Staying Sharp

Notre Dame hopes to crack pads twice during final exams, then hit the ground running in preparation for Rutgers over the weekend.

Notre Dame began its post-season practice session nine days ago but game week preparations for Pinstripe Bowl foe Rutgers were on hold until this week.

"I want to scrimmage a little bit, tackle, go back to what we were talking about relative to keeping our guys sharp," said Kelly of his plan for the Irish this week. "We can't do much because of exams. We found a small window on Tuesday and Thursday in the morning where guys have a bit of an opening where we can get in for about an hour and get some work with our guys on Tuesday and Thursday.

"We'll take about an hour, hour-and-a-half, and really scrimmage, do a little bit of Rutgers. Monday and Wednesday they'll condition and weight-train. We'll give them Friday off, and then Saturday and Sunday we'll really go hard at Rutgers game-planning."

Rutgers' exam schedule apparently coincides with Notre Dame. So too does turnover on both coaching staffs.

Kelly doesn't expect too many wrinkles as a result.

"I don't think there will be much difference," he said of a Scarlet Knight's staff bereft of its defensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and offensive line coach. "It's hard to go and put in new schemes in this period of time. They're in exams like we are. You're not going to put in a ton of new schemes. You may accentuate one thing or another, but you're going to look very similar to what you are during the season. Then you'll just adjust during the game."

Kelly's adjustments in December are minimal in-house, at least on the offensive side of scrimmage.

"I think from the offensive standpoint, I'm just arranging my schedule so I can be -- I was involved a lot, I'm just involved a little bit more," he noted. "With the new recruiting calendar, it's really helped out incredibly because now we'll get into practices and I'm not out on the road recruiting. I think it's going to work out just fine on the offensive side of the ball. I'm not concerned at all from that standpoint.

"Defensively, what we have is a wealth of knowledge with three of our coaches and two in particular have such a great understanding of the defense in (co-defensive coordinator) Kerry Cooks and (defensive line coach) Mike Elston. (Safeties coach) Bob Elliott has coordinated for a long period of time, so I really feel comfortable with what we have there. (Defensive graduate assistant) Josh Reardon is a very experienced coach and can go in there and step in and help us with the linebackers. He already has.

"I'm not really that concerned with it. We're going to be very well-prepared for the game. There won't be any excuses about not being prepared and not having our guys ready to play."

The Irish head man felt his team wasn't at peak efficiency during last season's bowl beating at the hands of Alabama. At the root of the problem was a lack of healthy bodies along the Notre Dame offensive line one year ago.

They enter the December 28 matchup with Rutgers sans their starting right and left guard and center.

'We haven't tackled yet," he said of the team's most recent practice Saturday (December 14). "We've been pretty physical. The period of time, obviously, is a lot shorter than playing for the BCS Championship. We're in a shorter window here, so I feel a lot more comfortable here with the preparation time leading up to when we'll play. We'll hit a little bit, tackle a little bit (this) week, and I think that will serve us well.

"We're a little thin again this year because of the offensive line injuries, but I'm not in a position now this year where I feel concerned we can't get the work done necessarily."

Notre Dame is without starting nose guard Louis Nix (knee/NFL draft entry) as well as LG Chris Watt (knee), C Nick Martin (knee) and RG Christian Lombard (back.

Of the team's 11 remaining scholarship linemen, eligibility will be preserved for four, each of them true freshmen: Mike McGlinchey (T), Hunter Bivin (G), John Montelus (G), and Coin McGovern (G).

Redshirt-freshman Mark Harrell has yet to appear in a college game but he would be the first player off the bench should injury occur to any starter. Harrell would fill in at guard, regardless, with new starting right guard Steve Elmer capable of playing anywhere but center.

New starting center Matt Hegarty can play guard while new starting left guard Conor Hanratty can play center.

Should two starters go down during practice or on game day, senior guard Bruce Heggie and senior walk-on OL Kevin Carr would be next in line. Top Stories