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CTTCS: Brian Kelly's Pre-Spring Update

While it may seem like basketball now rules the roost in South Bend, there's still plenty of goings-on with the football program. OFD breaks down Coach Brian Kelly's comments on QB position battles, position changes, and more in this edition of Cutting Through the Coach Speak.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

General Timeline

  • The Irish have just completed a seven-week weight training regimen that, according to Coach Kelly, was very successful.
  • Ultimately, the coaching staff has 26 weeks of contact with players between the end of the season to kickoff against Texas.
  • The next seven weeks will be used primarily for skill development.
  • All players will have May off before the summer program begins. That will consist of weight training and conditioning, especially during the summer OTAs. Those workouts will take the team right up to the official summer camp.

Quaterback Situation

It's better to address this 800-lb gorilla sooner than later.  At this juncture, neither Everett Golson nor Malik Zaire has solidified his position as "the-guy" for spring practice.  With regard to his expectations of Golson, Kelly said he is looking for the senior to continue developing a disciplined approach to playing the position and, of course, learning how to take care of the football.  Kelly pointed to the last drive of the LSU game as evidence that Golson is on an upward trajectory.  He cited Golson's poise in the pocket, check-downs, and discipline to stay within the offense as indicators that he can make the improvements necessary to be a starter.  At the same time, Coach Kelly admitted that the staff would continue to play to his strengths: "he's 5'11", so we're not going to ask him to sit in the pocket."

Malik Zaire, on the other hand, must continue to lead.  Kelly was quick to note that against LSU, everyone saw that Zaire possesses an attractive skillset not only on the field, but also on the sidelines.  However, the Irish head coach was very clear that he would like to see Zaire bring that zeal and attention to detail on a daily basis in practice.  While Zaire has demonstrated himself to be quite capable, he must demonstrate consistency to the staff and his team.

Kelly had praise for DeShone Kizer as well.  He said that he "loved his leadership skills," and that "his future is bright and would not count him out."  With that being said, DeShone seems unlikely to see any significant playing time.

When asked if he had to "sell" Everett on buying into a dual-quarterback system, Kelly said that Golson does not have to accept sharing time with anyone.  All the coach has asked of him is to compete for the startng job, not to share time.  To that end, Kelly reported that Golson was "100% committed to competing for the starting QB position."  It certainly seems that Golson has a more than decent chance of locking up the starting slot with a spectacular spring.

Offensive notes

  • Nick Martin will start at center next season, with Sam Mustipher and Tristen Hoge as the second and third options, respectively.
  • Greg Bryant is developing a trust and comfort level in executing plays.  Kelly said that at times he "wants to do a little bit too much," and that Autry Denson is very excited to work with him.
  • Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars will battle for the starting left guard position.  Bars will not, however, cross-train at tackle.  Kelly felt that depth at right tackle was sufficient with Hunter Bivin, Mark Harrell, and Mike McGlinchey. Also, he said that the staff wanted to give Bars the best opportunity to win the starting left guard job and splitting his reps between two positions would only be detrimental to his development.
  • Chase Hounshell will get a try-out at tight end this spring. It seems like there was not going to be an offer on the table for him to return on the defensive side of the ball.  Kelly said that Hounshell very much wanted to remain part of the team and was willing to play any position to make that happen.  Kelly floated the idea that the team could use him as a big, physical, blocking tight end, and he accepted.  Ultimately, nothing has been decided, and the staff will wait to evaluate his performance during the spring.
  • C.J. Prosise has been cross-training with the running backs, while Amir Carlisle has been taking reps exclusively in the slot.
  • In response to a question that boiled down to "why don't we use the LSU gameplan every game?", Kelly said he would run it every week if it would work, but that is not the reality.  From a basics perspective, he did say that they want to be more physical and establish the run in a more convincing manner.  Finally, he said that they do want to take a lot from that game, but will ultimately have to tailor the gameplan to the opposing team's defense.

Defensive notes

  • Middle linkebacker has gone from being a position of weakness to the rock of the defense.  Both Jarrett Grace and Joe Schmidt are expected to play significant minutes, and both provide vocal leadership on and off the field.  Kelly pointed out that having two very capable MIKE linebackers provided the potential for better matchups, depending on the opposing offense.  He suggested that if the other team opted to "go big against us", he would put in Grace as a larger MIKE.  Nyles Morgan remains the third option in the middle.
  • In a similar way, Kelly intends to swap Greer Martini and James Onwualu.  Of Onwualu, Kelly said he "is a nickel playing SAM."  Against larger fronts, Kelly indicated that he would play Martini as a larger SAM.
  • At the WILL position, Jaylon Smith is the obvious starter, and Kelly said that he won't come off the field, regardless of how the other two linebacker positions are shuffled.  Te'von Coney was mentioned as the immediate backup.
  • Max Redfield had a terrific bowl game in which his athletic ability and football knowledge finally coalesced.  For most of last year, according to Kelly, he had not had not been demonstrating that knowledge in his play.  Ultimately, he wants to see Redfield build on his LSU performance and continue the upward trajectory.
  • In terms of young bodies on the defensive line, Jonathan Bonner, now at 270lbs, will play the big end position with Issac Rochell.  Jhonny Williams, who now weighs in at 256lbs, will have the opportunity to see how he handles the new weight.  Kelly said he intends D-line practices to be physical affairs with plenty of contact.
  • Other positional changes: John Turner to safety, Nicky Baratti to safety, Doug Randolph to rush backer, and Greer Martini to SAM.

Other Odds and Ends

  • Will Fuller and James Onwualu both have casts on their hands but should not suffer and long-term ill effects from their injuries
  • Drue Tranquill is moving along in his recovery at a breakneck pace.  If the training staff was not stopping him, he would be in full contact drills as of today.
  • Kelly said he will be doing some overt coaching of the new coaches in Autry Denson and Todd Lyght.  Keith Gillmore, on the other hand, "knows what to expect."
  • KeiVarae Russell is academically making progress, and Kelly was confident in saying that he's making steps to be back by the summer.  Ishaq Williams is a different story. Kelly mentioned twice that Ishaq is trying to earn some money as a plan B in case re-admission does not work out. Kelly also said that he can't guarantee Ishaq a spot on the team.  Neither statement sounds particularly promising in that department.
  • Jalen Brown and Ben Councell will no longer play for Notre Dame.  Councell was invited back but elected to obtain his degree and retire from football.  Brown was not invited back.  All other 5th year options are still before the academic athletic board and final decisions will not be ready until some time after spring workouts.
  • Coach Kelly gave a nice shout-out to the Notre Dame Men's Basketball team with regard to their selfless play.  He said he hopes that they can bring that attitude to the football team.