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Football: Spring ahead

Allan Joseph | Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Irish coach Brian Kelly had a number of changes to announce at Tuesday’s spring football kickoff press conference, but all of them took a backseat to junior captain and wide receiver Michael Floyd’s arrest and subsequent indefinite suspension earlier in the week. In addition to shedding some light on Floyd’s situation, Kelly announced a number of position changes as well as highlighted the developing quarterback race.

Kelly suggested that he and his staff will not worry about Floyd’s loss until any possible return was tangible. Instead, he will focus on developing the players that will be in camp.

“Every time there’s an injury or somebody that’s not with us, our focus is strictly on the guys that are here,” he said. “We are going to go to work and develop our players and we can only develop the players that are here. If you’re waiting around, dreaming and hoping, you’re going to miss great opportunities to develop your players.”

One such opportunity comes with stiff competition at quarterback. After freshman quarterback Tommy Rees replaced injured junior Dayne Crist at the end of the 2010 campaign and led the Irish to a 4-0 finish to the season, Kelly could offer no clarity on his depth chart for the spring. Instead, he expects a wide-open race for the starting position — a race that will include early enrollee Everett Golson and freshman Andrew Hendrix.

“It’s going to be a very competitive situation at quarterback, and Dayne can include his name in that competitive battle,” Kelly said. “For us to truly talk about a competitive battle and everybody having a chance, I think we have to modify our practices. [Golson and Hendrix] have to be involved. In an ideal world we would like to leave [spring practice] where we know one, two, three.”

Kelly also announced a number of position changes, both for players and for coaches. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner was named the “run game coordinator” to allow offensive coordinator Charley Molnar to take on more organizational work. Former outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks will focus solely on cornerbacks, while former defensive backs coach Chuck Martin will focus on the safeties.

“It’s a lot more focus on our football team because we know a lot more about them,” Kelly said. “They are going to get that individual attention at their positions.”

Sophomores Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth will leave their wide receiver slots for the defensive backfield — Jackson will play cornerback and Collinsworth will play safety. Early enrollee Brad Carrico will move from the defensive line to the offensive line.

“We’re pretty excited about those moves,” Kelly said.

A number of former starters will be limited during spring practice due to injuries. Junior defensive tackle Sean Cwynar will not be participating in spring practice after foot and back surgeries. Sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o will be limited in practice after having an arthroscopic procedure to clean up cartilage in his year. Finally, Crist will be limited after a second consecutive season-ending knee injury.

“I think it’s going to be similar to what we saw last spring,” Kelly said. “Everything but basically live – he feels comfortable with it, and I know that it’s going to be something that allows him to continue to develop for us.”

Spring practice begins today at 8 a.m. and continues Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, concluding April 16 at the annual Blue and Gold Game.