Irish introduce Denbrock, LaFleur at new positions
Mike Monaco | Friday, January 31, 2014
Irish head coach Brian Kelly officially introduced two new coaches — offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur — in a joint press conference Friday.
Denbrock, who previously coached Irish offensive tackles and tight ends from 2002-04, rejoined the Notre Dame staff in 2010 and spent his first two seasons coaching the tight ends. During the past two seasons, Denbrock has been the outside wide receivers coach and the passing game coordinator.
After former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin left in December to become the head coach at Miami (Ohio), Denbrock served as interim offensive coordinator in the Pinstripe Bowl win over Rutgers.
“[Denbrock has] a great understanding of the offense that we want to run and certainly has my trust in putting together the offense on a day-to-day basis for us,” Kelly said.
Kelly reaffirmed Friday that he will call the plays next season, a task Martin carried out in 2013.
“Mike will put it all together,” Kelly said. “He’ll oversee the entire offense and really set the table in making sure that all that is put together and laid out there so we can have a great Saturday moving the ball effectively.”
“It’s my responsibility to really make sure this thing looks the way coach Kelly wants it to look, have the menu, if you will, available to him,” Denbrock said.
LaFleur, meanwhile, spent the past four seasons as the quarterbacks coach of the Washington Redskins. The 33-year old began his coaching career at his alma mater, Saginaw Valley State, in 2003 as an offensive assistant and later served in the same role in 2004 and 2005 under Kelly at Central Michigan.
LaFleur played two seasons at Western Michigan before transferring to Saginaw Valley State, where he made his first career start at quarterback — a 28-21 victory — against Kelly’s Grand Valley State squad in 2000.
“[I] first got a chance to watch Matt as a player — just a great competitor, loved the way he played the game,” Kelly said. “… And then was able to hire him when I was at Central Michigan, did a great job developing a dual-threat quarterback that we had at Central Michigan in Dan LeFevour.
“I loved the way he was able to communicate with him and build a great relationship with him.”
Along with the new coaches, Kelly expressed the desire to transition back to an offense that he believes “is best suited for the personnel that we have.” Kelly said that philosophy starts at quarterback, where he would like to see more plays being made outside the pocket. Overall, the offense figures to move at a faster tempo.
“He likes to be very aggressive with what he does,” Denbrock said of Kelly’s offenses through the years. “I think that’s the direction we’re certainly moving into with the athletes that we have. We really feel like we’re in a position offensively to push the tempo a little bit more and to put our playmakers in positions where they can make big plays and sustain drives and do the things that all of us hope our offense looks like, one that’s dynamic, can score more points and can move the football consistently.”
Much of that dynamism will start at quarterback, where Kelly made sure to note there will be a competition between Everett Golson and rising sophomore Malik Zaire for the starting role.
“I’m not ready to hand everything over to Everett,” Kelly said. “I like Everett … but I’m also somebody that wants to make sure … that we give everybody an opportunity to compete for that position.”
In addition to working with LeFevour — who graduated from Central Michigan as the only player in NCAA history with 12,000 career passing yards and 2,500 career rushing yards — LaFleur coached Redskins quarterback and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III the last two seasons in Washington.
“There’s a fine line that you can’t be too strict in your teachings to take that playmaker ability out of that quarterback,” LaFleur said.
Kelly said rising senior linebacker Ben Councell and rising senior center Nick Martin “have exceeded all expectations” in their recoveries. Councell tore his left ACL against Navy on Nov. 2, and, Martin tore his left MCL three weeks later against BYU.
“If they walked through here right now, you would not know they had surgery,” Kelly said. “They are well ahead of schedule.”
Kelly said rising senior linebacker Jarrett Grace’s recovery is progressing, but at a slower pace. Grace broke the fibula in his right leg Oct. 5 against Arizona State.
Rising junior safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder) could be cleared for contact in April, but Kelly said they may hold him out of contact through the spring and have his first contact come in the fall.
Kelly added that rising sophomore linebacker Doug Randolph (shoulder), rising sophomore offensive lineman John Montelus (shoulder) and rising senior defensive lineman Chase Hounshell (shoulder) have all had “excellent” recoveries.
Rising senior defensive lineman Tony Springmann (knee, infection) “is moving around quite well” and “has made some really good progress.” Kelly said if he continues to show no side effects, he could possibly be cleared for spring practice.