Kelly takes stock after weekend scrimmage


With three weeks to go before Notre Dame’s date with Purdue, the coaching staff put the players through a full-contact scrimmage Saturday morning, before loading buses for an afternoon of sun and fun at nearby Diamond Lake. While the scrimmage took place behind closed doors from the media, Kelly spoke with reporters after and gave some insightful comments.

Talking about the offensive line, it looks like three jobs are locked in, with Zack Martin seizing control of the job at left tackle and Chris Stewart and Trevor Robinson entrenched at guard.

“Zack has been our most consistent. Your left side right now is Stewart and Zack, obviously they’re doing a great job,” Kelly said. Robinson is firmly ensconced at the right guard position. We’re still
battling at center and right tackle. But I think those are pretty good
battles. Wenger and Cave are pretty good, Dever and Nuss are pretty good. So whoever wins it, we know
we’ve got a pretty good starting five.”

You can’t help but think Wenger’s concussion could be the break that Braxston needed to grab hold of the starting quarterback center job, and if that’s the case, it’s more bad injury luck for Wenger, who has battled injuries through most of his career at Notre Dame. As for right tackle, both Dever and Nuss are fighting for their first starting spot, with Nuss being the more versatile of the two players, having spent most of his time at guard.


Shifting to quarterbacks, it looks like there’s a battle for number two, and freshman Tommy Rees is the one stepping up to push Nate Montana.

“Tommy Rees has done a really nice job,” Kelly said. We’ll have to decide where he
is, but he’s in hot competition to be the No. 2. That’s to be decided.
But he did a nice job running the offense.”

Rees’ semester this spring likely helped give him the comfort needed to make a charge during fall camp, but as Kelly put it candidly, the offensive conversation starts and finishes with Dayne Crist.

“Listen, at the end of the day, this whole conversation can be in a few
words: Dayne Crist is getting better every day,” Kelly
said. “The rest of this other stuff? It’s good. But
it’s really going to focus on Dayne’s ability and the upshot is, he’s
doing a nice job.”


If you’ve been following preseason camp, you may have noticed that Kelly and the staff have been quiet about Michael Floyd, surprising considering he’s one of two preseason first-team All-Americans. It appears Kelly may have noticed, too.

“I haven’t talked about it, but Michael Floyd probably had his best day today,” Kelly said. “Sometimes the best players get overlooked the easiest, because you just expect that. When you’ve got Michael Floyd playing well for you as a one-on-one match-up guy and you’ve got Rudolph in there who wasn’t in there, and you’re running the football, that’s a good day relative to balance on the offense.”

Staying with the wide receivers, it looks like Theo Riddick has locked up the slot receiver position, with Duval Kamara battling TJ Jones and Shaq Evans for the outside receiver position opposite Floyd. And while Jones grabbed most of the headlines after spring practice, Kelly didn’t mince words when talking about the upside of Riddick.

“I really have high high expectations for him. He’s an elite player,” Kelly said. “He’s learning a position, but I think we’ll be talking a lot about Theo Riddick as we move through the season.”

Calling Riddick an elite player is high praise from a head coach, and if the Irish keep Rudolph and Floyd on opposite sides of the defense, Theo will have plenty of room to dominate the middle of the field.

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.