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Kelly talks Blue-Gold Game, injuries and player development

| Saturday, April 16, 2016

With uncertainty at several positions, Notre Dame will use Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game as yet another evaluation tool for the numerous positional battles currently taking place on the roster.

Several alumni of the program will be on campus this weekend for the event that has become a celebration of the school’s storied tradition over the years. With that being said, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said the Blue-Gold Game goes beyond a normal scrimmage for the team this year, as more players than usual will have something to prove this weekend.

“We got a lot of guys that are gonna step into some roles that they haven’t been in before, and I want them to treat this like a game situation,” Kelly said. “This is not just a glorified scrimmage to them. They better be focused and locked in. I want their demeanor to be such that they’re getting ready to compete in a game. That’s why it was important for me to get this to be a Blue versus Gold and not the offense versus defense.”

Although this year’s scoring system will be normal, Kelly said the offense will play at a slowed tempo and avoid two tight end sets, while the defense will be less aggressive with its pressures. Outside of these tweaks, Kelly said he wants the game to serve as a realistic measuring stick of the roster.

“I’ve always tried to get this game to be as realistic as possible, given what your roster looks like, because I think you got to take advantage of [this game],” Kelly said. “ … Let’s find out what you’re like in the locker room tomorrow.”

And at no position will their be more attention paid to than at quarterback, where senior Malik Zaire and junior DeShone Kizer will square-off.

Irish senior quarterback Malik Zaire scrambles during spring practice.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Irish senior quarterback Malik Zaire scrambles during spring practice.

“Both of them want to be the starter, badly,” Kelly said. “ … I made them both live, so they’re going against each other. I’m doing it for a reason because I want them to be in a competitive situation where we can evaluate. We split the squad, we tried to get them balanced as best we could and let this be one more evaluation tool for both of these guys in this game. It’s important to them.”


Out for Blue-Gold Game

Following the last spring practice prior to the Blue-Gold Game on Friday, Kelly said junior tight end Nic Weishar will be held out of the contest with a high ankle sprain.

He was not the only player declared out for the game Friday. Kelly said senior receiver Corey Robinson will continue to sit with the concussion he suffered earlier this spring. Robinson met with sports neurologist Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher last week to evaluate his football future, and Kelly said he expects Robinson come to a decision on his return in the next few weeks.

“He came back feeling really good about the meeting, and I think a decision will be forthcoming relative to what his future is,” Kelly said. “But it was great that we were able to get him with somebody with that kind of knowledge, and I know he feels a whole lot better about that meeting.”

Another player who will not play Saturday and might not return to the team is junior defensive lineman Grant Blankenship. Kelly announced Friday that Blankenship has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, and a decision on his potential return will be made after Saturday’s contest.

“He’s been suspended from the team,” Kelly said. “ … [His return] is yet to be determined. … The standards that are set within the program have not been met, so I’ll meet with him after the spring game, and we’ll decide what the course is from here on out.”


Player development

As the spring practice season comes to a close, Kelly spent much of Friday’s press conference reflecting on the development of several players. In the passing game, Kelly said senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. and sophomore tight end Alizé Jones have become key weapons and potential focus points of the team’s air attack.

“He’s done everything … whatever we’ve asked him to do,” Kelly said of Hunter. “He’s developed his game as more than just an inside receiver. He’s had to play outside [and] inside, so he’s developed more ball skills, more awareness of his position than any one receiver.”

“He’s got multi-dimensional opportunities,” Kelly said of Jones. “He’s a big-time athlete that can do some things for us. My preference is to find a place for him, and if that means playing him a little outside, then we’ll accommodate him.”

In the backfield, Kelly said sophomore running back Dexter Williams has shown the ability to be a goal-line back for the team, which could earn him some carries in short-yardage situations in the fall.

“I think what we like about Dexter is his physical, inside, downhill running,” Kelly said. “That to me is where he’s impressed us in the spring. We’ve had some goal-line, short-yardage runs where when he gets his pads down, he’s an explosive inside runner. That’s where, right now, he’s impressed us the most. … I think he’s finally comfortable with our inside zone package where he can hit it and really trust it, and I think that’s where we’ll start with him.”

Defensively, Kelly said he’s been particularly impressed this spring with the development of Notre Dame’s rotational players on the defensive line.

“[Junior Jonathan Bonner] has a lot of traits that we like at that position because he’s a very disciplined player, so his development has been needed and one that we’ve really seen this spring,” Kelly said. “And [junior] Jay Hayes has done the same thing. He’s been a guy that has really stood out for us as well. Both those [defensive] end positions have been one that have been, for me, probably the most satisfying development pieces for us in the spring.

“[Freshman] Khalid Kareem has done a great job there as well, and we think [freshman] Daelin Hayes is gonna be able to do a lot of things — it’s just we haven’t put him in contact, but just watching him, we think that the development of the end has been a big plus for us.”

Notre Dame’s spring practice season will come to an end with the Blue-Gold Game Saturday, which is set to start at 12:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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