Quarterbacks, Irish Ready to Go Live

The 86th annual Blue Gold game will feature a pared down scoring system, a cozy atmosphere, and oh yeah, quarterbacks getting hit.

Tweaks to Saturday's Blue Gold Game for Brian Kelly and his sixth-edition Irish include both the mundane -- a revised, easier-to-follow scoring system -- and the relevant -- both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will be tackled to the ground, a departure from the last two seasons in which Irish triggermen donned red jerseys, protecting them from contact.

To be played at the LaBar Practice Complex in front of approximately 2,500 invited guests, potential pledges, and media, this year's annual spring game will attempt to capture live action if not a complete return to standard football scoring.

"The first half we’ll have two 12-minutes quarters with stop time," said Kelly. "Last year we got in 30-something plays per quarter. So that will take up most (of the game), probably 60-65 percent. Second half we averaged 19 plays per quarter (with a running clock.)

"Quarterbacks will be live in the first half," he added. "I think in terms of special teams, we’ve just gotta get our teams set out there. No contact."

The game's tweaked offense vs. defense format has recently included a convoluted scoring system, one Kelly has hoped to simplify for 2015.

"I thought we had too many points on the board last year. It was like 55-to-5 (in favor of the offense) after the first quarter," said Kelly. "We pared the points down a little bit, give the defense a little bit more of a chance to score some points."

Including incoming transfer Avery Sebastian and the likely (KeiVarae Russell) and potential (Ishaq Williams) return of a pair of suspended players, Kelly's 2015 August roster could feature as many as 90 scholarship athletes. While that's convenient for a competitive camp atmosphere, at some point, Notre Dame will have to reduce its ranks to the 85-player scholarship limit mandated by the NCAA.

Color Kelly unconcerned with the presence of a rare scholarship crunch.

"We have to get to 85. It's a salary cap, right?" he said half-jokingly. "We have to be at 85 at kickoff of the Texas game."

In related news, Kelly confirmed each of his potential graduate students for 2015 applied this week for a fifth season of eligibility.

"All their applications are in. Everybody that has asked has turned in their applications to the academic review committee," said Kelly. "We should hear on those guys pretty soon."

(Kelly confirmed the names Amir Carlisle, Matthias Farley, Everett Golson, Jarrett Grace, Chase Hounshell, Nick Martin, and Joe Schmidt. Of note, the media did not inquire about Connor Cavalaris, the former walk-on turned scholarship safety who is also pursuing a fifth season as a graduate student. Cavalaris has played extensively on special teams since the outset of the 2012 season.)

"They were due last Friday and they all turned them in. We should have an answer whether they're going to be granted a fifth year."

With the exception of sophomore defensive linemen Jonathan Bonner (foot) and Daniel Cage (unconfirmed injury), Kelly's sixth spring in South Bend has been, to date, injury-free. Three previously hobbled players withheld from contact during the spring session, Jarron Jones (foot), Joe Schmidt (ankle/foot) and Drue Tranquill (knee), are expected to return to action for the summer session.

"Both of those guys (Jones and Schmidt) are already moving at a level where when they come back in June, they'll be ready to condition and we'll get them ready through our summer conditioning, said Kelly. "They'll be available to us in our nine OTA's beginning on June 5th and going through June 25th.

"Tranquill is doing extremely well," Kelly continued. "We're just holding him out. If he had to play, if we were playing a game on Saturday, he could play. We just don't need him to play. There's no reason."

Schmidt joined competitive action for the first time this week, receiving minor work in skeleton 7-on-7 drills. The defensive captain and 2015 team MVP's absence this spring was mitigated by the presence of classmate a healthy Jarrett Grace.

"He knows what he’s doing and he gets other guys in the right position," said Kelly of Schmidt's return to the fray. "Obviously having Jarrett Grace out there too kind of overshadows him a little bit because we’re used to hearing that. When Joe went down, Jarrett kind of picked up where Joe left off.

"It wasn’t as stark off a difference (as last season) because you had Jarrett out there. I did notice (Schmidt) out there and it was good to see him."

Including injured players, current high school seniors, suspended competitors, and an incoming transfer, more than 25 percent of Notre Dame's projected 2015 roster won't participate in Saturday's annual Blue Gold Game. That reality isn't lost on Kelly, who was coincidentally asked today about the consideration of a "Fall Scrimmage" either in addition to, or in lieu of, the annual spring affair.

"It's interesting you say that because we've actually talked about this as head coaches, how it would benefit greatly to have that opportunity, especially if we kept it local," said Kelly. "We would certainly be in favor of doing something like that, as would a number of coaches.

"It always gets to, 'What are the finances and what are the TV arrangements?' he added. "Those always get in the way of just doing a simple thing, and that is, how it would benefit us going into the season. Certainly, having the early-season schedule that we play, you can understand that we'd be very much in favor."

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