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A look at Kelly’s offense from the other side

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The 2010 season was the first time many Notre Dame fans had seen Brian Kelly’s offense in action. Sure, the highlights of Cincinnati burning through the Big East were out there, but for most Irish fans, the BK experience began during spring practice last year, where players, reporters and fans all got to see up-tempo in motion.

Meanwhile, over at Down The Drive, a Cincinnati Bearcats blog, writer Matt Opper has been taking a comprehensive, threepart look, at the difference between Kelly and Butch Jones, the man taking over at Cincinnati. It’s been a pretty fascinating read filled with YouTube clips, play diagrams, and a pretty glowing review of what Kelly was able to do in three short years at Cincinnati.

It’s truly worth reading the 5,000 or so words, but Opper encapsulates his beliefs in this tidy paragraph:

In the end the differences between Kelly and Jones and the representative offensive schemes and game plans isn’t that big. There are some key differences in the design and execution of them, sure. But the real difference between Butch Jones and Brian Kelly might come down to one position. In my opinion Jones needs a very specific type of Quarterback to make his system really fire on all cylinders. He needs that mobile QB with a big arm to work out of the pocket in the passing game. Kelly on the other hand can make do with just about any QB. How many coaches can make due with whatever they have on hand at the most important position on the field? In truth that is the only really major difference between them.

After a quick read, I thought it made sense to ask Opper about Notre Dame’s quarterback conundrum, where Kelly now has four legit options behind center, with Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson all viable options.

Here’s Opper’s take:

I don’t think it really matters in the slightest who the QB for Kelly is. He is such a good teacher and has such a great eye for detail that he can work with any QB and make them look if not great then at least serviceable. At UC there were questions about whether he preferred a traditional pro style QB or a dual threat. I don’t think he has a preference for one style or the other. His teams certainly run the ball better with a dual threat under center. Ultimately the style of QB he likes is the style of whoever his best QB at the moment is. I know that sounds like a cop out. But Kelly has such unshakable faith in what he does offensively that he doesn’t really care who takes the snaps, he thinks he can make them win.

What’s interesting is that Opper seems to think of a guy like Tony Pike as the perfect quarterback for Kelly’s system, all while Irish fans seem to think a dual-threat player, someone in the mold of Golson or Hendrix, is what Kelly’s interested in bringing to South Bend. Of course, if you look at the Irish’s two major quarterback targets in this recruiting class, Maty Mauk and Gunner Kiel, you see that both of these guys bring two completely different skillsets to the table. Mauk is more of the dual-threat, prototype spread quarterback, while Kiel is the big-armed trigger man that can sit back in the pocket and throw. From Opper’s perspective, and apparently the coaching staff’s as well, Kelly thinks he can win with both.

One final observation, and hopefully something that’ll come into play more in season two. Opper took great pleasure in the amount of vertical shots that the Bearcats took down-field under Kelly. I don’t think there’s a Notre Dame fan out there who thought the Irish took enough deep shots, especially with a guy like Michael Floyd at his disposal.

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)

 

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.