Ready for ActionRedshirt-freshman Louis Nix's early-season conditioning level has surprised most observers – his head coach included. Nix started his first game at nose guard last week in Sean Cwynar's stead and helped anchor a rush defense that yielded just 114 rushing yards, including six on eight carries vs. Michigan's trio of running backs.
Cwynar is expected to return Saturday, but whether in a starting role or not, Nix will take ample snaps in the middle of the Irish defense.
"We'll continue to throw more on his plate," Brian Kelly said of Nix. "But with Sean healthy that's definitely going to help us as a football team, because when he goes in there he'll be able to give us some quality (snaps). Not that Hafis (Williams) didn't, but now you've got three quality guys that you rotate in, you can keep him fresh."
Williams backed up Nix ably in Ann Arbor and is a veteran member of the line rotation, earning 244 snaps in 2010, fifth among all defensive linemen.
Does Kelly have an ideal work volume in mind for Nix?
"I'd say about 40 plays. He's up to about 40."
Two more first-year players have ascended to two-deep status, both true freshmen, and both, in part, due to injuries in front of them.
Dog (Drop) linebacker Troy Niklas will backup sophomore Prince Shembo while tight end Ben Koyack moves into the No. 2 tight end role in the absence of 5th-year senior Mike Ragone, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
The loss of Ragone should not be understated.
"He's a good point-of-attack blocker for us, but we're hoping that Ben can step in there," Kelly said. "And I think when we get (Jake) Golic healthy, he'll help, and (Alex) Welch.
Going into the game you have to decide how you're going to play it anyways," Kelly said of the team's change-of-pace power game in which Ragone was an instrumental cog. "And Michigan Sate is a pretty stout team. In the Big Ten there's a lot of power running football teams. We know we're going to have to pick our spots, but we'll have to try it with Ben Koyack."
Golic has been activated for duty after suffering a broken arm in August camp while Welch will be available in an emergent situation only – still recovering from foot surgery (the incision) due to an infection. Welch appeared briefly in the season-opener vs. South Florida. "Golic's ready to go. He had a good week of practice," Kelly offered.
Also on the mend is sophomore ‘backer Danny Spond with whom Niklas was in a tight battle for backup duty at Dog linebacker.
"I'd say he's probably another week," Kelly said of Spond's hamstring injury. "He responded really (well) to treatment. I think we've called it a ‘one-plus' (grade injury) and a one-plus for us is 10 days. Guys are different in terms of how they respond."
Not a family affairKelly, his strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, and a two assistants: Charley Molnar and Mike Elston, immediately followed current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and his defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi at the Spartans pair's previous stop, Cincinnati – the latter departing following the 2006 season for a chance to guide a Big 10 program.
While Kelly noted earlier this week that he respected Dantonio's approach and philosophy as a football coach, the two weren't likely to trade phone calls.
Neither, it appears, will Kelly and Narduzzi.
"They don't look to the sidelines as much (normally), but against us they did for some reason," Narduzzi told the Lansing State Journal. "Whether they're stealing our signals, I don't know. But we've got something (different this year) on the signals too. You never know. Guys are thieves, you know."
Told of Narduzzi's comment Thursday night, Kelly offered, "No, we're not looking to steal anybody's signals. We have enough problems with our own stuff. I'm worried about whether we're going to get the play in and call the right play. That's just too much for us to handle."
Asked if stealing signals was part of the game, Kelly noted, "No, I don't think it's appropriate to film anybody's sideline and pick up signals. You don't need to do that. We're going take care of what we can take care of. Believe me, that's the last thing on our mind."
Still, if the occasionally signal can be breached naturally within the flow of a contest, Kelly sees no problem with the practice.
"Yeah, I think if you pick up something during the course of the game, we have to change our signals each and every week. Tommy Rees is out there doing this (hand motions) and everybody sees it, then next week it has to be a new signal.
"If we did the same thing and they picked that up, that's on us," Kelly offered. "We need to change the signal if everybody else can see it…If it's in just the basic flow of the game and you know what that is, the team has to make sure they're not breached from that standpoint. But I don't think you should be doing any undercover work to steal signals."
Parting Shot: "Oh yeah, I read every newspaper, I'm on every website. I read all that stuff in the morning. It gets me going." – Kelly, on the unsolicited advice regarding his football team that now permeates print and electronic media, not to mention emails courtesy fans, alumni, etc.