NOTRE DAME, Ind. – It was a “typical first day” according to Notre Dame Football Brian Kelly. His 2012 team took to the practice field for the first day of fall camp Saturday morning at the Labar Practice Complex on the Notre Dame campus.
The 30 minutes the media was allowed to watch included just the typical stretching (albeit with hip hop music blaring from speakers above the practice field) followed by the team splitting into offensive and defensive groups for positional drills.
The biggest change in the way fall practices are being run this year is a shift to more 11-on-11 when the offense and defense go head-to-head.
“(It allows) us to do a lot more evaluation,” Kelly explained of the format. “Relative to the group. And in particular, the group on offense.”
“In terms of what we wanted to accomplish, more football, more 11-on-11 football, which is gonna give us exponentially more reps and evaluation tool, especially on day one.”
Kelly said the priority for the offense to have more reps was most important for the evaluation of the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Meanwhile, the defense does not need nearly the same kind of microscope as the unproven players on the offensive side of the ball.
“We’ve got over two thousand live snaps, cumulative, on the defensive side of the ball on returning players,” Kelly said of his defense’s overall experience. “That’s a lot of snaps.”
“The 11-on-11 suits the offense a lot more because of a lack of experience in some key positions.”
He explained that while the format helps evaluate those inexperienced offensive players it will help the more experienced defensive side of the ball build depth.
Kelly noted the typical enthusiasm and energy level of a team on the first day of fall practice, and also commented on the different feel his squad has as he begins his third season.
“It’s just a mature group of guys,” Kelly stated. “There’s a lot of leadership in this group. They’re helping the younger guys out there. Just a different feel going out to practice. There’s a lot of trust out there on both sides (between) coaches and players and you can sense that.”
The A Team
Kelly mentioned the leadership of his team at Friday’s preseason press conference and he reiterated that more than once during Saturday’s post-practice session. Don’t look for B.A. Baracus or Captain Murdock to come busting through the auditorium door of the Gug anytime soon, but Kelly says the “A Team” has played a big part in the leadership of his team.
“Back in January we started every Monday our A Team,” he began. “I would meet just myself with our players.”
Kelly said the creation of the A Team stemmed from a self realization that he was spending too much time in his office rather than getting to know the players on his team better.
“I had never been that kind of coach,” Kelly reflected. “I felt myself sliding towards that in my first couple years. I think when there’s not the kind of results that you’re looking for you’ve gotta look at yourself first and that’s where I looked.”
There are large placards on the walls of the team auditorium where the team meets in the Guglielmino Building that have motivational quotes and sayings. One of them is dedicated to the function of the A Team. It reads:
A Team - The willingness of team members to remind one another when they are not living up to the PERFORMANCE STANDARDS of the team.
On the subject of team leadership, Kelly has gone with game day captains in his first two seasons with the Irish rather than electing captains for the season. He says he is debating which route to take in 2012.
“I would say that I’m more inclined in my third year here to elect captains,” he said. “Because I know them so much better (and) they know me. I haven’t made that decision final.”
Rumor has it Kelly and Offensive Coordinator Chuck Martin are looking to fill the quarterback position this fall. Incumbent signal caller Tommy Rees seemed to be the front-runner for the job after the spring, but the junior is suspended for the season-opener after his public intoxication charge.
Kelly got to see Rees, Tommy Hendrix, Everett Golson, and Gunner Kiel in action Saturday for the first time since the summer break. The head coach says while they all impressed him, Rees made the biggest impression.
“He was out there coaching all the quarterbacks,” Kelly said of Rees. “Which just reaffirms the kind of kid he is to me.”
Kelly says all four QBs have made “significant” progress since the spring, but with the countdown on to the Sept. 1 season-opener it is now all about the reps they get to show what they can do.
“I told our quarterbacks in the meeting that it’s gonna take some time for us to start to sense and feel where there may be some separation. Any preconceived notions of one guy being ahead of the other, I think, have been in my mind alleviated.”
Golson, a sophomore, was at the head of the rotation of the three QBs who will have the chance to start against Navy.
“He had a better spring game in our evaluation,” Kelly explained of Golson’s spot in the pecking order. “So he got the first shot.”
Kelly continued by saying that Hendrix had a “really good” practice and could be in line to be at the top of Monday’s rotation.
Wood not gone for long
Running back Cierre Wood missed Saturday’s practice, but Irish fans do not have to worry about the health of the man who rushed for a team-high 1,102 yards last season.
“He has no physical issues,” Kelly began to explain of Wood’s absence from the 10 am practice. “We have some paperwork issues that have to be taken care of.”
Kelly said Wood needs to finalize some items on his “medical” paperwork and expects him back on the field soon.
Hardship for Carrico
The news is not as good for sophomore offensive lineman Brad Carrico. Kelly has a foot injury that will likely end his football career and the team will apply for a medical hardship for him.
The state of the injury is so complex that even Kelly was not sure of all the details. The head coach says Carrico received an initial diagnosis on the foot and then there was a second diagnosis that was more severe.
“I don’t know the exact name of the injury,” Kelly said. “But it’s more than just ligament damage. I know this-after the injury there was more work to be done on the foot, so he may only be in the first stage of that process.”
Braxton Cave is back for his fifth and final season of eligibility. Cave started Notre Dame’s first nine games last year before leaving the Wake Forest game with a severe injury to his foot. A torn ligament and fracture led to screws being inserted in his foot, requiring him to miss all of the spring.
Cave was back in action on Saturday, but Kelly said it took him some time to really get going.
“(He had) a little bit of rust,” Kelly said of the Mishawaka product. “But he moved well, so I was kind of pleased.”
Amir is here
Former Southern Cal running back Amir Carlisle went through his first official practice with the team on Saturday. Carlisle spent his freshman season with the Trojans, but was limited to 19 carries and 118 rushing yards and a touchdown in eight games due to an ankle injury.
Kelly says Carlisle exceeded physical expectations right away.
“Rob Hunt, our athletic trainer, made it sound like he was going to limp his way through practice,” Kelly joked. “He looked pretty good in some team periods. He’s gonna help us. He’s testing the ankle still. He’s a little bit tentative, but I’m telling you what, when it’s straight line stuff right now he’s got a burst. He’s gonna be an exciting player for us.”
Carlisle is from Santa Clara, Calif., but his father was recently hired as the director of sports performance at Purdue.
Not merely freshmen
A total of 21 freshmen saw their first taste of college practice Saturday morning. A few of them made good first impressions on Kelly, who says some of those youngsters will be “in the mix” at receiver.
“They took some first and second team reps today,” Kelly said. “(Chris) Brown and (Davonte’) Neal, (Justin) Ferguson did a nice job. We saw KeiVarae (Russell) one-on-one at the cornerback position and Jarron Jones is one big son of a gun. He knocked down a couple passes today. He’s just long.”
Jones is a 6’5, 299 pound defensive end from Rochester, NY.
“We’ve got some big guys and when you notice that guy – he’s really big.”