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Depth and skill building as spring continues

Apr 6, 2011, 1:24 PM EDT

Kelly depth

It was evident in Brian Kelly’s opening comments this spring. The depth chart would continue to deepen on the Irish roster and building his players’ skill-set was a priority in his second spring as Notre Dame’s football coach.

“Year two, it’s really going to be about skill development for our players,” Kelly said as he kicked off spring practice. “Our charge to the assistant coaches has been really for us, as we hit the field, developing the skills of our players. And then the consistency of that unit, getting the right 11 players on the field on each side of the ball including special teams.”

With five practices left and the Blue-Gold game set for next Saturday, the Irish are clearly on track developing the skill level of both their offensive and defensive players. It’s evident in the practice reports and footage we’ve seen that development is taking part in different stages, but with the emergence of players like Danny Spond and Kona Schwenke, Kelly’s commitment to player development, the bedrock of his coaching philosophies, is clearly more than lip-service.

Today, Louis Nix lined up with the No. 1 defense at nose tackle, another sign that young players are making progress under Kelly and his coaching staff. Watching the limited practice footage offered by UND.com, you can also see players like Dan Fox make plays and be productive. (Also worth a watch, an impressive play by Aaron Lynch in tackling drills.) While it’s hard to look back and see how Charlie Weis handled spring practice, Kelly’s comments on developing depth today was an interesting look at how this coaching staff is building its roster.

“This is still going to be about day after day, working on skills and then a little bit more unit consistency. For example, today when we went live down in the red zone, we didn’t play with Harrison (Smith) and Zeke (Motta). We did that to give (Jamoris) Slaughter more work, to get (Dan) McCarthy more work, and (Austin) Collinsworth. So what you will see over these next five days, we’ve got a good feeling for our top performers. Now it is building that depth within the ranks that is so important in the fall, but you don’t get the chance to do it. So these next five days, getting those guys a lot of work – Kendall Moore getting a ton of work at Mike. Manti (Te’o) took some seven-on-seven reps today. We want to develop him over the next five days where, if we wanted to play him, we certainly could in the spring game. I don’t think we will, but we want to develop that too. Individual getting those younger guys and some guys that need to be key backups, getting them work in the next five.”

One of the things I was curious about even before his suspension was how many reps would Michael Floyd get this spring, considering he battled hamstring issues throughout the season and Sun Bowl and he was already a proven commodity at a position that was in desperate need of depth. We’ve seen Kelly be incredibly careful with the only other All-American caliber player on the roster, with Te’o spending much of the spring on the shelf, and he likely would’ve kept Michael out of any 11-on-11 drills, or anything else that’d have risked injury.

With no word still from anybody at Notre Dame and the brunt of Floyd’s punishment likely coming in the 15 practices he’s likely going to miss this spring, the wide receiver depth chart that’s been thrown into a bit of chaos this spring might actually benefit from No. 3’s uncertain status.

As Kelly said, there’s no time to develop within the ranks during the fall, when the onus is on winning football games. As he’s proven this spring, he’s committed to improving the depth and skill of his players, and almost two-thirds of the way through spring ball, the Irish seem to be making progress.