Kelly depth

Depth and skill building as spring continues

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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.

 

 

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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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

delvaughn
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.