Changes Expected Along Irish Offensive Front

Brian Kelly discussed today a handful of likely changes to his offensive line's alignment for Saturday's contest against Syracuse. But in the midst of change came a similar refrain regarding a quintet of suspended players.

Two themes dominated Irish head coach Brian Kelly's weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon: change, and, not unexpectedly, a lack thereof.

The latter concerns an off-the-field matter that has plagued an otherwise joyous Irish fan base in the midst of a 3-0 start -- suspected academic dishonesty among five current football players and an unknown total of other current and/or former Notre Dame students

"Friday of last week I was informed that the academic committee has been formed officially and that they will, if all things move in the manner that they're hoping, and that they're able to get through all of the information, that the five student-athletes will get their hearings concluded by the end of next week," said Kelly.

News that hearings were not held during the team's week away from football surprised only those not paying attention to date. While still toeing the company line, it was clear Tuesday that Kelly remains frustrated with the process's glacial pace.

"I don't have an opinion, and I really wouldn't want to share it publicly," said Kelly when asked for his opinion of the process to date.

Conversely, media attempting to cover the proceedings from afar along with most Irish fans decidedly do, and neither group has hesitated to share: the players have been found guilty in that they've already missed a quarter of the season -- a percentage that will increase to one-third as they watch their teammates from afar Saturday night.

"I really don't have enough information to really give you an opinion on that," said Kelly when asked if by virtue of the time missed, his players has already been found guilty. "I had enough information to give you an opinion on the first question. But the second question, I don't have enough information to give you an opinion on the second one."

Kelly noted that the lack of full disclosure offered to the suspended players' parents is not out of the ordinary in disciplinary matters.

"I'm not here to be a spokesman for our administration, I'm answering your question," he began. "All I can answer for is what I experience as a football coach that goes on in my program. If one of our players has a violation, whether it be of the honor code or in the dorms, the parents aren't notified. The student is notified. So this is a pretty consistent way of doing business, if you will. 

"Certainly this is a national story, so it takes on a different significance, I understand that. The time element has obviously changed the dynamics here as well but on a consistency basis, on a day-to-day basis if it's about drug testing or a violation in the dorms, if it's about an honor code violation, it's the student that is on the front line, and it's the student that's dealing with this directly.  It's the student that then talks to the parents about it."

Kelly did offer a ray of light to conclude the discussion.

"I do not have any knowledge of vacating wins or NCAA implications," he said when asked directly. "I have not been informed of that, and whether that is impending, I think I would have been informed of all those things, if we were in that kind of I am immediacy, if you will."

The investigation officially began on July 29. It was made public on August 15, and according to Kelly, concluded on August 28. Safety Eilar Hardy was officially named as a potential violator of the honor code matter on the 28th, joining the original quartet of wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback Keivarae Russell, and defensive end Ishaq Williams.

After Hardy's name was added, Kelly said he believed the matter would conclude posthaste.

“For our football team, we feel like this brings a big part of closure for us so now we can really just focus the next 48 hours on preparation for Rice," he said on August 28, adding, "I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but I do know we are now moving very quickly because we’ve concluded the investigation. Now it’s my knowledge of how our process works is that we’d obviously adjudicate rather quickly."

Stanley the lone holdover?

A unit that the team's head coach offered as the team's best entering the season will likely undergo change for Saturday's date with the Orange. Though not set in stone, it appears the Irish offensive line could have four players in different starting positions, with only junior left tackle Ronnie Stanley occupying the same position in which he's worked to date.

As game week practices ramp up, center Nick Martin will receive an evaluation at left guard while right guard Matt Hegarty will slide over to center in his stead. The right side will flip-flop, with Christian Lombard moving from guard to tackle and Steve Elmer from tackle to guard.

Conor Hanratty, a three-week starter at left guard, was listed behind Martin on the tentative depth chart released today by Notre Dame media relations.

"I would say it's pretty early. We're trying to move the pieces around on the offensive line so you can see some of the changes...and we're still in the process of figuring out what the best five are on the offensive line.

"We haven't made a final decision on that."

Lombard started 13 games at right tackle in 2012. He's since started nine at right guard, missing seven due to back and ankle injuries. Hegarty started two games at center last fall when Martin was lost to a mid-November knee injury and Elmer started four of the final six games at right guard last fall.

"The only guy that doesn't have a lot of experience at the position he's playing right now is Nick Martin, but we feel like he's one of our strongest offensive linemen," said Kelly of his senior co-captain. "We need a couple more days before we really solidify that."

Kelly added that redshirt-freshman Mike McGlinchey remains a tackle option as does Hanratty at guard. Both rotate with the first unit in practice. (Hanratty has started seven of the last eight games at either left or right guard dating back to November 1, 2013.)

"You can see that we moved two bigger guys inside, right?" Kelly offered in explanation of the change. "So, 320-plus (pounds) right guard, in Elmer, and one of our more physical players in Nick Martin at left guard.  So physicality in the left guard position is what we are looking for at that position, and felt like Matt could handle the center position. He went through the entire spring and has games under his belt when Nick went down last year.

"Arguably you have two outstanding players in Stanley and Martin working together on the left side.  You create a left side now that's very visible and then a big athletic right guard in Steve Elmer."

"If you can hang your hat on a left side or a right side, that certainly goes into some of your thinking," he continued. "I think what we were looking for more than anything else is that we wanted to be able to be more physical inside."

Kelly added that the changes should not be perceived as permanent, and that each player set to return next fall (only Lombard exhausts eligibility) could return to his previous position should "younger players" prove they are ready to contribute.


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