New Notre Dame football Brian Kelly held his press conference Friday afternoon ushering in the official beginning of fall practice and bringing us one step closer to the return of glorious college pigskin.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues discussed and comments made by the new Irish coach.
In the beginning of the press conference Kelly mentioned that the team has strengths, vulnerabilities and some question marks.
“Strengths I would say coming out would be the depth of this football team. I believe that we have on the offensive line 10 that can play championship football. I believe that we have great depth at the running back position, that they all have unique styles, but great depth at that position.
Strengths coming in, I see them clearly in the depth of our football team. You’re going to see a lot of players.
I believe that from a defensive standpoint we have play-makers on the perimeter that can do some great things for us.”
It is very encouraging to hear that Kelly is so pleased with the depth and potential at offensive line. The changes in coaching philosophies, teaching and improved strength and conditioning are really transforming this unit.
Nowhere were the inadequacies of the previous coaching staff more apparent than in the performance of the offensive line in recent years. Notre Dame has continued to recruit well at the position and there is no reason why the offense line cannot become a big part of any future success this year and beyond.
No surprise that Kelly loves the depth at running back, as there is a little something for everyone’s taste at that position. Imagine what an improved offensive line and running game would do for the Irish in 2010.
The play makers on the perimeter will be an integral part of the success of the defense. With highly talented players such as Brian Smith, Darius Fleming, Steve Filer and of course Manti Te’o, the linebacker corps is looking pretty fierce.
Developing play makers on the perimeter from the defensive end positions will be a challenge for the new coaching staff, especially with very few proven guys beyond the starting two in Ethan Johnson and Karpon Lewis-Moore.
Overall, I like the fact that a lot of guys will be playing this year because the most successful teams are able to dip into their reserves and still play at a high level.
Maybe the Irish don’t have quite the stockpile of quality depth across the board that a few of the elite teams possess, but it’s certainly not like there aren’t players waiting to contribute.
The fast-paced offense will demand that many different players be used and being able to rotate defenders, especially along the defensive line, should give the Irish an extra boost late in games.
Kelly then mentioned the team’s vulnerabilities being experience at the quarterback position and depth on the defensive line.
Obviously, the coaching staff will have to continue to develop Nate Montana, prepare the three incoming freshman quarterbacks, while also making sure that Crist stays healthy during the season.
There are bodies at the defensive line position, so I would say that there is less experience than there is depth. You get the sense that Kelly isn’t too crazy with the guys on the defensive line, which would explain him targeting a boat load of prospects in the 2011 recruiting class.
He did mention that Sean Cwynar, Brandon Newman and Hafis Williams would have to step up this year. Yet, there was no mention of Emeka Nwankwo or Tyler Stockton, two players I believe could play a big role in filling out that defensive line depth.
The question marks for Kelly heading into fall camp are the performance and consistency at the back end of the defense and the kicking game.
Most are aware that the team will need a better effort from the secondary, particularly from the safety position. It’s fairly certain that Ben Turk will hold down the punting position, but the team does need consistency there that was lacking last year.
The new Irish coach said that the kickers were still battling and that we might see one for kickoffs and one attempt field goals.
Kelly had quite a bit to say about Dayne Crist.
I think his development by and large has been, you know, taking away any of the uncertainties in his mind about his knee, so I think that’s not even a topic for conversation anymore, that’s not even part of it. So it’s allowed us to really focus on the skill development, the consistency of footwork, release, and then the offense, the system.
‘Cause really what he had, and I didn’t need to do a lot, was great innate leadership capabilities. His parents did a great job there.
It’s good to see that Crist is very close to full health and that his leadership abilities are really through the roof.
This bodes well for the future of the offense.
Kelly was asked about his negative comments about the receivers in the spring and how he feels now.
“They have a big goal in front of them, and that is when you’re in a spread offense, no-huddle, you’ve got to have a great work volume. And we lack that. I know Coach Longo has done a great job of working with our players in the summer to get to that work volume. I’m certain by the time we’re ready to play Purdue I’m going to be a lot more pleased with our wide receivers.”
The depth and talent at receiver is extremely exciting and once the players get used to the quick offense, this could turn into one heck of a dangerous unit.
Kelly then commented on the tremendous job strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo did over the past seven months and on some of the individual success stories, some of which had already been leaked in the past.
Those are some incredible gains in the weight room and Kelly’s last few sentences there are a great sign that the Irish will be much better in blocking, tackling and maintaining strength late in games.
Coach Kelly stated that there were a couple freshmen that had impressed over the summer, those being Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth.
He also mentioned that there may be some offensive players moved over to the secondary with the loss of Badger to a mission and Spencer Boyd transferring. With his impressive summer workout, perhaps we’ll see Collinsworth get some playing time at cornerback in the fall.
Kelly also stated pretty emphatically that we would not see any offensive linemen move over to the defensive side of the ball. This leads me to believe that the depth at the defensive line really isn’t that bad, there just needs to be a handful of players who have not played before step up, as stated above.
Lastly, Kelly talked a little bit about the position battles to watch during the fall and into the season.
Again, not a whole lot of surprises here.
It is still unclear who will play in the middle with Manti Te’o but McDonald seems to have the inside track after the spring and summer.
The fact that Kelly mentioned the abundance of talent and competition at offensive line is probably the biggest feature of the entire press conference.
The safety position will continue to be something to closely monitor as we inch closer to the season. The consensus is that Smith and Slaughter will be starting, but Motta and McCarthy are two very talented young kids who will push for playing time in 2010.
The Fighting Irish begin fall practice this afternoon and are making preparations for the home opener against the Purdue Boilermakers. The season is almost upon us.