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Kelly recaps USC, talks bowl prep

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There was no Tuesday morning press conference this week, and players and coaches will not be made available to the media this week. That said, Kelly gave some insight into what was going to happen this week during a Q&A he did with the voice of the Irish radio broadcast, Don Cirqui, who filled in for UND.com’s Jack Nolan in the weekly Inside Notre Dame Football broadcast.

Particularly interesting were some of Kelly’s comments on managing quarterback Tommy Rees, who played his worst game of the season, especially after some halftime adjustments by the USC coaching staff. As the Irish struggled to throw the ball with any consistency in the second half, Kelly talked about the message he relayed to his freshman signal-caller.

“Manage first and second down,” Kelly said. “I’ll take care of third down for you. We needed to do a better job on first and second down.”

When the Irish took over the ball with 6:18 to go in the game and having given away the lead, their second half drives had all failed. Consider the drive chart for the second half up until this point:

ND 3rd N29 15:00 Kickoff N29 13:31 Interception 3-0 1:29
ND 3rd N24 10:54 Kickoff N28 09:25 Punt 3-4 1:29
ND 3rd N15 07:46 Punt N10 07:30 Fumble 3–5 0:16
ND 3rd N15 05:34 Kickoff N24 03:38 Punt 3-9 1:56
ND 3rd N10 02:12 Punt N33 14:05 Punt 6-23 3:07
ND 4th N21 10:35 Punt N21 10:28 Interception 1-0 0:07
ND 4th N23 06:18 Kickoff U00 02:23 * TOUCHDOWN 7-77 3:55 #
ND 4th N01 00:36 Interception N01 00:00 End of half 3-0 0:36

Not exactly confidence inspiring. Yet Kelly and his staff stayed positive with Rees and the offense, preaching a simple message.

“We had a good feeling offensively, if we just took care of the football,” Kelly said. “We had enough confidence that in the worst case scenario, we were going to tie things up.”

One of the smartest decisions Kelly made was a first down throw to Michael Floyd, getting the Trojan defense off balance with a throw when the passing game had sputtered for all of the second half.

“The pass to Mike Floyd for the first down to get us good field position on that last drive,” Kelly said, pointing to the most important play of the drive. “We ran a boot leg, moved the pocket and got Tommy outside. It was wet conditions and he threw a great ball to Mike and picked up about 14 yards.” (I think it was officially 11 yards, but who’s counting…)

After Cierre Wood picked up another huge gainer on the counter play that launched the two-minute drill touchdown before halftime, he laid the ball on the ground, which Tyler Eifert alertly fell on. That was all Kelly needed to turn the game over to senior Robert Hughes, who moved the Irish almost the rest of the way.

“Robert Hughes just lowered his head,” Kelly said of the senior who earned the game ball. “Running north/south, running physical. I wanted a change-up back, and he showed that in the fourth quarter.”

The rest (with a nice assist to Ronald Johnson) is history…

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There’s been no word out of Notre Dame on potential bowl destinations, but expect that to change in the next few days, as the Irish already have an internal plan in place.

“Wednesday, we’ll have a team meeting and then we’ll set our bowl schedule,” Kelly said. “I don’t know that we’ll know exactly where we’re going, but we’ll have it narrowed down, because we have to work around our exams and study days. By Wednesday we’ll have a plan and this is an important time for us, as we’ll get a chance to work some of our younger guys.”

The Irish will be able to use up to 15 additional practices, incredibly important workouts for redshirt freshman and other backups, but also players like Bennett Jackson, Austin Collinsworth and Daniel Smith — freshman that saw the field in special teams, but may be thrust into action at wide receiver next year with the departure of Duval Kamara and the uncertain future of Michael Floyd, who is now one touchdown shy of Jeff Samardzija’s school record.

The Irish are now 7-5 on the season, played more bowl eligible teams than anyone else in D-I football, and have slid up the Sagarin rankings to a respectable 29th (although they trail a Trojans team they just defeated and six loss Oregon State).

Without a doubt, the Irish should’ve gotten a victory against Tulsa (and while they didn’t deserve it that Saturday, I’d expect the Irish to beat Navy if they played today). But a 3-0 November and a victory over USC in season one of the Kelly era, certainly helps the projections for Brian Kelly and staff, especially considering the injuries the team endured this year.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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