Offensive NotesEntering the season, Kelly's offense had two major question marks: the right and left tackle. The latter, redshirt-freshman Zach Martin, earned an apparent starting nod by late March. He kept it through fall camp and his development since has served as one of the season's biggest surprises for most outside the program.
"When you look at Zach Martin as a first-time starter, each week he sees new things and maybe doesn't handle it like a veteran starter," Kelly offered. "But (the) things he's encountered already – he's playing at a high level. He's grading out as our top lineman at this point."
Kelly also noted that Martin has handled in-game and on-the-spot adjustments well.
"He may come down on a three-technique and he may realize that was the wrong move to make," Kelly explained. "He's athletic enough to adjust to make up for that mistake."
Pivotal playerJunior center Braxston Cave has endured an up-and-down start to his playing career. Errant snaps in practice; missed assignments on Saturdays and a few dominant blocking efforts intermixed to produce what the intelligent follower would expect from a first-time starter: mixed results.
"It's a lot. The recognition of the defense; making the calls; there's a lot of cerebral things that go on out there, as well as the physical," Kelly noted of the requirements specific to his center position. "When you're (the right tackle) you don't have to do much; you just have to listen and react to movement. (Cave) is doing a lot more as a first-year starter than any of those guys.
"There's a lot on his plate. He's making great progress…All the things that we talked about last week and were concerned about (namely tipping his hand prior to the snap); I would say he's made great progress, necessary for him to be a complete center."
Kelly noted that Cave continues to battle an ankle injury he suffered vs. BC and that while Taylor Dever (hamstring) and Chris Stewart (contusion) should play, the team has capable backups that can step in if necessary.
"I have a lot of confidence in Nuss and Romine; they're veteran players," Kelly said. "We've got (Chris) Watt who played a lot; (Mike) Golic who played a lot (vs. BC). I feel pretty good at the offensive line."
The Big Three plus the ZKelly was asked if the perceived (or real) drop in production of juniors Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd was of any concern to him or the development of their offense. As expected, the head man is a bit more concerned with the end product than individual numbers.
"Are their numbers low, comparatively?" Kelly questioned. "We have to utilize both of them within our offense but we're not going to throw them the ball if they're double-covered or not within the structure of our offense.
"We feel like we can score enough points – if you're going to put (an extra) guy over the top of Michael Floyd, we still think we can get him the football, but we're not going to be ‘silly' at it." Kelly continued before offering, "Really Armando Allen has been our playmaker if you look at everything he's done. If you continue to give us Armando Allen, we're going to continue to take him."
While Floyd, Rudolph and Allen are the key pieces of the offense, the team's leading pass-catcher and most improved skill player has been slot receiver (Z receiver) and former running back Theo Riddick.
Did Kelly expect this type of production?
"You guys know I was sure hoping that he would be. I knew the importance of that position, we moved him for a reason, feeling as though when we evaluated our players that he had a chance to be a dynamic player from that position," Kelly said of the emerging Riddick. "It's coming to fruition from that standpoint. He's got a long way to go but he's giving us the ability to run our offense the way we want to run it. If he wasn't at that level, we'd have some struggles (with consistency)."
What makes the Z receiver so important to Kelly's particular version of the spread?
"It's really about how (defenses) are going to play the box," Kelly explained. "How many guys you're going to put in the box; if you're going to drop that (strongside) ‘backer…Theo's out in space with nobody over him and that's probably not a matchup that team's want.
"So now (for example) you take a (Mark) Herzlich out of the game for BC," Kelly continued. "Because he has to stay out over Theo Riddick the whole game. We heard his name – I don't know if he had a couple of tackles? But he was effectively taken out of the ball game. If we can do that, it allows Armando to run and it allows some other things to occur."
The future ‘back sets the tone for a future mindsetTwo popular topics among Irish fans converged midway through today's session: Whither Cierre Wood and what's up with the head coach's rampant sideline scoldings?
"Here's why I like Cierre Wood – this seems to be a big topic of conversation, my sideline demeanor," Kelly offered as an aside prior to answer the Wood-related query. "When I went to talk to him about that play – talk to him about that play – he said, ‘Coach, it's inexcusable what I did. I can't tell you why it happened. That's ridiculous.'"
"He immediately took accountability for his actions; I didn't say another word to him.
"I'm a Cierre Wood fan. We're going to keep developing that young man and he's going to be a good football player. He just needs to continue to develop, gain more confidence. He needs recognition awareness – when he sees things, he has to go (to trust what he sees). He's still thinking too much. When we can get that out of him, when he can just react, man, he's going to be fun to play."
Apparently Wood's reaction was unique to the terminally .500 Irish roster.
"What I loved was (no excuse was offered)," Kelly added. "I was getting a little tired…we hear a lot of that here at Notre Dame and we hear it too much. I didn't hear it from Cierre Wood."
The sense of entitlement Kelly spoke of in the off-season has apparently endured its early-season stay of execution. Don't expect it, or the perpetrators, to survive through next spring.