There was no question that by the end of the 2013 season, Notre Dame’s coverage teams were a mess. The product of a ravaged depth chart, the Irish were miserable covering kicks, likely a deadly mix of mismatched personnel and some questionable schemes.
After a commitment to putting better players on the special teams units didn’t necessarily pay off in 2013, the Irish went back to the drawing board this offseason. And after hearing Kelly talk in his introductory comments on Friday, they might have solved some problem.
In a rather candid moment, Kelly talked about the process of getting help for his not-so-special teams. That included touring programs at both the collegiate and professional level and getting some critiques.
“I won’t tell you where we went, but we went with some NFL and some college programs and we took our film, with our hat in our hand and said, what are we doing here, what are we missing,” Kelly said. “And primarily, it wasn’t scheme as much as it was some coaching points and moving some personnel around, some speed players versus some power players. And you know, I think we’ve got a better feel for the positioning of the players in the right positions.
“So we’re going to make some adjustments to some of the looks that we have in our punt return. We think we’ve answered some questions in our coverage teams, and like I said, you know, it’s unacceptable to be where we are. We went out with that sense of being very open to all things as it relates to special teams, because we’ve got to get better there. And I think we picked up some things that I think can really help us.”
Just how bad the Irish were on kickoff returns is fairly amazing. The Irish were in the bottom 10 of the country in the number of 30+, 40+, and 50+ yard returns allowed, clearly signaling something was wrong with a unit that once was really stingy at the beginning of Kelly’s tenure.
With Kyle Brindza returning, the Irish have one of the country’s best kickers and should be able to produce more touchbacks. But even if they don’t give an automatic start at the 25, they’ve got to get better in this facet of the game. Whether that means putting more speed out there, finding better gunners, or just scraping the strategy and finding a new one, all ideas are clearly on the table.
It’s also clear that it’ll be a collaborative process fixing the units. While Scott Booker is the coordinator of those units, Kelly talked about having an all hands on deck approach.
“You’ve got to have one voice but it’s going to have hands in it from all the coaches including myself,” Kelly said. “Everybody will be involved. I was involved in the off‑season in terms of reaching out to coaches and talking to coaches… That’s the best way to do it from my perspective, you know, when you’re talking about nine coaches.”