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Kelly puts the focus on special teams this spring

Mar 21, 2013, 2:22 AM EDT

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State

If Notre Dame’s under-performing special teams units make a vast improvement in 2013, Irish fans have an odd person to thank: Alabama coach Nick Saban. After all, it was Saban who laid the blue print for Kelly’s spring overhaul of his special teams, which has underwhelmed the past few seasons, especially in the return games.

“Here’s what I know. Standing on the sideline for the national championship game, we’re ready to kick off and Alabama has eleven starters on kickoff return,” Kelly said. “Kickoff return. Nobody wants to be on kickoff return.

“So the emphasis for us in this spring is to really embrace their roles. I want starters to be part of our special teams units. The spring really is for us to integrate front-line guys in ST. And that kind of decision has to come from me. So I ‘ve made that, and we’re going about it in the spring to really put our best players on ST.”

After swapping out assistant coach Mike Elston with Scott Booker, it seems Kelly has hit on something he believes to be at the core of the issue: personnel. And after developing a roster that he feels is deeper than any he’s coached, Saban’s willingness to put starters on coverage and return units, even if there is added risk of injury, has clearly influenced the way the Irish will look at their all important third unit.

“Every single position is going to have the best players that we can get out there. We’re going to make them compete for those positions,” Kelly said. “Now that we’ve been able to build some depth on both sides of the ball, I believe we can move more toward getting our front line guys out there.”

If you’re looking for fairly radical changes in season four, this is it. After basically settled for net neutral in the punt return game with John Goodman basically fair catching everything in 2011 and getting next to nothing out of freshman Davonte Neal last season, Kelly’s going to utilize the very best players he has on the roster.

That likely means George Atkinson continues as a kickoff returner. And we’ll likely see a guy like Amir Carlisle compete for a spot in the punt return game, pushing Neal, who is likely the front-runner at the slot receiver position.

Would Kelly have made this choice if Michael Floyd was on his 2013 roster? Who knows. But the fact that the Irish are making a concerted effort to have their roster’s top players onto the four different units means that the head coach is convinced there’s value to be added in special teams, something that wasn’t all that apparent the past few seasons.

“We’re not afraid to put a number of different guys out there if they need a blow on defense or they need a blow on offense,” Kelly continued. “As I told them, they’re not going to take a blow on special teams. If you want to sit out a series or a few plays on defense, that’s up to you. But we’re going to get our personnel on the field as well in special teams.”

  1. ndnapa - Mar 21, 2013 at 3:00 AM

    But, has Booker ever coached Special Teams?

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      Good point. You have to have somebody with experience if the past couple seasons has been any indicator, DUH! Go FOCKING hit up father hesborough for extra fity grand and hire somebody with experience to TEACH booker if anything. Coaches can’t teach themselves.

  2. georgegipp - Mar 21, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    It’s about time. I hope Kelly realizes it’s not just a personnel issue – you could have Rocket back there and it won’t make a difference if you fair catch every time.

    We have the talent to be dynamic on ST – Neal, Atkinson, Carlisle, et al – I hope Kelly and Booker can find a way to execute.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      George, you just nailed the hottest blonde in the room w the biggest rack, thank you.

  3. 9irish - Mar 21, 2013 at 6:04 AM

    Don’t fumble. Don’t miss PATs. No returns against you. 45 yd or so field goals guaranteed. Make special teams a weapon, not a moment where you cringe. I’m glad they have gotten around to this. They have some fast guys back there, doesn’t do any good when five guys are standing around you waiting for you to catch it.

  4. yaketyyacc - Mar 21, 2013 at 6:24 AM

    an improving coach is the catalyst for an improving team. A poor special team, he laid right at his doorstep. GOOD MAN, Kelly. thank you coach and thank you Keith for the article.

