NOTRE DAME, Ind. - There is bad news and then there is jaw-dropping bad news. Brian Kelly announced the latter after Saturday's Notre Dame football practice.
"Danny announced to the team today that he no longer will be playing football," Kelly dropped in bombshell fashion. "I am not going to get into any of the specifics. Danny and his family will release a statement relative to his reasons for not playing, which are medical."
"Expect to hear from him and his family directly early next week," Kelly continued. "The specifics for me to stand up here and get into them are extremely complicated relative to his medical condition."
Spond was at Saturday's practice, which was open to both media as well as employees of Notre Dame and their families. The senior was walking with a cane in his left hand as he moved around the field. He also suffered from severe migraine headaches during training camp last year. He missed Notre Dame's first two games of 2012 before going on to start the final 11 games at Dog linebacker.
"It was an emotional decision and it didn't come without a lot of thought," said Kelly. "He spent the day speaking to a lot of specialists and his family was here, so this was not a decision that came easy. I think what's most important is he did what's best for his future."
Kelly says Spond will continue to be with the team and help the younger and less experienced Dog linebackers in their drops. Spond will travel with the Irish this season as well.
With Spond out, junior Ben Councell and true freshman took the snaps with the first team defense at Dog. Kelly says both Councell and Smith will play "a lot" during the upcoming season.
"When it comes to coaching, if we make it that complicated that I can't get Jaylon Smith on the field then we're not good coaches," Kelly said later when asked if Smith could handle the complexities of the position so early in his career. Sophomore Romeo Okwara, who is third on the depth chart at Cat linebacker, will also cross-train to provide more depth at Dog.
The next most significant injury to an Irish defensive player is a recent knee injury to defensive lineman Tony Springmann. The big red head wore his jersey and shorts while walking in a large immobilization brace on his left knee during Saturday's practice.
"I don't have any definitive (information)," said Kelly of Springmann's condition. "Any time it's a knee you're really concerned. That one probably is one that we're a little bit more concerned with right now."
Springmann will have an MRI soon to determine the extent of the injury. Kelly says he will definitely miss the Temple game. Safety Nicky Baratti and freshman linebacker Doug Randolph are both scheduled to have shoulder surgeries this week. Running back Will Mahone missed practice with a high ankle sprain. He could be out of action for up to two weeks.
Freshman offensive lineman John McGovern had his first "full go" practice Saturday after battling a knee injury.
"John's making great progress," said Kelly. "The reports out of the training room (are) outstanding in terms of his progress."
Receiver Daniel Smith is now running and Kelly expects him to be a full go next week as well.
Tuitt's On The Upswing
The player who has probably taken the most heat from Irish fans and the media so far this fall has been Stephon Tuitt. The junior defensive end saw his weight go from its listed 303 last season to 322 last spring after offseason surgery to repair a hernia. Tuitt kept that weight going into fall camp and did not appear to be himself at Notre Dame's first full pad practice last week.
"The kid had a hernia operation," Kelly exclaimed when asked about how Tuitt has looked so far this fall. "He couldn't do core exercises for over three and a half months. We had to change his whole summer workout in terms of you know what our guys look like. He looks different, because he put on some body fat that our guys don't normally put on, because he couldn't do some of the workouts that our guys do. It wasn't because he decided to eat Cheetos on the couch and not workout."
Kelly says Tuitt had a mesh web surgically placed in his abdomen that prevented him from doing a lot of things that other players could do. Tuitt already looked leaner on Saturday compared to when the media saw him in pads eight days ago. Kelly says Tuitt is stronger and he likes what he has seen from him in the past two weeks.
"His volume is at where it was last year, so we didn't lose any of his volume," Kelly said.
Tuitt, who led the Irish with 12 sacks last season, had a lot of his old explosiveness back during live portions of Saturday's practice. He also thumped left tackle Zack Martin with his big right arm and then powered past him in a one-on-one pass rush drill midway through the practice.
Expect to see a lot of the junior outside linebacker this year and expect to see him at more than as just Prince Shembo's backup as well. Williams began cross-training at defensive end during the spring.
"He'll come in as the third end immediately," said Kelly. "His hand is gonna go down on the ground and play end for us. He'll get quite a bit of work there."
"He can play all the techniques," Kelly continued. "He can do the things that we're asking him to do and he's done them very well. We're very pleased with him."
Williams has just 28 career tackles, including 22 in 13 games last year, and no career sacks in his first two seasons.
Nickel and Dime
Cornerback Cole Luke is starting to press for playing time already. The true freshman from Chandler, AZ took some reps with the second team defense Saturday and he was also working as the defense's nickelback.
"We like Cole, because he's really close to being on the field at the cornerback position," said Kelly. "You're trying to look at who's your third - maybe one of the top corners that you have that you're getting on the field coverage skill-wise."
Meanwhile, safety Austin Collinsworth, who missed all of last season after offseason shoulder surgery, is working as the sixth defensive back against multiple receiver sets.
"We can run a lot more in our package with Collinsworth on the field," Kelly said of the senior in the dime package. "Those two guys on the field give us the ability to play a lot more man and then a lot more variety in those packages."
Kelly says people might be "missing the boat" by overlooking Shembo. The senior Cat linebacker was second to Tuitt with 7.5 sacks last year and has somewhat flown beneath the radar during camp.
"He's a throwback in a lot of ways," Kelly said of Shembo. "With his energy and his toughness and the way he comes to work every day. It's one hundred percent all-in and he plays the game with that chip, where 'I'm gonna do whatever is necessary on this play to be disruptive. You've almost gotta take his helmet away from him. I love those guys."
Shembo brings a high level of energy and toughness to the team as well that Kelly says the rest of the team feeds off.