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Don’t expect to see whole new system just yet

Laura Myers | Thursday, April 22, 2010

The helmets will still be gold. The weather will still be awful. The field will probably still be 100 yards.

That’s about all that will be familiar Saturday as fans get their first glimpse of the new Notre Dame team, with a different coach on the sidelines and a different quarterback leading the huddle.

Supporters will head to the Blue-Gold Game looking for proof that change is not always a bad thing.

But at this point, the Irish have nothing to prove.

It would be a stretch to say that Irish coach Brian Kelly has installed a new offense and defense for the scrimmage. A more accurate statement is that Kelly has begun to install his new scheme and the players have begun to learn it. The entire breadth of the new systems certainly won’t be seen Saturday. The coaches seem hopeful that a majority of the new offense will be installed in time for Purdue in September.

Most of the spring practices were spent getting players used to the speed of practice and teaching them about expectations. “Progress” meant being able to go all-out for 75 active minutes of a two-hour practice. On Saturday, it will be the same; the team will be expected to go full-speed through the first half, but may need to tone it down for the second.

The defense won’t be given full rein during the game, either. That’s for good reason, as it would be irresponsible to allow an important offensive player to get hurt in a game that doesn’t matter. But it means that sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o, one of the more entertaining players on the defense, probably won’t be making any massive hits, nor will any others.

Junior quarterback Dayne Crist, recovering from off-season knee surgery, will play but has admitted that he is not at 100 percent. Junior tight end Kyle Rudolph, recovering from off-season shoulder injury, will be used sparingly.

The same goes for junior linebacker Darius Fleming and sophomore wide receiver Theo Riddick, both of whom will be important figures in the fall. 

In short, the spring game will be absent much of the excitement a real game would bring, in terms of interesting game plans, big tackles and star players.

Through 13 practices, the same words have sprung up over and over. “Evaluation,” the coaches said. “Competition,” the players translated.

And that won’t change by Saturday. The glorified practice will certainly showcase some of Notre Dame’s excellent talent, but it will really be nothing more than a couple extra hours of film for the coaches to dissect leading into the summer session. 

It might allow them to make a decision on whether senior Taylor Dever and junior Trevor Robinson should play right guard or right tackle. Or whether freshman receiver Tai-ler Jones is ready to line up opposite Michael Floyd. It might allow them to answer 1,000 other little questions.

Or it could answer nothing at all.

In his last scheduled interview before the Blue-Gold Game, Kelly had little to say about a depth chart.

“We need more time,” he said. “We need all summer, we need preseason camp. We’re going to need all our time.”

Kelly was speaking specifically about the wide receiver situation, but his message applies to every aspect of Notre Dame’s team as it stands.

The Irish need all the time they can get, and it seems clear from the spring that Kelly will use that time wisely. After a summer of hard conditioning and a grueling camp in August, when the new recruits have been added and more of an offense installed, the team will have something to prove. But not yet.

The Blue-Gold Game will certainly be exciting for anyone looking to see Brian Kelly in action. But it won’t hold any indication of what this team is capable of.

And it shouldn’t.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Laura Myers at [email protected]