Media Day Notebook
Mike Monaco | Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Irish head coach Brian Kelly held court with reporters for roughly 45 minutes during Tuesday’s media day festivities following preseason practice inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Kelly touched on a variety of topics as the Irish head toward the season opener against Rice on Aug. 30 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Strengths of the team
Kelly highlighted senior kicker/punter Kyle Brindza, sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith, junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day and the entire offensive line as some of the stronger aspects of the squad.
Update on captains
Kelly said he expects to name team captains Monday. During his opening statement Tuesday, Kelly began by discussing how this year’s team has one of the smallest senior classes he’s had as a coach.
“But that doesn’t mean you can’t have great leadership,” Kelly said.
Kyle McCarthy battles cancer
Graduate assistant and former Irish safety Kyle McCarthy, who coached during practice Tuesday, has had four chemotherapy treaments.
“We’ve gotten an outpouring of support from this community to help get his chemo treatments done in a very quick timeframe.”
Kelly added that if McCarthy is forced off the field this season, the NCAA has allowed Notre Dame to hire another graduate assistant.
Offensive line crystallizes
Minor injuries throughout training camp have slowed the process of finding a starting offensive line, but Kelly said the Irish are nearing a set group. Kelly named a starting unit, though he did mention things are subject to change over the next few days. As it stands now the offensive line is, from left to right, junior Ronnie Stanley, senior Matt Hegarty, senior Nick Martin, graduate student Christian Lombard and sophomore Steve Elmer.
Kelly said sophomore Mike McGlinchey (tackle) and senior Conor Hanratty (guard) will be the first reserves in.
Jarrett Grace’s condition continues to improve
The road to recovery has been long and slow at times for senior linebacker Jarrett Grace, but Kelly said Grace seems to have “crossed a big threshold” during the past two days, now being able to “strike his foot.”
“He’s probably a couple of weeks into the season before he’s probably ready to go,” Kelly said.
Other injury updates
Sophomore tight end Durham Smythe (hamstring) and sophomore linebacker Doug Randolph (bone bruise) were sidelined during practices open to the media Saturday and Tuesday, but Kelly said he expects both to return to practice Monday.
New defensive starters
Sophomore Isaac Rochell is penciled in as the starting strong-side defensive end in the absence of senior Ishaq Williams.
“[Rochell] is as strong a player as we have,” Kelly said. “He can make up some of those bits of inexperience with his strength.”
Kelly confirmed what was apparent each of the past two practices open to the media: sophomore James Onwualu has risen to the starting “Sam” linebacker position.
The receiver-turned-safety-turned-linebacker has taken quickly to the defensive side of the ball, Kelly said.
“He cares so much,” Kelly said. “He’s got so much pride that he spends hours just mastering his craft. He will not take a minute off if he doesn’t know what to do. So that’s what makes that kid a special player. He just wants to master what he does.”
Brindza is set to handle three roles—kickoffs, place-kicking and punting—again in 2014, as he did last season, according to Kelly. Freshman Tyler Newsome may be able to contribute in some kickoff scenarios to relieve Brindza, Kelly said.
Sophomore running back Greg Bryant and graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs are the two punt returners, per Kelly, and senior receiver Amir Carlisle will return kicks.