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Football

Kelly confident in young Irish, begins preparation for Louisville

| Friday, August 23, 2019

The college football season is only days away, with Miami and No. 8 Florida set to kick off the regular season August 24. With 15 practices down in fall camp and a new year of college football just around the corner, Irish head coach Brian Kelly is getting his team ready for the season opener at Louisville.

“Today [was] a shorter practice,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday. “We wanted to begin preparation for Louisville. We wanted to begin kind of transitions out of camp, if you will, [and] work towards really peaking for Monday, our game against Louisville. … Getting an opportunity to sharpen up some of our game plan looks for Louisville. That was kind of what you saw today.”

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Irish junior wide receiver Michael Young tries to evade a defender during Notre Dame’s 19-14 victory over Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 at Notre Dame Stadium. Young broke his collarbone in practice Saturday.

After an undefeated regular season and their first berth in the College Football Playoff last season, the Irish are set to pursue another appearance on college football’s biggest stage. Unfortunately for the Irish, they lost the school’s all-time leading scorer in Justin Yoon and several other players, including seven selections in the NFL draft. However, Kelly sees potential in a group of young and gifted players.

“I think what’s most important is we’ve got a number of really talented players,” Kelly said. “What we’re really … excited about is that this team has handled everything that I’ve asked them to do in terms of practice — the leadership has been great. Certainly all of the things that go to winning, the traits that we ask them to work on every day, I’ve been really pleased with that.”

Another issue for the Irish is the recent loss of junior wide receiver Michael Young to a broken collarbone, the second such injury to plague the Irish, with junior tight end Cole Kmet also breaking his collarbone in the first week of fall camp. The timetable for Young’s return is uncertain according to Kelly, but he said Kmet is progressing well.

“I mean, everybody’s different, right? Four weeks — we’ve had guys back in four,” Kelly said. “Each one is different. Cole is, like, two and a half weeks [away]; he‘s catching the football already. Who knows. The doctors say at four weeks you can take a CAT scan to see what it looks like inside-out. If it heals inside-out, then you’re cleared to play, and we go from there. We say four to whatever, relative to his injury.”

While Young’s loss is disappointing, Kelly remains optimistic about the players backing him up.

“We got plenty of guys,” he said. ”We’re going to miss Mike. He had a great camp going, too. But we’ve got a lot of really good players that will step up in that situation. We’ve got to run the ball. We’ve got to stop the run. I mean, we’re going to miss him. I don’t want to downplay an injury. He’s a good player. But, man, we’ve got a boatload of guys that can go in there and fill in for that position.”

Wide receiver isn’t the only position group with depth, however. While the Irish lost defensive staples in linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney, Kelly said the defense is structured so that the team can get the most out of what each player has to offer.

“I think we like certainly [junior Drew White], [graduate student] Asmar [Bilal], [sophomore] Shayne Simon, all those guys, [sophomore] Jack Lamb. … All those guys together have been all doing good things. They’ve all gotten better at their craft and what they do. Now, different packages, down and distance, you’ll see different faces. … We’ve got a better feel on who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

One area that shows the most continuity for the Irish is the offensive line. While they return four of five starters from last season’s team, the defensive line will look to fill the void left by defensive tackle and first-round NFL Draft pick Jerry Tillery. However, Kelly is still confident in his coaching staff and the defensive philosophy of the team.

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Irish graduate student linebacker Asmar Bilal makes a tackle during Notre Dame’s 45-23 win over Virginia Tech on Oct. 8 in Blacksburg, Va.

“Why am I confident? [We’ve] got a great defensive line coach, got a great defensive coordinator, they understand the importance of how that front works together,” he said. “We’ve always understood the key elements of successful defense are about stopping the run.”

Based on what the Irish bring back this season, Kelly said they are going to focus on fundamentals and rely on their strength in the trenches.

“I think this team, it’s going to be about the basic tenets of football,” Kelly said. “We’re going to have to run the ball well and stop the run. We’re going to have to play with a physicality. You really can’t see that right now. We’re going to have to play that way against Louisville. … For the success of this football team, it’s going to be up front, it’s going to be our offensive line, our defensive line, our ability to run the football and stop the run. If we do that, this is going to be a pretty good football team.”

The Irish open the season at Louisville on September 2 at 7:30 pm.

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