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Five things we learned: Brian Kelly kicks off the 2014 season

Aug 1, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT


The wait is over. Brian Kelly kicked off the 2014 season with an hour-long press conference, putting an end to the offseason abyss as Notre Dame begins training camp on Monday. Coming off a 9-4 season and welcoming back quarterback Everett Golson, expectations are once again sky-high under the dome, where the Irish welcome back a young but talented football team.

But the road to the first College Football Playoff won’t be easy. With a daunting schedule and some question marks on both sides of the ball, Kelly spent Friday getting us up to speed on the state of his football program.

Let’s take a look at the five things we learned:


Tony Springmann’s career-ending injury puts even more focus on the defensive line. 

Kelly dropped some big news when he announced that senior Tony Springmann was retiring from football, forced to take a medical hardship after a back injury ended his career this summer. The Fort Wayne native looked like a promising piece of the Irish defense when he contributed in a supporting role in 2012, but had last season erased by a knee injury and then missed spring football after an infection slowed down his recovery.

Springmann’s knee finally healed, but an undisclosed back injury will force his football career to end prematurely, a tough blow not just to Springmann, but to the depth of the defensive front. Just like Danny Spond, Springmann will continue to have a role with the team.

“Tony will no longer be playing football. He’ll still stay involved in the program,” Kelly announced. “Tony has done a great job of mentoring a lot of our younger players in the program. He’s shown great leadership, great resolve in coming back from his knee injury, and he’ll stay connected with our program and still be part of our season as we go down to the Culver Academies.”

The loss of Springmann puts more on the shoulders of veteran Chase Hounshell, who has yet to stay healthy through a season in South Bend. But Kelly expects the youth on the roster to fill the gap, with redshirt freshman Jacob Matuska listed at 289 pounds on the fall roster and freshmen Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah both over 300 pounds.

All three first-year participants should be able to support Jarron Jones at nose guard, with Cage and Mokwuah’s physical abilities better than expected.

“With Cage and Mokwuah, their volume is ahead of any of the freshmen that we’ve had at that position since we’ve come here,” Kelly said. “Their ability to come in and immediately take reps, both of them are immediately able to compete right away.”


Brian Kelly wants to see more from Everett Golson (and Malik Zaire) before naming a starting quarterback. 

The surprise competition at quarterback will continue into fall camp. Kelly wants to see more from both senior Everett Golson and sophomore Malik Zaire before naming a starter. He also outlined where he expects to see improvement from both quarterbacks, who have continued to push each other from spring, through summer workouts and right into fall camp.

“I think in an ideal world, every coach wants one quarterback who has clearly demonstrated consistency, great leadership and the ability to take you to a championship,” Kelly said. “If that guy shows himself, i’m ready to name him the quarterback that day. I’m not playing a game where we’re trying to create artificial competition.”

For Golson, that means continuing to hone the craft of the position.

“”I think it’s an ongoing process of really not knowing the playbook, but understanding the move before the move is made,” Kelly said of Golson’s knowledge base. “Understanding me and what I’m thinking, before that play or call is made. That’s what we’re trying to really get to. He knows everything in the playbook… Now why are we running it? It’s the why of the playbook? Why are we doing it?”

After a redshirt season, Kelly feels confident that Zaire can come in and help the Irish win as well.

“I think Malik has the ability to play winning football for us,” Kelly said. “I want him to play championship football for us. There’s a level he has to get to.”

While the distinction between “winning” and “championship” may not sound like a big one, it’s a huge one inside Kelly’s program, part of the overall metric the staff uses to evaluate players. And while Golson did literally quarterback the Irish into the BCS title game, Kelly jokingly quipped that it wasn’t exactly his redshirt freshman quarterback carrying the load or establishing himself as a championship player.

“I’d argue that Everett rode the bus to the championship,” Kelly said.


Heading into the season, four offensive line jobs sound locked in with only one up for grabs. 

Kelly applauded senior Nick Martin’s recovery from knee surgery, with the veteran taking a leadership role both on and off the field. And with fifth-year senior Christian Lombard healthy after recovering from back and wrist surgeries, the state of the offensive line is beginning to take shape.

“With Lombard being healthy, a starter returns,” Kelly said. “Nick Martin, a starter returns. Elmer, a starter returns. Stanley, a starter returns. We’re really talking about four starters. Now we’ve got to figure out who that fifth player is.”

