Skip to content

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.”

Latest Posts
  1. Must Watch: Feherty with Lou Holtz

    Sep 2, 2014, 11:43 PM EDT

    feherty with lou holtz- Season # 2013

    Sure it may be corporate synergy, but as a fan of good television and both gentlemen, consider this a Public Service Announcement to set your DVRs.

  2. For Notre Dame, battle with Michigan filled with familiarity

    Sep 2, 2014, 7:56 PM EDT

    Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

    There will be no secrets between Notre Dame and Michigan Saturday night. Entering the fourth matchup between these two coaching staffs, even a game featuring three new coordinators won’t likely bring any true surprises.

  3. Hoke, Mattison prepare for Irish

    Sep 2, 2014, 10:49 AM EDT

    Brady Hoke Brady Hoke

    Michigan head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator talk about beginning preparations for playing Notre Dame.

  4. Eilers joins Irish coaching staff to help fill McCarthy’s void

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:58 AM EDT

    Notre Dame archives Notre Dame archives

    Former Irish and NFL football player Pat Eilers has joined the Irish coaching staff. The member of the 1988 national championship team has been named a defensive quality control assistant for the coaching staff.

  5. The good, bad and ugly: Notre Dame vs. Rice

    Aug 31, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT

    Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Upon second viewing, quarterback Everett Golson’s 2014 debut is just as impressive. The senior quarterback, playing his first game in 600 days, didn’t seem to miss a beat, leading Notre Dame with five total touchdowns on the way to a 48-17 victory over Rice.

  6. Five things we learned: Notre Dame 48, Rice 17

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:48 PM EDT

    Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

    The last stormy, humid season opener at Notre Dame Stadium found an infamous place in the Irish record books. Saturday afternoon’s 48-17 drubbing of Rice will be remembered in a much better light.

  7. Live Blog — Notre Dame vs. Rice

    Aug 30, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    Cam McDaniel Cam McDaniel

    The live blog is back for another season of Notre Dame football. While most of your favorite writers are watching the game and taking notes, I’m here chatting it up with a few thousand of my closest friends. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

  8. NDonNBC previews the season

    Aug 30, 2014, 11:39 AM EDT

    Oklahoma v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Before we get to the action on the field, the NDonNBC crew spent some time on campus and produced a few cool features to help kickoff the season.

  9. Watch Notre Dame vs. Rice anywhere

    Aug 30, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT

    LE_WEB_BANNER_40px_RGB_POS

    Consider this a public service announcement for all of those unable to get in front of a TV this afternoon. If you’re stuck at work or on the road over Labor Day weekend, we’ve got you covered to watch the game.

  10. Irish A-to-Z: Malik Zaire

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT

    Malik Zaire

    Putting up a better fight for the starting quarterback job than anyone expected, sophomore Malik Zaire reminded many Irish fans that he’s more than just an afterthought in the program. Irish A-to-Z concludes with a look at Notre Dame’s backup quarterback.

  11. Irish A-to-Z: Jhonny Williams

    Aug 29, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    Jhonny Williams Signing Day

    Arriving late on the scene during the recruiting cycle, Notre Dame looks like they found a good one in freshman Jhonny Williams. Irish A-to-Z takes a look at the local defensive end, who shows early promise as a pass rusher.

  12. Mailbag: Opening Weekend

    Aug 29, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly Brian Kelly

    Happy Labor Day weekend, everybody. Here’s hoping you’re spending the holiday with friends, family… and some long-awaited college football. Before we get to the game tomorrow, let’s clean out our first regular season mailbag.

  13. Pregame Six Pack: At long last, the season begins

    Aug 29, 2014, 12:34 AM EDT

    Brian Kelly Brian Kelly

    That took long enough, didn’t it? After far too long, football is back. With a preseason camp that the Irish survived mostly healthy, the biggest hits came off the field. As an academic investigation claimed its fifth player Thursday, let’s run through the Pregame Six Pack to get you ready for Saturday’s kickoff.

  14. Irish A-to-Z: Ishaq Williams

    Aug 28, 2014, 7:42 PM EDT

    USC v Notre Dame Getty Images

    The look of Notre Dame’s defensive line changed drastically when senior Ishaq Williams was suspended indefinitely for his role in the academic dishonesty case now pending at the university level. Irish A-to-Z takes a closer look at the one-time five-star recruit.

  15. Academic investigation removes Eilar Hardy from practice

    Aug 28, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT

    USA TODAY Sports USA TODAY Sports

    It appears that Notre Dame’s internal investigation surrounding academic dishonesty charges is nearing a close. But before it gets there, one additional player will be held out of practice and from competition this Saturday.

  16. Meet Kathryn Tappen: NDonNBC’s new sideline reporter

    Aug 28, 2014, 3:55 PM EDT

    kathryn-tappen

    Busy prepping for her debut as NBC’s sideline reporter for Notre Dame football, NBC Sports Group’s Kathryn Tappen was nice enough to catch up with me before the season begins.

  17. Irish A-to-Z: Nic Weishar

    Aug 28, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT

    Nic Weishar

    With Notre Dame on a roll at tight end, freshman Nic Weishar enters “Tight End U” trying to make a name for himself. Irish A-to-Z looks at the Chicagoland tight end.

  18. Irish A-to-Z: Nick Watkins

    Aug 28, 2014, 12:34 PM EDT

    Nick Watkins

    As most hard-core recruiting fans notice Brian VanGorder’s willingness to break the mold when it comes to recruiting, freshman cornerback Nick Watkins looks the part of a perfect prototype. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at the newest blue-chipper in the secondary.

  19. Kelly: Resolution on academic suspensions coming soon

    Aug 28, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT

    DaVaris Daniels, Ricardo Allen AP

    Brian Kelly appeared on the Dan Patrick show this morning and shed some light on the academic investigation that’s holding out DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

  20. Irish A-to-Z: Justin Utupo

    Aug 27, 2014, 8:10 PM EDT

    Utupo AP

    Entering his fifth year in Notre Dame’s football program, grad student Justin Utupo is still looking to find a role in the Irish defense. Irish A-to-Z continues with the reserve defensive lineman.