Brandon Wimbush may or may not start for Notre Dame this weekend, but he will make the trip to North Carolina and — worst-case scenario — be available in a backup role, per Irish coach Brian Kelly.
Wimbush suffered a grade one right foot strain at some point in Notre Dame’s 52-17 victory over Miami (OH) this past weekend. After spending most of Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s practices on the sidelines, the junior quarterback took some snaps Thursday.
“He’s in a good place,” Kelly said afterward. “We got two more days. He’ll get some more rehab. He’s where we [had hoped] he would be. We expect more progress to be made in the next couple of days.”
Wimbush did upper body work Tuesday along with some stretching and throwing, but nothing more than that. Kelly said Wednesday consisted of some work with the running backs and more throwing. It was not until Thursday that Wimbush became more active, taking some repetitions with the first-team offense.
Kelly described Wimbush as still “day-to-day” and whether or not he will start will be decided Saturday before the Irish take on the Tar Heels at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC). If not Wimbush, Kelly would turn to sophomore Ian Book. If Book were then to be hurt, Wimbush has already shown himself healthy enough to be able to step in for such a role.
“If [Wimbush] doesn’t start, he’s going to be able to do something, absolutely.”
The decision of whether to start Wimbush or not will not be made with a view past the Tar Heels, even with a bye week coming before USC visits.
“We’re all in on this game,” Kelly said. “It’s not like we played our rival last week, so we’re not emotionally drained, and we’re off next week. It’s all in this week. … This is a game we need to win. It’s all in.”
Senior Montgomery VanGorder remains the third option at quarterback.
Kelly devotes about 40 percent of practice to the backup quarterback even when everyone is healthy, so Book has received plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents, most notably his understanding of the offense.
“He’s very accurate with the football,” Kelly said. “He’s got a good grasp of the offense, and he elevates the play of the guys around him. … Every time he’s gotten to scrimmage with his unit, he’s been effective in moving the ball.”
Book completed 3-of-5 passes against the RedHawks for 51 yards. This would be his first career start.
On RB health and the possibility of C.J. Holmes
Overall, Notre Dame’s running backs are about as healthy as they have been in a few weeks. Sophomore Tony Jones and junior Dexter Williams continue to play through sprained ankles, with Jones a bit further ahead of Williams in terms of health at the moment, Kelly said.
Freshman C.J. Holmes may see his first collegiate action in an effort to offer those ankles — including junior Josh Adams’ two “cranky” ankles — a bit of a reprieve. Holmes underwent shoulder surgery during spring practice, though fully healthy now. At the very least, Holmes will contribute on special teams.
“We brought him up with us with the intent that we think he can contribute,” Kelly said. “… We wouldn’t bring him up with us if we didn’t feel he was ready to play physically and if he didn’t have the skill set necessary to win with him. We’ll see how the game plays out, but he’s with us to contribute this year and to help us win.”
On North Carolina’s injuries
Considering much of Kelly’s press conference Thursday was spent discussing injuries, it may raise an eyebrow to hear him offer sympathy toward the Tar Heels as their injured list grows. The difference between the two is simple: Kelly is considering whether to play players through sprained ankles and strained feet. North Carolina does not have that option. Its injured are out for the year.
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“The team we’re playing, God bless them,” Kelly said. “I’ve been in their shoes. They’ve lost a ton of starters.
“We’re healthy. We’ve got an ankle here, a bump here, and a bruise here. But we’re a healthy football team. [Kelly then knocked on the wooden podium he stood behind.] I’m happy where we’re at. We’ve been in a lot worse straits than we are right now.”