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Kelly discusses Shamrock Series, injury updates

| Wednesday, November 18, 2015

This weekend marks No. 4 Notre Dame’s annual trip to a professional stadium for its yearly Shamrock Series game.

This time, however, it won’t be played in an NFL venue, but a baseball one instead, with Saturday’s game against Boston College held at Fenway Park.

The matchup isn’t Notre Dame’s first foray into historic baseball territory — the Irish (9-1) made a trip to the new Yankee Stadium for the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl — but it is a meaningful one for head coach Brian Kelly, a Massachusetts native.

“To play at Fenway Park is going to be exciting,” he said at his press conference Tuesday. “We’re really excited about the Shamrock Series. Going on the road has been something that we’ve really enjoyed. Playing in Boston, playing in front of great fans. We’ve got great support in New England and in particular Boston.”

Kelly said holding the game at Fenway fit in line with the previous locations of the annual trip for Notre Dame, calling it “a classic Shamrock Series,” and he hinted at other locations he’d like to play in the future.

“Whether it’s Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, I just think we do a great job of finding those iconic venues,” he said. “I’ll be excited if we could get Lambeau Field. I would be excited in terms of those classic venues. Fenway Park is one of those. This one is certainly a great one, and we’ll look forward to more just like this.”

Though he said he had not received a recent report on the conditions at Fenway for game, such as the placement of new turf for a football field or tight corners near the end zones, Kelly said he was confident they will be fine for Saturday. Because of the park’s close quarters for baseball games, the Irish and Eagles (3-7, 0-7 ACC) will share a sideline.

“They felt very comfortable with what they have put together,” he said. “We’ve seen pictures, the sidelines, the end zones seem to be adequate where we don’t seem to have a concern about our players and safety issues.

“[I] feel very comfortable, got a schematic of it. They laid down new sod, but we played on a lot of fields that laid down new sod fairly regularly in the NFL stadiums. So I’m fairly confident they’re a professional group and feel like the field condition shouldn’t be an issue.”

As with all Shamrock Series games, Notre Dame will technically be the home team for Saturday’s contest. But Boston College’s campus is located about 15 minutes away from Fenway, a proximity Kelly said did not concern him too much.

“I thought the Temple atmosphere and Clemson really prepared you for being in kind of that real hometown,” he said. “When you drive into the stadium and it’s all one team, you kind of are hit with that. Obviously when we get into the stadium, we think it’s going to be obviously a partial Notre Dame crowd. So I think our kids are well acclimated to that, and late in the season now, being on the road, I think they’ll be very level-headed about it.”


Depth chart shuffle

With junior linebacker James Onwualu (knee) and freshman receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (shoulder) out against the Eagles, the Irish shuffled around their two-deep depth chart for this weekened’s game.

Sophomore receiver Corey Holmes is now backing up junior Will Fuller in St. Brown’s place, while sophomore Greer Martini will fill in for Onwualu at the Sam linebacker position. Graduate student Jarrett Grace will back him up, though Kelly said both would receive playing time.

“I think we’ll get fundamentally sound football,” he said. “Both those guys are very conscientious players and both can play in space. Greer, I thought, did a very nice job as a cover down linebacker for us against Wake. Wake was in virtually all spread sets. He was out over a No. 2 receiver for virtually the entire game. When they get into more two tight end sets, Jarrett Grace will get the lion’s share of the play. But we’ll use those two as a tandem in the loss of James Onwualu.”

Kelly said Onwualu had been playing his best football before the ACL sprain in the first quarter against Wake Forest, which forced him to the sidelines and on a pair of crutches.

“Against Pittsburgh, he was aggressive off the edge, had a sack. He’s gone from being a very, very good cover down backer to somebody that was tackling effectively. And probably as big a loss in special teams — outstanding special teams player for us as well, so he will be sorely missed. Hopefully, we get him back here in a couple weeks.”


Injury report

Kelly announced last week there was a possibility senior defensive lineman Jarron Jones, who was ruled out for the season after suffering a torn MCL in fall camp, could make a return for an Irish postseason game.

He added another starter to that list Tuesday, this time in the form of a player whose position group has struggled in his absence.

“The guy who is making the best progress right now is [sophomore tight end] Durham Smythe,” Kelly said. “We’re encouraged with Durham that we may even get him back for a playoff situation or a bowl game, so he’s made great progress as well.”

Smythe, who tore his MCL against Virginia on Sept. 12, won’t be back in time to face Boston College this weekend, but Kelly said senior running back C.J. Prosise should be. Prosise, along with sophomore tight end Nic Weishar, sat out last week’s game against Wake Forest as a precaution after they both suffered concussions against Pittsburgh the week before.

“C.J.’s an elite player. Getting him back this week will be beneficial to our football team,” Kelly said.

Sophomore defensive lineman Daniel Cage, who also was held out against the Demon Deacons with a concussion, had not been cleared for Tuesday’s practice as Prosise and Weishar were, but Kelly said they were “encouraged” by his progress.

The head coach also gave an update on junior running back Tarean Folston, who tore his ACL against Texas on Sept. 5 but has apparently not let the injury subside his competitive nature.

“[He’s] doing well, making really good progress,” he said. “You know, it’s hard because you’ve got to keep up with [sophomore safety Drue] Tranquill, who is a freak in his rehab, but he’s matching him. And it’s great to have those guys on similar paths relative to the surgery because Tarean now has to have a bar, and it’s Tranquill. And Tranquill is a little bit ahead of him. Why is he a little ahead of you? So they’re both making great progress.”


Quote of the day

“He’s playing with some of that reckless abandon that, at times, he was kind of feeling his way through his role in his play, where now he’s really confident in what he’s doing and how he’s doing it.” – Kelly on senior defensive lineman Romeo Okwara, who is eighth in the country with nine sacks this season.

Senior defensive lineman Romeo Okwara pressures the quarterback during Notre Dame’s 28-7 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.Emma Farnan | The Observer
Senior defensive lineman Romeo Okwara pressures the quarterback during Notre Dame’s 28-7 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.
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