Kelly talks Blue-Gold Game, progression of individuals in practice
Daniel O'Boyle | Thursday, April 20, 2017
With Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game approaching, Irish head coach Brian Kelly announced the game will feature his first team offense and defense squaring off against each other as complete units after practice at LaBar Practice Facility on Wednesday. Kelly also discussed his team’s preparedness for the game, the progression of his players over the spring and NCAA recruiting rules after the practice.
“We’ll have the first-team offense in blue, and they’re going to go against the first team defense, who’ll be in white,” Kelly said, explaining the setup of this year’s spring game. “And then the other two units will follow. It’ll be regular game, there’s no live special teams and quarterbacks won’t be live, but everything else is going to be a regular game. What I wanted to do a few weeks ago was set up competitive situations and this will be extremely competitive. And then our twos will compete on a level playing field.”
However, Kelly stressed that the important takeaways from the Blue-Gold Game would not be statistics, but instead would be the team’s overall progress and commitment.
“We started well three months ago, and now I want to finish strong,” Kelly said. “And when I say finish strong, it’s not about production so much as it’s about process. I want to make sure that there’s attention to detail with all of the position groups. Now that they’re in a competitive situation, I want them to raise their level of focus. [We] need to make sure that they’re a gritty team, that they keep fighting no matter what the circumstances are, even in a Blue-Gold Game.
I want to see a great attitude from them and a great energy across the board. It’s more about the process; that’s really important at this point compared to what [junior quarterback Brandon] Wimbush’s numbers are or how many carries a guy gets and his yardage. I’m not interested in the production per se, what’s important is that they stay on course.”
Ulimately, for Kelly the game will simply be a extension of the work in progress that the program has been in all spring.
“This is a continuation of what we’ve been doing since January and what I hope for at the end of the game is that we continue to work on the things that are really important to me,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that the average fan is looking for that. If I had them with me for the last three months, they’d be able to look for that, but instead they’re going to be tuned in to some individual players. And I expect they’ll see some of what I want as well, but they may not and leave thinking, ‘I don’t see much of a difference.’ That’s not important to me. What’s important right now are the things that I’ve talked about, and when we get to Temple we’ll see everything coming together.”
Kelly spoke about some of the players who he felt had improved the most over the spring period. Among the breakout players was sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes, who Kelly said had adjusted very well to a new role.
“I think he’s a great example of someone taking his level of focus and understanding of the position up a couple of levels.” Kelly said. “The position is new to him this spring, he dabbled at it a little but it’s essentially a new position for him. Playing defense, he doesn’t have a big resume, but this was really a great spring for him and for us to lay down a great base of learning. I think he did a terrific job as a player of really buying into that and not getting too far ahead of himself — taking on blocks, dropping into coverage, paying attention to those details that go with the position. So when he gets to that first game, you’re going to see a player that’s improved dramatically because he’s paid attention to those kind of things.”
Kelly also had praise for role players in all units of the game, including sophomore long snapper John Shannon.
“I think that the developmental process for [sophomore defensive end] Julian Okwara has been very good,” Kelly said. “I think the process for looking at the offensive line, guys like [sophomore offensive tackle Liam] Eichenberg, those guys are continuously making process. Those guys get better every day and put us in a better position. They’re really important players to us. A guy who has made really great progress for us that maybe not everyone cares much about is John Shannon, our long snapper. We’re asking him to do a lot more, and he’s made significant progress.
“I don’t think anybody’s taken a step back, nobody’s going in the wrong direction. We haven’t looked at anyone and said, ‘he’s thrown in the towel.’ We had meetings with our guys and said, ‘here’s where you are, here’s how you’re progressing, let’s continue the process.’”
The Blue-Gold Game will take place Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium.