As he does on Tuesdays at noon, Brian Kelly addressed the assembled media and talked Utah and the state of the Irish football team coming off a much needed bye week.
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Even though the Irish have sophomore Nick Tausch on the roster, Brian Kelly addressed the fifth-year possibilities of walk-on kicker/folk hero David Ruffer, while pretty much deftly avoiding the difficult roster decisions that await the coaching staff in the next few weeks.
“Those are things that I really haven’t touched upon yet relative to those guys that may come back for that fifth year, or are eligible to come back for that fifth year,” Kelly said.
“I will probably do that here over the next week or so, or can kind of start to filter through some of those guys that may have an interest in coming back, and as you know, some want to graduate and move on. We are just starting to get our hands around it. I think we have 36; 36 seniors, including a number of walk-ons. So we have to sit down and work on that pretty soon. Ruffer in particular has obviously had an incredible year. Certainly, if things would work out academically for him, you know, that option would be open on our end.”
The Irish have been wasting scholarships on specialists that don’t play for the last five years with guys like Brandon Walker and Ryan Burkhart, so keeping Tausch around even with Ruffer and incoming freshman kicker Kyle Brindza isn’t all that bad.
Anybody that’s an Irish fan should be cheering for Ruffer to return, if only for him to reap the roughly $50,000 reward of graduate school in exchange for two remarkable years of kicking.
We mentioned Kyle Rudolph’s decision that he’s faced with yesterday, but a reporter finally addressed the elephant that’s been in the room all season, with Michael Floyd and Rudolph having to decide whether or not they’ll test the NFL Draft waters or return for a senior season.
Kelly admitted that he — just like every other Irish fan — doesn’t want to deal with that.
“I try not to get into those conversations. Generally, my experience has been — they will come into my office and they will ask a question like, ‘Coach, what do you think?’ And of course, we already know what their answer is or they wouldn’t have asked me,” Kelly said. “So I’ve tried to wait until the end of the season. They have got a lot of things on their mind relative to, you know, playing and injuries and things of that nature. Again, to answer your question, we’ll wait till the end of the year.”
If both Floyd and Rudolph leave, I won’t blame them, though if they walk away from a senior season to go anywhere but the first round, they’ve made a mistake. If Floyd walks away, he’ll still go down in the record books as one of the best statistical players Notre Dame has seen. Rudolph hasn’t had near the effect on the field, but he’s got the chance to go in the middle of the first round, something that hasn’t happened with an Irish player in quite some time. Still, their legacy won’t be one that’ll have them adored like Irish legends of the past, especially if they walk away after a .500 (at best) season.
With the loss to Tulsa, the senior class has set an ignominious record, becoming one the all-time loss-leading classes in Notre Dame history. What was looked upon as one of the best recruiting classes in the country turned into one of the worst four-year runs in school history, a good lesson for all those recruitniks out there.
Still, Kelly had nothing but great things to say about the group of seniors playing their final game in Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday.
“Our seniors, I will say this publicly: They have had to build this foundation,” Kelly said. “And they have been forced to dig a hole, and digging that hole is that foundation that we are talking to. They have had to put a lot on their shoulders, and for that, they will always be welcome here at Notre Dame.”
While everybody hoped to be better than 4-5 at this point in the season — especially the players and coaches — Kelly was wise in both praising the departing players and welcoming them back with open arms, a practice Kelly has done since walking in the door with former players, a practice that was embraced far too late by the Weis regime. Kelly also understood how important the veterans on this football team were in establishing the work ethic needed to turn around a program struggling with systemic issues.
Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix took more snaps during the off week than they probably did all season combined. Kelly was asked what he saw out of his freshman duo.
“”You can see the athleticism of Hendrix, strength of arm, and then you can see the strengths that Tommy has in picking up a game plan, where it comes natural to him,” Kelly said. “You go into a practice and he understands what you’re trying to accomplish. He’s got to be able to accomplish those things, but his recognition is really good for a true freshmen, and you can see the athleticism of an Andrew Hendrix, but it’s hard to put it all together right now because he has a very, very shallow base of what we want to accomplish.”
There may not be a better comparison when talking about Rees and Hendrix than the quandry the Irish faced a decade ago at quarterback with freshman Matt LoVecchio and Carlyle Holiday. While the Irish offense under Bob Davie was hardly ever praised, the coaching staff engineered game plans around the true freshman LoVecchio and rode him to the Fiesta Bowl, even while many Irish fans expected the Irish future under center to be the dynamic Holiday, whose athleticism was easy to notice.
That’s not to say that Rees will go the way of LoVecchio and transfer away from the program while Hendrix grabs hold (or is given) the starting quarterback job, but this is clearly a case where one quarterback’s knowledge base is farther ahead than the others when they walk onto campus. We’ll just wait and see where it is after two or three seasons.