NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Spring practice is ready to commence at Notre Dame, even if it isn’t exactly spring just yet. After heading off to work Friday morning with a temperature that was eight below zero outside, head coach Brian Kelly got the 2014 spring practice season started by speaking with the media. The spring practice calendar is a bit different this year due to upcoming spring break and the Easter holiday in April.
“We’ll practice next week twice,” said Kelly. “(Then) we’ll have spring break and then we’ll be able to get the remaining 13 practices in and it’s spread out a little bit better than trying to get all 15 in after spring break with obviously trying to finish up before Easter.”
“This spring practice is a little bit different in the management than other years,” Kelly continued. “Quite frankly, it’s different than any one that I’ve experienced in my 25 years as a head coach, so it’s exciting in that sense, because there’s a new twist to it for everybody.”
Kelly also announced some new twists to his coaching staff. Bob Elliott will now be the outside linebackers coach after working with safeties for the past two years. Kerry Cooks will add safeties to his duties, which also still include cornerbacks. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will have inside linebackers, Mike Elston will continue to coach the defensive line and graduate assistant Mike Hiestand, the son of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, will assist Elston.
A switch from a base 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive scheme is the anticipated twist many think is coming under VanGorder. Kelly dispelled that notion though.
“His coordinating efforts will continue to bring both three-down and four-down (linemen) as part of what we do defensively,” said Kelly. “But, certainly his personality will come out and his personality is different than what (former defensive coordinator Bob) Diaco brought.”
The biggest change on the offensive side of the ball is Mike Denbrock taking over at offensive coordinator and Matt LaFleur being hired as quarterbacks coach – two things have obviously known for a long time. Tony Alford will now work exclusively with running backs though rather than running backs and slot receivers. Denbrock, who formerly worked with only outside receivers, will now have slots as well.
A handful of players will be trying different positions this spring. Sophomore James Onwualu is moving from wide receiver to safety, running back Amir Carlisle is officially a “RB/WR” on the spring roster and Matthias Farley, who already switched from receiver to safety two years ago, will work at cornerback this spring.
“We think that he could be a very good player, and especially a tackler, from an outside-in position,” Kelly said of Farley. “He’s been playing inside out, right. He’s been running the alley inside-out. We think he can be a very good force player from an outside-in position and he’s really a good athlete.”
Kelly said Farley could bring the kind of versatility to play safety, cornerback and nickel back. He expects Cody Riggs, who will be transferring from Florida to Notre Dame this summer, will be able to play those three spots as well.
Cornerback Devin Butler is the latest Irish player to have shoulder surgery. Kelly announced the sophomore to be will miss the spring. Safety Nicky Baratti had shoulder surgery last fall, but he will be back in action when practices start on March 3.
“He’s going to be able to be evaluated fully even if he is limited in some degrees relative to the contact,” said Kelly. “I’m not worried about Baratti. I think he’s clean in the sense that he’s going to do everything – maybe we put a red jersey on him in the spring game or something, but he’s going to be involved in everything.”
Defensive lineman Chase Hounshell and linebacker Doug Randolph will both be back from injury as will Christian Lombard. Center Nick Martin and outside linebacker Ben Councell will go through drills, but will not have contact this spring. Linebacker Jarrett Grace, who broke his leg in four places in October against Arizona State, is making slow progress, but is expected back in the fall. Defensive lineman Tony Springmann is still out with a knee injury, but Kelly says he is making “really good progress” in his recovery.
With Grace out, Kelly says Joe Schmidt, Michael Deeb and Kendall Moore will be the primary inside linebackers working this spring. Randolph will work at both Will and outside linebacker.
Zack Martin and his school record 52 consecutive starts are headed to the NFL, which leaves a large void at left tackle. Kelly said Steve Elmer, Ronnie Stanley, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey are the top candidates this spring to move into that spot.
Golson and Zaire
Like last spring, Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will each take reps at quarterback. Golson is back after spending last summer and the fall season expelled from school.
“He has, definitely, a higher IQ as it relates to what we’re talking about from a football standpoint,” Kelly said of Golson since the quarterback’s return to campus last month. “I can talk to him about things that I didn’t believe I could talk to him about relative to protections, hot routes (and) just the nuances of the passing game. Clearly he has evolved there.”
Golson is also now listed at 6’0, 200 pounds on the spring roster after weighing-in at 185 pounds as a starter in 2012. Like Golson, Zaire did not take a snap during his freshman season. Zaire enrolled at Notre Dame last spring and seemed to pick up the Irish offense at a solid pace.
Kelly has said that the quarterback position held by Tommy Rees last season is an open competition between the two quarterbacks and he said on Friday that Zaire has to come with a different mindset this March.
“(This is a) huge, huge spring for Malik Zaire,” said Kelly. “He’s got to step up, he’s got to show a maturity level in terms of leadership, taking over the offense and he’s got to practice as if he’s the starter.”
“He’s got to practice with the vision of him being the starter against Rice,” Kelly continued. “That’s the way he’s going to be evaluated every single day – you’re the starter against Rice.”
Kelly on DaVaris Daniels
Notre Dame’s second-leading receiver and top returning receiving target from last season is suspended for the current semester, but is on track to return this summer.
“He’s not ineligible by NCAA standards,” said Kelly. “This is an academic situation within the university.”
“As long as he takes care of the admissions process and getting back and he’s readmitted he’ll be back here this summer,” Kelly continued. “Now, he’s got to take summer school when he’s back here and he’s got to get his classes taken care of, but as long as he takes care of his classes this summer, he’ll be eligible for all the games next year.”
Kelly on the Proposed 10-second Runoff Rule
The recently proposed rule to allow defenses to make substitutions before offenses can snap the ball has most of college football up in arms. Kelly is not fond of it either.
“You would have to show me data that if this is about player safety I haven’t seen any data that really goes to the heart of that,” Kelly said when asked his thoughts on the proposed rule. “If there was compelling data, then I could probably intelligently answer or vote for one way or the other.”
“When I was at the head coaches’ meeting at the AFCA conference in Indianapolis, it was pretty clear that when rules were talked about they were talked about with an emphasis this year about player safety. And then this rule was brought up as a point of emphasis for player safety and there was nothing attached to it with player safety – so it was just a 10-second rule and it’s about player safety.”
“So, I would not be in favor of it if you can’t show me that there’s no data that goes to the heart of player safety. That’s where I kind of stand on it, so I did not vote for it, because it did not have any data attached for me to be able to say I’m in favor of it.”
Kelly on the Shembo-Seeberg Matter
Former Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo discussed the Lizzy Seeberg situation recently at the NFL Scouting Combine. Shembo confirmed for the first time that he was the Irish player accused of attacking the St. Mary’s student back in 2010. She killed herself just days after the alleged assault. Shembo says he was advised by Kelly and the university not to address it publicly at the time.
“That was a collaborative decision,” Kelly said of the process behind advising Shembo not to speak. “I don’t make any decisions (independently) when it comes to major decisions at this university. The head football coach works in concert with our administration.”
“We made the decision based upon the information that we had that we felt it was in Princes’ best interests that this was not a matter that needed to be discussed, but that was certainly something that he could have decided to discuss. We didn’t threaten him with he couldn’t play or we were going to put him on the bench or throw him out of school (it was still) his decision.”
“But, in talking to his parents and talking to Prince, we felt because of the information that we had in front of us it was a matter that be left alone at the time.”