Notre Dame's 10th of 15 spring practice sessions offered Kelly's staff and players a chance to re-acclimate to contact in preparation for what will likely prove to be the most important practice of the 2015 spring -- a Saturday session that promises to be a head-knocker before the Irish tamp it down heading into the 86th annual Blue Gold Game seven days later.
"We had a busy day today," said Kelly. "I wanted to get a lot of work in today: tempo, inside (run) drill, all the elements you want in a very physical practice, and that will prepare us for Friday which will be cleaning up any mistakes from today and then Saturday a pretty heavy day.
"The quarterbacks will be live. It will be a pretty spirited and longer scrimmage opportunity for our guys, because then just one practice and a walk-through (remain) leading into spring game."
OUT, BACK IN...AND ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN?
Only one member of the 68-player scholarship spring roster was sidelined during the media's 30-minute viewing period Wednesday, redshirt-freshman defensive end Jonathan Bonner.
Lauded by Kelly for his improvement since the conclusion of the 2014 season, Bonner's 2015 off-season will be about recovery more than a continued ascent.
"He has a bad case of turf toe which is going to require surgery. It's very similar to an injury Prince Shembo suffered (in 2011)," said Kelly of Bonner. "He'll go to the Cleveland Clinic (Tuesday). We think his recovery will be where we have him back in late June and we'll have a chance to have him fully recovered for pre-season camp and into the season."
While Bonner's recovery has yet to begin it appears returning co-captain Sheldon Day has made it over-the-hump. Day missed the final two games of the 2014 season with a torn PCL, returning in late December to start against LSU in the Music City Bowl. Prior to Wednesday morning's practice, Day was largely removed from contact drills and team action.
"He had an injection for an IT-band inflammation so we were being cautious with him coming off the knee (injury)," said Kelly of Day's slow spring. "Today he was involved in everything. He was involved in 9-on-7 for first time, half-line (drills), and our team stuff. Today was his first 'cut-it-loose' day, if you will. I thought it was a very productive day for him."
While Day can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the road back to the playing field appears tenuous at best for suspended senior defensive end Ishaq Williams. Williams was in town last week as a spectator for Notre Dame's pro day activities (Tuesday, March 31).
Asked today if he had a chance to speak with Williams during this visit, Kelly offered, "We did not. All we had a chance to say was hello. We did not have a chance to talk in depth. He's going to be back up here after the spring game and I'll get a chance to spend some time (with him).
"He had a prior commitment in Chicago (last week). I'll get a chance to spend some more time with him. We're planning on doing that some time in April."
Kelly noted that he does not have enough clarity on Williams' situation academically to look past that initial hurdle.
"We know there are some hurdles for him academically to work through. He knows that as well," said Kelly. "We'll try to get some clarity on what his intentions are academically more than anything else. Things he'll have to take care of in the summer time just to get the ball moving for his ability to be reinstated."
A former running back and a tight end with one career catch were among today's press conference notables.
"I think Amir Carlisle has probably had the best spring in terms of growth at the position; understanding the position," said Kelly when asked about his wide receivers. "Chris Brown has been good. He needs to continue to work on the fundamentals, in and out of his break, things of that nature.
Will (Fuller), I don't like when he drops some balls but there's a reason for it with a cast on his hand. He's such a gifted player vertically, there's nobody really that can touch him down the field when he gets a (clean) release…but the guy that I think has had the most consistent spring is Amir."
While Carlisle leads a trio of potential contributors in the slot (slot/RB C.J. Prosise and slot/X receiver Torii Hunter, Jr.), a definitive leader has emerged at the tight end position vacated by senior graduate Ben Koyack.
"He's clearly the No. 1 tight end," said Kelly of junior Durham Smythe. "He's the No. 1 tight end in all facets. His ability to pass-catch, route-run, knowledge of the offense, in-line blocking, blocking on the perimeter, knowledge of the game.
"He's a kid that stays injury free (knocks on podium). He has toughness. He has to work to get bigger and stronger. He has all the tools to be an exceptional tight end. He was just lacking the opportunity more than anything else."
A redshirt-sophomore in terms of eligibility, Smythe caught one pass last season, a seven-yard gain on third-down to move that chains at Arizona State. That's one more catch than the remainder of the tight end crew has collected in their collegiate careers.
"I think Tyler Luatua will continue to progress in that area. We like Tyler," said Kelly of the possibility of using more two tight end sets this season. "In the LSU game I think he was outstanding in his blocking. He gained a lot of confidence in that game. He really needs to work on his route-running and ball-catching consistency. In-line blocking is solid.
"Nic Weishar is a really talented pass-catcher. He's getting bigger and stronger, he's up in the 240 (pounds)," said Kelly of the redshirt-freshman projected by many as a future downfield threat. "I think he's going to be a really good tight end for us; maybe able to get on the field for us this year.
"And (converted defensive end) Chase Hounshell is getting better every day. He's been on a faster track in the last couple of days toward getting more and more reps. He's big, he's strong, he's physical and he has the 'want to.' I'm fairly pleased with where we are. We could have four tight ends there that could contribute at that position which would really help our offense."
Not Even Close: With Smythe putting a spring stranglehold on the starting tight end spot, precious few positions appear open for the taking among Kelly's starting offensive 11.
Left guard (Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars), perhaps running back, though that would ideally be a job share, and…oh yeah, quarterback.
Asked if he felt that his battle between potential 5th-year senior Everett Golson and junior Malik Zaire would bleed into August, Kelly offered a declarative response.
"Oh no, they'll continue to compete into August. There's no question."
Don't expect Saturday's scrimmage or the Blue Gold Game thereafter to turn the tide heavily in either's favor. Rather, leadership qualities that emerge (or sharpen) in the spring will likely offer one a leg up over the other entering August camp…a time at which Kelly & Co. still aren't likely be close to a final decision.