Spring Notebook

New staff designations, relevant injury notes, position switches, and a new wake-up call for the roster highlight our first notebook of the 2011 spring session.

There are three certain, annual signs that Spring has arrived in South Bend:

  1. As a Notre Dame basketball beat writer, my Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are suddenly free again.
  2. I begin pecking away (scratch that, I'm a typing machine) my requisite "It Happens Every Spring" column, regarding a player suspension/expulsion/disciplinary action.
  3. A football notebook becomes relevant and timely again…and contains a quote from someone other than myself! Spring football has arrived…

Streamlining and improving, not tweaking

Though no member of Brian Kelly's first coaching staff moved on over the off-season, not every member of the group will return to his coaching responsibility from 2010.

"Kerry Cooks will take over the cornerback position and focus strictly on the corners," Kelly offered. "Chuck Martin will focus on the safeties. It will be a collaborative effort.

"We think that breaking down the secondary, to have both of those coaches back there is a great advantage for us. I know I am (excited) and I know our players are, because they are going to get that individual attention at their positions."

Cooks, an All Big-10 safety with Iowa in the late 90s and an NFL veteran, coached defensive backs at Wisconsin for four seasons prior to leading the outside linebacker unit last fall in South Bend. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who also coached the inside ‘backers last season, will now have control of the linebackers as a full unit.

Martin served as the team's defensive backs coach last season and was an All-American at Millikin College in the late 80s. Notre Dame's pass efficiency defense improved from 87th in 2009 to 25th in 2010, yielding a mere nine regular season touchdown passes vs. 17 in '09.

An additional change in the chain-of-command occupies the opposite side of scrimmage.

"Ed Warinner will take over the responsibilities of coordinating the running game on a day-to-day basis," Kelly noted. "I wanted to be able to free Charley (Molnar) up a little bit so he can help a lot more in day-to-day organizational work, offensively.

"That's going to help us in recruiting, evaluation, all of those things, and as you know (Warinner) is was a coordinator at Kansas and did a great job."

Molnar remains the team's offensive coordinator and Warinner the offensive line coach as both were designated last season.

The move should help Molnar better aid his boss.

"One of the unique things of being head coach at Notre Dame, for me, is that I still have my hand in the day-to-day quarterback play, as well as play calling, and sometimes my demands put me in a position where (he'd walk) into Charley's office, eight minutes before practice saying, ‘Hey, I want to do, this I want to do that.' It's a great organizational tool for us as we move forward."

Rise and shine: Another change from last year's spring session: the daily schedule.

"We will begin practice on the field at 8:00 a.m. and will conclude at 10:15," Kelly said of a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday schedule. "It's a format that I'm comfortable with. It allows our players to get in, get their work done and really be focused the entire day on their academics; (then) come back here for dinner. And then certainly it keeps us well below the 20-hour (weekly) limit and allows our players to have a lot of energy as we get later into the academic year.

"So that will be a routine that you'll see moving forward and one that our players already have embraced."

Kelly noted the Irish will return to afternoon practice in the fall.

Spring Break

Not every fall starter will hit the ground running this spring. Utilizing the entire 15-practice session to heal will be nose guard Sean Cwynar. Cwynar had off-season foot and back surgery, and though Kelly noted great progress for the senior, he will be held out of the next three weeks to continue toward a full recovery of his surgically repaired foot.

"We are working through the foot fracture at this point," Kelly offered of Cwynar. "So you will not see him in any spring ball practice."

Expected to participate in a limited capacity is junior linebacker Manti Te'o.

"Manti Te'o had a scope on his knee; cleaned up a little bit of cartilage in there, and we will probably be able to practice with him, and do some things," Kelly said of the potential All-America. "But I think it's pretty safe to say right now, we know what Manti can do. It's important that he continues to (study) at that position. His leadership skills are needed; he's going to be involved, but I don't think you're going to see him taking a whole lot of reps during the spring."

As expected, joining Te'o on the "Proceed with Caution" list is senior quarterback Dayne Crist.

"Dayne Crist will be limited but I think it's going to be similar to what we saw last spring (when) he was coming off the ACL…I think it's safe to say that you are going to see that same kind of routine. "He'll be involved in a lot of our drill work; everything but (live action), and we are hoping that that also means that we are going to go with the same plan that we used last year with him (regarding the Blue Gold game).

Crist took every relevant snap in last year's April Blue Gold contest.

Irish Eyes will have more on Crist and the quarterback competition over the next few days – and likely, every day.

Who's my Dog?

After three months of rumors and leaks, the following position designations have taken root, at least entering spring ball, with the DOG/Drop position open to a host of candidates:
  • Junior Dan Fox practiced at outside linebacker in 2009 and in spring 2010, then moved inside during the season last fall. He's listed as an inside ‘backer again this spring but Kelly noted he will also be evaluated as a potential DOG/Drop backer.
  • Steve Filer looks to have the inside track at DOG/Drop, but two sophomores, former CAT Prince Shembo, and former WILL Danny Spond, will also receive an evaluation at the position. Both Shembo and Spond were rumored to be working inside in winter conditioning, but were noted as outside competitors by Kelly throughout the presser.
  • Sophomore Justin Utupo has moved from DE to inside linebacker.
  • Early enrollee freshman Ishaq Williams will debut as CAT linebacker competitor (starting spot occupied by Darius Fleming)
  • Fellow early enrollee Brad Carrico will begin his Irish career on the offensive line. Carrico was a potential DE prospect on National Signing Day but this move surprised few in the recruiting world.
  • 5th-year senior offensive lineman Andrew Nuss, a guard under the previous regime but mainly a tackle last season, is again listed as a guard this spring. The tackle position returns both starters (Zach Martin and Taylor Dever) with sophomores Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols battling senior Lane Clelland for a two-deep role.
  • Senior Mike Golic is listed as a center (rather than center/guard)
  • Sophomore Bennett Jackson is indeed a cornerback rather than wide receiver as he indicated in a hasty Facebook post over the winter. Classmate Austin Collinsworth has also vacated the wide receiver position to compete at safety.
  • Hafis Williams is listed as a nose guard, likely in an effort to compete with sophomore Louis Nix while Sean Cwynar spends the spring rehabilitating from back and foot surgery. Cwynar is officially listed as a defensive end, but Kelly repeatedly noted he was a nose guard competitor upon return.
  • Sophomore Luke Massa, as noted in a prior column, will compete at WR

Finally, all prospective 5th-year applicants were officially granted a final season of eligibility. Re-joining the Irish this spring/next fall are offensive tackle Taylor Dever, cornerback Gary Gray, offensive guard Andrew Nuss, tight end Mike Ragone, kicker David Ruffer, and safety and lone team captain Harrison Smith.

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