Kelly tweaks staff responsibilities for 2014

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly kicked off the 2014 spring session with a nearly hour-long press conference today at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.

A later than usual Easter and the University's spring break played a part in the earliest start to spring practice that fifth-year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly can remember.

Neither of those ancillary items will matter when the Irish hit the practice field next Monday and Wednesday before breaking for 12 days thereafter.

"We're on a tighter window relative to our schedule this year," said Kelly in today's opening press conference of the spring session. "Taking advantage of the NCAA rule where you don't have to count consecutive days when you have a spring break. We'll practice next week twice, have spring break, and then we'll be able to get the remaining 13 practices in.

"It's spread out a little better than trying to get all 15 in after spring break (March 8-16) for us to try to finish up before Easter (April 19)."

Staff Machinations

Kelly's defensive coaching staff includes two new members, the end result a tweaking of the duties of another pair of assistants their side of scrimmage.

"(Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder) will coach the inside linebackers, but what Brian likes to do is have the ability to move around defensively, so (former safeties coach) Bob Elliott will have the outside linebackers," said Kelly. "It'll give Brian the ability to move around a little bit during practice and really have his hands in what's going on, in particular in the back end of our defense. Our corners, our safeties all of whom will be very much involved in what we do, defensively…they'll be very active in what we do defensively.

VanGorder (middle) is the new face of the Irish D

"(Former Cornerbacks coach) Kerry Cooks will have the entire back end. We feel very good about adding that to his responsibilities. Kerry's a very accomplished coach, he had a co-coordinator role for us (in 2011-12). Now his focus in particular will be on the back end of the defense."

Kelly included an unofficial assistant coach as part of the new and improved equation, former Notre Dame safety and the unquestioned 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, Kyle McCarthy, now a graduate assistant.  

"He's a guy that not only played here at Notre Dame and got a chance to play in the NFL, but when I interviewed him, he's a guy that can stand on his own two feet in front of a room. He can coach. He's labeled as graduate assistant but we feel he's a guy that can really go back there and coach at a high level.

"We feel we're really strong with the addition of McCarthy on our staff as well. Gives us a lot of flexibility with coach Elliott down with the linebackers."

Kelly noted that in addition to Matt LaFleur as the new quarterbacks coach, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford -- the longest-tenured member of the staff including Kelly -- will focus solely on running backs rather than slot receivers and runners in congress.

(The latter is a new official designation for 2014 but one made behind the scenes prior to last season. The RB/Slot position was created for Theo Riddick who graduated following the BCS Championship Game run of 2012. Alford rarely worked with the slot receivers in 2013.)

Hoping for something special

There were 123 teams playing at the FBS level in 2013. Notre Dame's kickoff coverage ranked 120th among them.

The punt return unit placed just 80th -- though that middling mark ranked far better than did the public embarrassments loosely referred to as "return teams" in 2010 (100th), 2011 (112th), or 2012 (116th).

As for the punt coverage group last fall? 105th, worse than the 92nd ranked group from 2012.

In 2013, Kyle Brindza kicked (and punted) well. George Atkinson was an impact return man on kickoffs. Other than that, Notre Dame's special teams rarely aided the cause of a 9-4 team that needed help from the so-called "hidden yards" that often determine close football games.

Kelly is well-aware of the shoddy special teams produced by his program to date. He took to the streets to right the myriad wrongs.

"We went out and (visited) clinics," Kelly admitted. "I won't' tell you where we went but we went out to some NFL and college programs, and we took our film with our hat in our hand and said, 'What are we doing here? What are we missing?'

"Primarily it wasn't scheme as much as it was some coaching points, moving some personnel around, some speed players vs. some power players. I think we've got a better feel for positioning of the players in the right positions.

"We're going to make some adjustments to some of the looks that we have in our punt return. We think we've answered some questions in our coverage teams. Like I said, it's unacceptable to be where we are. We went out with that sense of being very open to all things as it relates to special teams because we have to get better.

"We picked up some things I think can really help us."

Kelly added that as with the past two seasons, every member of the staff would have a hand in special teams coordination. Top Stories