Halfway Home

Notre Dame is at the midway point of its pre-season camp. In an impromptu press conference during which head coach Brian Kelly named Everett Golson as his starting quarterback, the fifth-year Irish head man also went in depth regarding potential starters and two-deep performers, defensively. A number of them true freshmen.

Notre Dame practiced on its new FieldTurf inside the House that Rockne built for the first time Wednesday. Brian Kelly plans for at least three more such outings over the next two weeks, plus one stadium practice session during game week as the Irish prepare for Rice on August 30.

"We're going to practice there, we hope, four times, and then one time during game week," said Kelly. "You have to get that surface knocked down a little bit. It's a little bit soft right now. The in-fill has to work itself in. Every foot imprint is pretty noticeable.

"Our kids love it," he added.

Take heed of two words from the last two sentences above: "noticeable" and "kids" because apparently Kelly's 2014 freshmen have proven to be just that.

"I think in year's past, I probably would be, but then my eyes tell me something different when I watch them," said Kelly when asked if he was leery of how many freshmen front seven defenders he expects to contribute. "They have an edge to them. Nyles Morgan and Jonathan Bonner and Jhonny Williams, and (Andrew) Trumbetti, and Kolin Hill. I watch these guys play. (Sophomore) Isaac Rochell is a beast. These guys are physical football players. They have an edge to them. (Daniel) Cage is a load. I go against them every day. I know when you have holes. I've been around long enough. I know when you look and go, 'Whoah, that's not very good.'

"Now they're young. We might cut a gap loose. We may be in the wrong gap. But it's not because we're not rip-and-roaring up the field. It'll be fun, but they're going to cause a few moments of Coach (Brian) VanGorder throwing his hat on the ground. I'm sure of that. The thing is, it's a physical group. It's a physical group."

Among the children apparently most prepared to lead this charge of the youth-filled brigade is early enrollee Andrew Trumbetti.

"He's really separated himself, sometimes I don't talk about him enough because sometimes I forget he's a freshman," said Kelly. "He's almost separated himself from the freshmen class. He's a starter right now for us -- he's the other starting defensive end for us (opposite senior Ishaq Williams). He'll start as a true freshman for us. He's just that kind of player. We think that he's got a huge upside for us in so many areas…great motor, physical, smart, does all the things we ask him to do."

Kelly later added the word "starter" should be taken with a grain of salt regarding the bulk of his young charges.

"You have to keep in mind, we're talking about first- and second-down players. We have third-down players, we have nickel players, dime players, 30-front (3-4) players. It's going to drive you crazy. To really peg them as "starters or non-starters," we're going to play so many different groups defensively, you're going to need a scorecard."

Irish fans won't need a scorecard to track the team's linebackers, as sophomore Jaylon Smith and sophomore Joe Schmidt will rarely come off the field. Kelly though indicated that a true two-deep is beginning to form there as well.

"I think right now, James Onwualu is playing the Sam with (John) Turner and (Ben) Councell. That's your three-man grouping right there, right now. (Joe) Schmidt obviously and Nyles Morgan at Mike linebacker. And somebody that's really emerged for us at the Will is Greer Martini, who's done a great job for us. He's in the two-deep right now. Just really smart -- he's a Joe Schmidt (type) with really good size. A really smart football player. Jaylon can't play the entire game. We have some young guys in there."

Asked to describe Onwualu, Kelly said, "Tough and smart. Tough first, and smart. He's a very, very, very good athlete. Now, we're lining up against Stanford, and they want to pound it, then we're going to get bigger. We'll put Ben Councell on the field. But (Onwualu) is smart and he's tough."

While front seven competitors will often vary by package, the Irish secondary should adhere to more of a traditional two-deep, albeit with a nickel and dime back yet to be named.

"Our two young corners had two really good days, in Cole (Luke) and (Devin) Butler," said Kelly before adding. "Cody Riggs is in our accelerated business program. He had an exam the other day. Cody right now is the starting corner along with KeiVarae (Russell) but with his absence we were able to see a little more of Butler and Cole, and they did a terrific job.

And Josh Atkinson has had a really good camp as well. Nick Watkins has done well. We feel like there's some depth there.

"We talked about the safeties. Max Redfield has had a very good camp," Kelly continued. "And then Collinsworth is Austin Collinsworth. Steady, a great communicator back there. Those guys will be the fixtures."

As for their projected backups, Nicky Baratti and Elijah Shumate, Kelly offered:

"Nicky's solid. He's definitely going to be a two-deep player for us, a solid player for us. Shumate is getting a little more comfortable in some of the things we're asking him to do. We're cautious with Elijah, we like him as more of a box safety where we can keep him closer to the ball. He's doing some good things for us. We want to go slowly there. We know his athleticism and what he can do. He's a good tackler. So we're making progress there there's no question."

Kelly previously mentioned that senior Matthias Farley, a player cross-training at both nickel and safety, would likely be the first safety off the bench in a pinch due to his ability to direct the proceedings.

All of the above points to what was projected here at the conclusion of the spring: It Will Take a Village to raise the 2014 Irish defense to a championship level.

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