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Answering camp’s questions

Aug 20, 2011, 4:25 PM EDT

Theo Riddick

With training camp over, the Irish now turn their preparation to South Florida, with Skip Holtz‘s troops readying for their first visit to South Bend.

As Brian Kelly met with the media yesterday, he took a shot at answering all but one of the big questions left unanswered before the No. 16 Irish begin the year. Let’s take a look at a few of the major questions entering camp and see how they’ve shaken out.

Who’s going to help fix the Irish return game?

All signs point to wide receiver Theo Riddick. Emphatically.

“Theo Riddick, Theo Riddick, Theo Riddick, Theo Riddick,” Kelly said when asked about the punt and kickoff returners. “Wherever you kick the ball he has to be around it. Kickoff return, it’s him and Bennett Jackson right now. Punts, it will be Theo.”

This is far from a surprise, but it has quelled any of the murmurs about guys like Michael Floyd, Cam McDaniel, and wildcards like Everett Golson. If Riddick is truly the Irish’s best player in open space, it’s only logical to have him making plays on both punts and kicks.

Who’s going to win the starting linebacker job next to Manti Te’o?

It looks like a crowded battle for the Will linebacker has been paired down to two players, with juniors Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox leading the way.

“It’s a very good competition there,” Kelly said. “Fox and Calabrese are battling it out and I’d say we’ll probably have a decision on that pretty soon. Both of those guys are going to play considerable football for us.”

I expect Calabrese to be the guy that gets named starter next Tuesday, but if you’re trying to venture a guess on how each guy will be used, it’ll likely be Fox spending more time in the passing game against spread teams while Calabrese is the hammerhead that’ll be used to blow up rushing attacks.

Fox’s ascension really just means that Kelly will have the ability to keep his middle linebackers fresh… at least the guy that’s playing next to Manti Te’o, who doesn’t plan on leaving the field.

What freshman is going to come out of the blue to seize early playing time?

That’s got to be Troy Niklas, who has wowed coaches and his fellow teammates with a physicality and athleticism that is hard to teach.

“He is extremely athletic,” Kelly said of Niklas. “He will be on all of our kick teams.”

Expect Niklas to be joined on kick teams by Ishaq Williams, which could be quite an imposing sight for opponents to see when two six-foot-six 250-pound freshman galloping down the field in coverage.

Whether tight end Jake Golic‘s injury made a difference or not, freshman tight end Ben Koyack sounds like he’ll spend this season on the field as opposed to saving a year of eligibility. The Oil City, Pennsylvania native is another stout youngster, and at six-foot-five, 253-pounds he’ll have the physicality needed to hold his own.

“Emerging would be the word I would use more than anything,” Kelly said of Koyack. “He’ll play this year.”

Will Andrew Nuss or Chris Watt win the starting left guard job?

It’s the only position on the offensive line available with Chris Stewart graduating, and both Nuss, a fifth-year senior, and Watt, a talented junior are running neck and neck for the job. Who’ll end up starting against South Florida?

“It depends what day you ask me,” Kelly said about the battle. “I would say right now we’re probably not ready to decide on that. We had some things today that we need to evaluated. Both those guys, I have a lot of trust and confidence in both of them, but I’m not ready to say who that starter will be.”

Again, who number one is probably isn’t all that big of a deal as both guys are going to play considerable football.

Who’s going to be the starting quarterback?

That answer is coming Tuesday. And from the sounds of it, both quarterbacks did a great job stating their case.

“We wanted to see everything from grounding the ball in a clock situation to throwing it away and not taking a sack knowing that you’ve got another down,” Kelly said. “We really had to rehearse most of those game situations because both of them are so statistically even. We were doing a production chart for both of them last night. The deeper we dug on numbers, the cloudier it became. I’ve been doing this a long time and sometimes, it’s easy as you look at the numbers and know who the number one and number two quarterbacks are. We are going to get into some subjective things as we move forward because the numbers are so equal.”

  1. nudeman - Aug 20, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    I think his QB comments are at least in part a smokescreen to throw people off and also not offend the guy who’s going to be #2.

    The choice has to be Dayne Crist; he just seems so much more athletically gifted, and as a Senior, has more of a leader aura about him, I’d think.

  2. notredave - Aug 20, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    I thought BK said he would announce the starter two weeks before the first game? Now we have to wait till Tuesday??

    I never opened a Christmas present that was a “surprise” when I was a kid. You’re killing me Smalls!!!

  3. jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 20, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Agree with you nude……from some other stuff I’ve read, it sounds like Rees is getting reps almost as an afterthought.

  4. bernhtp - Aug 20, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    We have a psychological conspiracy theory here: the purpose of the stated closeness of the competition is to instill confidence in Rees and also give him reps with the first team in the event Crist gets knocked out, which sadly wouldn’t be a first (or second or third). BK doesn’t want a repeat of Michigan last year.

    My personal belief is that the competition is actually pretty close, though I also believe that Kelly knows the winner and has for a while. Kelly uses open competition as an integral part of his development process.

    • nudeman - Aug 20, 2011 at 9:35 PM

      Agree, but you don’t honestly believe it will be Rees, do you?

      BTW, I don’t mean to dump on the kid. He performed extremely well last year under the gun. I like him. He’s a Chicagoan/I’m a Chicagoan.

      I think he’s a solid QB. I just think Crist is clearly better.

