Brian Kelly discusses the Declan Sullivan accident

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Before Kelly addressed the 28-27 loss to Tulsa, he spoke at length about the video tower’s collapse and the death of Declan Sullivan.

Here is the entirety of his statement:

Obviously a very difficult loss for our football team. Certain pales in comparison to the unimaginable sorrow we had this week in the loss of Declan Sullivan. As a father of three, I can only imagine the sorrow that accompanies the loss of your son. So it’s been a very difficult time for me and everybody within our football family.

I didn’t think we were going to have to go through something like this so close to the tragedy we had with Matt James. You know, you think you’re strong and able to handle all of those things that are thrown at you. This one was very difficult. All we can do in these very difficult times is what we did, and that’s support Declan and his family, rally like we did here at Notre Dame to provide for all those affected with this great loss the opportunity to heal.

So it’s been, from a personal perspective, a very difficult week for all of us. I focused strictly on the Sullivan family, our football family and my own family. Really that’s been all the things that have taken up my time since this tragedy occurred.

Declan, you know, quite frankly, I don’t know if it’s customary or not, but the head coach usually doesn’t come in contact on a day-to-day basis with a lot of videographers. They come in and we leave. Our time never really syncs up where we get a chance to spend much time.

But I got a chance to meet Declan and know him because of all the time he spent in our office, especially this summer. As you know, he was a lover of film and writing. He was a great writer. I’ve got great memories of him just being in the film and video offices, putting things together secretive on most occasions. I’d look over his shoulder.

I pass that on because this one hurts because, again, in my 20 years I don’t know that I’ve had maybe a dozen people, student workers, that I knew. I knew Declan. It’s was a very, very difficult week for all of us.

Extraordinary the way the university has come together. The mass was so good for me and everybody on our football team, our football family, the university. The leadership that Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick has helped me with me and all those associated with our football program.

On Wednesday I made the decision that we could have a productive and safe practice outdoors. Productive because the conditions were such, although windy, were not unlike many days that I had practiced at other universities, including here at the University of Notre Dame. Productive practice is important obviously within our offense, as well. Throwing the football, you have to be able to look at the weather conditions and find out whether you believe it’s going to be a productive day first. We believed it to be productive. It was productive, obviously up until the tragedy.

The next thing that is important is that it’s a safe session, that the practice must be safe. That takes on a litany of different things when you talk about safe. When we’re indoors, my biggest concern is always running out on the track or running in an area where there’s medical equipment or water bottles or just the safety of our football team.

Outdoors, different weather elements obviously play in that relative to safety, as well. You know, whether it’s a tornado warning the day before or it’s a lightning storm that’s in the area, or the heat index is at a certain number, and certainly wind. All of those elements have to be evaluated in making the decision, which I made the decision that I felt it was productive and safe.

We have systems in place to make certain and that deal with issues of safety. Clearly in this instance, they failed. We are in the process of examining all of those systems that are in place and looking for those answers. That’s currently where we are: investigating this tragedy and carefully looking at everything relative to safety.
You know, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that, when you talk about taking your football team outside, those items are at the forefront of every coach’s – not just me, not just here at the University of Notre Dame – everybody in the country thinks about the same things. That’s probably the one area obviously that we’re all grappling with right now.

I can recall being out at the practice site. It was a windy day, but a productive day. Next thing I knew, I heard that the tower was down. First thing that I did is I got to my coaches that were obviously affected by the situation, some of them running around. I gathered the coaches quickly, two of them, and said, Keep practicing. At that point we had players that were starting to migrate towards the accident scene. I thought it was important for me to keep our guys away from that accident scene.
Our coaches did a great job of monitoring our players, staying with our players, keeping them preoccupied, as I then left to go to the accident scene.

