I’ll admit that I love watching Brian Kelly speak.
He’s so damn good at it.
Leaving all the football related topics aside, it has been a wonderful breath of fresh air to have a coach at Notre Dame who answers questions in such a straightforward and interesting manner.
Even the subject matter he dances around seems completely honest and perfectly constructed. Even the occasional really stupid question asked by some reporter comes back with a well-balanced answer that gives you something to think about.
This side of Brian Kelly is usually the number one thing that his former coaches, players, and workers will mention. He just has this innate ability to speak up front, and be convincing and entertaining at the same time.
If he is able to win football games in the short term, the rest of the country better watch out on the recruiting trail, because Brian Kelly will start to clean up.
Anyway, let’s discuss some of the topics the head coach talked about on Tuesday.
Game Day Routine
Kelly mentioned that not a lot will change for the Irish in terms of preparation on Friday and Saturday mornings, although he did make a point to say that the team will be participating in pep rallies on Friday nights.
In a bit of a surprise to many, Kelly said that both of his coordinators will be up in the press box for games. This is the one thing that I was disappointed to hear, since I was seriously looking forward to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s energy and enthusiasm on the sidelines each Saturday.
I thought Diaco’s passion and fire would be a big motivational factor and a much needed positive change from the previous coaching staff, but if Kelly wants his two coordinators upstairs, then I can’t really argue with that.
One reporter asked about the relationship with NBC and how the university is dealing with the network over the length of games, timeouts, and matters of that nature, in the face of the new up-tempo no-huddle offense that Notre Dame will be running this year.
Kelly said they have had discussions, although he did not elaborate any further about the details of those talks.
The basic problem is that Irish telecasts have become notoriously long, even extending over four hours on many occasions during the fall, because NBC is never shy about taking TV timeouts.
NBC never takes a TV timeout in the middle of a drive (unless there is an injury), so that has never been an issue. The big issue has to be the amount and length of commercials that are featured after PATs and kickoffs.
In between a touchdown and possession change there is often a solid break from action that can last as long as ten minutes. You can bet that if an opponent scores a touchdown, Brian Kelly won’t want to wait around forever to put his offense back on the field and start pressuring the opposing defense.
It will be interesting to see what changes we will see on Saturdays. One idea floating around the Notre Dame community is to just increase the length of halftime, which I think is a very fair and reasonable idea.
According to the USA Today, NBC has agreed to switch to the NFL model of five commercials per quarter, running at 1:45 a piece, rather than the previous model of four commercials running at 2:30.
It was also noteworthy that Kelly mentioned that ESPN/ABC were the model for college football because of the sheer number of games they televise each year. I took that as a subtle shot at NBC to start improving their broadcasts.
Not a whole lot to report on the injury front, according to the head coach, although he did say that middle linebacker Anthony McDonald would probably be doubtful for the Purdue game after hyper-extending his knee last week in practice.
While not a serious blow to the defense, it does raise the question about what the depth looks like in the middle opposite of Manti Te’o.
It appears that Carlo Calabrese will be the favorite to start, but Kelly has mentioned that despite his physicality and toughness as a run stopper, Calabrese has struggled a little bit, dropping back in coverage.
I’m not expecting Purdue to have an especially great running game next Saturday, and they may want to test Calabrese early on and run a lot of crossing routes in his direction. That is something to keep an eye on.
Constant Battling at Linebacker
With the amount of veterans in the mix at outside linebacker, it isn’t surprising to see competition for playing time heating up.
A couple weeks ago, the starting lineup looked somewhat settled with a Smith-McDonald-Te’o-Fleming unit, but that has all changed.
With the injury to McDonald in the middle, we’ll see Calabrese, Dan Fox, and possibly freshman Prince Shembo get time there.
Last week, Kelly stated that Brian Smith was passed by Steve Filer on the depth chart. Now the coach is raving about senior Kerry Neal, and that he is now starting on the outside. Perhaps it doesn’t matter too much about who will be starting, because it is likely we will see a lot of Brian Smith, Kerry Neal, and Steve Filer each week.
Center of Attention
Fifth year senior Dan Wenger is still battling hard with junior Braxton Cave for the starting spot at center. Wenger lost some ground last week after being sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, but this looks like a battle that will continue well into the season.
Kelly has stated that both players are likely to see the field throughout the season. Since we’ve seen Wenger struggle in a starting role in the past, my preference would be for Cave to start the year. New coach, new player…I like the idea of putting the younger guy in there, especially considering Cave’s strength, and plug in Wenger if Cave falters at any point.
He Said Watt?
A storm of panic and shock swept through the internet yesterday, with Kelly’s comments on true sophomore Chris Watt and how he could pass fifth year senior Chris Stewart on the depth chart at left guard.
To be sure, I don’t think that’s quite what the head coach said.
