Kelly discusses start of spring season
Benjamin Padanilam | Tuesday, March 6, 2018
As Notre Dame prepares for the beginning of its spring season, it does not face nearly the level of uncertainty it did going into the spring last year — the team is coming off a 10-win season and returns 10 of its starters on last season’s defense and the systems on both sides of the ball.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions for Notre Dame.
One of the biggest questions the Irish face this spring is whether or not any clarity will be reached as to the starter at the game’s most scrutinized position: quarterback.
In his opening press conference for the spring season Monday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said although senior Brandon Wimbush will run with the first group early on, the competition will certainly be an open one — much in the same way Kelly has maintained every position is open for competition in the spring.
“By virtue of a lot of the really good things that Brandon did last year, he’ll go out with the first group,” Kelly said. “But we all know [junior Ian Book] was integral in our last win against LSU, and he deserves an opportunity to compete as well.
“I think what we’ll do is we’ll foster an environment where our players truly know they have an opportunity to compete for starting positions. So I wouldn’t use words like he’s the presumptive starter. But he’s going to be going out with the first group. But Brandon knows that he’s got to work on his skillset as well.”
One player who did not receive a look at the position last year who will get some looks, Kelly said, is sophomore Avery Davis — though Kelly also expects Davis to contribute in other ways when he’s not taking snaps under center.
“First and foremost, [Avery has] got to be given a chance to play quarterback. He didn’t get that chance last year,” Kelly said. “He went right to scout team and did a great job for us. But he’s got to have an opportunity to compete at quarterback. Then, when he’s not taking reps there, I’m sure he’s going to want to get involved in anything he can do. He’ll be on special teams. He’s going to be a guy that definitely comes out on the field and helps us next year.”
Another position that will be a big question mark heading into these next few weeks for Notre Dame is running back, as the Irish lost last year’s workhorse, Josh Adams, to the NFL and saw junior Deon McIntosh and sophomore C.J. Holmes dismissed after incidents off the field that led to their suspensions for January’s Citrus Bowl victory.
The one player Notre Dame expects to lean on heavily at the position is junior Tony Jones Jr., who Kelly said has gotten stronger so far this offseason, demonstrated his importance last season and will get his “proper touches” on offense. The other returning player to the depth chart is senior Dexter Williams, who struggled to see time last season while dealing with injuries, carrying the ball just 39 times in 10 games played. Kelly said he’s been impressed with Williams so far this offseason now that he’s gotten healthy.
“If there was one area where I really feel good about what he’s been able to do is that he’s broken through some barriers as it relates to his volume and his workload,” Kelly said of the senior. “That’s all on him. He’s had to do it himself. So I feel confident going into spring that he’s going to take on a bigger load.”
One player the Irish will be moving to running back to shore up the depth concern there is sophomore wide receiver Jafar Armstrong. Kelly said he sees Armstrong contributing from the backfield in the same vein as former players Theo Riddick and C.J. Prosise did.
“Jafar is more towards that Theo Riddick, if you will, where Theo was a wide receiver but took reps for us at the running back,” Kelly said. “I think I’d like to kind of move in that same direction. He’s going to be a guy that I think can touch the ball coming out of the backfield, but also can give us some work at the running back position.”
Another area the Irish will experiment with cross training is on the offensive line, with new coach Jeff Quinn having to find replacements for the left side of his line after losing All-Americans in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson to the NFL.
“[Sophomore] Robert [Hainsey] will start at that left tackle position. Then, there will be a lot of cross training across the board with [junior] Tommy Kraemer, [sophomore] Josh Lugg — I think you’re going to see those guys cross training,” Kelly said. “I think it’s going to be an extremely competitive situation, one that I’m kind of looking forward to because there’s probably — I’m just looking at my roster here, and there are probably four or five different combinations that we could run out there at the offensive line, and I think you’re going to see a lot of them in the spring.”
The other position where the Irish will be cross training several players is the Rover linebacker spot, as graduate student Drue Tranquill will be moving to the Buck linebacker position to replace the now-graduated Greer Martini.
“There are going to be a number of guys that have the opportunity to be that next guy,” Kelly said. “Or we go to nickel — we run a nickel out there.”
The Irish will already be dealing with some injuries as they enter the spring season — some new, some having carried over from the offseason or end of last season.
Freshman tight end George Takacs, an early enrollee for the program, had cartilage surgery to repair a bucket tear, leaving him out for the entirety of the spring season, Kelly announced Monday. Two other tight ends, graduate student Nic Weishar and sophomore Brock Wright, will be limited throughout the spring practices after having undergone shoulder surgeries previously, while junior wide receiver Chase Claypool will also be in a red jersey while recovering from his shoulder injury. Lastly, graduate student defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner will be limited at least early on in the spring as he recovers from a wrist injury.