The outset of Notre Dame's 2013 fall training camp involved a peculiar plot twist.
Rather than hold the first week of camp in the familiar, cozy confines of the LaBar Practice Complex, head coach Brian Kelly and Co. relocated to Camp Shiloh in Marion, Indiana, approximately 100 miles southeast of Notre Dame's campus.
Such a move is a unique tactic in college football, though not so for Kelly.
While serving as head coach at Cincinnati, Kelly took his Bearcat squad off campus to a destination known as Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana.
The fourth-year head coach spoke to the benefits of beginning training camp off campus during his first fall media session last week, via und.com.
It's a collection of new personalities. You can't live in the past. We want to talk about this year. What we need to do is get prepared. The second part of that is no distractions, it's all football. Don't have to worry about getting to math class. We don't need to worry about guys off campus. We're all together. It's 100% being around each other and our football team. Both of those things in a combination I think come together with us going off site.
While getting away from the distractions of campus is a positive for the team, it wasn't so much for those wishing for answers about the progression and formation of this season's bunch, as each of the four practices at Camp Shiloh have been closed to the media.
However, Jack Nolan of Notre Dame athletics was given exclusive access to the team.
During Nolan's first fall camp interview with Kelly following the Irish's first practice at Camp Shiloh, Kelly referenced three true freshmen who caught his eye.
Offensively, Greg Bryant. I'll tell you, a guy who looked good today was Will Fuller. He's got a great burst vertically. Cole Luke, who showed up well today. But those are just a couple of names. I don't want our fans to start talking about them being the next All-Americans.
Since his commitment to Notre Dame in December, Bryant has been an ultra-popular name amongst fans hoping the 5'10", 204-pound Delray Beach, Florida, native earns a spot in the running back rotation along with George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel.
Whether Bryant earns that spot remains to be seen. Often forgotten amidst that rampant discussion is Tarean Folston, who was ranked No. 122 in 247sports.com's 2013 Top 247 list. Originally listed at 5'9" and 185 pounds as a recruit, und.com has listed Folston at 207 pounds, a 22-pound increase.
The Cocoa, Florida, native very much looks the part of a dark horse candidate to break into the rotation.
Further discussion of the offense continued when Nolan spoke with Kelly at the conclusion of the Irish's second day of practice, an interview in which Kelly referenced competition along the offensive line.
We've talked a lot about the right guard and right tackle positions. Ronnie Stanley has to get some time in there. We have to be able to see what he can do. That's an important look for us. Again, the running back position, we all know there's a number of those guys. Getting some of the younger guys some work, that's what we're getting to right now.
Kelly's reference to the right side of the offensive line shouldn't be a surprise, as it's undoubtedly the least certain area of the offense at this point.
A number of possibilities exist to how it could shape up between now and the Irish's season opener against Temple Aug. 31, though the most likely scenario would be incumbent starting right tackle Christian Lombard shifting inside to the guard spot with Stanley manning his natural position of tackle.
Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, Kelly didn't offer as many specifics, but gave a broad overview of his impression of the defense thus far.
Defensively, there's a lot of really good players, there's a lot of depth. Coach Diaco's got a tough job there in the sense that he's got a lot of those guys. Once we get into our sub packages and situational defenses, I think we can get a lot of those guys on the field.
While Kelly didn't mention any individual defensive players, a few names to keep an eye on are defensive end Justin Utupo and linebackers Ben Councell and Ishaq Williams.
Utupo was originally recruited as a 240-pound linebacker, but has since tacked on 50 pounds to become a 290-pound defensive end. And in the season-long absence of Chase Hounshell to a shoulder injury, Utupo will likely be listed beneath Stephon Tuitt on the initial depth chart.
Possibly joining Utupo on the defensive line in the Irish's four-man front could be Williams, who has been groomed as a hybrid linebacker capable of putting a hand in the ground. His versatility in that regard will be critical for the Irish defense, which is thin at defensive end.
Next to Williams should be an interesting battle between Councell and freshman Jaylon Smith for the second-team spot at "CAT" linebacker behind Danny Spond.
And when these players weren't in the heat of competition on the practice fields, they were taking part in team bonding activities, which included a rock climbing wall and a zip line.
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