Football: Kelly disappointed after fourth practice
Douglas Farmer | Wednesday, March 31, 2010
New coach – new expectations. It really is that simple.
And after the fourth practice of the spring season Wednesday, Brian Kelly said the Irish remain far from fulfilling his expectations, even further than they had been after their third practice.
“We’re a work in progress … We stink right now,” Kelly said. “We are so far away from where we need to be in terms of attention to detail. This was a step back for us today.”
While Kelly praised some of the defensive progress, he said the team as a whole has not grasped the big picture he hopes they will, and he will take it upon himself to make that happen.
“That’s what they hired me for,” the first-year Irish coach said. “They don’t understand what I want from them yet. So I’ve got to go back and I have to re-communicate the message, and what the expectations are, how we practice and how we come to work every day.”
But Kelly’s efforts will be in vain if the team does not regain its motivation, seemingly hampered by Wednesday’s 77 degree weather.
“You’re an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old, playing football at Notre Dame and it’s 70 degrees outside, and I’ve got to motivate you?” Kelly said of the practice’s intensity.
Senior running back Armando Allen agreed with Kelly’s assessment concerning expectations and improvement.
“I think there is always room for improvement. We have a long way to go,” last season’s leading rusher said. “From my perspective, everybody has to be on the same page, and live up to the expectations that all the coaches have.”
Kelly said he prefers that everyone find the same page quickly, with only 11 practices left in spring practice, including the 81st Annual Blue-Gold Spring Football Game.
“We don’t have time. We have to do it now,” he said. “You get 15 practices … Then we can’t touch them until August. I can’t wait until August to put this team in a position to win in 2010. It’s got to happen today.”
Junior quarterback Dayne Crist will undoubtedly be a part of any winning formula for the Irish next season, and Kelly’s disappointment in expectations extended to, if not especially to, Crist.
“He’s about as sloppy fundamentally as there is,” Kelly said. “His footwork, his read progression has to get better. He has got really good football intelligence.”
Kelly, Crist and the rest of the Irish will have the Easter weekend off, next taking the practice field on April 7.
Kelly on the slot receiver position and the move of sophomore Theo Riddick from running back into the slot:
“There is more work to be done the closer to the ball you are … Now [the slot receiver] is a key position for us, so we’re really struggling to find out if we can get Theo ready there … We’ve just got guys right now. There is nobody I am going to tell you right now I feel comfortable in that position.”
Based off of the groupings seen so far, also in contention for the slot receiver spot are senior Duval Kamara, fifth-year senior Barry Gallup, Jr. and sophomore Robby Toma.
Kelly on positive surprises in the first four practices:
“Positively, I like some of the things on defense in particular. I like [junior linebacker Anthony] McDonald. McDonald is playing downhill, physical. We’re looking for another big guy inside.”
“I like four safeties right now. I think we’ve got four safeties that showed some real good downhill tackling ability … I really like [junior safety Dan] McCarthy.”
“If I had to throw two guys out, I think McCarthy and McDonald are going to be able to help us defensively.”
On a day when Kelly’s comments were so heavily critical, these praises stood out. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, McDonald is about 15 pounds lighter than defensive coordinator Bob Diaco usually likes to see in his inside linebackers, but outside of sophomore Manti Te’o, nobody on the roster really fits Diaco’s ideal mold, so McDonald does have a legitimate shot. Also in the mix for an inside linebacker spot: sophomore Carlo Calabrese, junior David Posluszny and senior Steve Paskorz.
As for McCarthy, his older brother Kyle shined in the Irish defensive backfield last season, and many wondered if Dan should have seen playing time last season. He is going up against the likes of senior Harrison Smith, junior Jamoris Slaughter and sophomore Zeke Motta.
Kelly on the special teams performance Wednesday:
“Today was an evaluation. We want to see guys who want to hit. Everybody says they’ll hit you, but then you put them in a drill and you find out who can hit. There’s no lying out there. It’s one-on-one … You’ve got to strike somebody. I believe we have a lot of players who can helps us in special teams and make us a very good special teams unit.”
As far as punt returns go, over a dozen players were fielding punts to open practice. It was unclear if such was simply to loosen up, or for more serious reasons. Although, two coaches were mixed among them, implying more serious reasons. The players were: seniors Armando Allen, Harrison Smith, Gary Gray and Darrin Walls, juniors John Goodman, Jamoris Slaughter, Robert Blanton and Dan McCarthy, sophomores Zeke Motta, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Robby Toma and E.J. Banks and early enrollee freshmen Tai-ler Jones, Spencer Boyd and Lo Wood.