I got to the accident scene and saw that our training staff were with Declan, and I wanted to make certain that that area was in good hands. It looked like to me everything was moving in the right direction. We had Notre Dame responders, we had ambulance responders. And once I felt comfortable in that situation, where we had professionals on-site dealing with it, I went back inside to the practice field and subsequently called our football team together at midfield. We prayed for Declan. I told and informed our football team of the injury, the seriousness of it, and I then dismissed our football team.

That’s my best recollection of the events surrounding the accident itself.
Obviously there’s going to be a lot of speculation, there’s going to be a lot of questions. I’m not really adept at being able to handle some of the specifics. I can tell you that we’re working hard to get all those answers. We’re so close to this event occurring that we’re still putting together a lot of the information that everybody I’m sure is interested in, as we are as well. We’re very interested in making sure that we provide, my staff has been incredible, in providing as much information as possible. That’s really important.

For me, it was important for me to get a chance to spend time with Declan’s family before the mass and pass on to them our entire football team’s sincere sorrow for what has occurred. It’s just a devastating thing for everybody. But it was really important, I wanted to be able to meet the family. I was very, very fortunate to do so.

I’m trying to cover as many of the notes that I have scribbled down here.
Again, I think the most important thing is that for me, productive and safe. Weather-related factors are examined every day relative to that safe atmosphere. We’ve got systems in place to deal with that. We’re obviously examining them very, very carefully, especially obviously wind.
So, again, I don’t have a lot of answers relative to specifics. I’ll open it up to some questions.

Q. When did you realize that it was Declan that was down? Did you know when practice started that it was him?
COACH KELLY: I knew once the tower went over who it was.

Q. Why didn’t anyone tell him to come down? Who is responsible for monitoring stuff during practice as conditions change? Why wasn’t there anyone to tell him to bring the lift down?
COACH KELLY: Certainly, as you know, those are all the things that we’re examining right now. We could probably come up with a number of different things that we’re all wondering. Those are the questions that are being asked exactly as you’ve asked them. We’re doing that, and have been doing it since the accident occurred.

Q. Is there a max wind speed prescribed for those pieces of equipment, that you know of?
COACH KELLY: I don’t. Again, if I had the knowledge specifically of wind speed and heights of lifts, all of those, I certainly would provide those to you. I just don’t have that information.

Q. The daily protocol of the videographers, do they come in and get assigned, or do they do their duties knowing what they are?
COACH KELLY: Typically they all meet together, get a practice schedule, because each one of them are assigned different areas of the field to film. Declan was on the defensive field. His duties were generally filming the defensive and our offensive show squad. Everybody knew their roles as they began the day. We’re given a schedule as to, We want you filming in this area at this particular time.

Q. When you met with his family, in what capacity did you meet with him? Where were you?
COACH KELLY: We were in the main building. It was a great exchange because Declan had informed his family how much he enjoyed his year here with me and the staff. It was great to hear that. But more importantly, it was me telling the family how much he meant to our entire football team. His personality was so easy to recognize. He stood out from everybody else.
Obviously, we wanted to pass on our sorrow, as well, not only individually, but also as a team.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH KELLY: Not that I’m aware of.

Q. Will you be back outside again next week and will you have videographers up in the lift?
COACH KELLY: We will be outside. We will not be using the lifts until we clearly have more information relative to some of the questions that were asked here today.

Friday at 4: 40-yard dashes and absurdity

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Of all the absurd things the football world often obsesses over, the 40-yard dash may be the most useless of them. Yes, it even beats out assigning star rankings to 16- and 17-year-olds, though not by much.

For now, let’s look past the rest of the inane Draft intricacies, such as former Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones feeling pressured to increase his vertical jump by four inches. (He did, jumping to 24.5 inches in Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday.) This scribe does not have an excess of time to spend discussing Jones’s outlandish wingspan if this piece is to post by its intended, though unnecessary, 4 p.m. ET deadline.

The 40-yard dash … No football play begins from a sprinter’s stance, yet it may be the factor most crucial to a low 40 time. Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer posted a time of 4.83 seconds in the NFL Combine earlier this month. For context’s sake, Kizer ran .07 seconds slower than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did as a draft prospect in the 2004 combine.

