After some time off for spring break, Notre Dame returned to practice this week and almost half way through spring ball a few things are starting to become clear while the Irish are still figuring things out in other places. That’s exactly where Notre Dame should be at this point in spring ball. Brian Kelly addressed the media on Saturday after practice and gave updates in a few areas that fans have been eager to hear about.
What should be encouraging for Notre Dame fans is that Kelly said that he likes where his team is at already. He cautioned that there is still a lot of work to be done obviously, but that he really liked where the team was at so far.
Here’s a recap of everything else Notre Dame’s head coach had to say.
Paul Moala in the ROVER Mix
Paul Moala was working as the backup ROVER in practice on Saturday with Shayne Simon getting reps at BUCK. Linebacker in general is very much in flux (not necessarily in a bad way) and from what Kelly said on Saturday, the latest development is Paul Moala sticking at ROVER – at least for now.
When asked, Kelly said that the move for Moala was mainly centered around his ability to tackle and be “assignment correct” – one of Kelly’s favorite euphemisms the last couple years. The staff is not just throwing Moala out there at ROVER to fill reps either. They are still in the learning phase of figuring out what they have at linebacker.
Kelly also credited Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah for being extremely explosive at the ROVER position, but cautioned that unlike Moala, he still needs improvement in being “assignment correct.” Kelly reiterated that JOK is still learning the position to an extent.
Here’s a little proof that JOK has got some freakish abilities.
— J. Owusu-Koramoah (@j_owuu) March 23, 2019
Sounds like Kevin Austin needs to work on “traits”
When asked about the young wide receivers, Kelly was quick to mention Braden Lenzy‘s toughness and to mention that Lawrence Keys is explosive but needs work in the “assignment correct” department. What really stuck out though was that when pressed on Kevin Austin specifically, he credited Austin for always being extremely talented but said that there’s more to playing than just being very talented.
In Kelly-speak, it sounds like Austin needs to work on his “traits” – another euphemism of Kelly’s for when a player is essentially in his doghouse. We’ve seen this before with players like Kevin Stepherson and Dexter Williams over the last few years. This is NOT to suggest that Austin is in nearly the same situation as either, moreso it’s to point out that a couple examples of some very talented players who had trouble getting onto the field because of their “traits”
Ian Book working on staying in the pocket
In terms of Ian Book‘s development, Kelly mentioned that they are encouraging him to stay in the pocket more in the spring. Kelly specifically referenced that Book’s wearing a redshirt jersey and suggested he should take advantage of that to get more comfortable in the pocket. He did say that Book’s been better at dumping the ball off instead of taking off with his legs. Book’s got great ability to make some plays with his legs, but at times he did turn to them much too soon in the face of pressure – in the Cotton Bowl specifically.
Notre Dame will be game planning for Cole Kmet
The tight end position has not been much of a weapon for Notre Dame in recent years, but that sounds like it will be changing. Kelly mentioned on Saturday that Notre Dame will be game planning specifically for Cole Kmet this fall and that he will be catching a lot of passes in 2019.
Ever since he arrived on campus two years ago there’s been a buzz about Kmet. To date though he’s caught just 17 passes for 176 yards and still has not scored a touchdown. Both Kmet and Brock Wright have been impressive in spring practice so far.
Tony Jones is more consistent
There may not be a player who has had more encouraging news in spring and fall camp that didn’t correlate to production in the fall than Tony Jones the last few years. It feels like every spring there’s a buzz around him. To date though, he’s been inconsistent on the field. Kelly said on Saturday that the staff is finally seeing a consistent Tony Jones in practice every day so far this spring.
Kelly specifically mentioned that in the past they’d see A-game one day, C- game the next out of Jones in the past. That has not been the case this spring. Perhaps Jones sees the golden opportunity in front of him with no clear RB1 right now. Whatever the case, Kelly said that Jones is consistently running with low pads and toughness in spring.
Phil Jurkovec is improving
Everyone always wants to know what is happening with the backup quarterback so it’s not surprising that Kelly was asked about rising sophomore Phil Jurkovec. Kelly said that the former prized recruit is improving and seeing the field better as spring has been progressing. Mechanically, Kelly mentioned that Jurkovec still has some sloppiness to clean up such as letting his elbow drop but that they are working on that.
What was interesting to me was that Kelly said while Jurkovec isn’t at a championship level yet, he said that you can win a lot of games with Jurkovec right now. Developing him and getting him ready “just in case” this fall is a priority for the staff.
Defensive line has stood out
When asked what has stood out to him the most so far in practice, Kelly didn’t hesitant in mentioning the defensive line. It just seems so wild considering how bad the defensive line was for Notre Dame for years save that span between 2012-2013 that the defensive line has now become the strength of the team.
I am still very concerned with the depth on the interior of the defensive line right now, but Notre Dame’s top unit is about as good as anyone’s other than maybe Clemson and Alabama. And even then, we saw that Notre Dame’s defensive line more than held it’s own against Clemson in the playoffs.