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Sports

Kelly covers more than just recruits

| Thursday, February 5, 2015

Irish coach Brian Kelly spoke a lot about recruits Wednesday during National Signing Day, but he also talked about several other crucial items, including returning players, injuries, possible coaching changes and three of the “frozen five” players.

Although the Irish have energetically recruited top prospects, Kelly said he and athletic director Jack Swarbrick were also actively working to ensure a few top talents returned. Kelly said it was critical to keep two juniors, defensive lineman Sheldon Day and left tackle Ronnie Stanley, from entering the NFL draft.

“We had great success with keeping a number of our players over the years, going back to Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Manti Te’o and Zack Martin,” Kelly said. “But I felt this year after a couple players leaving early, I wasn’t going to leave this up to a phone call. So I was going to go and visit both of them. … We really wanted to be aggressive showing them and their families why it was in their best interest to come back to Notre Dame.”

“If they weren’t good locker room guys, I wouldn’t have gotten on the plane,” Kelly said. “But they are good guys that needed to get their degree from Notre Dame, and that’s why we did it.”

Injuries

A number of the Irish are recovering from injury-plagued seasons and are preparing to return to action. Senior offensive lineman Conor Hanratty, however, will not return to play, Kelly said. Hanratty decided to end his football career due to the multiple concussions he has received during his football career.

“Connor Hanratty will not participate,” Kelly said. “He has made the decision that he will not participate. He is not going to play football again. And that is a decision he and his family made.”

Senior linebacker Jarrett Grace, who broke his leg in October 2013, will be back with the Irish soon enough, Kelly said.

“Jarett Grace vertical jumped 28.5 [inches] yesterday, had a 4.46 short shuttle, so he’s really close to being back to where he was,” Kelly said.

Junior safety Nicky Baratti, who had a season-ending shoulder injury last fall, will also return to practicing with the Irish, but will forego contact. 

“Nick Baratti is doing well; he’ll be cleared for spring,” Kelly said. “Probably no contact, but he’ll be cleared to go through everything in the spring, but we won’t let him do contact.” 

Three members of Notre Dame’s 2014 starting defense are currently rehabbing injuries suffered late in the season and seem to be on their way back to the field, Kelly said.

“[Sophomore safety] Drew Tranquill is coming back from ACL, but he’s so far ahead right now,” Kelly said. “I think he had 315 pounds on his back yesterday full squat at two and a half months. That’s crazy, he’s so far ahead of schedule. He’ll be doing some drill work in the spring. [Junior defensive lineman] Jarron [Jones] gets his boot off in the spring. [Senior linebacker] Joe Schmidt has had his boot off now for three or four weeks, and he’s starting to move through his rehab.”

Coaching Staff 

Kelly would not speak about his coaching staff, amidst rumors of some possible changes to the crew. However, Kelly assured the media he would be coming back. 

“We’ve got nine coaches today,” Kelly said. “We’re going to talk recruiting today. Any changes that we have on the staff we will definitely get you up to date on it, but I’m not going to get into it today talking about coaches, who’s coming, who’s staying. I’m staying. I’ll be here.”

Blue and Gold Game

With Campus Crossroads construction well under way on Notre Dame Stadium, Kelly said the annual spring Blue and Gold Game is still up in the air. 

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions about [the spring training game], but we’re probably not ready to make a decision on it yet,” Kelly said. “We’re probably gonna have some form of spring game. I think the destination is going to be somewhere here on campus; we just don’t know where it is going to be right now. Obviously the stadium is off line. We want to keep it on campus, but our options are limited, and the format has yet to be decided.”

The Unfrozen Five 

Kelly said cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive lineman Ishaq Williams are both working on their academics in order to return to Notre Dame, and to his knowledge, they will be back next fall.

“KeiVarae is working on classes right now at the University of Washington, and he’s had conversations with the appropriate people to get those classes transferred back here and to meet the needs he has relative to transfer requirements and meeting eligibility,” Kelly said. “There’s still some work to be done there, but I know he’s working towards getting that done, and our expectations are to have him back.

“Ishaq has similar criteria. His bar is a little bit more complicated, but he knows what he needs to do as well. So we’re hoping that both of them can get it done.” 

Senior Davaris Daniels talked about returning to Notre Dame, Kelly said, but due to some of the requirements needed to come back elected to enter the NFL draft.

“I think there were some complications with eligibility that we were going to have to work through, some high standards to be met,” Kelly said. “There were some academic eligibility issues that were going to be difficult for [Daniels] to meet.”

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