Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offered two realities in his season-opening press conference today – one an age-old adage, the other, much to the delight of Irish fans, that his singular goal remains in lockstep with theirs:
“We only have one goal and that is to be one of the four teams selected for the playoffs,” Kelly said. “Everything we look toward is to be one of those four teams selected for the playoffs.”
Their method of achieving that lofty goal holds beautiful in its simplicity.
“We have to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well,” Kelly said. “I know that’s a cliché you’ve heard. Chuck Knoll made it famous with the (Pittsburgh) Steelers, but that’s true of this team. If they just do the basics, the ordinary things, and they do them very well – this is going to be a good football team.”
Kelly expanded on what little generally make a big difference.
“If we take care of the football; if we control the line of the scrimmage; no negative plays; don’t give up the big plays (defensively). Those basic tenets of football. If we do those ordinary things well, we’re going to be a good football team. We can’t give up catastrophic plays and turn the ball over on offense.”
(ALMOST) ALL HANDS ON DECK
With the exception of academically ineligible former five-star prospect Alizé’ Jones, Kelly’s 2016 crew enters August nearly completely intact.
An unheralded, smallish sampling of injured and/or missing is as follows:
-- Junior running back Justin Brent is out another 4-6 weeks after off-season LisFranc surgery. Brent did not play as a sophomore in 2015.
-- Backup senior cornerback Devin Butler remains sidelined following a broken foot and subsequent surgery suffered in the off-season. Butler was hobbled during the spring by surgery to repair a break in the same foot during Fiesta Bowl preparations.
-- Junior cornerback Nick Watkins is not fully healed yet after spring surgery to repair a broken humerus (upper arm) though he is able to “do everything.”
-- Junior defensive lineman Grant Blankenship, suspended last spring, has not been reinstated and is expected to transfer from the university per Kelly.
-- Kelly added that the aforementioned Alizé Jones will be with the program, can practice, but cannot play this fall.
Purportedly ready to roll after winter shoulder surgeries are sophomore Will linebacker Te’von Coney and his junior competitor, Greer Martini.
“Greer looks great,” said Kelly. “Physically he’s really transformed the way he looks and is physically in a position where I think he can play a lot of football for us at a high level.”
Kelly added that Martini could cross-train to backup Nyles Morgan at the Mike position while still challenging for the starting Will role. Coney’s return makes for an intriguing August at the latter position as redshirt-freshman Asmar Bilal will also compete for that starting role.
Bilal received the lion’s share of spring snaps at the position with Martini and Coney sidelined by their surgeries.
“I think it’s going to be a great battle,” said Kelly. “Both of those guys have different skill sets. Asmar is extremely gifted athletically and can run. Coney has some unique traits. We just went through our functional movement screening and his level of performance in that was off the charts.
“We’re very deep at that position, but that generally works itself out.”
Asked what buoys his optimism most about the squad heading into 2016, Kelly touched on three truths of winning football and how they pertained to the current group.
“First of all I think we’ve recruited pretty well and have some talented players,” he said. “I think in college football, anytime you have a quarterback – quarterbacks, and we’re full with quarterbacks – that gives you a fighting chance right out of the gate.
“I think coupled with the fact that we’ve settled in to our defense, and that our kids are very confident in what they’re doing. Have transitioned well from where we were defensively to Coach (Brian) VanGorder’s scheme – I think there’s a comfort level on that side of the ball.”
“And then what I’ve seen with the growth of this team in January. I couldn’t say that in January. I didn’t particularly like some of the things about our day-to-day demeanor and how we handled things but I do today.”
SEE YOU IN MID (OR LATE) AUGUST
Oh yeah, the quarterbacks!
Kelly knows he has a decision to make between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire – just don’t expect it to come anytime soon.
“As a staff, we’ve talked about no timeline other than really doing a very good job of allowing both those quarterbacks to be who they are,” Kelly said. “We felt like in the spring, we may not have allowed Malik to be who he (is) in the sense that we had to catch him up to an offense that evolved more around DeShone’s (talents) more than Malik’s.
“We need both of them to be who they are. It’s about getting our offense to run effectively for both of them. That’s been most if not all of the focus.”
Kelly confirmed that the plan for talented sophomore triggerman Brandon Wimbush is to preserve a season of eligibility in 2016 and, in Kelly’s words, to allow him to “compete for the starting job next year.”
Wimbush lost his freshman season of eligibility due to necessary mop-up duty against Massachusetts and Pittsburgh.
As for naming a starter “for the season” rather than for Texas in the opener, Kelly offered:
“We’re going to let both of them compete and we think we’ll have a starter for you, but I don’t know what will happen during the year,” he said.
“During the year, there might be a lull in a game where we think the other guy is practicing well and he’ll (go in). For me to tell you now that one of those guys will be the starter every game would be foolish of me.”