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Notebook: Kelly opens spring season

| Friday, February 28, 2014

It may not feel like it outside, but spring football is here.

With wind chills in the negatives, Irish coach Brian Kelly conducted his opening press conference Friday morning in advance of spring practice, which begins Monday morning. Notre Dame will hold 14 practices (the last being April 9) before the annual Blue-Gold Game on April 12.

Consistency needed from quarterbacks

Kelly said senior quarterback Everett Golson has checked off most of the leadership boxes, but the head coach added he’s looking for more consistency from the returning signal-caller.

“It’s never been a question about his work ethic,” Kelly said. “I think the quarterback, just by its position, is going to be a leader. So what we’re working on with Everett is just consistency.”

Kelly said this is a “huge” spring for sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire.

“He’s got to step up. He’s got to show a maturity level in terms of leadership, taking over the offense. … He’s got to practice with the vision of him being the starter against Rice [in the season-opener]. And that’s the way he’s going to be evaluated every single day.”

Farley, Onwualu among position changes

Senior Matthias Farley has moved to cornerback from safety, where he started eight games in 2013 and 11 in 2012.

“We think that he can be a very good player and especially a tackler from an outside-in position,” Kelly said.

Sophomore James Onwualu has moved to safety from receiver. Onwualu tallied two receptions for 34 yards in his rookie campaign while playing 12 games.

“That was a tough one for me because he’s so valuable offensively in a number of ways,” Kelly said. “But he’s got great contact skills. He’s a ferocious competitor. And I wanted to take a look at him because he’s such a physical player.”

Senior Josh Atkinson, who cross-trained at cornerback and receiver at times last fall, is listed as a cornerback. Senior Amir Carlisle is listed as a running back and receiver, while junior Will Mahone is listed as solely a receiver.

Injury updates

Kelly said senior linebacker Jarrett Grace, who broke the fibula in his right leg Oct. 5 against Arizona State, is making slow progress and will be non-contact in the spring.

“We don’t think that there’s going to be a problem,” Kelly said. “We took a bone scan. Everything looks like it’s moving in the right direction. It’s just one of those slow-moving processes. But we believe that there’s not going to be any roadblocks for him to be ready for the fall.”

Kelly said junior safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be able to be evaluated fully even if he has some contact restriction.

Senior center Nick Martin, who tore his left MCL on Nov. 23 against BYU, will not engage in contact activities during the spring, but will do everything “against air,” according to Kelly, who added that Martin has made “incredible progress.”

Kelly said senior linebacker Ben Councell will not participate in contact activities, either. Councell tore his left ACL against Navy on Nov. 2

Sophomore cornerback Devin Butler (shoulder) and senior defensive lineman Tony Springmann (knee, infection) are out as well.

Kelly said graduate student offensive lineman Christian Lombard (back), senior defensive lineman Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and sophomore linebacker Doug Randolph (shoulder) are ready to go for the spring.

Coaching responsibilities adjusted

New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will coach the inside linebackers, while former safeties coach Bob Elliott will now handle the outside linebackers. Kerry Cooks, who had coached the cornerbacks, is now in charge of all defensive backs.

On offense, new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who previously coached the outside receivers, will coach all receivers, and Tony Alford will only coach the running backs, not the slot receivers, too.

Notre Dame also added three new graduate assistants: former NFL fullback Ryan Mahaffey (offense), Mike Hiestand (defense) and Kyle McCarthy. Hiestand is the son of Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, and McCarthy played safety at Notre Dame from 2005-09.

Replacing Zack Martin

Kelly said Lombard, junior Ronnie Stanley, sophomore Steve Elmer and sophomore Mike McGlinchey will all compete for the starting left tackle position left vacant after the graduation of Zack Martin.

“We’re probably going to go with who’s more comfortable in the position,” said Kelly, who noted he doesn’t put too much emphasis on the distinction between left and right tackle at the collegiate level.

Leadership still a question

After losing three juniors to the NFL Draft, six graduate students and 21 seniors Kelly discussed the search for leadership.

“In an ideal world, you want your best players to be your best leaders,” Kelly said. “That’s what you’d like. Sometimes that’s not the case.

“I think with this group in [2014], our best players can be our best leaders. And they may not all be seniors. I think we’ve got some great seniors. I think all of our seniors are committed. But we may have some great underclassmen that are great leaders too.”

Kelly on Shembo

Kelly spoke about former Irish linebacker Prince Shembo’s comments regarding the Lizzy Seeberg sexual assault case.

At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week, Shembo confirmed he was the player involved in the investigation but said he was advised not to talk about it while at Notre Dame.

“That was a collaborative decision,” Kelly said. “I don’t make any decisions independent when it comes to major decisions at this university. The head football coach works in concert with our administration, so we made a decision based upon the information that we had, that we felt it was in Prince’s best interest that this was not a matter that needed to be discussed, but that was certainly something that he could’ve decided to discuss.

“We didn’t threaten him with, he couldn’t play or we were going to put him on the bench or throw him out of school. It was still his decision. But in talking to his parents and talking to Prince, we felt because of the information that we had in front of us that it was a matter that be left alone at the time.”

In 2010, Seeberg, a Saint Mary’s student, accused a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her. On Sept. 10, 2010, Seeberg committed suicide.

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

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