Kelly evaluates progress in tackling, offense in early practices
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, March 23, 2017
With the Blue-Gold Game under a month away, Notre Dame’s spring session intensified Wednesday as the team went through its first day of practice with pads.
“There wasn’t a big dropoff today,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “Usually, you go two days and then you take a week off. It only took us a couple of periods to get back up to form. That was nice to see. We forced the action early with some contact and I think that was the right move because it got everybody in the right frame of mind for how we want to practice.”
One of the main focuses of the first padded practice was tackling — an area of the game the Irish struggled with last season.
“[I] felt like we needed to make up for a little lost ground, got in tackling today for the first day,” Kelly said. “That’ll be an emphasis, we’ll tackle this spring, try to make up for a little lost ground we had.
“I thought we need to tackle a little bit, I thought we were soft in our practices. … I thought we needed to thud the back more instead of tagging off, it built a lot of bad habits. Our backs need to get hit a little bit. I made sure that was part of our practice routine that had been missing [before].”
In addition to working on tackling, the defense is in the process of figuring out who will play the rover position in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s new defensive scheme. Kelly said the team is currently testing out a number of players including senior safety Drue Tranquill and junior linebacker Asmar Bilal.
“I think we have to really figure out what the coordination is going to be at the safety position,” Kelly said. “How much does Drue play down at rover, how much does he play back? We’re going to play Asmar out there as well. The first four teams we play are run-heavy teams and we may need a little bit of an Asmar Bilal out there as well. So that coordination is more of a work in progress.”
Kelly said he wants to keep Tranquill at safety to help teach the young position group the ropes, but said the rover position fits his skill set well.
“We all know what [Tranquill’s] strengths are,” Kelly said. “He’s a solid tackler. I don’t think there’s any safety in college football who wants to get matched up one-on-one with a skilled slot receiver. This would minimize that when you play him closer to the ball as a rover and he’s pretty quick off the edge. I think we put him in a really good position to maximize his skillset. Plus, he’s a really smart player.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the focus remains on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who will take the reins of Kelly’s offense. Wimbush spent part of his spring break in California with quarterback coach George Whitfield. Kelly said he likes that Wimbush stayed active, but said sessions with external quarterback coaches don’t vastly improve any player.
“I have no problem with him working out with George Whitfield,” Kelly said. “George really doesn’t work on the specifics to the offense. George is really working on the quarterback and throwing the football and moving the pocket. … When it comes to the playbook, when it comes to his teammates, when it comes to his coaches here, Brandon understands that when the rubber hits the road, those are the guys that matter the most. He knows when it’s time for Notre Dame football, he knows where the focus is.”
In Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long’s offense, Wimbush will have opportunities to run, but will not get many designed quarterback runs, Kelly said.
“He’ll be a runner in the offense,” Kelly said. “Do we want him to carry the ball 20 times? No. I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling quarterback power, or single runs. He’ll have options, hand it off, throw the ball on the perimeter. I think you’ll have that more than you’ll have proscribed quarterback runs.”
On the offensive line, a pair of current freshmen are engaged in a tight competition for the right tackle slot. Kelly said he plans to shift senior Alex Bars to right guard and open up the tackle spot for either Tommy Kraemer or Liam Eichenberg.
“I think there’s a very competitive situation with Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg at that tackle position,” Kelly said. “I think we would prefer to get [Bars] in at the guard position. We know that he can play the tackle position. Those two freshmen are the two guys we’ve mapped out the right tackle position for. They’re going to battle.”
Junior defensive lineman Elijah Taylor suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his foot during practice, Kelly said, and he expects Taylor to be able to be fully cleared in July.
“He had a Lisfranc fracture, we had surgery,” Kelly said. “We’ve had good success with their repairs. [Taylor] got stepped on in the second practice. We’ll be able to train around the injury, full range of motion moving around in June, probably full clearance sometime in July.”