Kevin Stepherson set to make season debut Saturday
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, September 29, 2017
After back-to-back weeks on the road, Saturday’s game against Miami (OH) will be Notre Dame’s first game back at home.
And, according to Irish head coach Brian Kelly, it will also be sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson’s first game back with the Irish (3-1) this season.
“He’ll be limited in action,” Kelly said of Stepherson. “He’s doing a better job. His cumulative work is such that he just doesn’t have the volume, but he’s been doing a much better job in terms of the day-to-day attention to detail and just his focus. The traits that I’d been talking about with him, he’s better, but don’t expect him to be playing a high-volume game.
“ … He’s got to work his way up the depth chart. We’re not going to accelerate that. He’s going to have to earn that, and that’s going to take time too.”
But if Stepherson can work his way up the depth chart and stay locked in, he can provide a boost — particularly with his speed — to the Irish receiving corps.
“He’s got great explosion, can take off [and] run by anybody that we play against. Elite speed,” Kelly said of Stepherson. “He’s got to work on his concentration skills and his focus. He’ll drop a ball here and there just because he’s not locked in the way we need him to be. But I’m proud of the progress he’s made. It’s been a long haul for him. Since January, he’s had to do a lot to get himself here, so off the field he’s made significant progress.”
And Kelly added that the perseverance Stepherson has showed despite the adversity has been what’s impressed him the most with the sophomore.
“Where I’m most proud of him is his grit and sticking with it,” Kelly said. “He could’ve kicked the can, if you will, and said, ‘Hey, I’m done. I’m going to transfer.’ But he knew that Notre Dame was a place that could change his life, and I think in a large degree it has in many ways and continues to every day.”
One player the Irish might be without against the RedHawks (2-2, 1-0 MAC), however, is running back Dexter Williams. Kelly said the junior is dealing with an ankle injury, so he will be a game-time decision.
“[Sophomore running back] Tony [Jones Jr.] took the No. 2 reps, and we really cut back on Dexter,” Kelly said. “Dexter was kind of in Tony’s position last week, so he’ll be a game-day decision. And [freshman running back Deon McIntosh] got the third team reps.”
Fortunately for the Irish, junior Josh Adams will be back in the backfield, according to Kelly, after resting much of the second half last week dealing with an injury of his own.
“Josh Adams, he’s 100 percent,” Kelly said. “Took the majority of the reps — the first team reps. Each week it’s just monitoring how much volume we give him.”
On the other side of the ball, Kelly said sophomore defensive lineman Julian Okwara has carved out a role for himself within particular packages because of the strides he’s made physically.
“We’re pleased with what he’s giving us in our sub-packages,” Kelly said of Okwara. “The fight with Julian has been body weight and maintaining that body weight for first and second down, and he’s done a pretty good job there. I think that what surprised us more than anything else is he continues to show really good improvement in the weight room. He’s surprisingly strong, and I think that that kind of shows that trait in the way he plays. He can get his hands on you now, and if you really watch tape of him, he’s not just a guy that’s going to bend. He will punch you in the chest too and push you back, so he plays with some physicality and his numbers show that.”
And on special teams, the Irish will continue to stick with junior Justin Yoon on kickoffs as Jonathan Doerer continues to develop, though Kelly said he hopes to get the freshman into Saturday’s game should the opportunity present itself.
“We’d like for him to continue to work towards kicking off,” Kelly said. “But I think that’s a process right now, and we’re evaluating each week. Yoon will start on Saturday, but we’ll see — if there’s an opportunity that we can get him into the game, we would.”