In the spring, it was Mike McGlinchey, who manned the right tackle position. From Kelly’s comments, it certainly didn’t sound like McGlinchey did anything to hurt his cause, with the Irish head coach calling McGlinchey, “physically as gifted as any player that we have.”

But Kelly also went out of his way to compliment the work done by Matt Hegarty and Conor Hanratty. Both seniors give Harry Hiestand options on the interior of the offensive line, allowing Steve Elmer the ability to flex outside to right tackle and put Hegarty or Hanratty at the other open guard spot.

Of course, Quenton Nelson came in this summer physically ready to contribute. At 6-foot-4.5 and 325 pounds, he’s no ordinary freshman. So while saying goodbye to Zack Martin and Chris Watt won’t be easy, once again the offensive line is expected to be the team’s strongest unit.

“We really think that group as a whole sets the standard in our program,” Kelly said.


After serious injuries, both Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell are expected to play big roles in the Irish defense. 

If you’re looking for good news, Kelly gave a very optimistic update on the status of senior linebacker Jarrett Grace. After a career-threatening fibula injury suffered last Halloween against Arizona State, Grace should be ready to practice when the Irish open camp on Monday.

“We think that he’s in a great position now where he’s going to be close now to being ready when the season starts,” Kelly said. “We think he’s in a position now where he’s running and it’s going to be for us a wait‑and‑see process, but he is so much closer than we are thought he could be as we go into the month of August.”

While not quite as serious, Ben Councell is only nine months removed from suffering a serious knee injury. And while some wondered where Councell would fit in Brian VanGorder’s new defensive system, Councell will be a featured piece of the defense at the Sam linebacker position.

“Ben has a unique quality in that he played in space,” Kelly explained. “He can play outside, and he’s 250 pounds, and he’s strong and he’s got very violent hands. When he gets his hands on you, he can really control the line of scrimmage.

“He can play over a tight end, he can play in some space. Him and getting Jarrett Grace healthy, those are two really big pieces for us, because we can get really big and get really physical at the linebacker position with those guys on the field. And then we can match up with some smaller guys, as well, that are more safety types that can play down.

“Ben Councell, we can’t underestimate how important he is to the overall picture of our defense.”


For the Irish to win big this season, freshmen will play a significant role. 

After listening to Kelly on Friday, it’s pretty clear that freshmen will play a significant role on the field this season. Defensively, a highly-touted recruiting class will have the chance to become key role players.

Kelly said good things about freshman cornerback Nick Watkins, and he expects the long and smooth freshman coverman to supply some more depth at a position that’s a strength already. The emergence of Cage and Mokwuah should help up front. And if there’s an under-the-radar freshman that could do big things its Jonathan Bonner.

Kelly raved about the unique athlete — who checked in on the fall roster at an eyebrow-raising 6-foot-3, 269 pounds… as a linebacker.

“It’s going to be fun to watch him, because his numbers, his physical prowess really stood out in our testing and he’s had a really good summer,” Kelly said. “Big kid, athletic, strong. We are going to find out in the first week where that kind of shakes out.”

On the offensive side of the ball, hernia surgery to tight end Mike Heuerman has allowed freshman Tyler Luatua to stand out. On Signing Day, Luatua was listed at 241 pounds. He’s 6-foot-2.5 and 260 pounds on the fall roster (Kelly said he’s up to 268 pounds), making him an ideal candidate to play as an attached tight end.

“Tyler Luatua had a great summer for us,” Kelly said. “Really excited about how he’s settled in here. Again, coming from the West Coast, you’re always worried about that transition and we really feel good about what he’s been able to do in a very short time.”

With NCAA rule changes allowing the Irish staff to stage “OTAs” during June, Kelly and his coaches had a chance to work with their freshmen for the first time, getting a jumpstart on fall training camp. Combine that with some very impressive work done in Paul Longo’s strength program, and it’s allowed high-profile recruits like Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson a chance to walk in and compete for a job that in the past might not have been possible.

Needing all the help they can get with a daunting schedule ahead, expect Kelly to challenge a large group of freshmen in camp to see if they’re ready to contribute.





  1. getsome99 - Aug 2, 2014 at 2:25 AM

    Johnnie Gal,

    You do realize the impact playing against the ACC will have on recruiting in SEC territory don’t you? “Is this your bush?” The 2012 class hurt ND last season but ’13 and ’14 classes were loaded, which means the two deep may be less experienced, but certainly more talented than the roster has been in a long time. And most of the 3 star signees in the ’15 class will be bumped up to 4 stars by the end of the season, so no need to panic.

