Kelly discusses defensive depth ahead of opener
Brian Plamondon | Monday, August 31, 2015
At Thursday’s post-practice press conference, the big news involved the announcement of the 2015 captains, in addition to the news Ishaq Williams will not play this year. Brian Kelly touched on many facets outside of these two, however, as the Irish begin their first game week of the season.
While most of the news out of practice had to do with the depth chart a week before the Irish kickoff their season against Texas, Kelly did take some time to go over injury news, particularly at middle linebacker.
Senior captain and linebacker Joe Schmidt’s playmaking ability is not yet back to where it was last year at the time of his injury, Kelly said.
“I don’t think he’s there yet,” Kelly said. “He’s gradually getting back to that level. He’s getting better each and every week that we’ve seen him.
“He’s probably a half step from where he was last year, but physically as strong if not stronger. Probably had a lot thrust on him, but he’s made very good progress the last couple of practices.”
Schmidt’s backup at the position, graduate student Jarrett Grace, has likewise impressed in his return from a injury suffered against Arizona State in the 2013 Shamrock Series game.
“I think the guy that’s back to the level that we remember him is Jarrett Grace, physically,” Kelly said.
Up and down for safeties
Kelly cleared up any questions about the safety depth chart, naming senior Elijah Shumate and junior Max Redfield his starters. Backing those two up will be graduate student Avery Sebastian and sophomore Drue Tranquill, respectively. Furthermore, graduate student Matthias Farley will rotate in at safety in addition to his role as the nickelback. Although there doesn’t seem to be much competition for the starters to lose their jobs at this time, Kelly was nonetheless unhappy with the safety play in Thursday’s practice.
“If you were out at practice today, we were playing with nine players and two orange cones [on defense] — it was not a great day for our safeties,” Kelly said. “It’s just eye discipline, communication. We had a bad day today, but we’ve had a lot of good days.”
Handful of freshmen to see the field
Kelly named five freshmen who he envisions playing a role this upcoming season: receivers C.J. Sanders, Equanimeous St. Brown and Miles Boykin, tight end Alizé Jones and cornerback Nick Coleman. As for the rest, Kelly didn’t rule out the potential to find playing time.
“There’s probably a couple of guys that if we got into a tough situation we could pull them,” Kelly said. “I’d say right now what we’ve said to the guys is, ‘Look, you’re going down to the scout team, but you can definitely earn your way back up here.’”
Tillery keeps defensive line solid without Jones
Separate from those five, freshman defensive lineman Jerry Tillery is slated to start at nose tackle now that senior Jarron Jones has been lost for the season to a knee injury. Kelly has sung Tillery’s praises since the spring, but Thursday said he was happy with his continued development and lack of “dips” that come with being a true freshman.
“I would say that he has done a good job of fighting off some of those times where you slip here and there and has maintained a high level of play for a true freshman,” Kelly said.
Tillery’s backup — sophomore Daniel Cage — has also impressed.
“The guy that we’re excited about is Daniel Cage,” Kelly said. “Down to 307 pounds and really moving well. His volume continues to grow. With him and Jerry that’s been really big for us.”
The Irish open the season under the lights Saturday at 7:30 p.m. as the Texas Longhorns come to Notre Dame Stadium.