  5. smurphdoggy29 - Aug 20, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    Troy Niklas !! Can’t wait to see him IN game action, and anticipating Aaron Lynch !! Has anyone noticed the preponderance of dialogue about the defensive parts of the team ? By far the most talked about, and the offense has been flying under the radar. Leads one to ponder ? Is the offense well into its comfort zone now under the guidance of Kelly that we will see it erupt like a super nova, or shall we see it unfold like a sprawling canvas from the beginning ? Interesting.

    I am a Dayne Crist believer now. Dayne is the Ben Mauk of Notre Dame.
    Crist = Mauk

    Mauk did good things in the Ohio River Valley at the bend of the river called Cincinnati

    Dayne shall emerge like a Phoenix.

  6. 1notredamefan - Aug 20, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    I’m calling it Rees, he doesn’t want to hurt Great Dayne’s feelings when the “decision” is handed down……..The “IT” is beyond numbers and stats……so I’d say Rees because if the numbers are so close and you have to look at it subjectively you can’t overlook undefeated! GO IRISH!!!! and I wish both much luck!

    • piratey - Aug 21, 2011 at 12:01 AM

      The “IT” was a renewed running game and Notre Dame defense…Blanton’s blocked punt against Utah and the pick 6 against Army was all the points we needed to beat either team. Tommy Rees’ turnovers in our own zone resulted in all 16 of USC points and Harrison Smith’s 4 picks pretty much sealed the Miami game…

    • johndepasquale - Aug 21, 2011 at 1:39 AM

      Rees didn’t win any of those games for us. He did everything Kelly asked him to… which wasn’t much. The offense actually took steps backwards when Dayne went out. The night-and-day different defense (that Dayne NEVER had the luxury of playing with) won every game for us down the stretch. The fact that we had a running game opened things up. Imagine if we had that running game, that defense, with Dayne. We would have won the Michigan and Michigan State games, and competed with Stanford. Navy game would have been different too. Combine the offense Dayne can produce with the defense and running game we had against utah, USC, and Miami, and we will be hard to handle. Go Irish.

  7. kappy32 - Aug 21, 2011 at 1:41 AM

    I would be amazed if Crist isn’t the starting QB come Monday. Rees has a year more of eligibility & with even battles, the nod tends to go to the upper-classman. With that being said, the offense was more balanced with Rees & in today’s football you need a balanced attack to win. I just hope if Kelly picks Crist he keeps a similar balanced attack as he did with Rees down the stretch last season.

  8. 1notredamefan - Aug 21, 2011 at 6:26 AM


  9. 1historian - Aug 21, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    I think Crist will be the pick, but what worries me is that at some point Hendrix might decide that he’ll never start and look to transfer.

    In any case – 2 weeks from today we’ll be talking about yesterday’s game.

  10. ndcent - Aug 21, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    Fine article, Keith.

    One misprint: “Expect Niklas to be joined on kick teams by Ishaq Williams, which could be quite an imposing site for opponents…” Niklas and Williams will bean imposing sight. The site where the games will be played is the stadium.

  11. irishinmich - Aug 21, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    “will BEAN imposing….”? A little pot, kettle, black….don’t you think. Ha, just poking fun.

    My vote (which means nothing) is for Crist. Can’t wait for 9/3!!

  12. themadfarter - Aug 21, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Great editing work! There is also a space between be and an. A bean is something u eat.

  13. papadec - Aug 21, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    Based on some of the player profiles I have read @ Irish Sports Daily ($99 well spent for the yearly subscription) I don’t think it will matter whether Crist OR Rees gets the start. I believe the Irish Defense will lead the way to the Promised Land of Championships. Adding Tuitt, Niklas & others to the defense that closed out the 2010 season will be huge. But, that’s the biased opinion of someone who played defense. GO IRISH (DEFENSE & offense)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. extrametal - Aug 22, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    pared. pared down. you pair up.

  15. nudeman - Aug 22, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    I think everyone needs to settle down re: the ND defense.

    First, they were lousy for more than half of the year. Denard Robinson made them look like high schoolers. And to include Army in the list of teams they played great defense against … come on. Army?

    Second, from everything I’ve read, the new stud freshmen aren’t going to be contributing that much on D. Most of their playing time will be on special teams. I look for them to make a serious impact NEXT year.

    Will they be better than last year? I’d have to think so. But the talk of the defense carrying them this year are a little overly optimistic I think.

    • danno27 - Aug 22, 2011 at 5:18 PM

      Exactly, nudist. I’ll wait for post-Michigan and Navy games to blow my horn about the ND defense this year.

      I am also a little worried by Harrison Smith. I love his athleticism, he’s a baller when he’s hot, and I know that he suffered as much as anyone else from ND’s multiple scheme changes over his first three years, but I dare anyone to name a player who’s had a more up and down career at ND.

      Microcosm: RoJo drops a huge catch in the USC game, then Smith TOTALLY REDEEMS HIMSELF by the INT just outside the goal line. I mean, that’s about as up and down as you can get in one game. He makes me nervous.

      • schuey73 - Aug 23, 2011 at 10:41 AM

        Well at least Harrison Smith will have be playing the same position, in the same defensive scheme, with the same Defensive Coordinator for the 2nd straight year! He used to make me not only nervous, but also swear at my TV! I’m drinking the HS koolaid though. I think he is going to have a great and consistent year. Go Irish!

  16. notredamegrad - Aug 23, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    Crist it is, per Coach Kelly!

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