Tuesdays with BK: Tulsa edition

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With the honeymoon officially over after last week’s loss to Navy, Brian Kelly met with the assembled media.

Here’s a slice of what he said:

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Some thoughs:

I’m feeling pretty good about my injury diagnosis of Ian Williams, with the “no surgery” call part in my one paragraph of medical analysis. Again, I’m no doctor, but from what I’ve heard an MCL tear and MCL sprain are practically the same thing, depending on the severity.

Here are Kelly’s official comments on the injury:

“Well, it seems to be the worst-kept secret in America. Ian Williams will be out four to six weeks, and we will be able to modify any of those comments based upon when we can get him moving around again. It’s an injury that some come back quicker than others. We’ll be able to get a better feel for it probably next week after we get it to calm down and go from there.”

When asked if it was a sprain or tear, Kelly was crystal clear.

“Sprain,” he said. “No surgery.”

I guess that would qualify as the lone ray of sunshine from the Navy game.

*****

The Kona Schwenke era begins at Notre Dame, one season ahead of schedule.

I don’t think anybody expected to have Kona Schwenke make his way into the two-deep this season, and the best thing for him would’ve been saving a year of eligibility. But the injury to Williams, and a general lack of depth reshuffled the entire defensive front’s depth chart, with Sean Cwynar moving into the starting nose guard slot.

“Sean’s been a consistent performer in there when Ian came out of the game so, we feel good about Shaun stepping in for that position,” Kelly said. “The next player, really, for us, is Hafis, and Sean can’t play the whole game. He doesn’t have the work volume to do that yet. So Hafis and Sean, together, can get that done. So that then meant who becomes the next guy in at the defensive end, and we want to take a good look at Kona. So Kona would be that next defensive end, and whether it’s for Ethan or whether it’s for Kap, who knows. We’ll kind of see how that plays out this week and then Emeka, we believe Emeka can give us some reps, as well.”

Kelly was clear why he was willing to burn a year of eligibility in the ninth week of the season.

“Got to help us win games. This is still about winning, and we are in that mode where we have got to win some more games obviously,” Kelly said. “You know, getting to a Bowl game is very important, so this isn’t one of those, let’s ride out the streak here. We need help.”

*****

One of the better points made during the press conference was that of the “growing pains” experienced not just on the offensive side of the ball, but on the defensive side as well.

“There’s a lot of ways to look at it. It’s not like we were in the top 20 in defense last year,” Kelly said. “So I think if we had a national caliber-defense last year, we probably would be a little bit concerned right now. I think we have made great strides defensively, even putting in a new scheme with the 3-4 defense. So I think it’s perspective. My perspective is, and I see it every day, is that we have made very good progress defensively and I think we’ll continue to make that as we go forward.”

While many don’t like to hear this and feel like it’s Kelly making excuses, there’s a widely known old axiom that mentions chicken salad and… well — other chicken stuff, and I think that’s probably befitting of the situation here.

*****

Besides the achievement of just reaching the postseason, one of the biggest reasons why the Irish want to get to a bowl game is the extended practice time.

“It’s an important goal. We need those 15 practices,” Kelly said. “They are very important to the development of our program and moving forward. Those 15 practices are important. So, you know, getting to a Bowl game allows you more time with your players. I need more time with our guys. Our coaches need more time with our players. So, yeah, it’s very important to us, and it’s important to the development of our program.”

One of the reasons I thought the Irish should’ve gone to a bowl game last year was to get the extra practices needed to develop the youth on this roster, though the logistics of that would’ve been an absolute nightmare, with most of Kelly’s staff coaching at Cincinnati, and quarterback Dayne Crist less than three months into rehabbing his ACL.

 

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.