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Denbrock tasked with leading (and evolving) offense

Mar 27, 2014, 9:51 PM EDT

Yes, Brian Kelly will call the plays next season.

But that takes nothing away from the responsibilities Mike Denbrock now has. After Chuck Martin took the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio), Kelly turned the keys to the offensive meeting room over to his most trusted advisor, with the clear objective of making the offense better.

Wednesday, Denbrock gave his first progress report, meeting with the local media to discuss the offense’s progress, life with Everett Golson back at quarterback and a depth chart full of talent but not so much experience.

“It’s awful good to be on the practice field. I really like the attention to detail that the guys are trying to go about,” Denbrock said. “We’re nowhere near where we’re going to be or where we’re going, but the work ethic, caring, their willingness, all those things that you like to see when you’re trying to incorporate some changes to the offense… all those things are in place for us to continue to improve offensively. I like the way they’re going about their business every day.”

The biggest piece in place is at quarterback. For the first time in Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame, he’ll have a depth chart that fits one game plan. No longer are quarterbacks like Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix square pegs in mostly round holes. Even the attrition of Gunner Kiel helps streamline a skill set that now exists in Golson, rising sophomore Malik Zaire and soon-to-be freshman DeShone Kizer.

Denbrock talked about what having continuity at quarterback does for this offense, essentially opening up a playbook with built in zone read principles thanks to a mobile quarterback.

Here’s a fairly long snippet from Denbrock that helps explain why the ground game should immediately improve:

“Having the versatility we do at the quarterback position opens up a whole assortment of nuances and subtleties to some of the schemes that we were already running,” Denbrock explained. “Putting defenses in a position that if they do want to put an extra defender in the box you can account for him with the quarterback running the football.

“The blocking for the offensive line is very similar to some plays that we ran a year ago, although you add into it a read off of the extra defender in the box by the quarterback and give it or keep it and those types of things… Just the opportunity to get the quarterbacks with their athletic ability out in space and the defense a little bit more than we had are really the things that we’re kind of exploring and looking at and continue to tweak.”

Another factor that will open up the running game is the diversity of the three running backs competing for the starting job. Unlike George Atkinson, who struggled with certain facets of this offense, Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant all seem comfortable as both a runner and receiver.

That allows the Irish not to tailor snaps for their running backs’ skill set, taking away from the sometimes predictable playcalling that came with a running back’s inclusion and personnel grouping.

“I love the versatility of those three guys in particular because I think we don’t have to be, if you will, predictable with who’s in the game and what type of scheme we’re playing,” Denbrock said. “I think we can branch out and do a number of things with those types of guys.”

That happened far too often over the last few years, whether it was Atkinson’s inclusion in the backfield, Theo Riddick used for passing plays or Daniel Smith split out as a glorified blocker. If that’s the biggest thing Denbrock changes it’ll be of help to the offense, and it seems to already be in progress.

We’ve seen in’s practice reports the usage of Greg Bryant split out wide. Both Folston and McDaniel have also made contributions in the spring passing game and Amir Carlisle’s cross-training ability signifies an added emphasis on including running backs in the passing game.

“You can put those guys in different situations and not pigeon hole them necessarily into, ‘you’re an outside runner, you’re an inside runner,'” Denbrock said. “Those guys can take all the reps at all the different things and you can let them sort it out themselves, which is always a good thing.”

While many wondered if Kelly was going to make a flashy hire at offensive coordinator, ultimately Denbrock’s hiring might be the best thing to happen to the Irish offense. It’s allowed Kelly to keep the identity of his offense to his liking, especially now that the personnel matches his intent.

But Denbrock’s promotion still allowed Kelly to reach outside the program for a quarterback specific coach, with Matt LaFleur coming from the NFL to teach the position. And it’s taken a valued teacher who has coached just about every position group on the offensive side of the ball and plugged him into the decision making process.

Denbrock understands that while the plays will be dictated by Kelly, his stamp will still be all over this offensive identity.

“It’s absolutely driven by coach Kelly as the leader of the offensive unit,” Denbrock said. “He’s the guy who’s obviously going to be calling the plays, so he’s going to have the most influence on what we’re doing. But there’s not a time or a situation where the offensive staff isn’t involved in decision making processes and I think we all bring something different to the table.

“We’ve always had the ability as a staff and we’ve always had the team’s best interests at heart and we’ve always had an opportunity to kind of voice our concerns and change in some instances and stay the same in some instances too. Those decisions obviously get made by coach Kelly primarily but myself as well.”


  1. dickasman - Mar 27, 2014 at 9:59 PM

    Where’s nudeman been? I miss him. I think he’s Bruce Rauner been busy w elections. don’t worry nude you have my vote! I am impressed by his discipline

    • onward2victory - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:51 AM

      He posted a few weeks ago that he was spending too much time here, so he quit posting cold turkey. I think we all miss his contributions, come back Nude!

      • ndadvocate - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        He’ll be back after Lent

      • mcirish27 - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:52 AM

        Haha, definitely won’t be surprised at a post-lent return. I for one, am glad others can get a word in edge-wise. Spring makes for great speculation and good reading – keep banter flowing!

  2. shaunodame - Mar 27, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    You really cannot overstate just how much a mobile QB really does open up your entire run game to better odds and possibilities. When the defense has to account for the quarterback it opens a whole assortment of possibilities like having an extra blocker to work with and the defense having to cover the entire field, both backside and play side. Since we’ve been a Zone running scheme for a while now, the Zone-Read concept is only a stones throw away from our original running concepts. Also, what people often overlook is how much a mobile QB helps not only himself, but also how much it opens up things for the Running Backs running opposite and the TE’s and WR’s who are suddenly wide open in space. Bottom line is we should all be very VERY excited for this teams offensive potential. And I say potential, for now, because that all it is until we execute. But boy oh boy, this can be a beautiful thing.

    • irishpuma - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:33 AM

      Shauno could not agree more, but don’t expect knute and Wisner to grasp these concepts. =)

    • danirish - Mar 28, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      Wait, you didn’t fear when Rees lined up solo in the backfield? Just kidding of course. A mobile qb is critical, especially one that can make great decisions.

      I don’t care who it is – Golson and Folston, Zaire and Bryant, McDaniel – I just want to see an exciting O that can put up points quickly and have long methodical drives.

      It would also be nice to not have to rely on the jump ball throw and also not be predictable.

      GO IRISH!

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:09 PM

        it may be too early to declare “the era of the jump ball is over!” but I am can’t wait to be able to make this statement. the jumpball just always seemed like an admission that we didn’t have any other high percentage play to run successfully.

  3. idratherbeinsouthbend - Mar 27, 2014 at 11:49 PM

    Denbrock seems like a good guy, but let’s be honest………..DUDE NEEDS A MUSTACHE!

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      not just denbrock, but everyone needs one. just look at how effective the beards were for the red sox last year. they practically went from worst to first, and tall they did was grow beards, well and get a new manager.

      cmc needs a mustache the most of anyone. after the helmetless run last year against USC, i’m sure opposing defenses were calling him “chris O’Donnell” and asking him if he knew al pacino.

  4. jommy995 - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    Mobile, run-capable QB opens up the passing game too. Let’s hope we finally see some offensive production.

  5. fnc111 - Mar 28, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    Chris Brown is going to be that big compliment to Daniels. Fuller will put up some numbers but to say 1,000 yards is a bit unrealistic. Folston will lead the team in carries if Bryant sticks as the full-time PR.

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