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Kelly discusses injuries, quarterback depth, linebacker lineup

| Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Two games into the season and with 10 left on the schedule, head coach Brian Kelly confirmed Tuesday the Irish have lost their fifth starter to injury. This time, it’s junior tight end Durham Smythe, who tore his right MCL against Virginia last Saturday.

Notre Dame junior tight end Durhma Smythe celebrates after a score during Saturday's 34-27 win over Virginia at Scott Stadium.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Notre Dame junior tight end Durhma Smythe celebrates after a score during Saturday’s 34-27 win over Virginia at Scott Stadium.

Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference the injury came in the fourth quarter, right before Notre Dame’s game-winning touchdown. He underwent surgery for both his knee and right shoulder, which was injured against Texas on Sept. 5, according to Kelly.

With Smythe out, sophomore Tyler Luatua moves into the starting tight end role, backed up by freshman Alizé Jones, sophomore Nic Weishar and graduate student Chase Hounshell.

“I think each one of them has some different levels of, I want to say, expertise, but strengths relative to what we think they can do,” Kelly said of his tight ends. “I think you’ll see them all play, no question. I don’t think there is just one guy.

“I think Durham was able to do a lot of different things, so now I think you’ll see we’ll go deeper with the tight ends. But I feel very confident that in all of them that we’ll get the kind of play necessary at that position.”

Five Notre Dame starters have now been sidelined for the 2015 due to injury: Smythe, junior quarterback Malik Zaire, junior running back Tarean Folston, senior defensive lineman Jarron Jones and freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford. Zaire was also injured in the Virginia game, while Folston was hurt against Texas. Jones and Crawford’s injuries came during fall camp.

“It’s just one of those things that, is there anything that you could have done differently in that situation?” Kelly said. “That’s certainly what I try to do in each one of these situations, and that one [with Smythe], there was nothing you could do about it. It was just part of the game. I do, in fact, look at all of them, if there is anything we do with injury prevention.”

Kelly said his message to his team is not to wallow in self-pity over the recent string of bad luck with injuries.

“I think any team kind of looks at it and says, boy, why us?” he said. “But as I told our team, no one really cares. Certainly those that do are happy that you got more injuries because they’re in it for their own teams. So just no excuses, you know? Let’s go play.

“We’ve got players that will step up, and we’ll get through it. Everybody’s got to deal with some adversity, and this is our end of it, and we’ll be stronger for it.”


Wimbush to play in 2015

At the start of the season, Notre Dame had planned on keeping freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush on the sidelines to give him more time to develop, as the team had done previously for Zaire and sophomore DeShone Kizer.

However, with Kizer now the starter after Zaire’s injury, Kelly said the former third-stringer Wimbush would see playing time this season as Kizer’s backup, and not just only in blowout games like Kizer did against Texas.

“He’s going to have to play this year,” Kelly said of Wimbush. “So I haven’t decided yet, but he’s going to play this year. Let’s try to get him as much experience as possible, and we’re going to prepare him this week as if he’s going to play and go from there.”

While Wimbush, a highly touted recruit out of St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey, certainly brings a talented skillset to his game, Kelly said Kizer’s experience in the program led to him sliding into the starting slot.

“DeShone has had so much more time to develop into this position than Brandon, and we’ll see where it goes,” Kelly said. “Brandon will get second-team reps for the first time. DeShone’s been getting it since the spring, so he’s got a lot more room for growth.”

Irish sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer evades a tackle during Saturday's 34-27 win over Virginia at Scott Stadium.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Irish sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer evades a tackle during Saturday’s 34-27 win over Virginia at Scott Stadium.

Linebacker rotation

Until Kelly announced graduate student Joe Schmidt would start at the middle linebacker position during fall camp, there were still some questions as to who would step into that role, with Schmidt, graduate student Jarrett Grace and sophomore Nyles Morgan all contending for the job.

However, after the first two games, Schmidt has seen significantly more minutes on the field than his two teammates, which Kelly said can be attributed to a number of factors.

“Jarrett has been hampered by an ankle and a bit of a hamstring, so he has not been healthy the last week or so, and he’s still not a hundred percent,” Kelly said. “So that’s one of the reasons. If he was a hundred percent, you probably would have seen him a little bit last week.

“And we really like Nyles, but I think it goes to probably more about wanting Joe’s communication out there. He’s practicing well, but if we had to go with Nyles, we’d feel good about it.”

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

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