Camp Wrap

Head coach Brian Kelly offered a sampling of news unrelated to the team's publicized quarterback competition.

Brian Kelly's decision regarding a Week One starting quarterback was made Monday; the nod earned by senior Dayne Crist. A 21-year head coaching veteran, Kelly dispersed that information in his standard fashion: to both Crist and competitor Tommy Rees individually.

But the Irish quarterbacks weren't the only tandems in late-camp competition for a starting role vs. South Florida on September 3.

"Chris Watt will start at left guard and Danny Fox will start at the Will (linebacker)," Kelly said, adding that senior safety Jamoris Slaughter won the free safety competition.

Watt, a junior from Glen Ellyn, Ill., beat out 5th-year senior Andrew Nuss while Fox edged classmate Carlo Calabrese, who started the first eight games of 2010 as a redshirt-freshman.

Kelly reiterated that this particular trio of positional races is more about finding a pair of players to split time rather than a true starter at each spot.

"Both of those guys will play," he noted first of Nuss and Calabrese. "It's just like (the situation with) Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke (Motta). It's a 50/50 deal. We're very pleased we have that type of depth at (those positions).

Slaughter won the starting nod for the 2010 opener as well but his status changed on the game's seventh defensive snap with a severe ankle sprain. He started five games with Motta earning eight starts over the 13-game slate.

Kelly concluded his depth chart review with news that freshman kicker Kyle Brindza won the kick-off duties over incumbent David Ruffer. Ruffer, a 5th-year senior and record-setting field goal kicker who's connected on 23 of 24 attempts, will remain the team's place-kicker.

Pleased with his team's health exiting camp, Kelly noted that freshman Eilar Hardy is out for the season with a torn LCL; left tackle Tate Nichols is "making progress" in his return from a dislocated knee cap; and that junior tight end Jake Golic will be out approximately 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair a broken arm late last week.

Pressed to perform

Kelly offered last week that cornerbacks Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson are prepared to compete this season due in part to their participation – and in Jackson's case, excellence – on the Irish special teams last season.

In addition to kick-off man Kyle Brindza, at least four incoming freshmen will be part of the specialty units this season: wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, running backs Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson, and linebacker Troy Niklas.

"I don't want to paint them as ‘just special teamers,' Kelly said, "but I'm confident that they're going to be on the field in some capacity."

Kelly, however, prefers that status change for future incoming freshmen.

"I'd prefer not to (play freshmen on special teams)," he said. "I'd prefer that our program have the strength and depth across the board that we didn't have to use those experiences to get them ready. But in certain areas across our program we don't have the luxury of depth, so the best way to do that looking forward is to play those guys in special teams roles so they can get some game experience."

Its notable – and likely to be misconstrued as such – that Kelly's comments don't apply to what he perceives as game ready freshmen that can contribute from scrimmage, but to young competitors that are needed to fill holes on the special teams.

He added of Jackson and Wood's situation last season: "If we had two other corners with depth and experience in our program, which we will, I wouldn't have played them at all. It was the best scenario looking forward (to this season), knowing we had to rely on second-year players; getting them on the field in their first year."

Fox and the fury

One year ago, kicker David Ruffer served as August's surprise starter, supplanting then record-holder Nick Tausch. Today, that subjective honor belongs to Dan Fox, he of the 55 career snaps entering his junior season.

"Last year he was not a guy that liked contact; he likes contact now," Kelly said of Fox's ascent. "He knows that contact is necessary in that zone he plays in. And he had to get through some injuries (shoulder) when we got here.

"Here's another young man that has developed a toughness to him; a physicality," Kelly continued." He walked in and had all the tools but (now) he's just tougher mentally, and physically he can bang around with offensive linemen and do a very good job because as you know; he's very athletic.

"It was that transformation from playing outside and moving inside, then that mental toughness to bang every single play."

Fox offered similar sentiments at the conclusion of the spring.

"If you have a 320-pounder crashing into you, and you're like 240, you have to smash him in the mouth, because you're not going to (man) him up and think you're going to move him," Fox said of life inside the box. "He has the weight on you, but you have to learn how to smack him and put him where you want him to be."

Did the converted outside ‘backer have a baptism-by-fire upon his move inside?

"Not really, but it was interesting running into (Chris) Watt, because he's big, and like a bowling ball," Fox offered. "He just sticks you, so I thought ‘Alright, this is different than the outside.'"

Not Necessarily Born That Way…

According to Kelly, Fox isn't alone as a college football player from whom an increased element of physical toughness must be extracted.

"It would be a pretty easy profession if they all were ready-made: just roll the ball out, give me 120 yards and a whistle and let's go do it," Kelly said.

"In most cases you have to draw that out of the individual and show them how it will help them be a better football player. It's a game of collisions, and there's a difference between being hurt and being injured," he continued. "You're going to get hurt in this game. All of those (qualities) come into the kind of player we're looking to develop: one that's tough-minded and physical, and that takes time for most young men."

Is there a preferred method toward that end?

"There are a lot of ways (to develop it)," he began. "You get what you demand. If you demand toughness and you don't get it, then that young man is going to know. And I generally win when it comes to getting what I want from our players."


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