Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly isn’t big on releasing depth charts. But that didn’t stop the Irish coach from naming multiple starters—highlighted by Everett Golson—midway through the week.
Now two weeks into fall camp, the Irish are closing in on the start of the 2014 campaign. For the first time since the new FieldTurf was installed, the Irish practiced inside Notre Dame Stadium on Wednesday.
Beautiful sunny day to practice on the brand new ND Stadium turf for the first time. pic.twitter.com/QnqtPgK1nZ— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 13, 2014
So with the season right around the corner, let’s check in on the second full week of action.
Everett Golson Named the Starting QB
Everett Golson, starting quarterback: pic.twitter.com/m7y4G71Hmk— Andrew Owens (@BGI_AndrewOwens) August 13, 2014
“Everett Golson will be our starter against Rice.”
Those words, uttered by Irish head coach Brian Kelly following Wednesday’s practice, were expected yet still important. Golson appeared to be the front-runner throughout the first week of training camp, but redshirt freshman Malik Zaire had kept it competitive.
Now, there is no doubt with two weeks to go until the season opener against Rice on Aug. 30. Kelly said he was impressed with how Golson handled himself with the team throughout the winter and the spring, emerging as a leader. Compared to two years ago—when Golson was named the starter as a redshirt freshman—Kelly also noticed Golson possessing a better grasp of how the entire offense operates.
“I don’t know if I would call it relief,” Golson said to reporters after practice Wednesday. “I think it’s a heightened responsibility on my part knowing that everything is pretty set for Week 1 and I am the starter. It’s my job to get these guys right on the offense and just try to lead this team.”
That leadership could be one of the biggest takeaways from Kelly’s announcement. After returning from his suspension, Golson found himself lodged in the quarterback competition. In other words, there wasn’t an obvious, easy role for him as a leader. But it seems Golson has taken on that responsibility, nonetheless. Now as both the quarterback and a leader, Golson is in position to see how far he can take the offense—and the entire Irish squad.
Golson has had plenty of time to grow—physically and mentally—since the 2012 campaign. The bulked-up signal-caller seems ready to step up and deliver.
As for Zaire, the confident signal-caller is the No. 2 quarterback.
“I told Malik first and let him know what his situation was, and I got the right answer from Malik. He wasn't happy,” Kelly said. “If he gave me a hug, I'd be very disappointed. So he went out and practiced well and he wants to be the starter here, and he's going to keep working to be the starter.”
But there aren’t plans for Zaire to start—or even handle certain packages—at this point, per Kelly.
“Everett would play unless he was injured and couldn't answer the bell, so we're not looking to play two quarterbacks,” Kelly said.
“We've got one starter.”
The key with Zaire will be keeping him focused throughout the season. Kelly mentioned during the spring that the coaching staff felt it "lost" Zaire as the 2013 season wore on for the No. 3 quarterback on the roster. It will almost certainly be Zaire's team to quarterback in the future—but not now.
Freshmen Cracking the Defensive Two-Deep
While Kelly’s decision to tab Golson as the starting quarterback probably didn’t surprise many, the same cannot be said for some depth-chart updates on the other side of the ball.
Most notably, Kelly said freshman Andrew Trumbetti is currently penciled in as starting weak-side defensive end—opposite senior Ishaq Williams and ahead of junior Romeo Okwara.
“He's really separated himself, and I sometimes forget that he's a freshman because he's almost separated himself from this freshman class,” Kelly said of Trumbetti, who enrolled early for the spring semester. “We think that he's got a huge upside for us in so many areas that sometimes, like I said, I don't talk about him enough, but a great motor, physical, smart, does all the things that we ask him to do.”
Kelly also mentioned linebacker Nyles Morgan, defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner, linebackers Kolin Hill and Greer Martini and defensive lineman Jhonny Williams as impressive freshmen. Morgan, Hill and Williams will all garner playing time, according to Kelly, and Martini is slated as the backup “Will” linebacker while Bonner is Sheldon Day’s backup as the 3-technique defensive tackle.
BK: Right now Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill are situational players - not on the field for 70 plays— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 13, 2014
Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder have repeatedly stressed their desire to utilize a lot of players defensively, with the hope of maximizing different abilities in certain situations. That bodes well for an Irish defense looking to be more aggressive in 2014. Constantly bringing on fresh bodies—especially hungry, athletic freshmen—should jolt the defense.
The downside is, well, they’re freshmen.
“It will be fun, but they'll cause a few moments of Coach VanGorder throwing his hat on the ground, I'm sure of that,” Kelly said.
Injury and Health Updates
On Thursday, Notre Dame announced graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy was diagnosed with “a very treatable form of cancer” a few weeks ago, and the assistant coach and former Irish safety will take intermittent leaves of absence from the program.
“Yesterday, I began chemotherapy as the next step in eliminating this disease,” McCarthy said in a statement. “I'm truly blessed to have such amazing love and support from family and friends.
“Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and prayers over the last few weeks. I expect a full recovery and look forward to returning to the team during and after my treatment.”
McCarthy’s 240 career tackles slot him second in school history among defensive backs, and the 2009 Notre Dame captain went on to a two-year career with the Denver Broncos before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Injuries ended his playing career last season, and McCarthy is a first-year graduate assistant.
“Kyle’s attitude and outlook toward his treatment is remarkable,” Kelly said in a statement. “We will support him the entire way. We are very confident he’ll receive the necessary treatment to make a complete recovery.”
We continue to be amazed by former captain Kyle McCarthy’s fortitude as he continues to help the team while battling cancer.— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 14, 2014
Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock returned to practice in a limited capacity Saturday.
Denbrock, who underwent a surgical procedure before training camp began, still was unable to be at practice for long periods of time, according to Kelly on Saturday. The head coach added Denbrock might be able to go an hour each day for the next couple of weeks before gradually increasing his time.
Senior linebacker Jarrett Grace is still recovering from his leg injury.
“He was running today, going through bags, and I'd say looking at him today he's still a couple weeks away,” Kelly said Wednesday. “There is still a little bit of a limp there and you can see it, but he's making fast progress.”
Brian Kelly says LB Jarrett Grace is still running with a bit of a limp but recovery is moving very fast. Unclear if he's ready for Rice.— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) August 13, 2014
Grace’s uncertain status further accentuates the importance of Joe Schmidt’s development. The former walk-on has ascended into a starting role, and Schmidt could be in position to be a rock of the defense. Without Schmidt and Grace at the “Mike” linebacker spot, the Irish would have to lean even more heavily on stud sophomore Jaylon Smith.
If Grace’s recovery stretches through the first few weeks of the season, that could equal more snaps for Morgan, the top-rated freshman in Notre Dame’s class of 2014.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.