NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The format is set for this Saturday's Blue-Gold football game at Notre Dame Stadium. Brian Kelly announced after Wednesday's practice that Saturday's controlled scrimmage will be similar to the format used at last year's game. It will again be offense versus defense, rather than a true split-squad arrangement.
The entire Fighting Irish team will be on the same sideline for the game. The biggest switch this year is the defense will wear blue jerseys and the offense will wear white. Defense typically wears white jerseys at practice with the offense in blue, and that is how the teams dressed for the 2012 Blue-Gold game.
Kelly said there will be no live special teams during Saturday's scrimmage. That includes no live field goals or extra points, but Kyle Brindza will get to punt in the stadium. Kelly says the biggest thing he wants to do is create a "game day atmosphere", especially for the younger players.
"I want them to go through pregame," he began. "I want them to go through the tunnel. I want them to get into a game-like atmosphere. The game will probably be stopped clock in the first half (and) probably run in the second (half)."
Last year's spring game was fairly sloppy from a ball-handling and timing standpoint, but Kelly says he wants to see a much crisper element this time.
"I really want to see a clean game from the offensive perspective," Kelly remarked. "And there (are) a lot of guys that are gonna get a chance to compete in a longer format defensively."
Safeties Elijah Shumate and Eilar Hardy are two such defensive players Kelly mentioned. Linebackers Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell will see more time on the field as well.
Players who will not see action this Saturday include Dan Fox, Bennett Jackson and Nicky Baratti (Kelly referred to them as the "three shoulders"), Chase Hounshell (shoulder surgery as well), early enrollee Corey Robinson (hyper-extended elbow), Amir Carlisle (collarbone), and walk-on Tyler Plantz. Chris Brown, DaVaris Daniels and Lo Wood are all cleared to play Saturday.
The Great Outdoors
With temperatures in the low 50s in South Bend Wednesday morning, the Irish were able to practice outside in the LaBar Practice Complex. It marked just the third time in 14 practices the team has been outside this spring.
"I think there's a little bit more of a freedom to be able to go do what you want to do," Kelly said of practicing outside. "I just like the quarterbacks and the offense being out in the elements, because it's harder to hear (and) they've really gotta be locked-in. I like that atmosphere. I think it's more about communication and doing a better job on both sides of the ball when you're outside."
Only a Friday practice remains before Saturday's scrimmage, and rain is in the forecast in South Bend for that day. Kelly expects Friday's session to be inside, which would make Saturday's game the fifth of 16 total practices to be outside this spring.
Cranking-up The Contact
Practice this spring has featured more live contact than last year. More contact has been necessary because of new players stepping into potential starting roles at linebacker and safety on defense and at center on offense. The live play has helped the Fighting Irish coaching staff to better evaluate personnel in those spots.
"I think this team required it more than maybe last year's team," Kelly said of the higher rate of contact this spring. "We had some real established players in terms of the Manti Te'os and Tyler Eiferts and that group was much more established."
"The contact was out of one - putting those guys in individual battles and then two - I think this is a different team than last year's, which in my opinion needed more of those contact situations."
Kelly says players like Eilar Hardy, Tyler Stockton, Conor Hanratty, Alex Welch, and Tony Springmann have all "stepped-up" this spring and have shown they are all capable of bigger roles next season.
The freshman early enrollee receiver has been seen catching nearly everything thrown at him when the media has had its opportunities to view practices this spring. The 6-foot-4 son of basketball great David Robinson still has work to do on his overall game though.
"He's certainly somebody that can help us win football games in a role," Kelly said of Robinson. "He's gonna be a role player, kind of like Chris Brown was (as a freshman in 2012), and you can say Chris helped us win a game against Oklahoma. I think that's how you've gotta look at Corey Robinson. No, he's not a finished product yet. He's gotta get bigger (and) he's gotta get stronger, but he does have a skill set. When you throw that ball near him he comes down with it."
The senior to be emerged as a force at Cat linebacker last season. He totaled 6.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons combined, but he finished 2012 with 7.5 and 10.5, respectively, to go along with 51 total tackles.
"I think what he brought last year consistently was a readiness," Kelly said of Shembo. "He was ready to play each and every week, but I think there's another level for him."
The areas Kelly were Kelly says Shembo can still elevate his game are as a pass rusher in third down nickel situations as well as in overall pass coverage.
Another early enrollee who has made a good first impression is Steve Elmer. The Midland, Mich native stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 308 pounds. He has more than held his own in the snapshots the media has had of him this spring. Kelly likes him too.
"He plays 11-on-11 pretty (well)," Kelly remarked of the freshman who should still be in high school. "Generally those guys that are big, physical, young kids - they look really good, but they don't play the game as well. He plays 11-on-11 football pretty (well). He's got good instincts. He understands front side/back side combinations. He's still a work in progress as a pass-setter."
The area Kelly said Elmer has excelled in has been in the run game.
Thoughts On Boston
Kelly, a Boston area native, said he was "devastated" by the news of Monday's bombing at the Boston Marathon. The tragedy has left three dead and nearly 200 more wounded. Kelly had no friends or family members who were personally affected by the blasts, but, like so many others, he was still touched deeply by the tragedy.
"(It was) a terrible, terrible day," Kelly began. "Especially being from Boston (and) growing up with Patriot's Day being kind of our holiday if you will as a Bostonian. So, not only the tragedy of the loss of life and the injured, but it shakes you when that kind of private holiday that is so much 'Boston' is shattered. It's going to be hard. A lot of people are going to take some time to get over this."