Irish Notes: A New Form of Leadership

Brian Kelly discusses Jaylon Smith behind the scenes, Ronnie Stanley between the lines, and former Cincinnati backup triggerman Zach Collaros?

Straying from the norm to feel normal.

Such is life for Brian Kelly’s Irish this weekend, waking today in the opponent’s east coast hometown for the first time in the six-season Brian Kelly era. Saturday’s noon kickoff at Heinz Field vs. Pittsburgh necessitated the schedule change.

“We’re going to go out for Stanford on Thursday as well but this is the first time,” said Kelly. “To go out on a Friday night and get there and ‘boom, hit it’ (would be difficult), so we want to be able to duplicate (on Friday) Saturday’s schedule. We took out some of our periods of practice today and we’ll include those (Friday) to get a little more of a lengthy practice to again get them used to a duplicate schedule Saturday.”

THE TOTAL PACKAGE?

Notre Dame’s weekly Showtime docudrama A Season with Notre Dame Football has pulled back the curtain for Irish fans, offering a glimpse of behind the scenes machinations that otherwise would stay, well, in-house.

The same holds true for media covering the team, as in-season practices are closed to outsiders. With Showtime inside, snippets, such as defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder challenging Jaylon Smith’s leadership becomes public knowledge.

“The leadership piece for Jaylon has been one where he has led by example and we don’t think that that’s enough to be a great leader,” said Kelly. “You have to be somebody that is interactive, if you will. He has to communicate – teaching and communicating.

“It has to be more than just actions,” Kelly continued. And they’re phenomenal. Just watch him play and that speaks volumes. We want him to be more of a communicator with the guys and I think that’s the point that we wanted to make with him, and he took it to heart after a conversation.”

Smith leads the Irish with 66 tackles, producing a combined 16 big plays (TFL, sacks, passes defended, hurries, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles) while ranking second on the squad with 16.5 stuffs

A NOTABLE OMISSION

The Outland Trophy annually recognizes college football’s top interior lineman (offense/defense), and for the first time in its 70-year history, will this fall employ a statistical measure as part of its criteria.

It’s called the “Schneider Scale” and Notre Dame has two players, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day, among its weekly released Top 25 rankings.

Conspicuous by his absence is senior left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

“I would say that Ronnie has graded out at the highest marks as an offensive linemen for us,” said Kelly. “Nick is a very efficient and smart offensive lineman. He’s an impressive player but not as imposing, but he’s smart, technically sound, very good leader, communicates the checks. But when you watch Ronnie, you have this long, athletic kid, so he becomes the guy that jumps out at you more.

“They’ve both been outstanding players, just different players.”

Martin ranks 25th following last weekend’s games while Day sits at No. 12 overall. Baylor left tackle Spencer Drango has held the top spot for the bulk of the 2015 season. Stanley last appeared on the list prior to Notre Dame’s loss at Clemson on Oct. 5.

PART OF THE WHOLE

Redshirt-freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer unwittingly elicited a few smirks from the media horde on Wednesday, noting that during his recruitment, he viewed his eventual role in Kelly’s offense to be similar to “Tommy Rees,” the latter known for his leadership and acumen, but certainly not his ability to run with the football.

It appears Kizer, he of the 79-yard touchdown sprint and five rushing scores in six starts, short-changed himself a bit.

“I thought he had the athletic ability to do a lot of the things within our offense that Malik (Zaire) was able to do,” said Kelly. “Certainly a different type of player than Malik but we could keep our read option series in (the game plan) and because of his size, could continue to have quarterback runs as part of our offense.

“I didn’t undersell him in that sense, that he couldn’t be part of our run game. We saw somebody at six-foot-five and two-hundred-and-forty pounds – he’s an asset in the run game and a lot faster than people think.”

Faster and cool under pressure. Kelly was asked about the latter Thursday night, whether he’d had a young signal-caller who showed such poise during crunch time situations.

“I had a kid that was similar,” he noted. “Zach Collaros (Cincinnati 2009) that had the same kind of demeanor. He just exuded the similar confidence and cool under pressure. Winner. Similar (traits) as a freshman that DeShone has, just DeShone is about five inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. He just comes in a bigger package.”

It’s a package that remains in progress, though outsiders increasingly view the rookie as a playmaker rather than conductor of the offense.

“The quarterback is always going to be central to the success of the offense,” said Kelly. “(But) I still think it is centered around a successful offensive line and the ability to protect, to run the football. It starts there. It goes from there.

“He just has really good pieces around him and he knows how to use them all. If he was out there by himself I don’t think he takes over the game. He’s still relying on the pieces around him.”

The Irish offense has averaged 495 yards per game in Kizer’s six starts, producing 27 touchdowns and 35.5 points per contest.


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