    As for Zaire, Kelly’s comments tell the whole story. The expectation is the starting QB must be able to win a championship. Golson has an undefeated season under his belt already. If Zaire surpasses him as the starter, that gives ND two championship caliber QB’s. How many SEC teams can say that?

    • 1historian - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      Given the fact that yours is the 1st post – is it asking too much of you that you not start things off with a reference to jg? Shirley that’s not asking too much.

      I have not read any further than this 1st post, so there are 56 to go, and I feel sure that our bubble-brained buddy will pop up sooner or later.

      • papadec - Aug 2, 2014 at 6:35 PM

        hist – this is the 2nd page of posts. Scroll down and go to the previous (first) page.

  2. yaketyyacc - Aug 2, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    always have been in Zaire’s corner. I agree with the poster who said that coach Kelly already has decided who will start against Rice. Hope he has decided on Zaire. This young man is a championship waiting to happen. I know that Golson has the sentimental edge, but remember, sentiment has no cash value.

    • nudeman - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:39 AM

      The Zaire frenzy proves the old bromide that the fans’ favorite player is the backup QB.

      Exactly what has he done that would make you believe he’s better than Golson, right now?
      Here’s your answer:
      1) Had a good/not great Spring game; a scrimmage where the QB couldn’t be touched
      2) Kelly has said some nice things about him

      That’s it.

      Golson will start. You can take that to the bank with about 99.999999% certainty.

      • bernhtp - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:09 PM

        You’re completely right. Hendrix had similar credentials and we saw what happened when the big lights went on.

      • liv4nd - Aug 2, 2014 at 3:26 PM

        agreed…I would LOVE to see MZ is 4th quarters against lesser teams with a nice lead. But if Golson starts with that deer in the headlights thing like he did many games in 2012 BK needs to pull him before any game is in jeapordy.

      • nudeman - Aug 2, 2014 at 4:58 PM

        To borrow a line from our old buddy Lloyd Bentsten:
        “I knew Andrew Hendrix. Andrew Hendrix was a friend of mine. And you, Mr. Zaire. are no Andrew Hendrix”

        And that’s a GOOD thing for ND and Zaire
        Having said that, he still is not going to pass EG

      • irishdrg1 - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:18 PM

        Nudie, as always RIGHT to the point. Got my Rice, Mich, and Stanford ticks, can’t wait to get to IRISH country. Hoping to see Cam tear it up against another Texas team. GO IRISH

  3. johngaltisspeaking - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    I want everyone to mark this date down as it will go down in cfb history as one of the greatest events of all time. August 14th – The Launch of the SEC Network

    • sjb198 - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      We have our own network. So blow me.

      • liv4nd - Aug 2, 2014 at 3:29 PM

        way to go SEC on finally getting a tv deal….ND (one team) has had their own for how many decades now? How cute!

    • 1historian - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      I say this with a bow to Ann Landers – You may have a point, but if you keep your hat on – maybe no one will notice.

    • jommy995 - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:28 PM

      Wait, what? They haven’t launched yet? Will fans be tape recording games on their VCRs?

  4. johngaltisspeaking - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    I want everyone to mark this date down as it will go down in cfb history as one of the greatest events of all time. August 14th – The Launch of the SEC Network

    • papadec - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      Keep posting that over & over and you might even convince yourself. Nobody else – but maybe yourself.

  5. nudeman - Aug 2, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    Will Mahone just posted a statement (below) on his FB page. I will say once again, I am rooting for this young man to get a second chance at ND if he so desires. And if that isn’t in the cards, I’m still rooting for him. Everybody screws up. His was just very public.

    “I fell beyond short of the standard and expectation that comes with being a part of the Notre Dame Family. As many people know my time at ND has not been exactly in my favor. I had taken for granted the opportunity Notre Dame presented me and I hold myself 100% accountable. I apologize to the Notre Dame Alum along with the university as a whole, I have disappointed and shamed you, and for that I am deeply remorseful. In light of this nightmare I have found myself heading in the right direction under god’s will. I have never been so sure that all my troubles, ALL OF THEM, are part of god’s plan for me. I once before walked very close with my lord and savior but fell into the ways of the world. Everyday is a challenge and a step to a new way of life. I can’t express enough to my family, friends, and the University how sorry I am for my actions, but only god truly knows my heart.”

