It’s that time of year!
We’ve slogged through the doldrums of the offseason, prognosticated about all the new coaches, schemes, and program changes. With Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly kicking off fall practice and the 2017 season with his introductory press conference, I’m happy to announce there will be real news to report and discuss.
A lot of what Kelly had to say today has been talked about for the last eight months; he didn’t break any new ground as far as the state of the program. There was a lot of excitement, optimism, and high expectations. “We want to graduate all of our players, and we want to win the National Championship. That’s the only reason I’m here,” Kelly stated.
Sounds good to me.
High Expectations On Defense
Kelly was asked which defensive players he felt were ready to take their games to the next level. He listed 15 players without pause, any other supporting details. It seemed pretty clear he named the first 15 guys on defense who popped in his head.
He expects the entire unit to take their games to the next level.
And the reason, it seems, is a greater focus on the fundamental aspects of the game, which was lacking last season.
“We focused too much on production and not process,” Kelly said.
There was a greater amount of attention given to fundamental drills in the spring, which carried over into the summer, and will be a focus early on in fall camp. “When we touch the field, we’re going to be talking about technique and assignment, and tackling,” he said. “We’ll get to third down and nickel and dime. We’ll get to that. But, it’s not a priority on day one, two, three, four, and five. It’s about the fundamentals, and we will be much, much improved in those areas.”
Who knows what kind of game results this will lead to, but it’s certainly a big change from the way things were done in the past.
No Restraints On Wimbush
Kelly stated he didn’t want Wimbush dropping back on every down and trying to pick teams apart. That doesn’t play to his strengths. But, they aren’t going to be holding him back either.
“Brandon possesses a great understanding of what we’re doing, and I’m not going to stand in front of you say we have to protect Brandon in any fashion,” Kelly declared. Alright then. No protection for Brandon.
Kelly also named Wimbush as one of the players who most impressed the weight staff during the offseason, earning a blue shirt, which represents a player who has shown himself to be “starving” for greatness (on this scale, “starving” is good, and “satisfied” is bad.)
It was noted that while Book and Wimbush are both competing every day, there is no question as to who the starter is. “We know the starting quarterback is Brandon Wimbush.”
Kelly Likes The Tight Ends
To the delight of many, Kelly declared Notre Dame had five tight ends on the roster who he felt could contribute. In other years, this might be seen as coach speak without a whole lot of weight behind it (insert empty backfield/five wide joke here). But, the hiring of Chip Long as coordinator puts a little oomph behind Kelly’s affinity for his tight end group.
“His ability to utilize the tight ends within the offensive structure,” Kelly said of Long. “I didn’t want somebody that was going to be four and five wide and just chucking it out over the place. I wanted the utilization of our offensive line, which I knew was going to be a strength and continue to be a strength and the tight end position.”
I know, I know, we’ll believe it when we see it. But, this looks to be the most talented group Notre Dame has had at tight end, top to bottom, during the Kelly era. And with a dynamic quarterback, a stable of running backs, a strong offensive line–Kelly raved about McGlinchey, Nelson, and Mustipher–he’s been consistent for a while now he wants to be a power team.
Freshmen Will Be Thrown Into The Fire
Kelly wants to know what he’s got in the 2017 recruiting class. Namely defensive linemen Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, and Darnell Ewell. “They did some really good things in terms of developing, in terms of strength and power and quickness during the time they were here,” Kelly said. “So they’ll be apart of the evaluation process as to whether they can assist in that fashion in the fall as well.”
But, Kelly didn’t stop with that sentiment on the defensive line. He feels all the freshmen, especially on defense, will be given opportunities to prove themselves and earn considerable playing time on the field.
“We have to expose them to 11 on 11 team reps and scrimmaging. So we have to expose them to that, to find out whether they become parts of rotations,” Kelly stated. “So that’s important to do, and we’ll do that. We’ll do that at defensive line. We’ll do that at safety. We’ll do that at corner, and we’ll do that at linebacker and at the rover position. So we have to be able to crack that and do that as we move through camp.”