Irish Notes: Feeling the Grind

Eight down, 15 practice sessions to go. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offers updates on his squad, now in the thick of August camp.

Rookie perfection – at least at present. A modicum of clarity, 12 months in the making. And the expected distribution of backfield carries from a not-so-sparse collection of runners.

All of the above highlighted today’s 20 minutes with Irish head coach Brian Kelly following his squad’s two-hour practice in pads.

News that suspended junior running back Greg Bryant would spend his 2015 fall semester playing football at ASA Miami College caught his head coach by surprise. (It did the same to his well-meaning father, as detailed here by Tim Prister).

But Bryant’s between-the-lines absence this fall had been in the works for several months, and Kelly doesn’t appear the least bit concerned that his available runners can carry the load.

“We think the combination of (C.J.) Prosise, (Tarean) Folston and (Malik) Zaire, that those three along with — we’ll incorporate the Z (slot) receiver in some of those carries. (Amir) Carlisle, CJ (Sanders) and maybe Torii Hunter, they’re part of our zoom and fly package.

“All of those guys will carry the football in some fashion. Justin (Brent) is still developmental. We’re still working with him. We hope that he can develop to the point where he could be that guy too. But he’s still developing. We’re still early in the process. The primary carries are the three guys that I mentioned and then some of those receivers will pick up carries as well.”

The zoom and fly package, referred to often by fans as the Jet Sweep, produced 199 yards on 20 carries by four different players last season. Included in those 20 carries were a 50-yard touchdown sprint by Prosise against LSU and a game-changing fumble lost by Chris Brown against Northwestern.

A not-so-veiled shot across his bow: The aforementioned Prosise appeared to take most of the first team running back reps during today’s practice viewing. Wither expected starter Tarean Folston?

“We’re just going to keep that as a very competitive situation,” said Kelly. “Keep pushing them both and there’s no depth chart there right now. You got a good practice on you and you’re working hard, you’re taking the first-team reps. If you’ve had a sub-par practice based upon the standards that we set, you’re not taking first-team reps. It’s a very competition situation, very fluid in that sense. I think that’ll be very competitive each and every week.”

Kelly was asked today if he’d been following the saga of Bryant, his wayward running back.

“I have. I’m following it like you guys, though. Third-hand. My feeling would be that I want Greg back here if he wants a Notre Dame degree and if he’s committed to a Notre Dame education. Obviously from what I’m hearing, that’s not what he’s interested in. I think he’s interested in playing football. And at Notre Dame, you have to do both. You have to be committed to an education.

“I love Greg, he’s a great kid, but it seems like from what I’m hearing right now that’s he’s choosing to go to (junior college). But I have not spoke to Greg, so it’s purely the speculative version of it.”

Asked if Bryant could return to the team (assuming re-admittance to the University) after playing for a junior college, Kelly offered, “Oh sure, he could be a bounce-back here. I haven’t had a conversation with him. I’d love to have one with him but he seems to be a bit elusive right now in terms of trying to get a hold of him.”

Notre Dame’s unexpected struggles in the kicking game last season involved a heretofore unimpeachable senior in Kyle Brindza, plus his snapper/holder battery.

The 2015 Irish have divided Brindz’s placekicking/punting duties between a pair of rookies, freshman Justin Yoon and redshirt-freshman Tyler Newsome.

So far, so good.

“He’s 18-for-18 right now on kicks,” said Kelly of Yoon. “He’s nine for nine between the 30 and 39 (yard lines). We’re going to stretch him out a little bit tomorrow. He’s 4-for-4 from 40-49 (yards). Hasn’t missed a kick yet. Operation is outstanding, 1-2-1 operation, which is as quick as we’ve had. Really solid. Hits the ball solid. Very consistent. Doesn’t have any mechanical flaws.

“Once in a while he’ll hit one heavy, but his momentum is through the target, he’s not off balance, so even if he hits one a little heavy he’s still clearing most of his kicks with great ease. So I feel really good there. Very solid, solid kicker. Very consistent.

“Newsroom’s been probably as impressive as anyone singularly. I think we charted his average as 51-yard average at 4.06 to 4.13 (hang time) on an average, which is ridiculous. If we can get anything like that in the game we will flip field position. Their numbers are off the charts right now.

“I think we’re going to have to have some live (Special Teams) and we’ll see where that goes when it gets live. But early indications are we have two very talented kickers.”

The ongoing saga of KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams continues to limp to its inevitable conclusion. Kelly was asked today if he had received any clarity on the eligibility of either for the forthcoming season and – stop the presses – there was. Some. Relatively speaking.

“KeiVarae has gone past one of the hurdles with the NCAA and now he has one left, which is more of an academic waiver situation that has been submitted, and we should hear something pretty soon. One hurdle has been cleared, positively, and we have one left out there for him. And we should hear something pretty soon on that.

“Ishaq’s still pending and there is not much to report on that, other than that one is still pending.”

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