    • bernhtp - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:09 PM

      I’m rooting for him too. His actions won’t be without serious consequences, but if he emerges a better and stronger man, it will have been for the good.

      I doubt that Notre Dame is on his path for redemption, but it isn’t impossible.

      • nudeman - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:52 PM

        If he wants to come back to ND, is that possible in your opinion?

        • bernhtp - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:41 PM

          Yes, I think it is possible. The University would even be willing to take a publicity hit if they thought it was the right thing to do.

          There are a few obstacles. First, Mahone will need to deal with the issues that led to this sad situation. It appears to be alcoholism, at the very least. He’s made a first step by accepting responsibility, but that’s just a first step. There will need to be compelling evidence that his demons are behind him.

          Then there’s the practical issue of the football scholarship. Is there room and does Kelly want him back (and over others)?

          None of this is remotely possible unless Will wants it more than anything in the world and works his ass off. Even then it is a daunting challenge. But then again, this is a part of the Rudy movie that is true.

      • irishdrg1 - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:23 PM

        Forgive me AS I forgive others…..

      • jommy995 - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        Right. It was a multi-step process for the thieves on the cross too, so we have to make sure he passes all the steps over the coming months before allowing him to step back on hallowed ground, let alone don a golden dome.

        Seriously, he’s a kid. Mistakes R Us should be the human slogan. Notre Dame should be MOST different from the rest of the football world in its eagerness to forgive. Touchdown Jesus already forgave him — while he was yet sinning. Romans 5:8.

  6. chadster72 - Aug 2, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    i believe we have to establish the running game first and foremost then that’ll open up the passing game. i think we’ll be very successful with both if we can run the ball 30-40 touches and 20-30 passes a game. I’d give E.G. a half to see how he does, if he struggles bring in M.Z. I’d love to be a smashmouth football team and just run the balland have the other team just try to stop it. Ground n Pound! Go Irish!

    • nudeman - Aug 2, 2014 at 8:44 PM

      Dumbest post, maybe ever

      You would take a guy who two years ago led ND to an undefeated season and give him ONE HALF before bringing in a guy who has never taken a snap.

      Got it.

      Coming from a guy named “Chad” (aka “The Chadster” or “Chadalicious” or “Chad-nificent”) I am not surprised. At all.

      • chadster72 - Aug 3, 2014 at 1:03 PM

        nudeman you forgot how many times Golson struggled, Golson didn’t “lead” N.D. to the Championship, I think our defense had ALOT to do with that. Not to mention how many times did Rees “bail out” Golson. i’m just saying I’m not sold on Golson.

      • nudeman - Aug 3, 2014 at 4:45 PM

        And instead you’re sold on a guy who’s never taken a snap?
        And don’t get me started on the supposed Rees heroics.
        Way overrated

  7. yaketyyacc - Aug 3, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    choosing Zaire over Golson is based on watching what Zaire has done, the fact that he is equal to Golson in practice, with Golson having a championship year under his belt, the fact that Golson had to cheat and lost a year, during which Zaire was building confidence with his teammates in his ability, and developing the rhythm that makes the offense run fluidly, while Golson was away, studying under a guru of questionable credentials. Of course, I am only expressing my opinion, as most of us posters do. And in my opinion, which has no cash value, Zaire has it.
    Coach Kelly, if he runs true to form, will start Golson. so what Yakety Yacc likes or doesn’t like will be lost among the thousands of posts. one thing we all agree on,.,.. GO IRISH

    • c4evr - Aug 3, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      Yakety, add to your facts that Golson frequently had happy feet, would often throw late and high, was unfamiliar with the concept of a three step drop and throw, and, yeah, I’d have to say MZ has a much higher upside than EG. The real question is how BK handles/develops his kids. Up to now, every single QB during his tenure has underperformed… and yes, Golson rode the bus that T’eo was driving in 2012 and had to be relieved on a number of occasions. MZ sees meaningful minutes by week three and, if Golson buckles, will start by Syracuse.

      • nudeman - Aug 3, 2014 at 4:49 PM

        I can’t believe what I’m reading. Back to my point: everybody’s favorite player is the backup QB.
        When Zaire throws a pick should we call demand Kizer?
        Then who? Fiessinger?

