Kelly discusses defending triple option, special teams struggles, concussions
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Despite Notre Dame’s first win in a month over Miami, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was not spending any time in his Tuesday press conference praising his team.
Why not? Because Kelly was already worried about preparing for Navy.
“Obviously, [Navy head coach] Ken Niumatalolo and what he’s done at Navy has been well documented,” Kelly said. ‘This year they’re already beating a top-five team in Houston, a team that we know quite well in terms of playing them over my past six years here — a ton of respect for what they do offensively, defensively, and special teams. So it will be a great challenge for our football team.”
With Navy known for its triple-option offense, Kelly said the key to stopping the Midshipmen is to stay disciplined on defense.
“They’ve had to learn to play with discipline in other fashions, so I think that has been built in, in a sense, of playing with discipline and other forms of offenses that we have faced,” Kelly said. “So this will be their first foray and obviously playing a very, very difficult offense. I think if it was Week 1 or Week 2, there would be more hesitancy, but these guys are confident that they can do the job and do it with discipline.”
Another key for the Irish, according to Kelly: rotating more players into the game.
“This is a game where we’ll have to play more players. It’s a different game,” Kelly said. “It’s a downhill game, and it’s a physical game where you’re tackling, you’re running every play.
“For example, we’re going to have to ask more from [sophomore safety] Nicco Fertitta this week. This is a week he’ll have to be more involved. [Freshman safety] Jalen Elliott will have to be more involved. So our safety position will be certainly — from a depth standpoint — called on to contribute more this week.”
And with two triple-option opponents coming up in the next two weeks in Navy and Army, the “swag team” or the scout team that deals specifically with the triple-option will make its appearance in the regular team’s practices.
“Yeah, the flag team, they’re up and running,” Kelly said. “We started with them taking option about two weeks before the bye week, and they began in the first period of our practices just to get them sharp so this wouldn’t be the first time they were touching the football.”
The Irish special teams had a rough outing on Saturday: the unit gave up two fumbled punts — one for a touchdown — and failed to recover an onside kick. Kelly said he and the coaching staff have to continue to work on getting the younger players reps to overcome inexperience.
“We’ve had some lapses,” Kelly said. “We’ve had a long punt return against Syracuse because we had a freshman who thought the returner gave a fair catch. We’ve had some things that you would scratch your head. Nothing systemic in terms of schemes or players as much as these are head scratchers. So, yeah, we’re taking our lumps right now, but we’ve got to keep coaching them. …
“So I don’t blame anybody, but we didn’t work on that kind of thing enough because we’ve got some young players. That’s kind of how I look at it. Yeah, they’re inexperienced, but we knew they were going to be, and we just have to do a better job.”
Kelly also said sophomore wide receivers C.J. Sanders and Chris Finke will both compete for the punt returning job this week and that the starter will be named closer to game time.
Three Irish players suffered concussions against the Hurricanes: junior linebacker Greer Martini, senior offensive lineman Colin McGovern and junior defensive lineman Daniel Cage. Kelly said Martini and McGovern passed a cardiovascular test on Tuesday and will practice tomorrow with no contact.
“Yeah, we’ve made progress yesterday,” Kelly said. “So cardiovascular is the next piece, which we went through yesterday, and Greer Martini will go through practice today in a non-contact [role]. So he’ll be able to go through our 11-on-11, but we’ll put a red jersey on him so he doesn’t contact. But he’ll be able to get through all of our reads and make sure he gets a full day of practice from that standpoint.
“Colin McGovern will do the same. He’ll go through practice. He passed through his cardiovascular test yesterday, and he’ll go through a similar protocol where he’ll get into a lot of our non-contact type of drill work today.”
Kelly also said Cage did not take the cardiovascular test due to a scheduling conflict, so the defensive lineman will be one day behind Martini and McGovern and will practice Wednesday at the earliest.