Kelly discusses expectations for spring practice and offseason changes
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, March 8, 2017
After a 4-8 season, change has been a big theme for Notre Dame heading into the offseason.
Change has already come in the form of six new coaches for the Irish, but head coach Brian Kelly said improvements in the team’s strength and conditioning will prove to be a major factor for the Irish in spring practice.
“Anytime that you go into the offseason and you make a number of changes, what influences your team the most is your strength and conditioning,” Kelly said. “And we have a whole new staff … in there that [is] influencing our guys over the last eight weeks.”
Specifically, Kelly said he wants his spring practices to be as competitive and intense as possible while still maintaining a healthy roster.
“First of all is skill development; [we’re] making sure that there’s a portion that we’re working on their skill,” Kelly said. “Putting them in competitive situations, putting fatigue, putting stress on them during competitive situations. To see those guys fight through those kinds of situations and handle themselves with great focus, with great attention to detail. Grit, grit. Grit is sustained effort over a long period of time. And having some adversity. So creating those situations in practice with an eye towards building those traits is what our practices will look like.”
Another departure from last season is the leadership structure Kelly has put in place. Traditionally, four captains are chosen a few weeks before the season commences. This time around, however, Kelly named captains for the upcoming season at the team’s end-of-the-year banquet in early December.
However, Kelly said the leadership isn’t limited just to captains, and he has put a system in place with more players serving in leadership roles.
“We’ve included our leadership group to not just be about our captains, but to be about a number of players,” Kelly said. “From our quarterbacks to players that we’ve identified this year and moving forward who will be future leaders in our program that have responsibilities, whether it’s in the locker room, our players’ lounge, whether they are swag team captains. We have eight teams that are responsible for a group of players, accountability teams. They’re out front, and they have to be in leadership positions, holding players accountable on a day-to-day basis. So that’s been going on for the last eight weeks.”
One future leader of the team is junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Kelly said he isn’t requiring Wimbush to take on too many responsibilities and hopes the Teaneck, New Jersey, native will grow into the mantle of leadership in time.
“What I’m asking him to do [is] probably more focused on him just taking care of himself,” Kelly said. “And we’ve got a lot of good leaders. I’m giving him some leadership opportunities, and I think he’s doing quite well. But we’re not asking him to come in here and lead the entire building. We’ve got seven — six captains right now. We’re going to probably have as many as seven, so he’s well supported in that role.
“He has to have a presence about him. Body language. He’s got to have confidence in himself. So those are the areas that I’m spending more time on than him having to take control of the entire football program.”
Also helping the Irish ease into spring practice is a lack of injuries. Kelly said junior cornerback Shaun Crawford, who tore his Achilles against Nevada in September, will be moving around quite a bit, but no contact drills are expected.
“I’m very optimistic that when we look at two of our big guys in terms of the injuries, Shaun Crawford being one with the Achilles — you know, he’s jumping, his change of direction, I think you’re going to see him extremely active in the spring,” Kelly said. “I don’t see him in a contact position at this time, but he won’t be cheated this spring. He’s really going to use spring as an opportunity for him to continue to grow as a football player.”
Another change Kelly said he has in mind for the offense is to let newly hired offensive coordinator Chip Long have full control. Long was the offensive coordinator at Memphis before being named to the same position at Notre Dame. Kelly said his goal is to have Long run an up-tempo offensive unit.
“Chip will be allowed to put all of his time and effort in running the offense and playing fast,” Kelly said. “I’m going to give him that autonomy to do that. I think that over the last few years, it’s been a committee running the offense. There is no committee now. It’s one guy that can kind of turn it loose and run it.
“When I was at Cincinnati, I was the guy. I was running it by myself. So I think going back to what I believe is the most efficient way to do it and get out of the way and let Chip run it.”