, though. Drue Tranquill also had an excellent combine, posting elite scores in the 40, bench, shuttle, and broad jump, posting a top 25 RAS (relative athletic score) score all time for linebackers. Jerry Tillery posted a top 30 RAS score at all positions, and Dexter Williams also tested out as near elite, even with a 40 time that was deemed as disappointing.
Notre Dame had some players who tested really well at the combine. Drue Tranquill, Miles Boykin, Dexter Williams and Jerry Tillery on his torn labrum showed out. Doesn’t include Julian Love who was still solid. RAS score via @MathBomb pic.twitter.com/GkkPSu8RyR
— Henry Elizondo (@HenryElizondo9) March 5, 2019
For more information on what a RAS score is and how it’s measured, check out this blog.
That’s four players, across four different positions, who helped themselves immensely at the NFL combine while performing just the strength and agility drills. In the past, Notre Dame players have been relying on their tape to carry them through. In 2019, they had their physical performance to boost them up.
Huge Leaps From 2016
When Matt Balis was hired to replace Paul Longo in 2016, there was the usual hype when a new strength coach comes in, but also the usual skepticism. Every strength coach vows to come in and change the program, and pictures are posted, and videos of players sprinting into the weight room follow. It’s a type of performance art. Often times, that hype fades and the status quo returns.
There were indeed many changes to be made. Any number of players were overweight and out of shape during the 2016 season, a major culprit in the overall disaster that season was. A culture change needed to happen and Brian Kelly made the move to Balis, who has undoubtedly made the changes the program needed.
Irish fans didn’t need to see the combine numbers to realize Balis has made good on the hype he received when he was hired. They’ve become a powerful football team since his arrival, both on the offensive and defensive lines and across players.
It’d be one thing if Notre Dame brought in a few athletic freaks who looked good from the first moment on campus (see: Jaylon Smith). But, from guys like Mike McGlinchey, who was reportedly doing 12 reps on the bench following 2016, to Miles Boykin who was a plodding player early in his career, the team has made leaps and bounds.
The defensive ends are flying all over the field, safety Jalen Elliott has become a more explosive player, Tranquill shifted from safety, to rover, to linebacker, while losing none of his athleticism and explosiveness, the 2017 football team had multiple running backs physically ready to contribute to the team and they did.
Part of the equation in Notre Dame bridging the gap between the good and elite teams was physically developing their players at the level of top flight programs, and it was something that was not happening prior to the arrival of Balis. Relative to other programs, Notre Dame was getting by on the natural ability of their players.
The nice thing about what Balis has done, just as a fan, is add credibility. When we hear that Tommy Kraemer has dropped weight and become quicker and more explosive, that’s not just spring time coach speak. When we hear that Balis is putting in big work to reshape the body of freshman safety Derrik Allen, it’s safe to feel confident he’ll be a different athlete in 2019.
And the benefits from a recruiting stand point are endless. Players know they’ll get developed at an elite level at the top schools, Notre Dame had been lacking there. If the team bridges that gap, and can offer elite development on top of the things the school is already offering, that’s obviously an enticing pitch for an academically minded player who also has a football future on his mind.
There was a promise made by Kelly following 2016 that things would get turned around. He made good on his coordinators and his approach to the program. And in no small part, he made good on his strength program as well and that has started to get national attention and on the sports biggest stage.