Notre Dame makes final tweaks before Texas
Mary Green | Friday, September 4, 2015
Junior quarterback Malik Zaire will enter a high-pressure situation Saturday when he begins his first season as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, but head coach Brian Kelly doesn’t want Zaire believing he has to put the whole team on his back.
“As I told him, you don’t have to be the reason why we won. You can’t be the reason why we lost,” Kelly said in his press conference Thursday. “You’ve got 10 other guys around you who are really good playmakers. Get the ball to them, get it to the right play. If he does that, he’s going to do very, very well for us.”
Just like many of the 80,000-plus fans crammed into Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Kelly said his gaze will be focused on his new quarterback.
“Eyes are still going to be centered on the quarterback play,” he said. “As much as we’d like to say Malik’s a veteran, he’s still not. He played really in one game for us last year, and he didn’t play the whole game.
“Malik is gonna have his moments where he’s got to settle into the game, and emotion versus enthusiasm is big for him. He can be emotional at times, and we have to transfer that into being just enthusiastic.”
Of the 33 true freshmen listed on the Irish roster, five will have the chance to see playing time against Texas on special teams, Kelly said: receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders, running back Josh Adams, cornerback Nick Coleman and kicker Justin Yoon.
Two of them are slated to start for Notre Dame, Sanders as punt returner and Yoon at kicker.
Two other freshmen are also listed as second-stringers on the team’s depth chart: Jerry Tillery on the defensive line behind sophomore Daniel Cage, and Alizé Jones at tight end alongside three other players. Kelly said Tuesday both of them should play this weekend.
Freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford underwent surgery Thursday for a torn ACL suffered Aug. 19 in practice.
“It came out great, great reports from Brian Ratigan, our team [orthopedic surgeon],” Kelly said. “He is resting comfortably at St. Liam’s, and we feel really good about his recovery.”
Crawford drew praise from his coaches and teammates during the preseason and was making a push for immediate playing time before the injury.
Kelly said there were no other injuries to report before Saturday’s matchup. He added senior running back C.J. Prosise, who was sidelined earlier in the preseason for a hip flexor injury, is fully recovered.
“He’s had two solid weeks of practice to get where we need him to be, so we have no concerns or issues with his health,” Kelly said.
Two cogs of Notre Dame’s defense will hit the field against the Longhorns after long absences from competition: senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell and graduate student linebacker Jarrett Grace.
While Kelly said he always believed KeiVarae would inevitably lace up again for either the Irish or another team, he was less optimistic with Grace. However, the head coach said Grace will lineup with the kickoff team Saturday.
“I just didn’t know if Jarrett was ever going to play football again because of the injury and the severity of it,” Kelly said. “Probably been in his hospital room more than any one player that I’ve coached, so I can say that firsthand that there were doubts in my mind after, about leaving him with no doubt that he would play, but I doubted it myself when I was leaving that he would ever play again, so that’s going to be great to see him.”