Brian Kelly doesn’t officially kick off the 2012 football season until tomorrow, when his opening press conference takes place before the start of training camp. But that didn’t stop talk of the quarterbacking race from starting early.
Joining WSBT’s Sportsbeat with Darin Pritchett and Eric Hansen, Kelly answered questions from fans all across the country for 45 minutes, giving the first look at what’s to come in the upcoming season. Talking about everything from his successful recovery from back surgery to changes to the natural grass surface in Notre Dame Stadium, Kelly was in midseason form on the talk circuit, with the quarterbacking race taking center stage.
“We all know that we’re going to be starting a young man that hasn’t started a game at that position,” Kelly said about heading to Ireland without suspended quarterback Tommy Rees. “We won’t be lacking plays. We just need to execute them well.”
Another major offseason storyline was officially put to rest when Hansen asked Kelly about Tee Shepard. The one-time early enrollee cornerback, who was likely going to play a huge part in the Irish secondary this fall, left Notre Dame before he ever had a chance to practice with the Irish, doing so beneath the fog of rumors concerning a heart problem, suspicions of academic inadequacies, and a lot of Notre Dame fans scratching their head after two of Fresno’s most talented players in years, both long committed to Notre Dame, will apparently never play football for the Fighting Irish.
While answers are still hard to come by, Kelly was overly complimentary about Shepard, but also closed the door on any return to the Irish, a rumor that was largely fueled by Shepard himself via Twitter this summer.
“That door has now closed and we have invested those assets in other positions,” Kelly said. “That ship has sailed.”
One ship that hasn’t sailed is the playing surface inside Notre Dame Stadium. When asked about the future of natural grass, Kelly was cut and dry not only about his preference for field turf, but also spoke pointedly that the artificial surface was making its way inside the house that Rockne built.
“Field turf is coming,” Kelly said.
Kelly also spoke highly of the offseason work done by veterans like TJ Jones, Theo Riddick and Zeke Motta, and a freshman class that came into camp in better shape than anyone expected. He talked up local talent Daniel Smith, who had another summer surgery to get him healthy, a never-ending theme for the physically gifted wideout.
The battle along the offensive line seems to be focused on right guard. With Christian Lombard seemingly owning the right tackle slot, it’ll be fifth-year grad Mike Golic battling Nick Martin for a starting role and Tate Nichols likely relegated to backing up Lombard. The unit will look to get more consistency and better with its technique under new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
“We wanted somebody who could get to the point where technique was number one,” Kelly said of Hiestand. “Ed Warinner did a very good job for us, but I was look for something a little bit different this time around. We wanted to focus on the fundamentals.”
Speaking of the fundamentals, nowhere will that come into play more than at quarterback. After spending the spring focusing on taking control of the offense and holding onto the football.
“Take great care of the football,” Kelly said, pointing to the key criteria in the quarterbacking battle. “The quarterback that’s going to play against Navy is the one we trust most to take care of the football.”
Kelly perhaps revealed his hand a bit when asked the million dollar question that’ll likely shape preseason camp. When asked if he had an idea of who that quarterback would be, Kelly didn’t hesitate.
“I do. I’ve got an idea in my mind,” Kelly said. “But we now have to take that from meeting room talk and go apply that. One’s not good enough. We’ve got to get a couple guys ready for Navy and for the season. We’ve got a couple ideas, but it’ll take some time.”