Kelly discusses Florida State, highlights seniors Crawford, Wimbush and Tranquill
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media Tuesday during his weekly press conference, recapped No. 4 Notre Dame’s 10-point win over Northwestern and discussed preparations for the squad’s final home game of the season.
As the Florida State matchup will be Senior Day for Notre Dame (9-0), Kelly also talked about the impact a number of his seniors, particularly the injured ones, have had on the team, even though they have been unable to be on the field for much of the season. He confirmed that senior cornerback Shaun Crawford, who went down with a torn ACL before the season and whose career has been riddled with injuries, has announced his plan to return to the team next season for his fifth year.
“He’ll be back next year. He’ll be back this spring and competing, Shaun Crawford. He will be back next year,” Kelly said. “He’s already made that commitment to play next year. He’ll be back competing in the spring, working to get back into a competitive situation.”
Kelly also discussed the role graduate student offensive lineman Alex Bars has played since tearing his ACL early this season, and explained the difference between the two.
“Alex is around us all the time. He’s in our meetings. He travels with us. Extremely active,” Kelly said. “He’s on the field. He’s with the linemen, taking special care and attention with [sophomore offensive lineman Aaron] Banks in terms of trying to do as much of passing on any of the knowledge that he has in between the coaching. He’s extremely active in what we’re doing.
“Shaun is in a different role because Alex is not playing again. Shaun is in that rehab mode. When we’re out of practice, he’s usually in working on his rehab, then he comes out to practice a little bit later. So they have different roles because Shaun is working to come back.”
Another senior Kelly talked about the role of was senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who went from starting quarterback to backup this season, despite a perfect record at the position this year.
Kelly said the conversation he had with Wimbush in which he told the senior he had lost the starting job was a difficult, but short one, but the harder conversations were the ones that came after, once the quarterback had the time to think it over.
“We’ve all had to deal with tough conversations. When you care for somebody, you know that they’ve been successful, done all the things you’ve asked them to do, we’ve all had those tough conversations in one way or the other,” he said. “You confront him, sit him down. We had a conversation about it. It’s usually the follow-up that are the more difficult conversations. The first one is pretty short and to the point. It’s the follow-up questions that usually occur after. You have to stay in constant communication.”
However, since junior quarterback Ian Book took over the job, Kelly said Wimbush has been the ideal teammate, helping him along and teaching him wherever possible, while also staying sharp and ready in case he were to ever have to go in.
“He’s been great. He’s handled himself great. He’s been a great teammate to Ian Book, quite frankly. He’s been as supportive as any player on our team that I’ve ever coached,” Kelly said. “He’s been there for him in the locker room at halftime. The first one that sits down with him and talks him through what’s going on, what we need to do, is Brandon Wimbush.
“He’s been such a big part of our success this year. He’s got to stay ready. Who knows what happens, right? Every week we remind him. He knows that he’s one step away from going back out on the field. He’s practiced really well. I think that’s the biggest thing more than anything else, is it’s easy to lose your edge when you’re not starting. He’s fought that. So he’s just been a great teammate and he’s kept himself prepared.”
One person who has helped Wimbush make the transition to his new role is quarterbacks coach Tom Rees, who had to do the same thing at Notre Dame when Everett Golson won the starting job from him.
“You can’t measure how important it is to have a coach that has gone through that here at Notre Dame. Tommy was obviously there for him to kind of go over those things,” Kelly said. “It’s been extremely helpful to keep him positive, working towards, like I said, being a better quarterback than he was six weeks ago.”
Kelly complimented the Seminoles (4-5, 2-5 ACC) on the progress they have made this year, saying at the start of the year they were not contenders in any of their games, but they have made significant progress offensively.
“They weren’t in some games early on. They were literally not in games,” he said. “So that improvement has put them now in a position where if their talent, right and their ability to eliminate some mistakes and penalties, now they’re back into some football games. They were having a hard time doing some of the very basic things in the first couple games. They’re much past that now as we get later into the season.”
He listed off a number of players who he believes make an impact for the Seminoles, including both of their potential quarterbacks and their combination of wide receivers.
“Florida State is a talented football team. There’s no doubt about it. They’ve improved throughout the season. They’ve gone through a lot of flux on the offensive line. But what’s consistent are their play-makers,” Kelly said. “Two quarterbacks, [redshirt junior Deondre] Francois and [sophomore James] Blackman, that can certainly throw the football. They’ve got a number of really talented play-makers. [Sophomore] Cam Akers at the running back position. Big back in [senior Jacques] Patrick. [Junior Keith] Gavin, [senior Nyqwan] Murray are as talented a tandem of receivers that we’re going to find. All three of them are outstanding players. We’ll be really challenged.”
Kelly said sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong only got four touches against the Wildcats because he sustained an ankle injury the previous week against Navy — his first week back from surgery — that he was still working through.
“He suffered an ankle injury in the Navy game and never really — tweaked it again during the week, never felt right. You could see it from his play,” Kelly said. “His play was not at the caliber of what it had been in the past. It hampered him in the game. He wasn’t as explosive. He knew it. He’ll be better this week because of it. But, yeah, no doubt those two [senior Dexter Williams and Armstrong] are great complements. We just didn’t get the kind of production out of him because he was a bit limited.”
Kelly also said he expects graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill — coming off a high ankle sprain — to be a full-go this weekend, whether or not the training staff wants him on the field.
“I’m not trying to be the doctor here, or not the doctor. It really doesn’t matter what anybody says. It just matters what Drue says. Drue tells me he’s playing every down,” Kelly said. “He’s committed that he believes he is in a good position that he can play every down this weekend. We’ll see how he practices today. He had no ill effects from the [Northwestern] game. Didn’t take a step back. Feels like he’s stronger, that he could play every play.”
Kelly added that he would like to limit Tranquill, at least in practice, but Tranquill himself will continue to have the last say.
“Our training staff, myself in particular, [defensive coordinator] Clark Lea, would like to be judicious with his reps. We’ll see if ‘crazy man’ Drue Tranquill will abide by that,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. He doesn’t want to come off the field.”