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Football: Getting defensive

Douglas Farmer | Monday, April 19, 2010

The Irish defense matched the offense score-for-score in a scrimmage Saturday.
Both junior safety Jamoris Slaughter and junior cornerback Robert Blanton returned turnovers for touchdowns, while the offense struggled to find the end zone in 11-on-11 unless junior tight end Kyle Rudolph was making the play. Irish coach Brian Kelly held Rudolph, coming off of a separated shoulder last season, out of much of the scrimmage as a precaution.

“We wanted to be cautious with Kyle still,” Kelly said. “We got him in there for a couple one-on-one routes where wanted to work. But other than that we kept him out of most of the scrimmaging stuff.”

Even in limited time, Rudolph made the play of the day as he soared over sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o for his first of two touchdown receptions from junior quarterback Dayne Crist. If the scrimmage had been tightly refereed, Te’o would assuredly have been whistled for pass interference.

Despite the mistake on the touchdown play, Kelly was effusive in his praise of Te’o’s development.

“He’s got a chance and he’s showing some signs of that,” Kelly said. “It’s exciting to watch him grow. He’s really growing quickly in a very short period of time.”

Te’o demonstrated some of Kelly’s points when he stopped senior running back Armando Allen from reaching the end zone in dramatic fashion, stopping Allen’s momentum and sending him backwards a few steps.

In a dramatic shift from last season’s defense, which only managed to force 19 turnovers in 12 games, the Irish forced three turnovers  Saturday. Slaughter picked up a backwards pass from Crist to sophomore running back Cierre Wood and returned it for a touchdown, and Blanton returned an interception off early enrollee freshman quarterback Tommy Rees. Kelly said he was as much pleased by the defensive scores as he was displeased by the offensive inconsistencies.

“I think today our defense did a great job taking the ball away … We’re going and getting the football. We’re aggressively getting after it from that standpoint,” Kelly said. “Offensively, our issues are about inconsistency. We can put three or four plays together and then we’ll put two or three awful plays together.”

Kelly said the purpose of the scrimmage was to evaluate as the spring season winds down.

“This is still about evaluating, finding out who can compete, the guys that we can count on,” he said. “More than anything else I think you need to know what your weaknesses are as well … That’s why we’re out here scrimmaging … We’re starting to get a better feel for the things we really need to hone down on going into this last week of practice.”