The Walking, and less fortunate, woundedThe grind of a football season has impacted Notre Dame's roster. A taxing August camp, 10 games, and nearly 11 weeks of in-season practices have taken a toll on Brian Kelly's crew, though one senior leader is expected to return to the fray this week after an extended absence.
"Ethan Johnson is doing well. He had a good week actually and he'll help us on Saturday," Kelly said of his senior defensive end that's been out since the second series vs. Purdue (Game Five) due to an ankle injury. "No question (that Johnson will play); he's a senior, a guy that knows our defense very well.
"He's strong against the run and he's really going to help us a lot, especially on first and second down," Kelly added.
Expect technical LDE backup Aaron Lynch to earn time as well. Kelly noted Lynch's ankle – hurt last week in Winston-Salem – was "fine" and that he'd be able to help defensively.
Rounding out the defensive line's M.A.S.H. unit is freshman Chase Hounshell, who after playing vs. Air Force and USC, was injured late vs. Navy and thus missed last week's win over Wake Forest due to a shoulder injury.
"First-time injury, sometimes it takes a little while to get over it. He had a good week for us. He'll be able to help us," Kelly said.
Also cleared for action is sophomore wide receiver T.J. Jones. "He had been cleared but he wasn't 100 percent," Kelly noted, apparently of his re-insertion to the field last Saturday after a blow to the head. "He was (his) normal bouncing around…he looked good today."
Kelly added that senior center Braxston Cave's foot surgery went, "Very well," and that the Penn High School product had two screws put into his otherwise "clean" foot.
Unfortunate ending: Senior linebacker Steve Filer has been a mainstay on Irish special teams for four seasons. As a sophomore and junior, Filer led all tacklers (punt and kick coverage, combined) and as of late, had appeared in the defensive rotation as a pass-rushing specialist in 4-3 base sets.
A three-year letter-winner (who'll earn his fourth this December at the annual banquet), Filer's career at Notre Dame has ended.
"Steve got injured (Wednesday) in practice and we're probably going to lose him for the year," Kelly said of the apparent ACL injury. "It's tough losing a senior, especially when it's a non-contact situation. When you lose a guy that's not going to play for Notre Dame anymore, that's tough.
"Today you could see the guys rallying around him," Kelly continued. "(Classmate) Darius Fleming is going to wear (Filer's) jersey for the Maryland game, just a tribute to him and not being able to play. I thought that was a pretty nice gesture."
Kelly offered that Filer was injured in a one-on-one non-contact pass-rushing drill. "He just planted and the knee went, just one of those things. You look at it and you feel sick about it."
Filer played more games than any member of the recruiting class of 2008 (current seniors). He concludes his Irish career with 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
His streak of 45 consecutive games (every week since Game Three of 2008) trailed only team captain and 5th-year senior Harrison Smith (47) for the longest streak on the current roster.
Note: Irisheyes.com will have a full depth chart breakdown on Saturday prior to the Maryland game.
Leading the ChargePrior to the season's outset, Kelly quipped that the team was prepared in every phase, but he had natural apprehension, akin to "giving the keys to the car to your teenager."
Now 11 games into the season, does Kelly have any lingering worries about his Irish?
"None. No. We had a great week of practice," Kelly began. "I'm not up here to build anybody up, but we've got a lot of guys in there that really understand what it takes later in the year to prepare, work hard. Michael Floyd was in the infirmary yesterday. He was sick and he had a great practice. He had every excuse in the book to come to practice and go half speed: great player, senior year…he did the exact opposite. He took every rep. He didn't take one off. He returned punts. He did everything and we ran him pretty hard.
"Those things are starting to show themselves," Kelly continued. "This is how you practice, this is how you prepare. That's why you're confident going into games when you prepare like that."
Floyd will continue to serve as one of two punt returners (though the rumor exists that Austin Collinsworth could join the fray). Kelly offered this of Floyd, who's yet to have a chance to return a punt. "It's one of those things, if he gets the ball with any kind of separation; you know how hard it is to tackle him. We just haven't got any separation at this point."
Notre Dame has not gained a yard on a punt return since Week Two at Michigan.
Stay away: Kelly took a moment to explain the team's procedures regarding prospective student-athletes that might take in this week's neutral site game vs. Maryland.
"We can't speak with anybody on the road," he stated. When asked if the University could provide game tickets for those paying their own way, he added, "Yeah. But I know this: we've got a number of recruits that are going to be there that I can't have contact with."