Well, gang, we're back. That was a bizarre few weeks. There were some rather tall gentlemen running around in Notre Dame sports uniforms playing something called "basketball." I mean, the ball is round, and they thrown it onto the ground on purpose. Did I dream that? In any event, like Marlo Stanfield said, "that don't make no nevermind." That spherically-shaped unpleasantness is behind us, and Coach Kelly's Spring-Football Press Conference yesterday brought us back squarely within the comfortable confines of our oblong obsession. (Read: "Spring Football started yesterday with Coach Kelly's Tuesday press conference.")
Irish fans exalt. You can now return to over-analyzing what really matters: Tony Springman's beard/nicknames/beard's nicknames; Ben Turk's offseason weight gain; and a new term coined by Coach Kelly--"Touchdown Hugs."
Kelly's thoughts were pretty personnel-heavy, but he did give some big-picture insights on the state of the program.
Where is the Program?
Coach Kelly gave his three-year plan:
Year one it's the typical learn the names of the players, begin to implement your schemes; year two, try to develop that depth in the units; and I think for me in year three it's a comfortable feeling that I know my football team very well going into year three. Building those relationships with your players, understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a team, and now having by and large put in the schemes offensively and defensively and special teams, this should be, for me, very exciting, and I know it will be exciting for our coaches and our staff, and I know all of our players, as well, in year three.
So that's why we turned the ball over so much last year--all Kelly and company could do in year one was learn the players' names. Crawl. Walk. Run. Got it. But judging by how the press conference began, Kelly might want to go back to year one, because he struggled MIGHTILY when he tried to name the fifth-year players that have been invited back. I'm not sure he realized his gaffe, either, which would seem to place him squarely in the "unconscious incompetence" level of press-conference development. Back to basics, Coach.
For those worried that Tommy Rees will start against Navy, worry no more. Coach Kelly has decided to take a step back in year three and simplify the playbook to give all four quarterbacks an equal shot at wresting the starting-quarterback spot.
I think it's important that if they're all going to get an equal opportunity to compete for the position that they all have to start with a very similar knowledge base. We've kind of taken a step back and really looked at our offensive structure, and we're going to make it so all four of the guys that are here can compete at a fair level, because Tommy (Rees) has got, as you know, the best knowledge base. But if we started the spring with page 50 of the playbook, Tommy would be ahead of everybody. So not to put him at a disadvantagebut to give it an equal footing for all, we've kind of scaled it back, so the spring, it's going to give all the quarterbacks, including a midyear in Gunner (Kiel) and of course the two young guys, an opportunity to truly compete for the position.
Translation: I am purposefully putting Tommy Rees at a disadvantage. His knowledge base gives him an advantage over everyone else, but we really need a quarterback that can throw the ball or run the ball or do both, not one who can't do any of the above, but can call the right protection. Go ahead and put me down as in favor of dumbing down the offense. We'll have some legitimate offensive threats this year in Eifert, Wood, Riddick, Carlisle, Jones, Daniels, Atkinson, Neal, and company. We simply cannot let the quarterback's inability to (a) get these guys the ball or (b) open up the field with his legs hamstring our entire season.
Making the offense quarterback-friendly is also really smart when you have a bevvy of talented young quarterbacks, as the Irish do. I realize that it may have been impossible for the staff to do this mid-season in 2011, but it is definitely long-overdue. In any event, the competition is open:
Q. Is it your standard open competition? Do you kind of not go into it saying this is our starter?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, that's why I did that, in terms of making the offense such that any one of the guys can run it, because if I came in two years into it and started to at that level, Tommy would be ahead of everybody by the knowledge base, and so we wanted to make sure that everybody, without taking away what Tommy has learned, Tommy has also had an opportunity to develop in the program physically and get stronger and all of those things. So we feel like it'll be open and fair competition for all the quarterbacks.
May the best man win.
Where is the offense?
Kelly wants to eliminate turnovers, penalties, and negative plays. The staff discovered in its offseason self-scouting that the offense scored a staggering 90% of the time when it didn't turn the ball over, commit a penalty, or lose yardage on a negative play. The offense's scoring percentage dropped to roughly "abysmal" when the offense did commit a major offensive error. Even more shockingly, the offense scored 0% of the time when they turned the ball over. Fascinating.
