Brian Kelly - vs. Michigan

Ruffer, QBs, Riddick and Floyd: Kelly recaps Year One

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In between crisscrossing the country reeling in recruits, Brian Kelly returned to South Bend for an important recruiting weekend and the year-end 2010 Football Awards Show. He also took a few minutes to recap season one with the media. (If you’d like to see the entire thing, our friends at UND.com have you covered.)

As always, here are some highlights, with a few observations included.

I mentioned it yesterday, but Kelly put any speculation to rest and announced that David Ruffer is going on scholarship.

“What I can report today is that we are going to award David Ruffer a scholarship for next year,” Kelly said. “I can make that announcement today. I will meet with our other fifth-year seniors on Monday and we’ll have an announcement on Tuesday relative to the remaining players.”

Kelly said that every fifth-year candidate applied to return, meaning Harrison Smith, Gary Gray, Taylor Dever, Mike Ragone, Andrew Nuss, and Matt Romine all have the option of coming back to school. According to Irish Illustrated, he also said after the press conference that taking Nate Montana off scholarship isn’t on his list of potential roster moves to get under the 85 man roster maximum.

I’m going to assume Smith, Gray and Dever are all back as starters. I’ll also assume that the coaching staff will continue recruiting Troy Niklas and Savon Huggins. That means there are two roster spots for the combo of Ragone, Nuss, Romine, Niklas and Huggins.

Of course, if Kelly’s spoken with a veteran who hasn’t cracked the lineup and might want to transfer (i.e. a Deion Walker), that’s something he’ll know about and we won’t, especially if those players want to finish the semester and not fall behind academically.

We’ll find out more on Monday, but as I’ve said before, too many viable roster options is a good problem to have.

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What a difference a spring makes. Last season, the coaching staff walked on egg shells as they gave Dayne Crist, six months off ACL surgery, virtually every rep in spring practice. This year, there’ll be six quarterbacks on the roster, with Crist reportedly ready to go.

“We think we’re going to be able to really do a lot more of those similar kinds of things and keep him involved and competing within our spring practice format,” Kelly said about Crist.

That said, there’s a very real problem of getting six quarterbacks reps and Kelly has spent a lot of time putting together a plan.

“I have formulated in my mind some real clear guidelines as to how we’re going to move forward there,” Kelly said. “Suffice to say, I’m pretty clear on the styles that we have and how to utilize those styles within our offense.

“We can’t work with six quarterbacks,” Kelly stated. “There will be some paring down. There will be some guys that understand if they’re not in that top four, they’re not going to be able to get reps at the position.”

That could mean position switches, that could mean roster moves, it could mean just about anything, but you’ve got to think the battle starts with Crist and Rees, includes Andrew Hendrix, and potentially Everett Golson, who enrolled early to get immediate work.

It’s amazing to think that after being thrust into a scholarship position because he was the No. 2 quarterback as a walk-on, Nate Montana could drop out of the top four quarterbacks but still be on scholarship.

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When talking about position switches, Kelly tiptoed through some small moves before dropping a relatively large bomb on everyone.

“What our identity became, compared to what it was at the start of the season, you could make the case now that Theo Riddick should be a running back,” Kelly said. “Or an offensive lineman that played tackle should play guard. Or you’ve got three or four tight ends, how are you going to use them all? As I said, Year 2 for us is less about laying down a system of offense or defense or special teams and more about utilizing the players we have that can help us win football games.”

We can parse words and take guesses what offensive linemen might shift inside or out, but the news that Kelly would consider moving Riddick back to running back after successfully teaching him the Z-receiver position is pretty amazing. When pressed further, here’s what Kelly said.

“I think we’re going to have that conversation as a staff,” Kelly said. “I think we’re going to have to vet that out. I’m not ready to do that right now.”

It could be to get TJ Jones more playing time in the slot, or it could be to use Riddick in more of a Percy Harvin-like role, but it’s almost refreshing to know that the coaching staff isn’t afraid to move one of its best returning players if they think it’s going to help the team.

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When asked about his star receiver coming back, Kelly was pretty adamant that he landed the number one recruit on his board.

“He’s the No. 1 signee, no question,” Kelly said. “If there’s a sixth star, he gets a sixth star. And it’s more than just what he does on the football field. He’s a workhorse. He sets the bar for how our guys work in the offseason and those are obviously big pieces.”

To give you a better idea of what type of kid Michael Floyd is, Kelly recounted the morning Floyd told him his decision.

“He informed me in the morning that he was coming back,” Kelly said. “Our conversation really from there was about how we wanted to release it. As you know, Mike is not a big press conference guy. Of course, we wanted to have a press conference, and we were even going to serve food. It was going to be a big event. He didn’t want to do that. We met, he said let me think about it, I’m going to sleep on it. He came back the next morning and informed me that he was coming back.”

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If you’re looking for one paragraph to encapsulate what year one of the Kelly era looked like to the head coach himself, here’s the quote of record:

“The program, the first year, the first coat of paint is a phrase I use a lot,” Kelly said. “That’s the relationship that we build with our players in year one. It’s my philosophy coming about through the year, the message and how we expect our players to represent Notre Dame – all of those things took place in year one. Other than winning only eight football games, which is not enough to win in the first year, we accomplished a lot of the real foundation principles of a championship program. Our football team was better at the end of the year and will continue to progress as we move into year two.”

 

 

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.