Roethlisberger has had himself an excellent career, and his ability to shrug off 300-pound defensive linemen is a testament to his athleticism. Put Kizer and Roethlisberger in the open field together, though, and Kizer would presumably have outrun Roethlisberger at any point of the two-time Super Bowl champion’s career. In Indianapolis, however, Roethlisberger did a better job of getting his hips through his first couple strides of the heralded 40-yard dash.

Here, watch Kizer train for the 40, the most-hyped measurement of his combine.

“The ultimate goal is to have yourself in the best position to have your body weight back in those legs so you can create enough torque to get out as quickly as possible,” Kizer said. “A guy who is as long as I am, with long limbs that I have, I’ve got to make sure that my weight distribution is in the best position for me to get out and catch up to some of those quicker guys who are a little lower to the ground.”

What part of that sounds applicable to football? The 40 turns Kizer’s size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) into a negative. He worries about the angle of his knees. After his throwing session at the Thursday Pro Day, Kizer summed up the draft evaluation process even more succinctly.

“This process is very different in the sense that the way you look productive in the combine and in a pro day is very different from what productivity actually looks like out on the field.”

Well put.

More pertinent to the actual game of football, Kizer’s completion percentage in the staged workout could have been higher.

Then again, he was throwing to the likes of former Irish receivers Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle and former running back Jonas Gray. Reportedly, the only contact Gray and Kizer had before the session was Kizer emailing the former New England Patriot the planned series of routes.

The NFL Draft, where Gmail becomes a necessity.

Let’s do away with the 40. If we insist on keeping it, let’s do it twice, once from a standing start and once from a running start. Those would simulate actual football movements: A receiver getting off the line, and a ballcarrier breaking away and trying to outrun the defense.

Asking DeShone Kizer to mimic Usain Bolt is an exercise in futility, idiocy, absurdity.

Cue end of rant.

Why cite the Roethlisberger time? Many, including Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, have readily compared Kizer to Roethlisberger this spring.

The most notable line of that scouting report (scroll down to No. 32) may be its final one, echoing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s sentiments from earlier this week.

“The mystery is whether he can regain his assertiveness,” Burke writes. “If so, he could turn out to be the 2017 class’s best QB. The team that drafts him will be taking a leap of faith.”

A leap. Not a dash.

For more Notre Dame Pro Day results, click here.

And with that, this just may make the 4 p.m. posting. You know what to do.

 

Tranquill continues work with safeties … for now

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Drue Tranquill will see time at the oft-spoken of rover position, just not yet. For now, Notre Dame needs the senior at safety to provide leadership and communication while the rest of his position group gets up to speed.

“We really have to figure out what the coordination is going to be at the safety position,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “How much does Drue play down at rover? How much does he play back [at safety]?”

Only sophomore Devin Studstill returns any starts to the safety position aside from Tranquill’s career total of 18. Studstill started nine games last season.

That void has kept Tranquill working mostly with the defensive backs in the spring’s first few practices, rather than joining the likes of junior Asmar Bilal in the rover grouping.

“We didn’t want to pull our most veteran player out of the back end of our defense with Drue,” Kelly said. “I think it was more about the hesitancy of losing a great communicator in the back end than about the teaching.”

The time will come, however, for Tranquill to move up. Juniors Nick Coleman and Ashton White have moved to safety from the corner position. With more reps, they will not need to rely on Tranquill’s guidance as much. The same goes for, at least in theory, sophomore Jalen Elliott.

“It’s not really a heavy load of teaching for those guys,” Kelly said. “They’re picking it up quite well. We really want to get a chance to see a lot of guys back there.”

Kelly seemed particularly bullish on Coleman’s prospects at the position, provided he embrace the needed physicality. At 6-foot, 187 pounds, Coleman’s build may have been more suited on the outside, but Notre Dame’s plethora of promising cornerbacks provided an impetus to test Coleman at safety.

