Wednesday Notebook

Protecting starters, preparing backups, developing a weapon, and handling a hostile environment highlight the discussion topics in our Wednesday morning notebook.

Please Excuse Our Progress

Two picks; 11 incomplete passes in 19 attempts; two batted balls and more than a couple ugly moments…it wasn't a banner debut for backup Irish quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Nate Montana.

Kelly admitted post-game he needed to prepare his reserves better for such an emergent situation and will tweak that process leading up to the trip to East Lansing.

"I think we're going to settle on a package that suits both of them," Kelly said of the pair without naming a certain No. 2 signal-caller. "I think we have to have something that really allows both of those guys to feel comfortable out there and still run our offense in a productive manner.

"We focused a lot on that in our preparation and our meetings (Monday) and I'm certain we'll be in a much better place this weekend if we have to go to them in the game," he added.

Any chance the duo is shell-shocked after their trial-by-fire on Saturday?

"I think they're competitive kids that want to learn; they want to get better and the only way that you get that is with experience…I think that they'll understand that practice for them is absolutely crucial; being locked in so they can learn – not that they weren't. But they've had that first opportunity to play; now they have to improve off of that."

Dayne's Road Debut: Realistic 2010 Irish football fortunes rest on the health of the now twice-injured junior signal-caller. He'll make his first official road start Saturday but Crist played an important role in Notre Dame's 24-21 thrilling win at West Lafayette last season, leading the offense to two of its three touchdown drives during the contest.

"You want to keep (Crist) in the game, but I think that our offense is such that you're never going to be conservative in what you do," Kelly noted when asked if he would look to protect Crist going forward. "I think we have to be careful but not play scared. We'll be careful."

Crist has been cleared for practice this week after suffering blurred vision in his right eye following the game's opening drive. Kelly noted that Crist was never examined for concussive symptoms, but rather still had swelling on his face Sunday from a hit he took during the first drive (both helmet-to-helmet and the ensuing shot hitting the turf).

Can Kelly protect his starter in this offense?

"I will tell you that some of the zone-read stuff is not a play that would be the first on the call sheet, but we have to keep it in because of the spread offense. We have to run option because of the spread offense. If we were going to protect him we would have to change the way we run our offense," Kelly offered.

"When you're in the spread, and they have more guys (in the box) than you do, you have to read that (extra) player. So we really can't go away from it because of the kind of offense we run, we just have to be careful with him."

Kelly noted that the backup situation (who's No. 2 entering Saturday) will be evaluated and decided during the week.

Quiet Inside

Lauded for its depth in the pre-season, the Notre Dame wide receiver corps has struggled (with the exception of a freshman that has been as advertised on the outside).

Michael Floyd has been human; Theo Riddick inconspicuous and Duval Kamara, Roby Toma, and John Goodman either invisible or absent from the attack.

Kelly believes the key to the progress of the unit is Riddick, who continues to transition from running back to slot receiver: he's touched the ball on six plays from scrimmage (4 receptions) for a total of 55 yards.

"He's learning more every day about how to be a championship wide receiver, not just ‘a guy,'" Kelly said. "He's worked hard at it, but we have to be a little bit more patient in that process of getting him where we need to be.

"I see a comfort level with him each week. We're in the early stages of development of a very good player."

His backup, classmate Roby Toma is firmly entrenched as Riddick's backup.

"He's our No. 2. I like Roby; I think he's a good player for us. When he gets his opportunity I'm sure he'll do well but this is Theo's position and we're going to get Theo better and better."

Picking up the Slack

As of Tuesday, Mike Elston had still not rejoined the squad as he continues to recover from a yet-to-be diagnosed viral infection.

Elston's absence is a double whammy for the Irish staff: the trusted aid serves as the team's special teams coordinator and defensive line coach.

"In his absence our coaches have done a great job; we team-coached the special teams (Saturday)," Kelly reiterated. "I thought we did a great job. For our coaches to really step in there, they really picked up for one of the best special teams coaches in the country and did a very good job.

"The defensive line for the immediate time, until Coach Elston (returns), Mike Denbrock will go over and coach the defensive line. Lorenzo Guess (Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach) will coach the tight ends, which he did for me last year at the University of Cincinnati.

"That is just for a short time. We're expecting Coach Elston will be back with us pretty soon."

Denbrock is a 25-year veteran assistant. He served as Kelly's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Grand Valley State in the late 1990s and has defensive line experience at the AFL level, serving in that role and as Assistant head coach for the Buffalo Arena League team in 1999-2000. Denbrock has tutored the offensive side of the football for the last ten seasons as both a tight ends and offensive line coach, though he did work with linebackers (and special teams) last season at Indiana State while serving as an assistant head coach.

Guess is a graduate of Michigan State and former two-sport athlete for the Spartans, competing in both the NCAA Final Four (1999) and two bowl games including a Y2K win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl.

Bring the Noise

Saturday's contest will be the first road start for Crist; the first road start for both offensive tackles and the first road start for freshman Tai-ler Jones.

Is crowd noise a concern for Kelly's spread attack?

"We're in a visual signaling situation," Kelly noted. "So (with) the center snapping off of a visual (cue), it will be how our center and guards react. So that's where we'll spend most of our time in their communication system.

"That's something we'll spend some time on this week but it's never really been a problem in the spread (because) we're not much in terms of audible in our system anyway. Everything is pretty much in a signaling fashion so we've been pretty good when we've gone on the road."

Kelly has won nine consecutive road games as a head coach. Top Stories