NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Impromptu press conferences seldom bring good news. That was the case Wednesday morning as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly went off the planned media script for the week to address four pressing personnel matters.
"We've got a couple of roster moves," Kelly began. "Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson are no longer part of the football program, and they won't be in the future. We wish them the very best."
The receivers saw action in 13 (Neal) and 11 (Ferguson) games as freshmen during the 2012 season. Ferguson had one reception for nine yards, while Neal had one catch for minus-5 yards. Neal was also Notre Dame's punt returner. He had 21 returns for a modest 2.2 yard average. Kelly gave no reasons why the two decided to leave the team.
"I'm not gonna get into the specifics of it other than they're no longer with us," he said.
"All I can tell you is that when we break to start stretch and they're not out there they're no longer on the roster," he continued.
Kelly also officially announced two injuries that have been reported by multiple outlets since Saturday. Both are players who missed time in 2012 due to injuries.
"Amir Carlisle had surgery yesterday to repair a broken collarbone," Kelly announced. "(It is) similar to the (DaVaris) Daniels injury - probably about as close as we've had. He's about four weeks until we get him cleared for full activities."
Kelly termed Carlisle's injury a "minor setback". The running back missed all of last season with an ankle injury after transferring from USC and being granted a waiver to play immediately. He was injured in last Saturday's first contact practice of the spring when he landed on his shoulder and another player came down on top of him.
The other injured player, a defensive end, is more severe.
"Chase Hounshell reinjured his shoulder," Kelly said. "He'll have to have surgery again. I certainly feel terrible for Chase, because he's worked so hard. After a second injury you can imagine how disappointing it is for him."
Hounshell played in just one game last season before tearing a labrum. Kelly expects Carlisle to be able to play in 2013, but he says Hounshell is expected to miss the entire upcoming season. Hounshell's loss is at a position that has solid depth with the likes of Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, Justin Utupo, and Tony Springmann. There is more depth with Ishaq Williams working at the position this spring.
"Ishaq's gonna cross-train at the Cat (linebacker) and the end position," Kelly said of the junior to be from Brooklyn, NY. "He wants to. Look, we can get him 15 to 20 more reps and he's all for that. So, he'll still get his Cat work and he'll play some defensive end as well."
Kelly says Williams played at end for the first time during last Saturday's first contact practice and says he did some "really nice things" without any coaching.
The loss of Neal to transfer though is more pressing, because he was the heir apparent to Robby Toma at slot receiver. Neal was the Arizona Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year as both a junior and senior. He scored 64 total touchdowns in those two years. Kelly's "next man in" mentality has him at least outwardly unconcerned about Neal's transfer and who will replace him.
"There'll be a number of guys," Kelly said of the next in line to replace Neal in the slot. "When Amir comes back he'll get a chance. CJ Prosise is doing a great job. I'm really excited about CJ. You'll see a lot of him in the spring. You'll see what I mean."
Prosise did not see game action as a freshman in 2012. He began his career as a safety, but depth that developed over the course of last season saw him already "cross-training" as a slot receiver this spring. Neal's departure means he will get even more looks there now.
"He's been what we thought he could be, he's just done it a lot quicker than we thought," Kelly said of Prosise's performance over the first week of spring drills. "You're talking about a slot receiver who is 210 pounds (Neal weighs 178, while Toma was listed at 185 last season). (He has) nice hands and deceptive speed. He can pull away, and as you know, in terms of the run game we've got a big guy that can do some nice things."
Kelly would not guarantee with one-hundred percent certainty that Prosise will focus solely on being a slot receiver, but says he does expect that to be the case moving through the remainder of the spring.
The other void created by Neal's departure is at punt returner. As Neal's previously mentioned stats indicate, his loss in that department is not that great. Kelly was already evaluating other players for that job this spring anyway.
"We had a host of guys back there," Kelly said of punt return auditions this spring. "We want to take a look at CJ (Prosise), TJ Jones is back there taking some and we'll probably continue that show until we find somebody that we really feel comfortable with back there."
Kelly continued by saying the team is not doing "a ton" of punt return work currently. The focus has been more on punt and punt return "skill work".
Freshman early enrollee James Onwualu is another player who could fit in the picture both at slot and on special teams next fall.
"I think he's got a chance," Kelly said of the 6'1, 215 pound Onwualu. "He's certainly physical enough. He's a smart kid. I'd say that he's probably a guy that's gonna be playing. Whether he's a guy that plays a lot on offense - that'll kind of take care of itself as we go through preseason camp and during the year."
"He's definitely a kid that's gonna be on the field in all of our special teams," Kelly continued. "Because he's got that special ability."
Kelly also mentioned another early enrollee receiver, Corey Robinson, as someone who has caught the eyes of Irish coaches.
"He catches everything in his area code," Kelly said of the 6'4, 197 pound son of basketball great David Robinson. "We've just gotta get him stronger."
Kelly says the strength will come for Robinson with several months of working with Irish strength coach Paul Longo ahead.