NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Media Day - it is the official launching point of a new season. Many college football teams hold their media day festivities at the start of fall training camp, but Brian Kelly and Notre Dame held court on Thursday, with t-minus nine days and counting to go before the season kicks off against Temple.
Kelly began by saying the bulk have the last two-plus weeks of training camp has been about developing his team's depth.
"We're gonna need a lot of players," said Kelly. "There (are) going to be a lot of players that are going to have to play for us this year. There (are) going to be a lot of players that are going to have to play significant roles throughout the year at a lot of different positions. "
"Going into this preparation for 2013," he continued. "It was important that we looked at the totality of the season (and) not one particular game, but the entire season in getting a lot of players ready."
The preparedness on the defensive side of the ball is evident with a "three-for-two" situation at inside linebacker where Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace are expected to participate. Cat linebacker Ishaq Williams, second on the depth chart there behind Prince Shembo, will see more reps at defensive end this year and Matthias Farley, Elijah Shumate and Austin Collinsworth are all likely to see time at the two safety spots.
With depth built and players more and more ready to go, the attention in practice is now shifting to Notre Dame's Aug. 31 opponent - Temple.
"(We) have begun to focus on specific schemes and packages and personnel groupings," said Kelly. "That's really what has occurred over the last few days leading into Temple."
Camp Shiloh never came up during Kelly's 45 minutes at the microphone in front of a throng of local, regional and national media representatives. The camp though was about both team building and putting last season where Kelly thinks it belongs - in the past.
"I'm really pleased with the way our guys have focused on this year," the Irish head coach said. "There hasn't been a lot of 'this is what we did last year' and talking about the way we did it last year. It's been about this year. The focus has been on the personalities of this team and the strengths of building this year's team - not what we did last year."
Kelly's message to his team to move forward and forget about last season began as soon as the BCS Championship Game was over in January. His big picture message was a simple one.
"If we do it like we did last year we're going to be an 8-5 team," he said. "Because everybody has taken their motivation off what we did last year and (has) worked harder. We supplied motivation for the entire college football world that 'If Notre Dame can do it, we can do it'. So everybody has worked exponentially that much more in their off season because of us."
Springmann and Tuitt
Kelly confirmed Thursday what Irish fans had feared - defensive lineman Tony Springmann will miss the entire season due to a knee injury.
"He had a dislocation that also had severe ligament damage that will require surgery," Kelly explained. "(The injury is) one that we hadn't seen before. We think he'll have a full recovery, but (I am) really disappointed for Tony. He had made some great strides."
With the versatile Springmann out of action, Kelly says Isaac Rochell's learning curve will be "accelerated" this year. He expects to have to play the 280-pound freshman from Georgia.
Kelly delivered good news when talking about Stephon Tuitt. The 322-pound All-American went down on the field during 11-on-11 action during practice with the media present prior to Thursday's press conference.
"We didn't see anything major there," Kelly said of Tuitt. "He just twisted his (right) knee - nothing major. (Doctor) Brian Rattigan saw him after practice. We're not concerned at all."
As most linemen do, Tuitt wears braces on both knees. He was down on the field for about a minute, but eventually got up and walked off the field on his own power after two trainers checked on him.
A Trio of Captains
Kelly announced fifth-year senior Zack Martin and seniors T.J. Jones and Bennett Jackson as the three captains of the 2013 team. Martin is just the 18th player in Notre Dame history to be a captain in multiple seasons.
"To be a captain you can't be just seen as somebody that just sits on one side of the ball," said Kelly. "These are guys that interact with our entire football team."
One player who may have seemed to be a logical choice to be a captain is quarterback Tommy Rees. The senior displayed great poise and earned the respect of the entire locker room last year for the way he handled himself both on and off the field when he was replaced by Everett Golson behind center.
"I look at everything and then try to make the best decision for the team and the best fits that I see across the board," Kelly said when asked why he did not name Rees a captain. "I think you can make the case for a number of guys to be captains, but I look at everything and it's both on the field (and) off the field - all of those things are important to me."
New Year, New Personality
The personality of this year's team is considerably different from the 2012 version of the Fighting Irish. Last year's team had the big personality of captain Manti Te'o, not to mention the likes of captains Tyler Eifert and Kapron Lewis-Moore. Kelly says his 2013 squad has a more "workman-like" approach.
"This is a group that comes to work every single day with a consistency," Kelly said. "So, I think that's what I see more than anything else is that I know what I'm going to get from them every single day. It's a deeper group in the sense that there's not just one personality - it's across the board."
While Martin, Jackson and Jones are the team's captains, Kelly says there are other seniors like Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Chris Watt and Rees who also provide great leadership within the ranks. He says the collection of personalities mix and all move "in the same direction".
Two-for-One at Drop Linebacker
With Danny Spond's career over, junior Ben Councell and true freshman Jaylon Smith will see the majority of the reps at Spond's former drop linebacker position. Spond performed exceptionally there last year in his first season as a starter at a position that requires, arguably, the most versatility on the Irish defense.
"You have two guys, one who's already 250-plus pounds, in Ben Councell that can obviously play over a tight end," Kelly began. "If you want to play real physical and have a fullback in the game (and) play that kind of game Ben suits that very well, although he can play in space."
"If you want to go three wide (receivers) - if you want to play an open set Jaylon has incredible athleticism to be able to play in space," he continued. "So we really think we've got two players there and the depth at that position that we're very, very lucky in losing a player like Danny Spond to have those two guys. They've done very, very well."
A Big Loss, But A Team Gain?
Beyond his leadership and overall intangibles, the loss of Manti Te'o from the Irish defense means the loss of great statistical production. Te'o led Notre Dame with 113 tackles, seven interceptions and 11 pass deflections in 2012. Kelly says Te'o's loss is sizable, but expects increased defensive production across the board.
"We have some other pieces that might be a little bit stronger than they were last year," said Kelly. "I think you (have to) look at all 11 (players). We lose a great player in Manti Te'o, but we gain some other pieces that I think are stronger this year across the board and we still have a consistent (and) strong front seven."
Kelly expects cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell, who were both first-year starters last year to be able to play more man-to-man defense this year than they did last season. That will also allow the Irish to mix-in more blitzes than they did a year ago. He also says to expect to see different coverages and more diverse looks from the safeties.
Kelly does not think his defense has to be better than it was last year for Notre Dame to have a chance to have another highly successful season. Instead, he says things like better red zone offensive efficiency (just 48% touchdown efficiency last season), throwing the ball better on first and second downs and scoring more points (25.8 points a game) will be bigger factors in the success of the 2013 team.
"If the defense can stay within the same area code as it played last year defensively," he said. "And we really up our offensive output, then we can have the kind of year that we're all looking forward to."
ISD's Sean Mele will have a look at Kelly's thoughts on special teams and offense in Media Day Part 2.