Monday, May 08, 2006

The Next Level | by Jay

I'm sure you've all seen the results of the NFL draft by now, and know that the Irish had three guys drafted: Fasano to the Cowboys in round 2, Stovall to the Bucs in round 3, and Stevenson to the Patriots in round 6.

In addition, six more undrafted players signed free agent contracts with NFL teams: DJ Fitzpatrick to the Jets, Brandon Hoyte to the Colts, Mark Levoir to the Bears, Corey Mays and Matt Shelton to the Patriots, and Rashon Powers-Neal to the Broncos.

Some of the profile pieces that have been popping up in teams' local papers this week...

Fasano Pick No Surprise to Cowboys.
Jones said the Cowboys also coveted Fasano because he played in a similar system under Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, a former assistant to Parcells with the Patriots and Jets.

"He's been in the scheme," Jones said of Fasano. "He actually uses the same terminology that we use. He's got quick feet, he has really good ability to see soft spots, get open, make catches, plus he's got a tough mentality that really sticks his head in there and does a good job of blocking."

Fasano, who will graduate in May with a marketing degree, also thought Dallas was a great fit for his skills.

"I don't think it's going to be an easy transition no matter where I was," Fasano said via conference call from his hometown in Verona, N.J. "But I think with this offensive scheme and this coaching staff I think it's probably the best situation I could've walked into."

Fasano also said he's looking forward to playing for Parcells, a fellow Jersey native.

"I think he's a Hall of Fame coach, and everyone around here that's a Giants fan respects him so much," Fasano said. "We looked at him as an icon in the coaching world."
Here's a video of Jones and Parcells calling Fasano to tell him the good news.

A whole bunch of Maurice Stovall articles. "One Son's Drama on a Long Draft Day",, is a great read on Maurice's tense day last Saturday waiting for some NFL team to call his name.

"Draft Day One",
Even at receiver, Stovall shares a few traits with his fellow 2006 Buccaneer draftees: He’s big, he’s tough and he’s passionate about football. One Tampa Bay scout compared Stovall’s approach to the game to that of Michael Clayton, who won over the Bucs’ personnel department in 2004 with his willingness to do everything from block downfield to cover kicks. Stovall visited Buccaneer headquarters during the week’s leading up to the draft and made a very positive impression.

“I think we all clicked with him…[Wide Receivers Coach] Richard Mann, [Special Teams Coach] Rich Bisaccia,” said Gruden. “He’s going to be a big wideout who can cover kicks, block kicks, go out and make some tackles on special teams, and contribute as a wide receiver. To get a guy at that position that can make a contribution on special teams is very important to us. He’s a big mammoth target and a very productive one inside the 20. He had eleven or twelve touchdowns this past season and a lot of those catches were over the top of the defender in tight, congested areas. He’s just an outstanding leaper and a very physical football player. To put him in the huddle with Michael Clayton in a slot formation is something that excites me a little bit.”

Stovall surely knows that Gruden is adept at working big receivers into the flow of his offense. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Stovall fits the ball.

“Yes, I definitely feel that way,” he said. “I’m happy that he drafted me. I feel like I fit his criteria, obviously, for him to draft me, and I’m looking forward to playing for him.”
Also see "Worth the Wait: Stovall to the Bucs", Philadelphia Inquirer; "Better Late than Never", Philly Daily News; and "Stovall Looking Forward to Gruden",

Dan Stevenson got drafted by the Patriots. "Time to Make a Mark", the Observer:
"When the Patriots called me, that phone call, it's definitely hands down the team I wanted to go to," he said. "I couldn't have been more excited."

Irish coach Charlie Weis is a former offensive coordinator for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a connection not lost on Stevenson.

"The offensive system will be very similar to what we ran at Notre Dame," he said. "I think it's a great situation for myself and hopefully I can go in there and help out the Patriots as best I can."
Former Patriots offensive coordinator and current Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis compared Stevenson favorably to Joe Andruzzi. Andruzzi endeared himself to the coaching staff with his blue-collar work ethic and professionalism during his five years as a starter in New England before moving on to Cleveland as a free agent last season, so that’s pretty high praise for Stevenson.

Among the free agent signees, Brandon Hoyte is getting a shot with the Colts (from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette):
“The goods news starts with, it wasn’t a long drive down here (from South Bend),” Hoyte said, laughing. “It’s just cool. You sit and think about it and, wow, this is the NFL. Just to have the opportunity to come in here and compete and to try and make the team, that’s a blessing.”

“Every year playing football at Notre Dame, I just learned,” said Hoyte, who majored in business management and psychology. “Every year, there were different things that were posed against us. I really think playing at Notre Dame is sort of like playing for a pro team. One, because of the coaches we’ve had. Two, because of the exposure. I think being a part of that was huge for me.”

Hoyte believes he can contribute. While talking about it, he let the only bit of animosity of the day slip from his mouth.

“I was hungry initially but (not getting drafted) heightens it,” Hoyte said. “I think when you’re not drafted, to a certain extent, it means someone doubted you and I feed off that every day.”

Other odds and ends:

• Where would RPN have been drafted if not for the suspension? I seem to recall him being listed as a top 5 fullback at some point last year, and the lack of playing time and exposure had to hurt him (as well as any lingering "character" questions). But really, the Broncos are the best spot for him. If any team will find a way to use him, it's Denver and Shanahan.

• DJ Fitzpatrick. The Jets picked up placekicker Mike Nugent last year early in the draft, so Fitz might be signed with punter solely in mind.

• Here's a pretty good pre-draft article on Corey Mays. Some of the quotes in there bang Hoyte a little bit too, saying that Mays has more "NFL upside". I guess we'll see.

The article also has a couple of comments on the kind of impact a college coach, especially Charlie, can have on a players' chances at the next level. Sometimes a recommendation to a general managers can add a little extra endorsement; on the flip side, I found this quote interesting:
“It can’t be understated, [Charlie's] impact,” [NFL Draft Expert] Rob Rang said. “If a head coach doesn’t talk up a player, that is a statement in itself. That’s a statement to NFL scouts that he isn’t a hard worker. The fact that Charlie is as respected as he is, that makes (that) so much more.
How much of an impact can Charlie, or any college coach, have on the draft? Of course the in-house evaluations are going to trump all else, but a college coach can add background info on character and work ethic (see the Stevenson quote above). But while the really exceptional players are going to get drafted highly no matter what their college coach has to say, it's the free agent guys who can really benefit from an endosement. At the very least, a strong recommendation from Charlie can get them a tryout: Weis has multiple connections to the teams that signed his Irish players: New York Jets head coach Mangini was a defensive coach in New England with Charlie (Fitzpatrick); there's an obvious connection to the Colts with Polian (Hoyte); and of course there's the Patriots (Shelton & Mays).

And I think that's an important part of the sales pitch when you're recruiting kids to come to Notre Dame: it's not that everybody coming to play for Charlie is going to get drafted in the first round, but it's very credible to say that if you come in and work hard, you'll get a realistic shot at the next level. That's an important message not just for the Sam Youngs of the world, but also for the Barry Gallups.