Kelly was asked about Watt and whether the young lineman would be seeing any time at center, but the coach replied that he would like to see Watt competing at the left guard position and that he was only an emergency player at center.
That’s not to say that Watt couldn’t start ahead of Stewart, but it seems very unlikely that it would actually happen. However, the opportunity is clearly available for Watt to receive ample playing time this fall.
The Quarterback Picture
Brian Kelly mentioned last week that true freshmen quarterbacks Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa had quite a bit of room between them and backups Nate Montana and Tommy Rees.
In this press conference, Kelly confirmed that Hendrix and Massa will be moving down to scout team, stating that both did not receive enough reps during fall camp to warrant a move to the travel squad.
While that is sad news for people like me, who thought Hendrix would immediately jump ahead and be Crist’s backup this fall, the announcement was highlighted by Kelly stating that Hendrix had the best arm he’s ever seen as a coach.
So why send someone so talented down to scout team when the backup quarterback position is a huge question mark? Surely, Montana and Rees’ head start with spring ball had a big part in this, but here’s what I think is running through Kelly’s head.
First, he really is not planning on going into games without Dayne Crist at quarterback. It’s a big gamble in my opinion, with so many Irish fans worried about how Crist’s knee and general health will hold up in this new offense, but Kelly must believe he will not be injured.
Secondly, with three years of eligibility left with Crist and the recent news of Hendrix’s bevy of talent, Brian Kelly really does not want to burn a year of eligibility with his freshman.
However, do not discount that Hendrix may quickly work his way up the depth chart as the season progresses. And more importantly, if there is any long-term injury to Crist, I guarantee Hendrix jumps into the mix and will see playing time this fall.
X Marks the Spot
We know that Michael Floyd will be starting and playing a lot this year, but the rest of the receiving jobs were up for grabs this fall. After coming off shoulder surgery and a slow start in the spring, it looks like converted running back Theo Riddick is slowly locking down the slot position and is ready to be used in a variety of ways.
Kelly said that senior Duval Kamara and true freshman TJ Jones were battling for the starting position at X receiver, opposite of Floyd, and that both brought different skills to the table. I’d expect Kamara and Jones to split time there, as many receivers will be rotated into action in Kelly’s high tempo offense.
The more interesting competition will come from the other slew of receivers, like Shaq Evans, John Goodman, and Deion Walker, who will all be fighting for reps behind the players mentioned above.
The Four Safeties
Another reporter asked about Kelly’s thoughts with the safety position, and the coach continues to assuage the fan base’s fears and speak highly of this unit.
In particular, Kelly has had nothing but praise for Harrison Smith, who looks to be a lock to start over the other three competitors.
Interestingly, I’ve been keeping an eye on how Brian Kelly has treated the two most maligned defensive players from last year in Harrison Smith and Brian Smith.
The coach seems to be challenging them based on their personalities. Harrison really needs a boost of confidence to start this year (thus all the praise he’s been showered with) and Brian needs more of a kick in the butt (thus the talk about Filer and now Neal starting over him).
Kelly said he is happy with all four safeties and that Dan McCarthy is progressing nicely after a minor injury slowed him, while the coach also mentioned that Zeke Motta will see the field a lot this year, either at safety or in different packages, most likely as a nickel back.
What about the Young Guys?
Kelly was asked if any of the freshmen had made a move and were looking at playing time this year, but the answer was more or less the same as the last time the coach spoke about the new players.
Tommy Rees will be fighting for a backup role at quarterback, TJ Jones will play at receiver with Austin Collinsworth, another option there as well. Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols are in the mix at offensive tackle, while Prince Shembo is likely to see some time at linebacker.
Two players that Kelly did single out were Kona Schwenke and Louis Nix. The coach mentioned in a past meeting with the media that the coaching staff was pleasantly surprised with Schwenke and his physical development. He basically reiterated that point on Tuesday, while stating that the Hawaiian would be on the scout team, but may be one of those guys who could move up to the travel squad.
After coming to camp at a bulging 350 pounds, it appears defensive tackle Louis Nix is impressing the coaching staff and continuing to improve. Even so, Kelly said that it is unlikely that Nix will move up the depth chart this year.
Wood is No. 2
In a comment that made me smile from ear to ear, Brian Kelly stated that redshirt sophomore Cierre Wood is sharing carries with senior Armando Allen at running back, and is solidly entrenched as the number two option in the backfield.
It bears repeating: I believe Wood will be a huge weapon this year for the Irish. He is someone who could be the eventual difference in taking the offense to an even higher level, witnessed with Weis’ powerful units in 2005, 2006, and 2009.
I can’t wait to see this kid carry the ball against Purdue and Michigan after those defenses drop guys in coverage to protect their weak secondaries. He could have a field day.
10 more days until kickoff!