Author: Keith Arnold

Notre Dame at USC

Two different roads to return for Russell and Williams


As Brian Kelly kicked off spring practice with his press conference Tuesday, he gave a long-awaited update on exiled players KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

Both Russell and Williams were expected to be key starters on the 2014 team, but the duo was among five players suspended from football activities while an academic misconduct case worked its way through the university. Russell and Williams accepted their two-semester suspension from school.Russell vowed to return and Williams made his intentions clear to his head coach that he planned to do so as well.

Since then, we’ve heard from Russell, mostly with updates from his Instagram page, showcasing the work he’s putting in to prepare for his senior season.

But even though both have served what appears to be the same punishment, Russell and Williams’ two avenues for return appear to be quite different. For Russell, it appears his long-awaited return for the summer session is on schedule.

“I know what KeiVarae’s situation is and have had a lot of contact with him,” Kelly said. “Academically he’s making the progress necessary to be back here. I can confidently say standing in front of you today he’s making all the steps necessary to be back here, be part of our football team this summer.”

In contrast to Russell, things have been trending in the wrong direction for Williams. After hinting at some potentially difficulties for Williams’ return around Signing Day, Kelly also acknowledged that he’d had little contact with his suspended defensive end, mostly getting his information from third-parties (likely his assistant coaches).

He also noted there’s some complexities for Williams, who also needs to have his re-application to the university accepted.

“He’s working right now.  He’s trying to make some money.  Right now he’s got to get re‑enrolled into school,” Kelly explained. “He’s got to re‑apply, go through that process. There are some uncertainties there. He’s trying to do the things necessary to have a Plan B if he needs one.”

Without knowing the details of the academic misconduct case, a process that was shrouded in secrecy and included an internal investigation through the school’s general counsel and then an Honor Code hearing, it’s impossible to know what makes the situation different for Williams, Russell or any of the other three athletes. While Kendall Moore and DaVaris Daniels also missed the entire season, Eilar Hardy was allowed to return to the field and will play out his eligibility after earning his degree from Notre Dame at Bowling Green.

Any hope Daniels had of returning to school disappeared after the academic work needed to earn back his eligibility was deemed too difficult. There could be elements of that going on with Williams as well, who would’ve been a fourth-year senior last year.

With a scholarship crunch still existing even with Matt Hegarty’s transfer and Ben Councell walking away from football, Kelly was candid when asked if he could guarantee a spot to Williams on the team if he was accepted back into school.

“I can’t guarantee him a spot, no.  There are other factors involved,” Kelly said.


Video Roundup: Spring Practice Begins

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Notre Dame kicked off spring practice bright and early Wednesday morning. With our first look at the Irish as they prepare for the 2015 season, Brian Kelly’s troops were ready for action, even if they were relegated to helmets and shorts.

We’ll have more reaction to Kelly’s comments after practice, and dig a little deeper into yesterday’s action as well. But there’s some good video popping up around the interweb from the media availability portion of practice.

Here are some assorted clips:


Brian Kelly after practice, courtesy of



Worth noting: Consider the message sent to Justin Brent, the sophomore wide receiver who some had pegged for a position switch to safety. Kelly mentioned it was Brent’s second spring with the team and that he needs to play to his skills or worry about getting passed by.


Blue & Gold Illustrated looks at practice:

Fun to see: There might not be a coach better cut from central casting than Harry Hiestand. Seeing him lord over the offensive line group has to bring a smile to your face. Also, Todd Lyght throws a nice ball. Later in the video, Keith Gilmore works with his linemen.


Rachel Terlep of the Elkhart Truth:



Fun to see: Jarrett Grace looking more than a little nimble to open up the video. Also Drue Tranquill moving fluidly and without hesitation as he runs cones with the safety position. Both guys doing great things after significant injuries.


Irish Illustrated’s Practice Video: 



Interesting Parts: Freshman Jerry Tillery (No. 99) is one big dude. Two early catches from Corey Holmes (No. 15). Impressed by how athletic the linebackers look. And happy to see Joe Schmidt taking part in backpedal drills without his helmet.


Tom Loy of Irish 247 introduces the new coaching staff:



Check it out: In the first 15 seconds, Loy introduces us to new assistant coaches Todd Lyght, Autry Denson, Mike Sanford, Keith Gilmore and new offensive analyst Jeff Quinn, long suspected of joining Notre Dame’s staff.




