It didn’t feel like spring this morning in South Bend when Brian Kelly started his car, the temperature well below zero as the Irish head coach headed to the Gug. But after a week skiing with his family, Notre Dame’s fifth-year head coach prepares to start one of the more unique spring schedules he’s ever embarked on.
The Irish will begin practice on Monday, working out twice before spring break. They’ll have two weeks off before taking the field again on March 19th, then work consistently until April 12, when they’ll play the Blue-Gold game the week before Easter.
“We start spring practice as early as I can remember it, Kelly said. “It’s spread out a little bit better than trying to get all 15 in after spring break with obviously trying to finish up before Easter.
“That’s the reason why we tried to stretch out spring ball a little bit longer because of the way the schedule fits this year, for those that were wondering why we start a little bit earlier this year.”
The Irish staff has shuffled the deck again, with Bob Elliott shifting to outside linebackers and Kerry Cooks taking over the defensive backs. New graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy will work with Cooks and the secondary, bringing the former Irish captain back to the program as a coach.
Tony Alford will work with just running backs while Mike Denbrock will handle all the wide receivers in addition to his offensive coordinator duties. New quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will begin his work with Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, the head coach ever watchful of a position so critical for success.
And defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will bring a new voice to the defensive side of the ball, evolving a group that built a base under Bob Diaco. Kelly talked about the transition from Diaco to VanGorder, acknowledging the edict of Diaco as being one slightly different than what VanGorder has been tasked.
While the roster inherited in 2010 lacked a base knowledge after bouncing between three coordinators, the Irish defensive personnel under VanGorder will be asked to take a step forward schematically.
“When I hired Bob to come here, we needed to build consistency and stability with our defense. He certainly answered the charge that I had given him. We needed fundamentally sound defense, and we got that from coach. We have a great base. We have, now, developed what we consider a demeanor on our defense and an expectation. Now we’re going to take it to the next level defensively.
“Brian is going to be able to take our defense to the next level. I think that’s what you’ll see in what coach VanGorder brings to our defense. Third-down packages, we’ll be able to use personnel uniquely different in certain areas. But at the end of the day, this is still about keeping the points down, taking the football away, and eliminating the big play.”
It’s the start of a new era in South Bend, a similar feeling to the one that existed in the spring of 2012, when Charlie Molnar, Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton left the program.
We’ve got a long six months to determine whether or not these changes will be as successful, but they certainly make for an exciting return to football.