Kelly discusses Kizer’s progress, Hunter’s defensive reps
Alex Carson | Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer ran his record as a starter to 6-1 in Saturday’s 42-30 win over Pittsburgh, accounting for all six of No. 5 Notre Dame’s touchdowns at Heinz Field — and Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he saw further improvements from his signal caller.
“I think in terms of all things, from the run game to protections, it was a very good game [for Kizer],” Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “I’ll just say his pocket presence, moving in the pocket, escape-ability, I graded him out very, very high. I would probably say right now that he did some things in this game that he hasn’t done all year.”
Kelly said he felt Kizer’s game Saturday was his best yet for Notre Dame (8-1).
“I think that probably is because he’s gaining so much more confidence and seeing some things that he feels really comfortable with that has allowed him to now elevate his game to the level that it is right now,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he’s seen that confidence growth in various areas from the sophomore since his first start against Georgia Tech on Sept. 19.
“I think each and every week has been one where he’s gaining more and more confidence in different things,” Kelly said. “Different throws that he struggled with, he’s not struggling with. Different reads that may have not come as easy. I think just overall there’s growth in so many different areas.”
Hunter’s defensive reps
Junior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. became Notre Dame’s first true “two-way” player in nine years Saturday when he saw limited action in the Irish secondary at nickelback, and Kelly said Hunter was a prime candidate to play both ways since he doesn’t play every down when the offense is on the field.
“Torii Hunter shares reps offensively, so we felt like he was a great fit to do some work on defense,” Kelly said. “I’m more in that vein than I am taking a dominating player off of one side of the ball.”
Kelly was asked about whether or not junior linebacker Jaylon Smith could make a similar move to the offensive side of the ball; he said while Smith could have success with the ball, the Irish staff didn’t want to disrupt a “special” defender’s play.
“When you have a dominating player like a Jaylon Smith where you’re not going to take him off the field, [we] really didn’t consider that because he’s just so important to our defense,” Kelly said.
“ … We know Jaylon can play running back, he can play wide receiver, he can play tight end, a number of different positions. But it never was a thought that we had.”
Kelly said Malik Zaire’s return from a broken ankle suffered Sept. 12 against Virginia is going well and that the junior quarterback has even seen limited practice participation.
“[Zaire’s] moving along very well,” Kelly said. “He’s got two more weeks and then the boot comes off. He’s been throwing in practice. Some of our drills where there’s not a lot of movement, he’s in there already throwing. He already feels part of it again.”
While Zaire hasn’t been on the field for the Irish since the second game of the season, his impact is still being felt, especially as he works with his replacement as starter, Kizer.
“He’s been great in the meeting rooms, on the sideline in games,” Kelly said. “After [Kizer] comes to the sideline … I’ll say a couple things to him, then he talks to Coach Sanford on the phone, then he goes over to Malik and gets the recap and any information he’s seen. It’s been really good dialogue and has built a strong relationship between the two.”
Zaire has traveled with the Irish to each road game since his injury.
In other injury news, junior offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey suffered a sprained ankle in Saturday’s win over Pitt, but Kelly said he isn’t concerned.
“It shouldn’t be anything that prohibits him from practicing on Tuesday,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame will learn this week’s College Football Playoff rank Tuesday at 7 p.m. and faces two three-win squads — Wake Forest and Boston College — the next two weeks.
However, Kelly said his Irish squad isn’t looking ahead to a Nov. 28 matchup against fellow one-loss team, No. 11 Stanford.
“Those things will take care of themselves when we get there,” Kelly said. “They’ve done a great job of staying in the moment, staying in the present. We’ve got great leadership. They clearly understand it’s about preparation from week to week.
“Their focus is on this week because it’s the seniors’ last home game. There’s a lot that goes into that. So our guys are really excited about playing at home, playing Wake Forest. That really preoccupies all of our guys.”