Kelly felt that he needed to scale back the offense to instill the basic tenets of how the quarterback position must be played. The quarterback needs to get the ball out on time and accurately, and he needs to make good decisions. Yet Kelly still wants the quarterback to be aggressive.
Kelly does want to up the offensive tempo, but he is concerned first and foremost with fixing last years [blank]ups. Sorry, the [blank] was for "hicc." Didn't want to leave you guessing. He also said that we'll be playing a lot of 5-wide formations, so George Atkinson needs to be ready to catch the ball. No word yet on the status of the 5 Wide Fullbacks Formation, though fictitious sources say that Kelly is a fan.
In the day's most sentimental moment, Kelly gave his overall offensive vision:
You know, ideally, in an ideal world, you've got one guy and he stands out front and he's the leader of your team. I've managed it, as you know, so many different ways. I'd love to have one guy and he be the guy, and when he comes off the field, I embrace him every time with a big touchdown hug; you know what I mean? That's a hug. Big hugs. That's what we're looking for. That's the vision that I have. Do you guys have another vision? I don't.
I don't either, Coach, so can I get one of those touchdown hugs? How do you hug a touchdown anyway?
Defense and Special Teams
The Coach is excited about defense. He likes our veterans: Slaughter and Motta. Oh, and some guy named Te'o. Seriously, Te'o was the last veteran that Kelly mentioned. His press-conference fundamentals really are rusty. Someone loafed in the offseason.
Kelly didn't have a lot to say about the defense, probably because he was asked a lot--or is it "alot"--of questions about the offense and quarterback race.
I did enjoy a repeat of the Kelly's halftime interview from the '09 Pitt-Cincy game where his team was giving up a ton of points but had closed the gap a little before the half. He laughed and said, "we are who we are. We just need to shoot more threes than the other team." Kelly gave that same "we are who we are" chuckle when asked about the cornerbacks. Well, he eventually stopped laughing and said that we can play championship football with our five corners. But we're still not going to leave them on an island.
Special teams will be coached by 10 coaches. So there will be a lot of hands in the pot, which no doubt makes all of you accountants nervous. Kelly took the blame for not getting Theo Riddick ready to return punts. So... sorry Theo, Love, The Fans.
-Tony Springman recently had a discectomy surgery for a bulging disc. One of the reporters doesn't know what a discectomy is. It's the internet age, guy. Look it up on your smart phone. They remove part of your disc. Anyway, the staff has high hopes for Tony the Red. Tha Spring will be limited for the spring.
-Cam Roberson is still not 100%, but he will play this spring. I'm rooting for this kid. The length of his convalescence speaks volume to the severity of his injury. I really hope to see this kid make an impact.
-Amir Carlisle broke his ankle in 7-on-7's. He's out for the spring, but will be back for summer conditioning.
-Goodman is primed to have a big year and "wants to make an impact." Notre Dame fans will wait and see.
-Davaris Daniels "tested out tops in the skill position" at ND's post-winter workouts combine. His vertical leap is on par with what many of the wide receivers posted at the NFL Combine. It's time to show it on the field.
-Troy Niklas is now a tight-end. Diaco wanted to keep him on D, but Kelly likes our depth at OLB/safety, and Niklas must see the field. This will free up Tyler Eifert to do the whole Jimmy Graham thing. Which makes me happy.
-We're comfortable with Slaughter, Motta, and Collinsworth at safety.
-Cam McDaniel and Matthias Farley will be setting up shop--or hopefully closing down shop--at cornerback and safety, respectively. In other news, Cam McDaniel will be taking a page from the White Wide Receivers Association of America, and founding the White Cornerbacks Association of America. He will be its only member. Though great news for position diversity, it is sad news for those that thought that he was explosive enough to make a difference on offense.
-None of the non-cornerback incoming freshmen will be moved to cornerback.
-We're not sure what we're going to do with Prince Shembo.
-The school can't comment on Tee Shepard, but "we love Tee Shepard," says Kelly.
The Blue and Gold game will be televised on NBC Sports on April 21st, so visit One Foot Down early and often for up-to-the-second reporting and cogent, incisive analysis, and whatever stuff I write.