Notre Dame Football: Takeaways from Brian Kelly's Spring Press Conference
For only the third time this calendar year, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly met with the media, and this time, valuable information about the formation of the Irish's 2013 squad was revealed by Kelly.
The now fourth-year head coach covered a variety of topics during his initial spring practice press conference.
First and foremost, Kelly harped on the physical development of his team, pointing out the weight gains of a slew of players on the spring roster.
Among the most impressive were offensive tackle Mark Harrell (286 to 305), defensive end Chase Hounshell (255 to 275), linebacker Jarrett Grace (235 to 248) and running back George Atkinson (206 to 217), among others.
Perhaps the two most significant weight gains among that group are Harrell and Atkinson.
Harrell, a redshirt freshman, will be competing for minutes on the offensive line, though his prospects for earning a starting gig are unlikely. However, Kelly did say that Harrell, along with Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty are the leading candidates to replace Braxston Cave at the center position.
It would be considered a shock if Harrell won the job, as Hegarty, who has been medically cleared after suffering a minor stroke in December, has long been rumored to be Cave's successor.
Atkinson, on the other hand, received surprisingly high praise from Kelly, who was receptive to questions about the vacant starting running back position (h/t IrishIllustrated.com).
"Yeah, it's his time. Now, he's got some guys that are going to have something to say about that, as well. We like that competition that we have at the running back position.
But, yes, certainly you would think the things he has to do is obviously be a guy that can be on the field, take care of the football. But he's really committed himself to being that guy. He did not participate in track and field because he wanted to be solely focused on being the number one back."
Kelly's comments here about Atkinson lead me to believe that as of now, the starting gig is Atkinson's to lose.
Had Kelly had it in his mind that one of the incoming freshmen—Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston—would be serious challengers for the job, it's unlikely he would have lauded Atkinson as he did.
Now, this isn't to demean Atkinson, as he's a home run hitter because of his blazing speed—notice that he is now a former sprinter on the Irish's track and field squad—but the rigidity of his frame as a runner poses a few doubts about his potential as an every down back.
Handing the ball off to Atkinson and his fellow running backs will be second-year starting quarterback Everett Golson, who Kelly gushed about, revealing a side of the head coach not often seen (h/t IrishIllustrated.com).
"He's stepping out front. He's leading workouts with the players when the coaches can't be there, whether it be one‑on‑one, seven‑on‑seven. He's active in meetings. He sits in that chair over there and he's on the edge of the chair. You know what I mean? It's a guy that has been the starter at Notre Dame and understands what goes along with that.
So across the board, this is a different young man because he's been in it, he knows what it looks like now. So every single day we see a step up. He's excited. He can't wait to start tomorrow and get the offense rolling."
There are a few takeaways from Kelly's words about Golson, first and foremost being the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native's willingness to evolve into the leader the offense needs now that Cave and former running back Theo Riddick have taken their talents to the NFL.
Naturally, quarterback is automatically assumed to be a position of leadership, particularly at Notre Dame. The Irish didn't necessarily possess leadership from Golson a season ago, but it looks as if that is in the process of changing rapidly.
And if Golson becomes the leader Kelly desires him to be, the offense will not have to search for a leadership group for, theoretically, the next three seasons.
Leadership on the defensive side of the ball will be tougher to come by this season now that Manti Te'o has finished his four-year carer at Notre Dame.
Kelly was asked about that subject and didn't shy away from the question (h/t IrishIllustrated.com).
But guys are starting to understand what it takes to be a leader. You can say 'leadership' all you want, but what does that mean? It means holding others accountable. It's still a work in progress for us, but I like what I'm starting to hear out there. We're hearing people speak up, taking that level of accountability and running with it.
As Kelly explained, leadership isn't a simple aspect, though it is a trait shown through actions. He mentioned Grace, cornerback Lo Wood and seldom-used defensive end Tyler Stockton, who accepted a fifth-year scholarship, as up and coming individual leaders.
For now, much of the discussion remains to be not much more than semantics, though spring ball will provide more clarity and answers with each passing practice session leading up to the Blue Gold Game on Apr. 20.
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