Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has lauded his 2015 edition Irish for their internal leadership, focus, attitude, and team-first approach to the season.
Entering their final two weeks together, that hasn’t dissipated.
“It’s the little things, and I’ll give you an example,” said Kelly when asked about his team’s demeanor for bowl preparation. “Every year we put the names on the back of the (bowl) jerseys. The seniors came to me and said, ‘Coach, we don’t want names on the back of our jerseys. We’re Team 127.’”
The ‘Team 127’ moniker was introduced (to the media) at Kelly’s first address in August and has been omnipresent in interviews with the squad, since.
“Little things like that,” Kelly noted. “A continuation of the same demeanor, thought process, the ‘We’re about a team’ focus. I’m just trying to stay out of their way at this point and not mess it up, because they clearly have a direction as to where they want to go and how they want to play.”
The consensus of speculation on our Irish Illustrated podcast last week opined that senior nose tackle Jarron Jones would more likely be able to help Notre Dame’s defense for something closer to 15 snaps than 30 against Ohio State.
Though Kelly offered no approximate snap total for Jones, he indicated heavier involvement than initially forecasted for the 315-pound pile-mover.
“Jarron has done a really good job. We’ve increased his reps each and every day. He’s shown no ill-effects of the knee,” Kelly offered. “The first concern, as you go back-to-back days, you’re looking for any kind of effusion or swelling – nothing of that kind.
“I think where he’s really going to help us – certainly on first and second down – but he can help us on third down. His push inside is undervalued in terms of what he can do internally and his physical push to the pocket.”
Kelly credited Jones and the Irish training staff for his starter’s quick assimilation back to the fold.
“Jarron first of all has to take responsibility for his own body. He has to live right; he has to do the right things. (Trainer) Rob Hunt has done a great job with his piece in the rehab and (strength and conditioning coach) Paul Longo, those two, without their work, I don’t think we are where we are.
“I think the maturity element of anybody is important in overcoming an injury during the season,” Kelly continued. “I would tell you that, generally speaking in my time as a head coach, those guys that come back during the season are responsible young men.
“Because they have to be the ones that are showing up for treatment. You can’t go get ‘em. They have to be there on time. We can’t run and go get them; they have to be the ones to show the initiative for treatment.
“If Rob was here right now he’d say Jarron did a great job all year being in treatment. You have to be mature, you have to grow up, and he’s done that both on and off the field.”
One in, one in question: Kelly added that junior tight end Durham Smythe, out since the conclusion of Game 2 due to shoulder and knee surgeries, is ready to roll as well. Senior running back C.J. Prosise, conversely, remains hampered by the high-ankle sprain that felled him on Nov. 21 against Boston College.
“He’s been moving around. He’s not at full-go yet,” said Kelly of his leading rusher. “We’re hopeful as we go through next week that we get closer and closer but he’s not taking meaningful reps yet.”
Annual December bowl preparations – even at the highest level, i.e., the BCS Championship Game of 2012 – has often helped Kelly unearth the next big thing in South Bend. Read more here.
In 2012 it was Prosise; 2013 Smythe, and last fall, his pair of rookie left guard, Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars.
With a smaller sample size (Notre Dame just concluded its fifth bowl practice), has anyone new caught the head coach’s eye?
“We haven’t given anybody that much time that they could rise above anyone,” Kelly began. We still really like what we’re seeing from (freshman wide receiver) Miles Boykin. He’s long, he’s athletic; he attacks the football. You can see he’s going to be a really prominent player in what we’re doing.
“Defensively, (sophomore cornerback) Nick Watkins continues to come on. He’s going to have a big year for us. I’m really pleased with the progress he’s made. Those two guys have flashed for us.”
Asked if Watkins began to make headway prior to bowl prep, Kelly offered, “Yeah. It’s his confidence. Just gaining more confidence each and every day. He makes a couple of good plays (and) then we don’t see him for a bit. I think that’s confidence and I think it’s starting to come on. Looking forward to seeing him really grow and I think we’re going to see a lot from him.”
Irish fans might see a little of him on January 1.
“I think Devin (Butler) is playing really well,” said Kelly when asked if Watkins was pushing KeiVarae Russell’s replacement on the left side for playing time. “I think (RCB) Cole Luke is being challenged. Those three guys are doing a really good job of challenging each other. We’ve put all three of them in a competitive situation. We’ll continue to keep the heat on them to keep competing because I think it brings out the best in them.”