“The big thing will be Nick’s continuous development in tackling,” Kelly said. “You have to tackle back there. His ball skills are really good. We’ve seen that he’s able to play the ball. He has athleticism.

“We just want to continue to build on his tackling skills. If we go through the spring and say, ‘Well, he’s tackling really well,’ we’ll feel pretty good about the move.”

At that point, Tranquill will likely join Bilal at the hybrid position, which is something of a trademark to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Tranquill will be able to do what he does best: Pursue the ball.

“We all know what his strengths are,” Kelly said. “He’s a solid tackler. I don’t think there’s any safety in college football that wants to get matched up one-on-one with a skilled slot receiver. This would minimize that, when you play him close to the ball as a rover.

“And I think he’s pretty quick off the edge. I think we put him in a really good position in maximizing his skill set.”

Until then, Bilal will continue to be the frontrunner at rover, especially with the first four Irish opponents of 2017 presenting run-heavy offenses.

KELLY ON NICK WATKINS
Kelly was also asked about senior cornerback Nick Watkins, his fit into Elko’s defense and his return from injury.

“He’s very coachable, wants to learn, he’s pretty long,” Kelly said. “What I think Mike [Elko] does really well—and this is what I liked about my interactions with him—is, we all have strengths and weaknesses. He has a great eye of saying let’s take Nick’s strengths and let’s put him in a position where we can really utilize his strengths and put him in a position where maybe we’re not a right and left corner team, maybe we’re a short field/wide field team. Let’s apply him in that fashion.

“Nick’s long. He’s a little bit of a physical player. Let’s go to those strengths. He’s shown some of those attributes early on.”

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Bilal the first in at ‘versatile’ rover position, others likely to follow
2 Days Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive backfield

Kraemer, Eichenberg compete for RT spot, moving Bars inside, and Bivin to…

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Forty percent of the offensive line is essentially set in stone: fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and senior Quenton Nelson at right guard.

The center position seems to be senior Sam Mustipher’s to lose.

That leaves the two starting spots on the right side of the line for a number of players—both young and experienced—to fight over.

Sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have emerged as the frontrunners for the right tackle spot, moving senior Alex Bars inside to right guard. Bars started all 12 games last season at right tackle.

“Those two [Kraemer and Eichenberg] are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle, and they’re going to battle,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “Today Kraemer was there. Last two practices Eichenberg got a lot of the work. Eichenberg will go back there on Friday. They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Part of the reasoning in giving the two sophomores extended looks this spring is Notre Dame knows what it has in Bars when at right tackle.

“We would prefer to get him in at the guard position, but we know he can play the [tackle] position,” Kelly said.

A starting five of McGlinchey, the three seniors and either sophomore may seem to leave fifth-year lineman Hunter Bivin out in the cold. Not often is a player asked to return for a fifth year only to spend it on the bench. That is even more rare when considering the current Irish scholarship crunch.

Kelly compared Bivin’s role to that of Mark Harrell’s last year. Harrell appeared in all 12 games, starting two, and provided much needed depth and flexibility along the offensive line. Rather than have five backup offensive linemen, position coach Harry Hiestand relied on Harrell to provide support at multiple spots.

“It’s reasonable to assume that Hunter Bivin’s going to be involved in this as well,” Kelly said. “We’ve just asked Hunter to take a seat right now. He’s done that for the team.

“We think Hunter is going to be a Mark Harrell for us. A guy that’s extremely valuable, can play a number of positions. We trust him, but we want to see these two young players [Kraemer and Eichenberg]. Hunter is a guy that can play right or left tackle for us. He’s going to be a valuable player for us as a swing guy.”

On that note, this space will refer to Bivin as a fifth-year lineman, as was done above, rather than as a guard or as a tackle, until further notice. In his case, the broader description may be the most accurate.

