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Brian Kelly updates injury report ahead of matchup with North Carolina

| Friday, October 6, 2017

As No. 21 Notre Dame prepares to travel down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for its Saturday clash with the Tar Heels, it knows it will be healthier than its opponent.

But what the Irish (4-1) still do not know is whether or not junior Brandon Wimbush will be starting under center when they take the field against North Carolina (1-4, 0-3 ACC) at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush drops back to pass and surveys the field during Notre Dame’s 52-17 win over Miami (OH) on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Wimbush passed for 119 yards. Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush drops back to pass and surveys the field during Notre Dame’s 52-17 win over Miami (OH) on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Wimbush passed for 119 yards.

“He practiced [Thursday], did some good things,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “I think we’ll still go day-to-day and make the decision on game day.”

Kelly said Wimbush has been steadily progressing over the last three days, and he hopes to see that continue leading up to Saturday’s game.

“We had him throwing — we just had upper body on Tuesday. [He was] stretching, throwing the football, just keeping it in his arm — didn’t do anything in terms of reps,” Kelly said. “Wednesday, [we had him] run tracks, working fits with our running backs, light throwing. Took some reps [Thursday], so he’s in a good place.

“We got two more days. He’ll get some more rehab, but again, he’s where we would hoped he would be and we expect more progress to be made over the next couple of days.”

However, even should Wimbush not start, Kelly said he expects the junior to be available in some capacity, such serving as the backup to Ian Book. Kelly said he is confident in the sophomore backup’s ability to step in as the starter this weekend should he be called upon to do so.

“He’s very accurate with the football,” Kelly said of Book. “He’s got a good grasp of the offense, and he elevates the play of the guys around him. They all know that he is a really good quarterback, and I think in the times that he’s played real football … he’s been effective moving the ball.

“ … He gets a lot of reps. We give our second quarterback a good deal of the reps, so he’s gotten a lot of work. He knows the offense pretty good.”

In contrast to the quarterback situation, all four of the Irish running backs will be healthy enough to play Saturday, Kelly said. In addition to juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and sophomores Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh, the Irish will also have freshman C.J. Holmes amongst its stable of backs, as Kelly and his staff decided against redshirting him this season.

“We brought him up with us with the intent that we think that he can contribute,” Kelly said. “Our eye and focus is on getting him involved in the running teams and special teams and seeing if we can get him involved in our offense. He’s a skilled player, he’s got some talents. … He’s with us to contribute this year and help us win.”

Depth has also become a hallmark of the defensive side of the football for the Irish, as the Irish have cycled players in and out more frequently than in years past. Kelly said the Irish started to make that transition halfway through last season when the initially changed leadership on that side of the ball.

“After we made a change [at defensive coordinator], part of the plan was to make certain that we invested in the players that we had on hand … and develop our players,” Kelly said. “I think we made that shift philosophically when I made a change last year through the season, and then we just continued philosophically when I met with [defensive coordinator Mike Elko] that we wanted to make sure that we developed all our players.”

And that development, which the Irish hope continues Saturday against the Tar Heels and beyond, started with simply identifying and then amplifying individual players strengths, Kelly said.

“There’s a couple of things,” Kelly said. “One, I think we did a really good job of finding what their level of competency was and playing to that. There are first-down and second-down players or third-down players. As coaches, we didn’t say, ‘Alright, this guy can’t play.’ We looked for reasons to play guys and find out what their skill set is and develop it.”

The Irish and Tar Heels will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Kenan Memorial 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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