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Watkins out for the year; Kelly figures to have large role on defense

| Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Notre Dame ran 72 plays to the tune of 654 total yards of offense — including 183 yards gained on the the ground — in Saturday’s 50-33 win over Syracuse.

But Tarean Folston was not on the field for even a single one of them at MetLife Stadium. In his weekly teleconference on Sunday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly explained the decision to not play the senior running back was due to his health as opposed to his play.

“No, he was hurt, as well,” Kelly said of Folston. “Thursday in our two-minute drill, he [went out for] a screen pass and turned his ankle. [It] was pretty tender. He still wanted to give it a shot. We weren’t certain that he was going to be able to go. He worked hard to try to get back, but he just was not even close to being able to give us the kind of play necessary.”

Kelly added, however, he was confident Folston would get back into the rotation this Saturday when the Irish (2-3) travel south to take on North Carolina State.

The news was not as good for junior cornerback Nick Watkins, who has been recovering from surgery on his fractured left humerus in the spring. Kelly announced Watkins would be out for the remainder of the season after the junior underwent additional X-rays to check the progress of his recovery.

“Yeah, it did not take full growth, and so he’s going to need an additional surgery,” Kelly said. “So he’ll be out for the year.”

Other than Watkins, however, Kelly noted that everyone else would be full participants in practice Tuesday.

Irish senior running back Tarean Folston looks to make a cut while rushing in Notre Dame’s 38-35 loss to Duke on Sept. 24.Rosie LoVoi | The Observer
Irish senior running back Tarean Folston looks to make a cut while rushing in Notre Dame’s 38-35 loss to Duke on Sept. 24.

Player improvements

Sophomore running back Dexter Williams carried the ball eight times for 80 yards, including a 59-yard scamper that went for a touchdown, in Saturday’s victory. Reflecting on Williams’ performance, Kelly noted his toughness and maturity as two of the biggest areas in which the sophomore has improved from last year to this year.

“You know, certainly the one area is the physicality. He’s gotten bigger and stronger and faster, but where I see it is off the field,” Kelly said of Williams. “He’s grown in maturity, and I think that that’s translated itself on the field. He comes to practice every day with great energy and enthusiasm, and I think that that has a lot to do with him being very comfortable here at Notre Dame.

“But let’s not mistake the fact that he’s also put on about 15 pounds. He’s explosive, and that’s all because he’s made that commitment to, obviously, Notre Dame and himself.”

Another player Kelly said he was impressed with Saturday was junior defensive lineman Jay Hayes. He said he believes the scheme fits Hayes’ abilities and has allowed him to flourish along the defensive front.

“Yeah, he did some pretty good things,” Kelly said. “He’s a big, physical kid. Obviously, when you’re in our stack defense, it allows him to really bully that tackle, playing inside-out. It really fits him well, and so it’s a front that you’ll see a lot more because of his ability to really two-gap that tackle and it allows him to do a lot of good things.”

Defensive coaching and game plan

Saturday’s win also featured Notre Dame’s new defensive approach. The Irish made a concerted effort to rotate more players in to keep the starters fresh and build up the younger players’ experience levels, Kelly said. He noted this would be a short-term game plan for the remainder of the season, though the experience the young players gain would have long-term benefits.

“It’s really a short-term approach,” Kelly said of the defensive game plan. “It’s [putting] these guys in a position to succeed this year, utilizing a lot of young players, gaining experience as we go and being smart about utilizing our personnel. In other words, putting them in places to succeed. So this is a short-term approach to the season, but it’s also a long-term approach in the sense that we are getting a lot of young players some valuable experience.”

Kelly added his coaching role on the defensive side would require more of his attention than it would on the offensive side on a day-to-day basis, but he stressed he would still be actively involved in the details of offensive scheming.

“I think I’d want to stay involved in really everything that we’re doing,” Kelly said. “[I’m] much more focused on much more of the big picture items. We’re still drilling down on some things defensively that require a little bit more of my attention than, say, conceptual things on the offensive side of the ball.”

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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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