Spring break out west is fine, but Wimbush better be ready to run

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It will undoubtedly become a habit, at least for the next five-plus months. If Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush sneezes in front of a camera, it just might lead to an uptick in webmd.com traffic. His every football move will certainly be analyzed, nitpicked and discussed at length. Thus, Irish coach Brian Kelly being asked about Wimbush’s spring break should surprise no one.

Rather than find a Florida beach, Wimbush spent his spring break working with private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield in San Diego alongside a handful of other college passers. Kelly said there is value to such a spring break but stopped short of setting any lofty expectations of the effects.

“I have no problem with [Wimbush] working out with George Whitfield,” Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice, the first following spring break and the third of 14 leading into the Blue-Gold Game on April 22. “George doesn’t work on the specifics to the offense. George is really working on the quarterback and throwing the football, moving in the pocket. George is really good at keeping those quarterbacks active and moving.”

Whitfield is best-known around Notre Dame and among Irish fans for working with former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson during Golson’s academic suspension in 2013. Whitfield and Golson spent 10 weeks together, thus granting time for extensive off-field activities such as film study. Far shorter, Wimbush’s time out west appears to have been spent primarily doing drills.

“In those situations, it’s a bullpen session,” Kelly said. “They’re keeping their arms loose, they’re keeping their feet loose. He’s just keeping them active.”

It is hard to construe that activity as a negative, but it obviously lacks certain aspects crucial to Wimbush’s 2017 season. With only five career pass attempts and seven career rushes, Wimbush’s inexperience looms large. Developing the necessary intangibles to account for that may be just as, if not more, important as fitting his throws into tight windows.

“When it comes to the playbook, to his teammates, to his coaches here, Brandon understands that when the rubber hits the road, those are the guys that matter the most,” Kelly said. “He knows when it’s time for Notre Dame football, where the focus is.”

Included in that playbook will be an expectation for Wimbush to carry the ball. To date, Wimbush’s biggest play and possibly only imprint on most Notre Dame fans’ memories is a 58-yard touchdown scamper against Massachusetts in 2015.

Link to 17-second YouTube video which has unfortunately disabled embedding

Note, the play is not exclusively-designed for Wimbush to run. Now a rising junior, then a fellow freshman, running back Josh Adams comes across Wimbush’s front for a possible handoff. Instead, Wimbush makes the correct read and keeps the ball. Why state so clearly it was the proper read? Adams has to evade a Texas defender even though he never had the ball.

Future option plays should present Wimbush with the possibility of throwing the ball, too.

“He’ll be a runner in the offense,” Kelly said. “Do we want him to carry the ball 20 times? No.”

“I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling quarterback power or singular runs. He’s going to have options: hand it off, throw the ball out on the perimeter. You’ll see more of that than you will prescribed quarterback runs. We had a little bit more of that last year with Kizer, but I think you’ll see that he has an option to get the ball out of his hands more so than just prescribed runs.”

Those option plays, in particular, will require Wimbush to have a thorough familiarity both with the Notre Dame playbook and with his teammates’ tendencies.

RITA LEE OR 52-53?
Staying consistent with his comments over the last two months, Kelly once again reiterated the biggest changes new offensive coordinator Chip Long will bring to the Irish playbook will be in its wording. Perhaps going to an extreme example to illustrate his thinking, Kelly pointed to the future.

“We’re going to win next year and Chip is going to be the greatest offensive coordinator in the country and he’s going to get a head job, right?” Kelly asked rhetorically. “Then I’m not going to introduce the Chip Long offense to the next offensive coordinator.”

“It has to have my culture in it … The culture of the offense is still the base offense that I have always run because I have to be able to carry that with me from year to year.”

Within that ellipsis, Kelly gave two examples of possible verbiage changes. Without knowing much more behind them, they do not mean too much out here in the cobwebs of the internet, but they do provide a quick glimpse at what Kelly has been referring to when discussing lexicon since hiring Long.

“If he wants to change Ringo Lucky protection to Ram and Lion protection, go right ahead. If he wants to change certain calls, for example, 52-53 protection is now Rita Lee.”

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