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Kelly talks KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams, injuries, departures

| Thursday, August 6, 2015

Nearing its one-year mark, the saga of the so-called “Frozen Five” continues to roll on, but the final two players involved — cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive lineman Ishaq Williams — might be near closure.

However, their fates and timetables may not necessarily be the same, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in his season-opening press conference Thursday.

Kelly said Notre Dame is confident the NCAA will soon rule Russell eligible to suit up in the blue and gold this fall.

KeiVarae Russell
KeiVarae Russell

“We certainly were guided through this process in terms of what he needed to do,” Kelly said. “He went out and did that, but it’s now out of our hands. But we feel strong about checking the boxes and doing the things that we were required to do along the way.”

The cornerback was readmitted to the University in June and has been training with the team this summer while taking classes.

With the return of Russell to practice, Kelly said the defense gains another leader in the secondary.

“He has a presence,” he said. “He communicates loudly. I love that. And it’s very positive, extremely positive. He’s not a guy that’s running around, screaming at somebody. When he says something, there is a positive note to it, a very positive note to it, that is well received.”

Williams was also readmitted to the University in June and has been taking classes, but Kelly said his situation is not as certain as Russell’s, though both are still seeking NCAA clearance.

“That process is ongoing,” Kelly said of Williams. “So I don’t have anything specific to report other than I know that process is still ongoing, and he will not practice until we get further information.

“ … They’re separate and distinctly different cases. So KeiVarae will practice, Ishaq will not, because the cases are different and both of them are going through the process right now.”

Kelly said he did not know when Williams’ case will be decided but added, “I think I have a general understanding that this is not going to be a long process for us.”

Backfield shuffle

Kelly did not go much further into detail on the ineligibility of junior running back Greg Bryant for the 2015 season, which was reported Tuesday, besides to call it a potential learning experience.

“ … He needs to continue to grow and continue to learn, and hopefully he’ll take this situation that he’s dealing with and learn from it,” Kelly said. “But I don’t know that I could speak to what he did wrong specifically other than he needs to continue to make good decisions.”

He added that the door is not closed for Bryant’s return to South Bend.

“I’d like to have Greg back if Greg’s committed to getting his degree at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “But he’s got to be committed.”

With Bryant off the roster, Kelly said senior C.J. Prosise, who played slot receiver the past two season but cross-trained with the running backs this spring, will line up exclusively in the backfield this fall.

Senior C.J. Prosise catches a punt during the Blue-Gold Game at LaBar Practice Complex. The receiver-turned-running back rushed for 67 yards on 12 carries in Saturday’s scrimmage.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Senior C.J. Prosise catches a punt during the Blue-Gold Game at LaBar Practice Complex. The receiver-turned-running back rushed for 67 yards on 12 carries in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Kelly said Bryant’s absence also opened up an “audition” at running back for sophomore receiver Justin Brent, who played primarily on special teams his first season.

“There is a deep pool of talent at the wide receiver position right now,” Kelly said. “I don’t know. It’s going to be hard to get him a lot of reps at wide receiver. But we’re going to take a look at him at running back, see if he can give us something there.”

Injury report

Kelly said senior defensive lineman Jarron Jones, who suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot in November and is now eight months post-operation, has been cleared for practice.

“Anybody that has that kind of injury at his size, we’re going to be smart with,” Kelly said. “But he’s a full-go guy. … We’re not going to grind him coming off of that surgery. But if he’s walking right now; he has no restrictions off of that surgery.”

In the linebackers corps, Kelly commended the strides back to full strength made by graduate students Joe Schmidt (broken ankle) and Jarrett Grace (broken leg) and said he expects both to have an impact in the season opener against Texas on Sept. 5.

Kelly said junior James Onwualu underwent wrist surgery in January and will practice will a splint but will not be limited otherwise.

In the secondary, the head coach said sophomore safety Drue Tranquill (ACL) has also been cleared for practice.

“He’s attacked rehab like no other player that we’ve had here in quite some time,” Kelly said. “He’s ready to go.”

The team announced Tuesday that junior tight end Mike Heuerman and junior linebacker Michael Deeb were granted medical hardship scholarships for the upcoming season. Kelly said Heuerman’s move was forced by two hernia surgeries, while Deeb’s resulted from a nerve injury in his elbow.

Transfers along the D-line

Kelly confirmed Thursday that sophomore defensive lineman Kolin Hill will transfer from Notre Dame this year. Hill’s departure was first reported by Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson on Wednesday night.

The head coach said Hill will return to his home state of Texas, where Notre Dame granted his release to pursue playing for another school.

The transfer is the second among Irish defensive lineman this summer, after fellow sophomore Jhonny Williams left the team in June.

Without going into great detail, Kelly said comparisons shouldn’t be made between the two former Irish players.

“One is from Berrien Springs, Michigan, and one is from Texas,” he said. “Different circumstances. They are totally different. They just happen to play the same position.”

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Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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