Notre Dame received a mixture of good news and bad news on the injury front while treating its off week more like a game week.
The Irish would typically spend an idle week with a few days away from football and a focus on getting healthy. No. 7 Notre Dame will undoubtedly take that approach come mid-October, but that was not the case with the calendar barely flipped to September.
“I didn’t want to go a full week without contact and tackling,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “We tackled. We scrimmaged. I’m not saying we had a 50-play scrimmage, but we got some live tackling in there with our ones, our key backups.
“We worked on special situations that I didn’t think we were quite up to snuff in and really spent a lot of time on those in particular. You could probably all figure out which those situations were.”
Without spending more than a moment’s thought on it, those situations presumably included third-and-shorts on offense and base run defense, among other things.
“They were long practices, they were two-hour practices,” Kelly said. “It was a physically-demanding and mentally-demanding week for our team.”
That combination allowed Notre Dame to stay in a routine, to correct wrongs committed at Louisville during the 35-17 Labor Day victory and to begin prep for New Mexico’s arrival this weekend (2:30 ET; NBC).
Junior tight end Cole Kmet partook in most of that practice work, another step toward his return to the field from a broken collarbone. An x-ray last week revealed only good things for that shoulder, but Kelly would not commit to Kmet (pictured at top) playing this weekend.
“We’ll make a decision at what level we want to engage him this week,” Kelly said. “… That’s going to be a day-to-day situation as to how we see how far we want to accelerate him. He’s been cleared to do quite a bit of the football-related work within the practice.”
Asked point-blank if Kmet could play Saturday, Kelly acknowledged the tight end is healthy enough to play, but that will be a decision made “within the program.” Reading between the lines, the Irish may hold out Kmet for another week to ensure a full recovery, a luxury provided given the opponent.
The same may be applied to sophomore running back Jahmir Smith, who sprained a toe in Saturday’s scrimmage. On the surface that may spark worries about depth among the Irish running backs. Kelly confirmed junior running back Jafar Armstrong will miss at least a few weeks with an abdominal muscle tear.
“That’s an injury that requires some time, but to put an exact time on it, it’s hard to say,” Kelly said. “… He’s a very good player that gives us great versatility. We’re very confident in the backs that we have that we can continue to have that same versatility.”
More to fill in for Armstrong than for Smith — though the latter’s absence could create a few more reps in the short-term — junior Avery Davis has moved back to running back. For those either keeping track or confused: Davis arrived at Notre Dame as a quarterback. After preserving a year of eligibility, he moved to a running back/receiver hybrid role in the spring of 2018. This past spring he moved to cornerback.
Davis took 22 carries for 70 yards last season, a 3.8 yards per attempt average, while adding five catches for 30 yards. He did not appear in four of Notre Dame’s final six games, gaining only 10 yards in the final half of the season. Davis did not play in this year’s opener.
“Avery can catch the football for us, has the ability to do those things that Jafar did,” Kelly said. “He gives us another piece at that position that we think can fill in nicely.”
To some degree, logic figures the constant switching of positions wears on Davis, but he handled the initial quarterback-to-running back move with such aplomb, it is easy to believe Kelly’s praise of his current demeanor.
“[Davis] just wants to get on the field,” Kelly said. “We’re in a need situation. He wasn’t getting a lot of time defensively, so he was anxious about the opportunity and excited about the opportunity of coming on the offensive side of the ball and seeing what he could do to help us.”
That could all, at least in theory, lend itself to a series or two of carries for both Davis and freshman running back Kyren Williams on Saturday, getting each much-needed experience as the Irish figure out how to proceed sans Armstrong for at least a month, maybe two.
RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s young reserves ready for suddenly-needed roles
On Michael Young
The junior receiver broke his collarbone about a week after Kmet, and thus Kelly has been able to easily describe Young’s timeline as a week behind Kmet’s. He offered a slight bit more detail this week.
“We’re at that point where you’re looking at — I don’t want to get too technical here — but you’re looking for problems like non-healing,” Kelly said. “We don’t have that with him, which is a good sign.”
On Bob Davie
The current New Mexico head coach and former Notre Dame head coach suffered a health scare following the Lobos’ opener on Aug. 31. While he has left the hospital, is expected to make a full recovery and has returned to some team activities, Davie will not make the trip to South Bend.
“We will miss him here,” Kelly said. “But he’s got bigger things, and that’s his health. We’re pulling for him and hoping for a speedy recovery. It seems like he’s moving in that direction. We hope for him to be back on the sidelines quickly.”