Navy week: the vexing triple-option, one that works in congress with always effective, sometimes dangerous cut-block. (Not to be confused with the illegal chop block.)
It's a week that has held the Notre Dame program so captive mentally that former safeties coach Chuck Martin offered prior to a 2010 loss to the Midshipmen the cut-block tactic should be made "illegal."
This Saturday will be Irish head coach Brian Kelly's fifth run-in with the Midshipmen (3-1), and, at least in the days leading up to the contest, his game message is unique.
Cut blocks are coming. Deal with it.
"Stop being crybabies and go play the game. I don't want to hear about cut-blocks. Get in your stance, get off the ball, and play your game," Kelly said.
"I don't want to hear about it. It's part of the game. They're legal. You have to get off the ball and go play. I told our guys, this is a 'No Cry Zone' this week. I don't want to hear about it. Go play the game and go play the game the right way."
Notre Dame's defense yielded 331 rushing yards to the Midshipmen in last year's 38-34 thriller won late by the Irish in South Bend. It's thus obvious Kelly's "No Cry Zone" must be accompanied by a healthy dose of sound football technique and drill work. While his defensive front will look to dominate as it strives to every week, the back seven of the Irish defense will be tasked with staying on its collective feet.
"Certainly you have to play them off on the perimeter," said Kelly. "Corners and safeties and outside players have got to use their hands and have got to do a great job of playing off the cut-block. That's something you have to teach and use drills to get the kids acquainted with how to utilize their hands.
"But when your hand is in the dirt (defensive front) you have to go play. I separate those two. I separate the big guys that have to be physical and play and not worry about those rings, and those guys that are on the perimeter that have to play off the cut block and use good technique in doing so."
November Call-upNotre Dame's depleted safety position received a boost this week in the form of two veterans, one of which is unlikely to play Saturday due to injury, the other, Eilar Hardy, because of an off-the-field transgression.
"He practiced yesterday," said Kelly of Hardy. "We're hopeful (that Hardy could play this fall), there are things that have to occur for that to take place. Those are above what I can control. We're of the mindset that we would like to get him cleared and that's a process that he's working through."
Hardy was one of five Irish players suspended in August for alleged academic dishonesty. Each of the five was found culpable and received a two-semester suspension from the university. Hardy's inclusion in practice suggests he chose to take that suspension following the current semester. (It's possible Hardy could graduate at the fall semester's conclusion.)
Kelly was asked how important Hardy could be as a fifth, healthy scholarship safety, even if he's not cleared to play this fall.
"Helpful. I've got to tell you, helpful. There is no question," Kelly said. "He knows our defense very well, even though he didn't get much work because in the spring he got ton of work. He knows what he's doing. He's always been a pretty smart guy. The area where we've always felt like he's been a step behind is a sense of urgency. He's got a pretty good sense of urgency right now."
Also in the mix this week, though highly unlikely to play, is fifth-year senior captain Austin Collinsworth. The former starting safety dressed for practice Monday and will wear a harness in an attempt to help the team while he battles back from a dislocated shoulder suffered against North Carolina.
Kelly initially indicated that with enough rest (4-6 weeks), Collinsworth could conceivably return close to full strength during bowl preparations, or perhaps by the time the Irish began preparations for USC at season's end.
"These kinds of decisions when you're talking about somebody in their final seasons of competition, those are discussions between our training staff, our doctors, and an individual as well as the parent. They're making these calls. This is not my call," said Kelly of the 'decision' to use Collinsworth.
"If our doctors feel as though they can protect him and that he can be productive and all those things line up, they'll try to get him out there. Whether that means this week or next, I couldn't tell you for sure. All I know is that he wants to be out there. He wants to be with his teammates. He wants to try to help the football team right now if he can."