On Friday, March 26, a football program makeover was unveiled as Notre Dame held its first spring practice under new head coach Brian Kelly.
After three months of leading the Fighting Irish, Kelly has already brought significant change to South Bend, and that transformation was on display as Notre Dame took to the LaBar practice field complete with their gold helmets and cleats.
Even before Friday’s practice, the program had been subject to numerous changes from the departure of Charlie Weis and the previous coaching regime. Yet, nothing was more eye-popping and dissimilar than this first practice under Kelly.
Moving at a frantic pace for the entirety of the practice, Notre Dame demonstrated the up-tempo style it will be perfecting over the next five months.
Unable to take their helmets off during any point during the workout, the Irish showed incredible emotion and energy in what has been described as the fastest practice in Notre Dame history.
In a press conference before the practice, Brian Kelly told the media what his practices would be all about and how he will handle the program for the spring.
He stated that there will be no posted depth charts and players will work in “pods” or groups that can and will be moved around as time goes on.
Kelly also described his system of holding guys back who have injuries while reaffirming the importance of taken part in practice.
Luckily, only Theo Riddick and Dayne Crist were “protected” players, still nursing off-season injuries yet still fully participating in practice.
There are a few “restricted” players, such as Kyle Rudolph, who is coming off shoulder surgery, but the entire roster took the field on Friday.
Although there is a lot of learning to do, Kelly said he was happy with the team’s effort and also added that the offense is already into their five-wide sets.
For anyone who watched the practice, it is clear that Brian Kelly wants to address a number of issues with his ball club, none more important right now than fitness and thinking on your feet.
Moreover, even though Kelly has only been head coach for a short time, and Friday’s practice was a bit of a surprise to watch, the fact is he has been instituting some major changes in South Bend since day one.
It’s almost like Notre Dame has finally joined the 21st century and is ready to compete at the highest level possible.
To address the fitness problem, Kelly brought in his long-time strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, who has whipped the team into shape over the past couple months with high-intensity weight lifting and football drills.
The players were also subjected to the brutal mental and physical trials of “Camp Kelly,” a Rocky-like training regimen designed to test the collegians to their max.
What’s more, a much-needed training table has been introduced and is helping to keep the players at optimal playing weights with the addition of a proper meal after workouts are complete.
The results so far are that almost the entire team is in phenomenally better shape.
Offensive linemen have slimmed down, dropped fat and added muscle to fit into Kelly’s fast-paced offense. Defensive linemen and linebackers have added bulk and muscle.
Players like star wide receiver Michael Floyd have dropped 10-15 pounds in an effort to become more lean, muscular and able to handle the load of a quick-strike offense.
The mental aspect has already been in place with the addition of a computerized playbook that trains and teaches players Brian Kelly’s new offensive and defensive philosophies.
That training meant the team was ready to open the playbook, audibles and player motion included, on the first day of practice.
Also, Kelly has been using a similar computerized system to track recruits like no coach at Notre Dame before him has ever been able to do.
The Irish head coach says it’s all about maximizing your time and effort and these changes could play a key role in his success later down the road.
Maybe the best news of all from the first weekend of practice was the relative health of quarterback Dayne Crist who was able to participate in all of the drills and show off his mobility.
Although he may not be 100 percent at this time, it is clear he will be more than ready when the season starts.
Overall, it was an exciting and intriguing weekend for the Fighting Irish as they embark on yet another spring practice and the first under Brian Kelly.
The players are in excellent shape, the roster is nearly injury-free and it is clear the team is ready to learn Kelly’s system and has done extremely well so far in this area.
Although it is still much too early to be talking about “awaking the echoes,” I think the program and its fans are quietly surprised and ecstatic about the changes taking place at Notre Dame.