  5. bernhtp - Mar 21, 2013 at 7:45 AM

    Here’s the video:

  6. bernhtp - Mar 21, 2013 at 7:49 AM

    HLS has some good X’s and O’s background on Kelly’s nickel/dime comments:

  7. ndrocks2 - Mar 21, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    Still not committed enough to bring on an actual special teams coach. For that matter he still doesn’t have a QB coach or an experienced DI Offensive Coordinator. Critical of BK after a great year I know but unless he’s on to something the established BCS powers are unaware of he needs a deeper more experienced coaching staff.

    As we are starting the 2012 season evaluation with the obvious, “special teams are important.” I don’t want the 2013 season evaluation to start with an acknowledgement that we need coaches with real time experience at the position they are coaching. BK has brought in the talent on the field it’s time to match that talent with his coaching staff. It doesn’t mean anyone needs to go away just spread out the responsibilities a bit and let people coach to their strengths and bring in experienced coaches to fill in the blanks.

    Bottom line we were out coached against Alabama and it wasn’t close. He said the first thing he noticed was Alabama had their starters on the field during kickoff when the game started. Really, the first time he noticed that was at kickoff? Maybe his special teams coach should have been reviewing some film during the 40+ day window before the game.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:14 AM

      Well said.

      I’m not sure if this is BK being a bit too honest, or just trying to give the media a good sound bite, but either way he just comes off sounding like a dope. Even if the NCG was the eye-opening moment for BK, giving credit to Saban for teaching him this lesson (among many others) doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

      I would have been much happier to hear him say “our ST output last year was not what we need it to be so we are doing everything we can to get the production we need to be a championship team.” Maybe BK just got a bit too clever for his own good and started to enjoy hearing himself speak, and we all know he is not the only football coach to fall into this trap.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:28 PM

      I blame Obama. Economy is still in the toilet bowl and taxes are rising like wildfire but hey, let’s let the gays marry. Thanks Obama but no thanks.

  8. dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    Keith, you could pretty much write this article all day everyday and ill pat you on the back and say good job!

  9. dudeacow - Mar 21, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      Yeah we need to pound this point in like Lexington Steele on a white broad! We demand punt return. We are sick of fair catches. We deserve a 10 yard pop here, 20 yard burst there. Everything they did was pathetic last year specifically with regrds to punt return, unacceptable at ANY level let alone here.

  10. 11thstreetmafia - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    Hey troll, why do you care if gay people marry each other? Do you think this will prevent people from being gay, seriously? Why do you care? When you see gay people, do you automatically think about what they do in the bedroom? Who does that say more about? When you see a straight couple, do you think about what they may or may not do in their bedroom? My advice to you…..don’t marry a dude.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      Ouch, you called me a troll. That really hurt my anus lemme tell ya. Gays can and do do whatever I don’t care, doesn’t bother me any but morally I think it’s hypocritical and wrong and immoral. How anyone can be a notre dame fan, catholic, be gay, democrat without being a hypocrat is beyond me but it happens. Believe me, I’m taking you’d advice as I am not gay.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      To answer your question, when I see gay people, I immediately think what a sick ahole they’re for sucking each other off nonstop and having unprotected anal sex. Doesn’t everybody? 2 things that immediately comes to any humans mind anywhere in the world when they think “gay” is 1. Dik and 2. @sshole. Anyone that tells you otherwise has a gay son.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:38 PM

      With regards to straight couples, if they r HOTT, yes then I think about what they might be doing in bedroom.

  11. ndnphx - Mar 22, 2013 at 1:15 AM

    Duh. Lou Holtz figured this out 30 years ago, if not sooner. He prioritized special teams from the beginning with the talent he inherited. See: Brown, Tim…

  12. fnc111 - Mar 22, 2013 at 2:39 AM

    Why waste a year of Davonte’s eligibility for fair catching. DN would’ve transferred if he didn’t play last season is my guess. I still think he should because he will waste his talents at ND as long as Mr. NFL Kelly stays here. Davonte would tear it up on the field at UofA in dickrods system.

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