Irish open spring: Five quick updates from BK

Michigan v Notre Dame

With Irish eyes already smiling thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, Notre Dame fans got a free double-down with Brian Kelly’s opening press conference before spring practice starts tomorrow.

Kelly, donning a green sweater over a green golf shirt, spoke with the assembled local media over the lunch hour, giving us 50 minutes of long-awaited updates as the spring roster was revealed.

Here are five quick things I found very interesting:


Ben Councell is retiring. 

I hinted at this last week, but outside linebacker Ben Councell is not going to pursue a fifth-year. As we looked at the roster-crunch to get to 85 scholarships, Councell was one name that I had heard wasn’t a lock to come back.

Kelly confirmed that on Tuesday.

“He chose not to continue to play. We respected that decision,” Kelly said. “He was offered an opportunity to continue to play. He’s not going to play football anymore. He’s just going to get his degree and move on to the next chapter for him. Ben’s a great young man and we wish him the best.”

Kelly also confirmed Jalen Brown was not returning, while also clarifying that the little used cornerback wasn’t invited back.


It’s Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson battling for the open left guard job. 

We’ll get a look at the two redshirt freshmen for the first time. And if Kelly’s comments are any indications, the young players are all that’s been advertised.

After explaining that Nick Martin was returning to center and Matt Hegarty didn’t want to compete for the left guard job, Kelly pointed to the two first-year participants as the top candidates for the vacancy along the offensive line.

“Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars,” Kelly said. “We’ll let those guys battle at the left guard position. That’s going to be fun to watch those two guys battling out at the left guard position.”

While some other players are going to cross-train and add some depth at tackle and center, don’t expect it to be Bars or Nelson. After seeing how difficult that was for Steve Elmer, consider it a lesson learned for Kelly and Harry Hiestand.


C.J. Prosise is cross-training as a running back. 

Even though Amir Carlisle was Notre Dame’s starting running back to open the 2013 season, it’s fellow slot receiver C.J. Prosise that’s taking reps at running back.

Kelly confirmed the position tweak for Prosise with Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant the only scholarship backs on the roster until Josh Adams and Dexter Williams arrive this summer.

“He’s been in the running back meetings. He’ll get a lot of work at running back,” Kelly confirmed of Prosise. “Amir will not cross train. He’ll stay at the slot receiver. C.J. will get quite a bit of work at running back.”

After leading the team in yards per catch and showing a ton of explosiveness at 220 pounds, this looks like a smart way to get Prosise more touches while also protecting the depth chart. Expect new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to enjoy seeing what Prosise can do in a hybrid role.

We’ve talked constantly about finding a Percy Harvin (the game-breaking elite talent not the guy who can’t stick on an NFL roster) for this offense. Prosise might be that guy.


Fifth-year candidate Chase Hounshell is attempting to reboot his career as a blocking tight end. 

Long assumed gone after struggling with injuries and the defensive line depth chart, get ready to see a new number—and a new attitude—associated with veteran Chase Hounshell.

He’ll be wearing No. 18 and at 255 pounds will compete to be a blocking tight end. And he’s getting that opportunity because he did everything he could to convince Kelly to give him the chance.

“Chase knocked down my door, wouldn’t leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, ‘Coach, I want to be part of this team. I have something to offer,'” Kelly explained.

“We don’t really have a role for you on the defensive line, but we could use a big, physical, blocking tight end. Would you be interested in that role? He said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.'”

With just Durham Smythe’s one catch returning to the position and rising sophomore Tyler Luatua the only big-body that looks the part of a run blocker, experimenting with Hounshell at the position is a win-win for both parties.

If a roster crunch comes, Hounshell will have spent the spring staying in shape and could supply some good tape to a program looking for a veteran player, who could also have sixth-year options considering his multiple shoulder injuries.

Jake Golic finished his career at Cincinnati. Perhaps Hounshell will have the same type of opportunity if it doesn’t work out in South Bend. But credit the veteran for wanting to finish things the right way.


Any assumptions about the quarterback position should be thrown out. 

After an offseason where many of us (I’m partially guilty, too) have advanced the storyline at quarterback when we’ve heard nothing out of the parties actually involved, Kelly did a nice job resetting the expectation at the position.

While talking about both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, he laid out his expectations for spring practice, with each player having clear objectives.

