WHERE’S THE UNDO BUTTON?
Sixty-two of Notre Dame’s 82 available scholarship players have appeared in at least one of the squad’s three games played to date. Among those that haven’t but did play last fall are wide receivers Justin Brent (see below) and Corey Holmes, plus defensive linemen Jacob Matuska (a junior/redshirt-sophomore) and true sophomore Jay Hayes.
The latter vented his frustrations via Twitter this week with the second of two tweets pointed directly at his coaching staff alleging they’ve “stopped coaching” him.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked about the public airing of team grievances at his post-practice press conference Thursday night.
“Yes, Jay Hayes. There has to be responsibility as it relates to social media. You have to think before you hit send,” said Kelly. “What you have to do is knock on my door instead of hitting the send button. These are good lessons to be learned. If he has a job at Google and he talks about his boss that way, he’s probably not going to have a job the next day.
“So you try to use them as life lessons. You don’t say I’m going to take Twitter away from you. You just tell him, ‘Look, you need to make a better decision the next time or it’s going to impact you when you leave Notre Dame.’”
Hayes was inserted for the first time in Game 11 last season, the result of several injuries along the defensive front. As a result, he lost a season of eligibility that would have otherwise been preserved.
“I had a conversation with Jay. He understands the mistake he made,” said Kelly. “He won’t be on the (pre-game hotel) travel roster this week because of that mistake. But we have great faith in Jay. He’s going to play here. He’s still in the developmental stage. We like Jay, just like we like (Grant) Blankenship, just like we like (Andrew) Trumbetti, who didn’t play last week. These are guys that are champing at the bit to play. They want to play. But we’ve got good players and that’s a good problem to have. We’re okay with Jay Hayes and Jay is going to be fine. Just a good life lesson.”
Blankenship lettered as a true freshman in 2014, appearing in 12 of 13 contests. He’s yet to play this season due in part to significant (planned) weight gain over the summer. Trumbetti is expected to resume his role in the Irish rotation this week after sitting out last Saturday against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense.
A collegiate debut awaits at least one Irish freshman Saturday, as backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush will be inserted after a long wait – seven days, that is. Wimbush was set to play late vs. the Yellow Jackets last Saturday but Georgia Tech’s offense, the late-game Irish defense and inability to recover an onside kick kept him sidelined.
He’ll play this week in an effort to get his feet wet – a precautionary measure to combat a potential injury to starter DeShone Kizer over the next two months.
“You usually try to get them in as quickly as possible and try to get him in before the game gets into a rhythm for the starting quarterback, provided you’re not playing two (together), and there’s no intention of trying to play two quarterbacks,” said Kelly. “This is just trying to get Brandon in the game and get him a little bit of playing time. So try to do it sooner better than later. We’ll just try to pick our spot when we do that.
Kelly noted Wimbush will run the Irish offense, though with plays for which he’s shown an affinity in practice.
“It will be what’s in our playbook. It will be plays that Malik (Zaire) ran, plays that DeShone has run, but there won’t be everything that we have in our playbook. We have just chosen plays that we believe fit him right now and that he has a comfort level with.”
Kelly added that Wimbush looked much more confident in practice this week after an inconsistent showing in his first week as the team’s No. 2 triggerman in preparations for Georgia Tech.
“I feel a whole lot better this week that he can go in and we can win the game with him,” Kelly said.
WEAPON IN TRAINING
Aliz’e Jones, Notre Dame’s only five-star prospect among the current freshman crop, has presented a mixed bag of results through three games. He’s the team’s most targeted tight end (six), but also the only one among them with a dropped pass (Texas) and lost fumble (Tech) on his ledger. (Blocking has been, well, a work in progress.)
But Jones’ immense talent coupled with the loss of starting tight end Durham Smythe to knee surgery necessitates Jones’ ascent start sooner rather than later.
“We have other tight ends that allow him some room to grow,” said Kelly. “If we didn’t, we would probably have to force-feed him a little more. (Fifth-year senior) Chase Hounshell allows us some things with his strength at the point of attack; a real in-line blocker. Then you’ve got experience with (Tyler) Luatua, and then a real athletic tight end in (Nic) Weishar, so we’ve got some room for (Jones) to grow.
“We’re not giving him everything; we’re going slow. But yet every day we’re adding something to his plate. I think he’s transitioning fairly well where we can be a little bit more, in terms of leaning on him, expecting more. He’s handling himself much better when he’s being coached a little bit harder.”
Jones caught three passes last Saturday against the Yellow Jackets, the first trio of his career.
Injuries at safety and running back have opened the varsity door for a handful of former third and fourth-string competitors. Among the newest additions are safeties Nicky Baratti (the oft-injured senior has already been active on special teams) and freshman Mykelti Williams.
Baratti will continue in his role among the coverage and return teams. Williams will wait.
“Nick had a good week; Mykelti is still learning,” Kelly said. “He is probably not ready to play at the level we need him to play. We’re not going to play any freshman on special teams until they can impact on offense or defense. So if they haven’t played up to this point, they’re not going to be on a special team unless they can impact the offense or defense. Once we feel they’re capable of impacting that side of the ball, then we’ll engage them in special teams.
“(Williams) had a good week. He’s learning, but it’s going to take a little time with him.”
Another player that’s spent his entire 2015 season on the sidelines apparently showed well over the last few days as well, converted wide receiver and suddenly-not-buried running back, Justin Brent.
“He had a great week this week,” said Kelly. “We saw possibly that next step in his development. He’s down at Triple A and is starting to hit the ball a little bit. He’s making some progress. We watched some film of him on Wednesday and we’re starting to see the lower pads and the things we needed to see. We’re starting to see some progress.”
Kelly added that starting safety Max Redfield would return to action this week. Redfield was withheld vs. Georgia Tech after struggling to perform at Virginia due to a broken thumb.