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Kelly on Kizer: ‘He’s got all the tools … He needs more football’

  • Fact No. 1: Former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer entered the NFL Draft with two years of college eligibility remaining.
    Fact No. 2: Nearly two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he does not think Kizer is ready to win a Super Bowl right now.
    Fact No. 3: A full 13 days ago, Kelly also said he thinks Kizer has the most-promising future of all the quarterbacks in this draft.
    Fourth and final fact: Kelly reiterated those opinions yesterday during an interview with Bruce Murray and Brady Quinn on SiriusXM radio, adding he told Kizer the best place to grow as a player next year would be in college.

Oh, wait, another fact: It is 2017 and only 140 characters fit into a tweet, so a single Twitter post could easily leave out some of those first four facts.

Fortunately, this space faces no such restrictions.

Quinn, someone uniquely familiar with all that comes with being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, asked Kelly about Kizer’s pro day. In answering, Kelly referenced Kizer’s “strong arm,” including, He’s got all those tools that you’re looking for at the quarterback position.” Kelly then proceeded to praise Kizer’s performance as the unexpected 2015 starter, leading the Irish to a 10-3 finish and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

“Look at what he did as a redshirt freshman when he was sufficiently supported around him with a Will Fuller and a C.J. Prosise and the balance that he had,” Kelly said. “He had a young football team around him and it was difficult for him at times. So I think he’s got all the tools.

“He needs time. Brady, you know more than anybody else, two years of college football is not enough to go in there and lead a pro franchise to the Super Bowl. For those that have the opportunity to draft him and give him an opportunity to grow and learn, I think he’s got the best skillset of the quarterbacks coming out.”

That latter paragraph very much echoes Kelly’s comments from a March 22 press conference.

When Murray asked if Kizer still has room to improve, Kelly said yes. He also indicated Kizer does not have room to be much better in some of the most important areas, because he is already so strong in them.

“Well, he still should be in college, but the circumstances are such that you have to make business decisions, and he felt like it was in his best interest and I’m going to support him and his decision,” Kelly said. “The reality of it is he needs more football. He needs more time to grow in so many areas, not just on the field but off the field.

“He’s a great kid. He’s got great character. You don’t change character much, and he’s got great character so you’re not going to have an issue there with that young man. He’s going to continue to learn and he’ll learn with great coaches around him, a great mentor around him, so there’s a huge amount of growth that will happen every single day with DeShone Kizer.” (more…)

Kelly: Fundamentals, consistency and position battles

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In only 23 minutes, Irish coach Brian Kelly used the f-word 17 times Friday. No, no, no, not that f-word. This is a G-rated space.

When discussing Notre Dame’s defense, Kelly said fundamentals or fundamentally over and over again. It has been a theme throughout the first half of spring practices, and Kelly emphasized it more than ever following the seventh of 15 sessions. Considering the Irish will not see an opponent for another five months, it makes sense to focus on the building blocks of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme.

“If you were to watch us practice, you would not walk away with anything else but, ‘Man, [Elko] just teaches the fundamentals,’ and then when we come together 11-on-11 [or] 7-on-7, you want to see those fundamentals come to fruition,” Kelly said. “It’s been about teaching the fundamentals. It’s been about learning. We’re not going to play a game on Saturday, so a lot of teaching.”

When it comes to the offense, Kelly stressed consistency from both the players and the coaches.

“I would like to underline on the offensive side of the ball, it’s really more about consistency in performance,” Kelly said. “We were up-and-down. You could see that by the way we’d put up a bunch of points one week and then we struggled to put up points the next week.

“This is really about a consistency in performance from individuals across the board to collectively offensive structure, playcalling, all of those things. Everybody’s involved in it.”

The scoring rollercoaster Kelly referred to may be best-exemplified by Notre Dame’s October. The Irish opened the month by hanging 50 points on Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., before managing only three points at North Carolina State and 10 versus Stanford. Kelly’s offense closed the month with a 30-27 victory over Miami. Even if discounting the anemic performance against the Wolfpack—it was played in a literal hurricane, after all—the month was anything but consistent.

“Offensively, looking for consistency in performance,” Kelly said in summary. “Then defensively, the fundamentals.”

Aside from fundamentals and consistency, spring practice is about establishing a rough depth chart for the fall. In that vein, Kelly pointed out a number of particularly close position competitions. In a few of these—most notably right tackle, defensive tackle and safety—the Irish coaches are giving such equal opportunity as to alternate first-team reps among the participants by each practice. Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner on Wednesday and junior Micah Dew-Treadway on Friday, for example.