But for all the talk about the offense being turned over to Zaire or a ride-share program already being implemented, these comments from Kelly about Golson and his future as the team’s starting quarterback struck me.

“First of all, if I’m Everett, I don’t think that he has to accept that he has to share time with anybody,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that notion has ever been floated to him. I’ve never floated that.

“The only thing that I’ve ever said to Everett is that you have to come in here and compete for the starting quarterback position. I never once said to him, You have to come here and share playing time with anybody. You need to come in here and be committed to competing for the quarterback position. That’s all I’ve ever asked him to do.”

Notre Dame, Ball State set to meet in 2018

Pete Lembo

It looks as if another piece of Notre Dame’s non-ACC football scheduling has come into place. Ball State has announced an agreement to play at Notre Dame Stadium in early September of 2018, likely locking in the Irish’s second opponent of the season.

The in-state battle will mark the first time the two schools have played each other in football.

“The opportunity to play one of the most storied programs in college football in a historic stadium will be very special for our student-athletes and everyone else associated with Ball State football,” Cardinals head coach Pete Lembo said in the release.

While the Irish’s ACC schedule is locked down through 2019, the non-conference pieces are still coming together. With Georgia on the slate in 2017 and 2019 and a rumored matchup in 2018 against Northwestern potentially lost in the ACC affiliation, some type of certainty—even years in advance—goes a long way.

Of course, not too many headlines are generated scheduling a game against a MAC opponent. Especially in the CFB Playoff era. But the relationships between Notre Dame’s athletic department and the leadership at Ball State likely made this an easy deal to finalize.

Former Irish deputy athletic director Bill Scholl is the AD at Ball State. (Correction: Scholl took over as AD at Marquette in January, Mark Sandy now has the job.) Former SID Brian Hardin is now a deputy athletic director in Muncie as well.

In addition to high-profile non-conference games against Texas (2015, 2016), Ohio State (2022, 2023) and Texas A&M (2024,25), the Irish have agreed to play Miami-Ohio in 2017, presumably reuniting the Irish with former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.



The road to a successful 2015 season is just getting started


After Notre Dame’s men won an improbable ACC basketball title, the team and their head coach did little to shy away from their difficulties in the NCAA tournament.

#NotDoneYet adorns every tweet coming from the team’s official account, and likely serves as a mantra for a team that’s shown flashes of brilliance during regular seasons past, but too often became pumpkins in mid-March.

Just as the basketball team goes back out on the highwire as a No.3 seed, Brian Kelly‘s football team is #JustGettingStarted.

With spring practice set to kickoff on Wednesday, and Kelly ready to give his spring state of the union address with the university back from spring break, the ground work has been laid for a 2015 season that will not shy away from hefty expectations.

At least 18 starters return on a football team that could welcome back 2013 star-in-the-making cornerback KeiVarae Russell and still-promising defensive end Ishaq Williams.

A quarterback depth chart that is about to kick off a high-profile competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire largely blinds us from the first dynamic 1-2 punch the Irish have had at the position in… decades?

Defensively, just about every piece of Brian VanGorder‘s unit returns. While standouts Joe Schmidt and Jarron Jones spend spring getting healthy, VanGorder and his rebuilt coaching staff have to prove they’re more like the attacking dominant group that helped the Irish race to a 6-0 start, not the injury-depleted lost cause that turned Northwestern into a winner in South Bend as it hemorrhaged points.

Outside of a restructured coaching staff, there isn’t an influx of new faces charged with changing the results. Frontline seniors like Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day need to be stars. Same the ascending juniors Will Fuller, Tarean Folston and Jaylon Smith.

While we focus on holes at safety or depth concerns at running back, Brian Kelly has built his strongest football team yet. Make no mistake, there hasn’t been a roster this talented in South Bend since Lou Holtz was running the show.

With a roster that still needs to find its way to 85 players, 15 spring practices will have an urgency we haven’t seen around the program since the dark days and skepticism before the 2012 season. Pushed forward by a singular leader like Manti Te’o, that team built itself through spring and summer workouts.

After falling apart at the seams last season—the 2014 team lost more games in November than Brian Kelly had in all his seasons in South Bend combined—success this fall begins with the work being done now.

So while Mike Brey and Co. are (hopefully) #NotDoneYet, the road to 2015 is #JustGettingStarted.