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.”