“Inside, the defensive tackle position is a very fluid position right now, especially at the three-technique,” Kelly said. “That’s very competitive. We’re seeing a lot of in-and-out with Bonner, Micah Dew-Treadway.

“You’re seeing at the defensive position, [senior end] Jay Hayes, [sophomore Julian] Okwara. I’ve seen a lot of competition between [junior linebacker Te’von] Coney and [senior Greer] Martini.”

Presumably, Kelly meant to also include senior defensive end Andrew Trumbetti in the mix with Hayes and Okwara. It seems sophomore Daelin Hayes has a firm grip on the spot on the other end of the line.

Kelly also mentioned sophomores Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott working to earn a starting safety spot.

“That’s a few positions right there, very competitive, a lot of guys in-and-out of the rotation.”

Related Reading: Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat
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In addition to Dew-Treadway, Okwara and Hayes, Elko has been working [sophomore end] Khalid Kareem and [sophomore linebacker/end] Jamir Jones into the rotation, per Kelly.

“What we’re getting right now is the younger players starting to show themselves…” Kelly said. “We’re cross-training Jamir Jones inside and on the edge of third down. We’re seeing some young, athletic players that are adding to our defense.”

Though they may be young and certainly inexperienced, Kelly said Elko is putting those players in positions to succeed.

“What I like about Mike is he’s putting guys in a position where they’re needed,” Kelly said. “It might be specific to a particular down-and-distance and front and not having to train them in everything you do.”

Kelly said senior cornerback Nick Watkins is largely an afterthought by now when discussing injury rehabilitations. Comparatively, junior cornerback Shaun Crawford is still tracked rather closely.

“We don’t wait until they’re 100 percent before they can take every rep and bring them back in,” Kelly said. “We use a little bit of science.

“Nick Watkins, for example, we don’t even think about his injury now. He’s going to go. With Shaun, as we’re moving through the process, he’s on a GPS and he has a target number … I’ll monitor it during practice. I’ll let Mike Elko or [defensive backs coach] Todd Lyght (know) and will say, ‘His number today is 375 and right now he’s at 200, so if you want him to get more reps, you’ve got to monitor him. If you want him to get reps during team time, you’ve got to be careful with him to get to 375.’”

In a way, Crawford’s repeated injury past—he tore his ACL in 2015 and his Achilles in 2016—aids his recovery schedule.

“Shaun obviously has been through it and he’s going to know his body,” Kelly said. “We’re going to listen to him a lot more, and when he feels really good and he feels he can drive, we’re going to let him go.”

Friday at 4: Four Defensive Questions

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When you finish a three-hour, 25-round fantasy baseball draft, your next move involves pouring a combination of liquids over ice and talking about anything but baseball. Thus I found myself last night with a Dark and Stormy in hand fielding questions from an old friend. We’ll call him Corey, due to him grabbing Corey Kluber in the second round before I had a chance to do so myself.

Corey knows me quite well, and thus knows I generally prefer to avoid Notre Dame football conversations when shooting the breeze. He also knew it could be broached last night—I would have gone so far as to discuss politics if it meant I didn’t have to think about the surplus of stolen bases available this year.

As good of a friend as he may be, he doesn’t read this space. I know as much. He knows I know as much.

That gives me the luxury of parroting our conversation here without him realizing our Notre Dame football chatter can actually serve a purpose for me. His questions may be your questions.

“In layman’s terms, what about [new Irish defensive coordinator Mike] Elko’s defense will be different?”

A spring perspective: Wimbush and his offensive line

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Many like to belittle spring practice as just spring practice. Similarly, others will gladly snub their noses at any positive reviews, insisting it is only warmer temperatures and sunshine eliciting optimism.

Another group sees every position change and depth chart shift as a definite indicator the program is on the right track.

The best assessment of these 15 practices falls somewhere between those two extremes, as most things in this world do.

Take the offensive line, for example. Why is it important to garner an idea of the starting five before fall? Once that is established, not only can the offensive line develop chemistry within itself, but it can also establish chemistry with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. That is, in fact, what Wimbush cited as the item he needs to most improve in a WatchND interview with Jack Nolan over the weekend.

