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Football: Irish start spring ball

Mike Monaco | Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wednesday morning marked the start of spring practice, but injuries are already on the mind of Irish coach Brian Kelly.

After the two-hour practice session, Kelly said Irish junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt is recovering from a sports hernia injury. Tuitt, who was riding a stationary bike during the 30 minutes of media availability at Wednesday’s practice in Loftus Sports Center, is expected to return for the final two weeks of spring ball.

“He’s already moving really well,” Kelly said. “He feels so much better. He had some restriction in that groin, hip flexor area where he was really restricted in running out, so we said, ‘You know what, let’s get it done. Let’s not wait on it.’ And it’s something that we may have managed, but we want to get him 100 percent.”

Tuitt led the Irish with 12 sacks last season, but the Monroe, Ga., native was held without a sack against both USC and Alabama to close out the year.

“The last half of the season he really struggled with it,” Kelly said. “He fought through it. But it was something that needed to be repaired so that was done before spring break.”

Kelly said he was focused on watching players returning from injuries that held them out of last season.

“What I wanted to do was get around and observe some of our injured players and see what they look like coming back for the first time,” Kelly said. “So for the first two, three days, and probably until we get into next week, I want to be able to float around and have a real good sense and feel for some of our players that we’re counting on to be in key roles for us.”

 

Wood and Collinsworth return to the secondary

Kelly said he was particularly impressed with senior cornerback Lo Wood, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury. As a sophomore in 2011, Wood played in 10 games and returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown against Maryland.

“I like the way Lo Wood looked,” Kelly said. “Obviously, competition at the cornerback position is always good for your team.”

Another returning member of the secondary is senior safety Austin Collinsworth, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Collinsworth played in all 26 games as a reserve through his first two seasons and provides versatility to the secondary.

“I think Collinsworth moved around very well,” Kelly said. “He’s a smart player and it’s good to have a veteran player with a lot of smarts. He can play a number of positions for us.”

Kelly stressed the importance of having depth and versatility in the secondary, something the team lacked last season hampering.

“You want to be able to play nickel and dime [coverages],” Kelly said. We couldn’t even get into the dime last year. We couldn’t put four potential corners on the field. It just opens up your defensive playbook a little bit more to match up.”

 

Carlisle impresses in crowded backfield

With the loss of running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick to graduation, the rushing attack is an open competition. But junior Amir Carlisle, who missed last season with an ankle injury after transferring from USC, has impressed Kelly with his explosiveness.

“I think the guy of all the injured guys that stands out to me was Amir Carlisle,” Kelly said. “He’s got a gear. He’s got a high level where he’s really going to be able to help us.”

Kelly said he could see Carlisle providing the Irish with versatility out of the backfield, much like Riddick did as both a rusher and a receiver.

“I definitely can see us playing Amir and another back at the same time because he has the ability to play,” Kelly said. “He’s a very good pass-catcher. He’s got good ball skills. I can see us getting him the football in a number of different ways with another running back on the field.”

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu