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Irish Blogger Gathering: Coach Kelly Meets the IBG

Welcome to the spring 2010 edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering where the assorted members of the Notre Dame Football blogosphere get together and answer questions put forth by one of the IBG members. It is only fitting that the questions put forth for the first IBG of the Brian Kelly era come from Subway Domer who happens to be the mastermind behind the whole thing.

I was excited to join the conversation when Subway Domer first invited me to join the IBG a year ago and that enthusiasm for the IBG remains today. Of all the posts I have written in the last year I have consistently found the IBG posts to be the most enjoyable. Talking Notre Dame Football with the greater brain trust of the Notre Dame Football blogosphere is about as good as it gets. With that I will get to the business of ushering in the Brian Kelly era by answering Subway’s questions…

1. Notre Dame is looking at vast changes on both sides of the ball. Kelly will implement his version of the "Spread," which is run at an excruciating pace, and the Irish defense will, once again, make the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Asking to pick one side of the ball that intrigues you the most would be a disservice to us all. Instead, list your biggest hope and your biggest fear for both the offense and the defense.

Offense
Biggest Hope- That all of the backs and receivers perform the way that I think they will. Coach Kelly has done a great job of downplaying, and in some cases downright disputing, the difference in talent between Cincinnati and Notre Dame. He should do that and I support that approach 100%. But I can’t help but think that when he’s alone in his office or maybe even in staff meetings that he doesn’t look at the depth chart that he won’t make public and break out in an ear to ear grin and an evil chuckle. If you happened to read any of my 2010 Talent Analysis posts you already know that I believe this roster has plenty of raw talent and that is especially true of the offensive skill positions. The Irish should have no trouble scoring points this fall so long as…..

Biggest Fear- Is there an offensive tackle in the house? With Trevor Robinson, Dan Wenger and Chris Stewart anchoring the middle of the offensive line I am really only concerned about replacing the two offensive tackles. While Taylor Dever and Matt Romine don’t have a lot of minutes under their belts they have been in the program for three years and enter 2010 as seniors that will be eligible to apply for a 5th year of eligibility. The point? Coach Kelly isn’t exactly having to plug a couple of true freshmen in here so I am optimistic that both Dever and Romine will be up to the challenge. With Lane Clelland moving to defensive end it appears that for the time being Dever and Romine will be pushed by soon to be sophomores Zach Martin and Alex Bullard, neither of whom saw the field as freshmen in 2009. I really see the tackles as the linchpin in the whole operation for 2010. If these guys can hold up their end of the deal and give Dayne Crist a chance to distribute the football to the skill players, the Irish could score a lot of points.

Defense
Biggest Hope- I suppose this answer might violate the true nature of the question but I have to say that my biggest hope is that the coaching staff can teach the front seven everything they need to know to be successful. If you have been reading LB Coach’s breakdown of the 3-4 transition, then you know how much there is to learn. This is obviously a two way street between the players and coaches but I expect that both parties are up for the challenge. I am excited about watching this transition.

Biggest Fear- Who is going to end up playing safety? Yesterday Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter, Dan McCarthy and Zeke Motta were running with the first two units. Of those four players only Harrison Smith has significant playing experience and he had a pretty rough 2009 campaign. In short I see safety as a legitimate concern heading into 2010.

2. The mainstream media, and ESPN in particular, have been riding Brian Kelly's Weis and hire Kelly. Do you agree, or disagree with this statement? What changes in media coverage do you think we will see in 2010 and beyond?

Concur, the media was all over Coach Kelly going to Notre Dame. My personal opinion is that Notre Dame is a media darling at all times. In both good times and bad the media is all over the Irish. No other college football program is more polarizing than Notre Dame and the media plays into that for all that it is worth. The stories are either of the "Return to Glory" or "Notre Dame is dead" variety. If Kelly succeeds at Notre Dame the media will treat him like the second coming. If he struggles the Mark May types will quickly come back out in force.

3. With new regime changes, players that were once lost in the muck sometimes find themselves in a situation to become key members of the team- or even starters. Identify one of those players that will be that "sleeper." Explain, in brief detail, why your guy will rise above and become the proverbial; CREAM. Oh yeah... it must be a junior or older to qualify.

Harrison Smith. Does he qualify? I suppose it is debatable whether or not Hayseed was actually "lost in the muck" but he has had a roller coaster ride through the last couple of seasons. In 2008 he played outside linebacker because the team already had two safeties and the staff wanted to get Harrison on the field. Last year he moved back to safety and really struggled so the staff moved him back to outside linebacker. Yesterday Coach Kelly said of Harrison "if he can't play safety, he can't play." That said I think we know where we will see #22 come the fall. Despite his struggles last season I still think Harrison has a lot of potential. The kid has a lot of athleticism and two years of eligibility remaining. Under Chuck Martin’s tutelage I think Hayseed will be a nice surprise in 2010.

4. If you could change the Blue-Gold Game experience in any way- what would it be? Some years, the game can be quite boring and offer no real insight for the upcoming season. Are we all doomed to be underwhelmed every year, or can you make the change that makes spring ball slick like Rick on a pogo stick?

I tend to think all spring games are what they are. They are really just intra-squad scrimmages that are open to the public. Don’t get me wrong I love a pseudo game day in April but unless schools start doing something radical like playing a real spring game these contests probably won’t get any more interesting.

5. EVERY coach talks about the importance of special teams, and says that they are a major priority for the team. Is there anything that Coach Kelly has done to back him up on his own statements? What phase of special teams would you like to see more improvement from?

Until I see the mix of front line and role players that appear on special teams it will be difficult to comment on Coach Kelly’s priorities. That said I would really like to see some serious improvement in the Irish return game. There are enough dynamic playmakers on this roster that the return teams should be a constant homerun threat.

6. Last topics are a bit, off topic... A) With the arrival of Spring Football, comes a lot of "color" discussion. "The Shirt," is always a favorite subject of debate for Irish fans. What is your opinion of "The Shirt," and if you were in charge of it all- what would it look like? B) There is a lot of talk about the Notre Dame uniforms possibly being altered. What would you like to see, even if they aren't changed?

A) I like the shirt and have always thought that solid mass of color in the student section both looked cool and showed some solidarity. As for the actual design I could care less so long as it is actually a Notre Dame color! I didn’t get the cream color thing last year.
B) As for the Notre Dame uniforms I have a very strong opinion. Don’t mess with it! It is a classic and should not be tinkered with under any circumstances. I would be okay with a minute change like going back to the interlocking ND on the sleeve vice numbers but outside of that my vote would be to leave it alone.