“I need to get better at making it easier for the offensive line and understanding my pocket awareness, where my escape lanes are and where I need to step up,” Wimbush said. “Those guys are working their butts off and I’m at 10 yards, [graduate student left tackle Mike] McGlinchey is getting pushed back and pushed right into me. I have to understand where my pocket is.”

That understanding will develop at an even quicker pace once Wimbush knows exactly whom he is working with on each snap. Spring’s greatest benefit is taking steps toward answering those questions.

As for his greatest strengths on the field, Wimbush pointed toward his athleticism.

“Being able to make plays, get outside the pocket, and I feel like breaking down the defense is some of my assets,” he said.

Assistants: Polian on defensive depth; Lyght on Love; and Lea on the rover

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Three Irish assistants were available to the media following Notre Dame’s sixth spring practice Wednesday. Each of special teams coordinator Brian Polian, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and linebackers coach Clark Lea commented on something or other of note. Together there just might be enough substance to justify your time here today.

At the bottom of this post is a video with most of the below quotes and many more from yesterday’s session.

The most unique aspect of the special teams coordinator, at least when compared to his offensive and defensive counterparts, is the fact that his charges include nearly the entire breadth of the roster. Aside from the quarterbacks, the starting offensive line and the defensive tackles, just about every player could find himself on a kickoff coverage or return unit.

More often than not, defensive players—accustomed to seeking out contact, rather than attempting to avoid it—fill out most of those spots. That may not be the case with this Irish rendition, and not necessarily by choice.

“We’re not as deep as you’d want to be in some other spots with depth at linebacker and depth at safety,” Polian said. “So where are we going to make up those bodies, and they’re going to have to come from offense. Those guys have made very positive impressions.”

Polian specifically mentioned junior running back Dexter Williams, sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and sophomore running back Tony Jones, as well as sophomore safety Jalen Elliott, as having excelled thus far. When he came to Jones, Polian added phrases such as “real excited” and “fantastic,” echoing sentiments Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly espoused earlier this week.

Along with that personnel shift, Polian wants to increase the intensity with which players approach the third unit. Often seen as auxiliary duty, inferior to position group work, special teams should not include a dialed back attitude.

“The biggest change has to be the urgency with which we attack special teams and our execution and critical efficiency in important times of the game.”

The Indianapolis Star’s Laken Litman wrote a longer discussion of Polian’s comments, including how he will look to supplement junior receivers Chris Finke and C.J. Sanders at punt return.

“We’ll have a gong show and say who wants to get a look that’s not getting a look,” Polian said. “We’ll start firing balls at them and if you drop two, you’re fired. But we’ll find another one or two guys.”

Please, WatchND and Fighting Irish Media, please record all of that. The possibilities for hilarity would extend further only if Jarron Jones or Lou Nix were still around to insist on taking a turn.

Sophomore cornerback Julian Love saw plenty of action in 12 games last season, finishing with 45 tackles and one each of an interception, fumble forced and fumble recovered. Nonetheless, Lyght sees room for Love to improve.

“The thing for him and his development, when he’s uncomfortable … he has to rely more on his fundamentals and his technique and be proficient with his execution of his technique and those fundamentals,” Lyght said.

Love started eight games at cornerback last season, the most career starts at the position on the Irish roster. Thus, despite being only a sophomore, he is already in a position to lead.

“Julian can tackle in space, he can cover,” Lyght said. “We want him to get better in his man-to-man techniques and in his leadership role. He is a young player but he is going to play a lot for us.”

Love will play, and likely start, at the boundary cornerback position. As Irish Illustrated’s Tim O’Malley lays out in an elongated look at all five cornerbacks in the mix, the days of left/right cornerback duties are in the past.

“In the college game, it is a boundary/field game,” Lyght said. “It’s not like the NFL where the hashmarks are in the middle of the field and it’s a left/right game…

“If you get the guys comfortable playing boundary, playing field, they can get a better feel for the game, get a better feel for the route combinations, and be able to execute at a higher level playing that way.”

A quick layman’s translation: The hashmarks in college football are much wider than in the NFL. Thus, when the ball is placed on the right hashmark, the right side of the field becomes the boundary and is much narrower than the left, the field.

How about another take at explaining the heralded rover position in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme? Let’s here Lea’s quick summary:

“We have a lot of bodies, so we’re really trying to identify who the right fit is,” he said. “The beauty of that position is it is a hybrid, so there are times you want a bigger-body linebacker type, there are times where you want more of a nickel type.”

Lea also took a moment to extensively praise the leadership of both senior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini.