You won’t hear Brian Kelly make excuses for a roster badly beaten up. But if you’re wondering how wounded the Irish are heading into their final two games, just consider the fact that Kelly isn’t practicing this week with his team.
No pads. No practice. Just meetings, work in the weight room and conditioning. How many times in Kelly’s 23-year head coaching career has that happened?
“This will be my first,” Kelly said Tuesday afternoon.
In case anyone wondered whether or not Kelly had packed in the season and started prepping for 2014, the Irish head coach made it clear that his focus was on finishing this season strong. That means first focusing on sending his senior class out winners at home.
“Our primary focus and the focus of our team is winning our last home game and, in particular, sending out our seniors with a win,” Kelly said. “They’ve got four quarters left in Notre Dame Stadium. They’re going to be a huge part of the history of Notre Dame and helping us to four bowl games, a national championship. We are going to do everything in our power to make certain that our seniors go out winners at their last game at Notre Dame Stadium.”
To make sure the Irish have all that they’ll need to take on BYU, Kelly is backing away from work. While usually a bye week is a time to get developmental players reps they wouldn’t usually get, those players aren’t developmental any more. They’re all that’s left.
“The guys that I would be practicing, we need,” Kelly explained. “They need to play a considerable amount of time for us against BYU and Stanford. We’re just at that point. If I knew going out and practicing two or three days was going to benefit us greatly in the BYU game, I’d be out there right now.
“It’s in my estimation we could have a situation of diminished returns and put us in jeopardy, so we’re conditioning them pretty hard Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday will be the bulk of our work.”
At this point, it’s worth taking a look back at the depth chart against Temple to get a better look at who’s been lost or injured this season, just to understand why this week off is more necessity than anything else.
TWO DEEP DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART
Already lost for the season:
Danny Spond, OLB
Chase Hounshell, DL
Tony Springmann, DL
Sheldon Day — Missed multiple games with high ankle sprain
Isaac Rochell — Currently in walking boot
Louis Nix — Missed Air Force and Navy games with knee injury
Kona Schwenke — Currently injured with high ankle sprain. Out of cast today.
Stephon Tuitt — Healthy after slow start after hernia surgery.
Jarron Jones — Ankle in boot after ankle injury against Pitt.
Prince Shembo — Hasn’t missed game yet this season.
Ishaq Williams — Rumored MCL tear after low block against Air Force.
Dan Fox — Lost starting job after nagging injury slowed him down. Hasn’t missed time.
Jarrett Grace — Lost for year against Arizona State with broken leg.
Carlo Calabrese — Has played in all 10 games.
Kendall Moore — Seen more time since injury to Grace.
Jaylon Smith — Has played in all 10 games.
Ben Councell — Lost for season with ACL tear.
Austin Collinsworth — Played in all 10 games.
Elijah Shumate — Hamstring injury has slowed him last four games.
Matthias Farley — Played in all 10 games.
Eilar Hardy — Played consistently since Shumate’s injury.
Bennett Jackson — Started all 10 games.
Cole Luke — Stayed healthy as freshman contributor.
With the body count being what it is, a new group of players find themselves as contributors. Former walk-on linebacker Joe Schmidt, who is playing through a thumb injury. Seldom used junior linebacker Anthony Rabasa is getting time at Cat linebacker. Justin Utupo has gotten more reps in the past three weeks than the previous three seasons. The same goes for Tyler Stockton. Romeo Okwara has become the staff’s swiss-army knife.
Injuries hit every football team. But in a season where things started off going wrong, Kelly and the Irish are intent on weathering the storm whatever way they know how.