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Kelly breaks down Day One

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After a long wait and quite a bit of recent drama, the Notre Dame football team finally got a chance to hit the field for the first time in 2011, going through their first practice of the spring yesterday in the Loftus Sports Complex.

As the assembled media got their first brief look at guys like Aaron Lynch, Everett Golson, and the brand new technology the Irish are using to help judge their quarterback competition, Brian Kelly spoke with reporters after practice to discuss everything.

Here’s what he said:

On the new installation of Helmet Cam:

“We have to do a great job of evaluating all the quarterbacks. We’ve got depth,” Kelly said. “We’ve got guys that we believe have the ability to run this offense. To make this a real competition we have to look at every part of their decision making.

“What helmet cam alows us to do is track the eyes of the quarterback thru his progression. If he’s staring down a particular receiver, we’re going to be able to see that. If he’s going thru his progression, you’re going to be able to see that. It’s just another teaching tool for us going through this period.”

On the potential use of three-tight end sets:

I think we’ll have to,” Kelly said. On Saturday, you’ll see the utiliation of three tight ends. With Ragone and Welch and Golic, you’re going to see three tight ends on the field. Essentially what we’re going to do is, if you’re going to defend those three tight ends in some sort of configuration, we’ll get one on one with Theo Riddick.”

On quarterbacks Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson:

“They went in there and competed pretty good. Andrew has such a strong arm, it stands out in everything he does. It’s just we want him to throw it to our team, not the other team. With Golson, he feels comfortable in the shotgun, you can see he can operate right away, but obviously it’s going to be a tailored package. He’s not going to be able to run everything we do. But some of the things he does, he’s pretty good. A little sloppy mechanically at times, we’ll have to clean that up.”

On the changes he sees in starting running back Cierre Wood:

“Confidence,” Kelly said. “He did it on the playing field, and he carried that over. The biggest carryover is what he’s doing in class. He was not a strong student in his first year here, and he’s really changed. I guess that’s probably maturity and confidence coming together at the same time. But we all knew he has a lot of talent. Now it’s all coming together.”

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A few thoughts:

A tough break for new safety Austin Collinsworth, who had some complications from a tonsilectomy, and now is 7-10 days away from being ready to practice.

The idea that the Irish can bring multiple tight ends into the game has to have strategists pretty excited about seeing some new and interesting twists in the offense, especially if you incorporate one of the dual-threat quarterbacks into the mix. Obviously, Kelly’s quotes would’ve sounded better if it was Michael Floyd one-on-one, but there’s still some hope that #3 can get back out there when he gets right.

If you’re looking at Brian Kelly as a motivator, consider his two pupils this fall running back Jonas Gray and wide receiver Deion Walker. Both seem to be under the spotlight, and the seniors have little time to make something of their Irish playing careers.

That was Prince Shembo running with the No. 1 defense during the limited practice video you could see. He’s an impressive kid physically, and he immediately makes the Irish a bigger defense on the edge.

You’ve got to think that Brian Kelly thinks Robert Blanton is a much better fit for a Cover 2 corner than Darrin Walls was. Expect a lot more pressure out of this defense, especially with both Blanton and Gray so proficient at playing close to the line of scrimmage.

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter 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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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

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UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

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ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.