Kelly praises team’s depth at quarterback prior to Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game
Brian Plamondon | Thursday, April 16, 2015
In his last press conference before the annual Blue-Gold Game Saturday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly reflected on where his team stands with just two practices left in the spring.
Although Kelly has repeatedly said the quarterback situation will not be resolved soon, he made a bold statement about the prestige of the two competing signal callers, graduate student Everett Golson and junior Malik Zaire.
“I think at the quarterback position, maybe other than Ohio State, I would take our two quarterbacks, and I would take our two over Ohio State,” Kelly said. “But in terms of depth, I don’t know that anybody has a better situation than we do with the two quarterbacks that we have.”
Despite his praises, Kelly also took time to weigh in on what both quarterbacks need to continue to address.
“For Everett, it’s been pocket presence, take care of the football,” Kelly said. “For Malik, it’s accuracy in throwing the football and managing the offense.”
Kelly also highlighted a host of players — junior linebacker James Onwualu, sophomore cornerback Nick Watkins and junior safety Max Redfield and senior safety Elijah Shumate — who have impressed this spring, but was most happy with junior tight end Durham Smythe’s development.
“He’s really, in my eyes, kind of picked up where the Notre Dame tight ends need to be,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty clear that he’s going to be an important part of our offense.”
In 2014, Notre Dame’s defense struggled with the complexity of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme. But with the Irish finishing up VanGorder’s second spring with the program, Kelly said the defense has made significant strides.
“The thing that we struggled with a little bit was tempo,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot in terms of moving personnel in and out of the game. We got hurt a lot of times on having nickel personnel in the game on third down and when there were conversions on third down, we had nickel in the game and we’re running them out and we’re getting quick tempoed on that conversion on first down. We’ve learned a lot in our defensive substitutions and I think we’ve cleaned up terminology and I think in some instances we made it easier for our guys and they’ve adapted quite well. I’ve challenged them. We’ve run really fast out of this spring.
“I think our defense has done a nice job. I would add one other thing to that: We’re getting much better communication from the back end of our defense with both Redfield and Shumate as well.”
Senior defensive lineman Jarron Jones (Lisfranc injury) and graduate student linebacker Joe Schmidt (ankle) will be ready to go when Notre Dame opens organized team activities on June 5, Kelly said.
He also noted sophomore safety Drue Tranquill, who suffered an ACL tear in November, would no doubt be ready to go come fall camp.
“He’s moving extremely well,” Kelly said. “If we’re playing a game on Saturday, he could play. We just don’t need him.”
Similar to years past, the Blue-Gold Game will pit the offense against the defense, rather than having two distinct, full teams.
The biggest change, however, involves the quarterbacks; to better evaluate Golson and Zaire, the signal callers will be live in the first half.
“Both of those guys need to be who they are, and that’s who they are,” Kelly said on the decision. “They’re guys that need to move in the pocket, they make plays with their feet, and they both can run the football.”
In addition, Notre Dame has altered the scoring system so as to prevent the wide gap that developed on the scoreboard last year with the offense trumping the defense. The game’s first half will feature two 12-minute quarters, while the second half will consist of two 15-minute, running-clock quarters.
Kickoff for the Blue-Gold Game is 12:30 p.m. Saturday at LaBar Practice Complex.