- At this point, with 83 of 85 scholarship athletes ready to begin August practice, Notre Dame is as healthy as it could hope entering a football season.
- That will change after a month of taxing training camp practices.
"We're not missing anyone relative to health, academics, all of those things," Kelly offered yesterday. I'd use (first-year athletic trainer) Rob Hunt's assessment of our football team, and he feels like they're in great physical condition with very small tweaks that would need to happen to a couple of players."
Kelly added that redshirt-freshman running back Cameron Roberson would not be back with the Irish in "a competitive fashion" this year, though that was expected after the offense's Scout Team Player of the Year tore and partially tore knee ligaments early in spring practice. Senior offensive lineman Lane Clelland endured off-season knee surgery after a summer injury and is also out for the season, an ill-timed development that could end his Irish playing career.
The team's overall state of health is not yet a concern, but Kelly was nonetheless able to pinpoint two immediate examples of dearth along his depth chart.
"Depth at the running back position. Depth at the wide receiver position," he said. "So those young kids at that position are going to have to be evaluated closely as to whether they can help us this year."
"All of those guys got a thumbs up from coach (Paul) Longo," said Kelly of a recent conversation with his longtime strength and conditioning coach. "That they're ready from a conditioning element to compete as freshmen; now we have to find out about the football end of things. That means I have to get them in the mix right away so they can compete."
As noted frequently on Irisheyes.com during the summer months, either Atkinson or McDaniel will have an immediate impact.
"Two freshmen are going to be vying for that (No. 3 running back) position," Kelly said of the talented duo. "Those are guys that are going to have to play a role, and one of them is going to be on the field (early) at Notre Dame as a true freshman at the running back position."
Of course, if veterans ahead of the pair play to expectations, the freshmen tandem's role will be reduced to a more comfortable number of game day snaps.
"I think the real key (to the position) is Jonas Gray," Kelly said of his senior backup. "Because we know Cierre (Wood) is going to be able to do the things that he's shown. (Gray) is going to be the deciding factor there for us. If he can give us what we think he can, it's going to lighten the load on those two freshmen, (but) they have to come in and compete."
Also in the mix will be a sprinkling of true freshmen joining what appears to be the team's most stacked positional group.
"We have to look at all the defensive linemen," Kelly said of a group that includes incoming competitors Chase Hounshell, (likely) Troy Niklas, Tony Springmann, and 5-star recruit Stephon Tuitt. "That's an important piece to what we believe to be the strength and depth."
Not included among the rookies is early enrollee freshman Aaron Lynch, who, after a sterling spring, appears to have a leg up for an early two-deep role alongside sophomore Kona Schwenke and behind senior leaders Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore.
My garage could use a touch of paint, too...A recent article in the Chicago Tribune quoted ex-Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie's views on Brian Kelly entering his second season at the program.
"He's in a very enviable situation," Davie told the Tribune. "Because we all had the same pressure to win. We just had to do it in a probably more difficult manner."
A loosely (scratch that, a directly)-related query posed to Kelly in Friday's opening press conference posited that the University has allowed its head coach to bring in players that past coaches might not have been able to readily parade down Notre Dame Avenue.
"I don't know what they've done for other coaches," he said of the school's admissions. "You'd have to ask Bob Davie what the GPA and the ACT scores of all his players were that he brought in. He would know better than I would. And you'd have to ask Lou Holtz and Ty Willingham.
"I'm recruiting to the philosophy of Notre Dame," Kelly explained. "And the philosophy of Notre Dame, relative to our academics, is that we are extremely competitive in the classroom. I think our average ACT score was in the 32-33 range. You can't put a young man in that classroom that can't swim in that classroom. He has to be able to go in there and compete."
Kelly was likewise asked if the program's improved athletic facilities provided him with a leg-up in recruiting and preparation.
"They painted the doors out in front of my office," he deadpanned of a recent cosmetic addition. "I was at Cincinnati. I didn't have a practice field. We did okay there (Kelly finished 34-6 in three seasons, including a 12-0 final season with the Bearcats).
"I think facilities are overrated," he continued. Obviously you have to be on a level playing field ... (but) facilities should be a wash; it doesn't give you an advantage anymore over someone else."