Today marked the end of the long cold football winter. The frost has melted and the sun is shining, and for today, that sun was Brian Kelly. While meeting with the press today, Coach Kelly gave us a taste of what to expect this fall.
Strengths of the team:
Right out the gate, Coach Kelly addressed what he believed were going to be the strengths of this year's team. One of the points hit hardest was the experience and leadership of the team and an improvement in communication in all areas. Kelly specifically pointed out the return of leaders such as Joe Schmidt (Injury) and Kei'varae Russell (Suspension) as well as the emergence of new leaders such as Max Redfield. That along with being in year 2 of Brian Van Gorder's Defense should help exorcise many of the demons the ND defense faced the second half of last season.
Positionally, Kelly pointed out Offensive Line and Running Back as positions he sees as strengths for the team. The fact that Kelly would put Running Back, a position with one returning player, a converted wide receiver, and two freshmen says a lot about the confidence he has in those players. If the O-Line, running backs are effective, it bodes very well for the abilities of the offense.
Kolin Hill will be transferring to return to the state of Texas and has been given his release.
Mike Heaureman and Michael Deeb have been given medical hardship waivers, Heureman suffered two hernias that limited his ability to weight train, answering the question of why he seemed unable to put on weight. Meanwhile Deeb suffered and elbow injury that included nerve damage.
Ishaq Williams is still being held out of practice pending an NCAA decision but it is "not a long process" according to Kelly.
Cal transfer Avery Sebastian and former Lacrosse player Nick Ossello will be counted on to bring physicality and experience to special teams coverage.
Miles Boykin and Aliz'e Jones are the two freshman that are most ready to contribute physically. Boykin apparently has a 38 1/2 inch vertical to go with his tall frame.
In order to get Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome ready for the Texas game, special teams will be live during camp.
When asked to point out some players who have made stirides in the summer, Kelly singled out Nic Weishar, Tristan Hoge and Nick Watkins and players who have developed physically.
Overall, the message Kelly tried to convey was this is a talented and deep team, but it will need to come together with great leadership and communication to reach its goal of a national championship. It also seems apparent that this team will be committed to the run. With an experienced offensive line, good running backs and a mobile quarterback, the decks seemed to be stacked in that direction. Malik Zaire is easily the most gifted runner at quarterback Kelly has had in his time at ND and it should show in the game plan. Kelly even mentioned the possibility of having sets including 4 tight ends with Durham Smythe split out wide and 3 in line TEs. All in all, it is shaping up to be a very exciting season for the Irish.