If you had no interest in following Notre Dame football in any way until this afternoon, you might have thought you were listening to the opening spring press conference for a coach in his first season of a program. We heard Brian Kelly talk about paying attention to detail, not sweating who would be playing what position, and building a solid foundation as a team, and “developing the traits necessary for excellence on a day-to-day basis.” There was a special emphasis on “the process” of creating winning habits, rather than the precision of how a particular route looks, or how refined a players technique is. Kelly wants to focus on building a winning foundation within the program and then go from there.
These are usually the types of things you hear from a coach who just inherited a program, not one who has been in charge of a program for the last seven years. And in laying out this vision for his program, Kelly was offering up a referendum to what plagued his team last season and in previous seasons. You don’t talk about process, attention to detail, and building winning habits if you think you’ve done those things before. You don’t talk about a winning culture if you think you had a winning culture before. You’d be more micro in your goals.
It’s very easy to criticize Kelly for not building these things prior to this season, and it’s not only easy but it is justified. In fact, he did talk about attention to detail in his opening press conference prior to the 2010 season. Remember when he was going to be checking their lockers to make sure they were to his approval? He talked about it then, and nothing came of that, why should this time be any different? That is a fair question and there is reason to believe this is all coach speak.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen about Kelly is the size of his ego and the demand that things are to be done his way. So far this offseason, his actions have flown in the face of that narrative. He got rid of five coaches, some of whom he had very deep ties to, and brought in people he’s never worked with, and then gave them total control. He announced today Chip Long would have full control of the offense, with no strings attached. There wasn’t a person in the world who thought Kelly would give up that kind of control with his Notre Dame career on the line, but he did.
He also announced, per the requests of his players, he was in the weight room every day at 5:45 being present for those workouts, and he noted he’d be much more active in all three phases of the game, instead of spending so much time with just the offense. It may not work, but Kelly has taken a real look at his program, the job he has done, and changes that needed to be made and he took the steps. And he hasn’t done it half way, he’s been all-in, something he has constantly demanded from his players.
Will this reset translate to wins on the field? It’s hard to say, there isn’t a great track record for 8th year coaches pulling off this kind of move, mostly because coaches in this spot don’t get an 8th year to try and pull it off. But, whatever happens, it won’t be because Kelly tried to do the same old thing over and over again.
Good News On The Health Front
Kelly announced that Shaun Crawford and Javon McKinley were both way ahead of schedule in their recoveries from an Achilles tear (Crawford) and a broken fibula (McKinley). Obviously very good news from both, especially Crawford who, if you’ve followed my writing, I think is one of the best players on the defense. It’s probable that any full time role is unlikely for him this year–and considering he’s coming off of a torn ACL and torn Achilles in back to back years it’s sensible not to put too much on his plate–the nickel position seems to be his destiny. Which makes sense because he’s perfectly suited for it and doesn’t require the wear and tear of being a full-time player.
They also received possibly the biggest news of the day in that defensive tackle Daniel Cage is fully healthy and cleared to be a full participant; we deemed it to be so vital we dedicated an entire post to it. Also of note, Nick Watkins was cleared to be a full participant after breaking his arm last summer, which is no small thing because he was penciled in to start last year and just from a depth standpoint really solidifies the corner position.
There were no other injuries of note that would keep players out of the lineup, which is obviously a very good thing.
Brandon Wimbush And Ian Book Will Go 60/40
Kelly announced Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book will split their reps 60/40 in the spring as they attempt to get Book up to speed and prepared to play if the need arises in the fall. I wrote about the importance of Book this week and this is the exact rep percentage that I had in mind. They don’t need to put too much on Wimbush in the spring–he’s going to be throwing a lot more than he has been the last two season and the last thing they need is some bout with tendinitis–and it’s unlikely they can give Book 40% of the snaps in the fall as Wimbush gears up for his first year as the starter. Kelly declared himself to be an “Ian Book fan” today, which is nice given that he offered him a scholarship to play at Notre Dame. His development will be important to track throughout the 15 practices.
Kelly also spoke of Wimbush in very similar terms to Everett Golson in 2012 as he prepared to take over the team for the first time. Things like “he doesn’t have to come in a run the building” was a popular refrain about Golson, and Kelly put a strong emphasis on building up the confidence of his young signal caller and not allowing him to get too down when bad things will inevitably happen. Kelly was even self-deprecating when making that point saying “I’m a poster child for dealing with failures along the way,” emphasizing that it’s important to stay confident and have a belief in yourself even in the face of adversity.
Four Will Battle For The Fifth Offensive Line Position
Brian Kelly confirmed what was long suspected, that Alex Bars would play either right guard or right tackle depending on how other players competed at their respective positions. Kelly named Tristen Hoge, Hunter Bivin, Tommy Kraemer, and Liam Eichenberg all candidates to earn that fifth spot. I’d guess Bivin and Hoge will battle to be guards while Kraemer and Eichenberg will compete at tackle. My guess is it shakes out that either Kraemer or Eichenberg wins the tackle job and Bars slides down to guard. That gives Notre Dame its best five players along the line and its highest ceiling as a group.
By the way, how ridiculous is offensive line recruiting? Of the four players competing for the fifth spot, the lowest composite score among them is Hunter Bivin at .9531. My goodness, why don’t we rush for 250 yards a game and why do we give up any sacks with this kind of talent?
Full Brian Kelly 2017 Spring Football Kick-Off Presser Video