      • c4evr - Aug 4, 2014 at 11:50 AM

        That should read that Kelly is doing a poor job getting the best out of his QB. I feel fairly certain amazon will underachieve as well. How is it every scholarship QB has struggled (or transferred) under this guy except a three star kid TR? And Rees didn’t exactly flourish… If anything, he had a knack for ignoring the purple face.

      • c4evr - Aug 4, 2014 at 5:22 PM

        Amazon = MZ. Damn auto correct.

    • nudeman - Aug 3, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      Of course you’re entitled to your opinion. But I just find it far fetched that Zaire wins the job.

      Can/will he push Golson in camp? Yes, no doubt.
      Does he do some things better than EG? Kelly says he’s a natural on the read option.
      Did he progress more than Golson last year? Maybe. Remember, neither saw any game action.

      Remember, Golson is the QB we’ve all been frothing over for years now.
      When he was a Frosh, we wanted him with his illustrious HS accomplishments playing when it became clear Crist was in the permanent dog house. When he was a soph he went 12-0, with a little help from his friends. We couldn’t wait for his Jr. year when Kelly would take the shackles off.
      That didn’t happen, but he did spend a lot of time with this QB guru Whitfield.

      Golson is still the man. Zaire has a 100% chance of playing this year. There will be packages (Kelly loves that) and there will be some mop up time. I’d guess he throws about 30-35 passes this year.

      But he isn’t going to beat out EG.

      • jommy995 - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:47 PM

        Rode the bus there? Maybe. But on the championship stage, the bus crashed, Teo sucked, and only Golson and Eiffert looked like they belonged on the field against that defense.

        I really like Teo, but give me a break. Watch that goal-line stand against USC, and you’ll see he contributed absolutely nothing. 2012 ND was all about the team, not some dude you all want to stick on a pedestal. Teo the best player? Yes, by far. Teo the reason ND was undefeated? No, not even close.

  8. bearcatboy - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    It would just be nice to see the Irish run the ball more. Kelly can hopefully bend the playbook towards the run the ball spectrum of the spread offense. Never been a spread fan, wish we were could lean towards a Wisconsin or Stanford. How often do see their recruiting rankings in the top 10 or 15? They get guys who fit their system. Maybe I’m in left field but sometimes I feel there is a mismatch between the ND game plan and the player talents. The cute little fade throws in the redzone??? (I guess that’s only one example) I’ll cry if ND does that this year. Whatever, I guess I don’t care if it’s a spread formation or not, bottom line is run the ball more.

    I don’t think the defense is AS far behind as one may think. If the biggest question mark is D-line experience, I’m ok with that. You don’t need a lot of experience to what essentially boils down to getting past an o-line guy and tackling a ball carrier. Linebacker is what I’m worried about. Jaylon is a major plus and Grace and Councel have experience; however Grace always reacted so slow last year and consistently arm tackled and Councel was serviceable at best. Hopefully Ishaq can turn it on (he has pronated feet or maybe it’s just his toes are always pointed laterally when he runs . Has anyone notice that?)

    • nudeman - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      I have never seen him run

      • andy44teg - Aug 4, 2014 at 10:23 AM

        a slow jog…maybe

      • bearcatboy - Aug 4, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        he aint great at it

  9. don74 - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    Interesting info from Eric Hansen’s column in the SBTrib.

    Defensive linemen, even more than linebackers, seem the trickier to project – and that doesn’t just pertain to Notre Dame. Take the 12 players that filled out the defensive line spots on the AP All-America first, second and third teams in 2013.

    Only four of them were four- or five-star and/or top 250 prospects overall. Almost half of them weighed 230 pounds or less when they signed.

    The two biggest eventual surprises were two first-teamers – Pitt’s Aaron Donald, whose FBS offers started and ended with Rutgers, Akron and Pitt; and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam, who was the lone two-star prospect among the 12.

  10. ajw21 - Aug 3, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Nude are you surprised? Everybody assumes the unknown is the better option. If Redfield gets beat deep a few times the same people who wanted him on the field last year will want the next freshman safety in. Its always been that way.
    Go Irish!

  11. chadster72 - Aug 5, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    Can’t wait for kickoff! Come on already. Nudeman if Golson plays the way he did against Oklahoma in that kind of hostile environment you won’t hear me say another word about him. That’s the Golson I hope comes out and plays every game this year. I hope that year away did him some good working with Whitfield too, I am excited to see how he’s gonna lead this team. Go Irish!

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