NOT FIDDLING WHILE ROME BURNS
Two truths came out of Kelly’s weekly press conference this afternoon:
- He’s steadfast in his belief the team will improve, and sees clear signs of that projection, and…
- He’s not taking his talents to the defensive side of LaBar Practice Complex.
“If we weren't coaching it the right way, if we weren't teaching it, if we weren't on it every single day,” Kelly began in reference to his oft-stated faith in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. “We're starting every day of practice with our tackling circuit and talking to our players about how to get in the proper position and going from speed to power.
“If we weren't teaching those things, if I didn't see them with my own eyes, I'd be over there wearing a hat and a whistle and coaching it myself.”
Pressed later if he felt a “sense of urgency” would present among the troops if their leader indeed took to the defensive side of scrimmage more, Kelly offered, “The players know that, from the head coach's perspective, that I'm aware of everything that goes on because I can speak to them about what their techniques are, what they're doing, how they're doing them on a day-to-day basis…I can talk to them intelligently about their defensive techniques. So they know that I'm in tune to what they're doing.
“If I didn't, then you're right. Then I'd have to be more active in terms of what we're doing defensively on a day-to-day basis.”
Per Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson, Notre Dame’s defensive personnel combined to miss 25 tackles in the squad’s two losses this month (Irish defenders missed nine in a win over Nevada).
Eradicating, nay, mildly improving that horrific effort is Job 1 this week for Kelly’s defensive staff.
“Our problem is we don't go from speed to power. We go from speed to speed. And we miss tackles, and that's not how we teach it,” he said. “So we've got to communicate it better. We've got to break it down. When I say do a better job coaching, obviously, (stating and teaching) ‘Speed to power’ is not getting there. So what do we have to do differently?
“We're going to do some things differently that allows us to actually talk about the power end of things and put them in a power position before they tackle instead of just going from speed to power because they don't understand power, because all we're seeing is speed and we're missing tackles.”
Kelly added that heavy contact and tackling – contact that can theoretically result in injury to players during the practice week – is not necessarily the answer...but it will be part of the plan.
“We're going to go against each other a little bit more today,” he said. “And I'm going to do it to add more speed to the practice, and we're going to thud up so we can get from speed to power. Normally, we're in a ‘Whiz phase’ where our guys run by the ball tackler and (get into position without making the tackle).
“I don't know. I'm just looking to coach better. So we're going to thud up everybody, which is going to put us in a power position on everything that we whistle off today.”
MODERN REALITY A MAJOR DETRIMENT?
Kelly doesn’t believe less contact at practice in general, from spring through August training camp as is the case for many programs in the modern era – has contributed to a lack of tackling prowess in the college game.
“I really don't. I went through, and I tracked all of our missed tackles, every single one of them is just poor fundamentally. Out of control, not being in control of their body,” he said. “And if we're just in a better position, a better football position, if we just put ourselves in front of the ball carrier and get run over and hold on for dear life, they're only going to get another yard or two. But we’re in poor position.
“I don't believe it for a second,” he continued of the push for player safety as a detriment to tackling. “I think we have alternatives to teach it safely. We just got our guys, and they're just too anxious. They're too anxious. They're either behind the play and they're just late in recognizing and trying to make up for it and they're out of control, or they're trying to block tackle and should be in a good fit tackle position.”
Kelly offered a handful of pertinent personnel observations over his 43-minute session with the media:
The MVP Not Immune: Asked about quarterback DeShone Kizer’s “perfectionist mentality” – a reference to the junior triggerman assigning much of Saturday’s blame to himself – Kelly offered an intriguing perspective on the player who is hands down the team’s most valuable through three contests.
“He's got to play with more sense of urgency. He's one of those guys,” said Kelly of Kizer. “We had seven plays in a row that were negative plays that are just unacceptable offensively. It's not just him, but he's running the offense, and there are plays that are out there to be made that we're not making.
“We come out in our first drive, and we look pretty good. We drop a ball and make a mistake, and we lose that urgency there for a while. We have to have that from the very beginning. That starts with the guy with keys in his hand who is driving the car, and he's got to have more of that.
The Beaten Corner, Take II: In Week 1 it was sophomore cornerback Nick Coleman that struggled on the perimeter. Saturday against the Spartans, an unlikely culprit joined the fray
Senior 29-game starter Cole Luke.
“Cole is a good player. He's the smartest defensive player we have. He's got to play with a sense of urgency,” said Kelly of Luke who was flagged for interference, gave up a jump ball touchdown, and yielded two receptions in third down situations including a crucial coverage error late. “He's got to catch that football. He's got to make that tackle. He's got to stay above the cut and be in good position to break on number one. He's got to do all those things, and he's capable of doing them, and he knows that.
“We've got to rely on him because he's a three-year starter for us out there, and he's got to be able to play better for us, and I'm confident he will.
The KISS Principle: One Saturday night highlight from which Irish fans can take solace was the play of true freshman Rush End Daelin Hayes. In his second collegiate contest, Hayes created Notre Dame’s only turnover.
The beauty of the athletic maneuver, apparently, lies in its simplicity.
“You've got the tight end,” said Kelly in reference to the defensive requirement of Hayes on the play. “We're trying to gradually bring him along into you don't have ‘two-to-one, and you've got to defend against the vertical because tight end blocks, you're a second wave blitzer,’ all that kind of stuff.
“We're trying to keep it as a natural progression for these guys to learn and gain some confidence, and Daelin's coming along. He hasn't played a lot of football, quite frankly, and we had a hard time getting him lined up early in camp. He's coming along. He's defending, and you're going to see more of him as we move forward.”
The Athlete on the Edge…or Elsewhere: While Kelly was in no rush to force feed more freshmen action as the Irish attempt to right the ship, the head coach offered at least one rookie that’s likely earned an extra look. Six-foot four-inch 220-pound receiver Chase Claypool
“I think that's a guy we've got to look to get on the field more,” said Kelly. “We've had conversations with the staff to define a more expanded role for him. We've got to be careful with loading up too much on him. This is a big leap for him (comparative to his high school competition in British Columbia. “So we've got to be careful with what we give him, but we definitely want to keep giving him more and more each and every week.”
Claypool nearly made a spectacular one-handed reception on an end-half Hail Mary then made good on a leaping 33-yard grab at the outset of Notre Dame’s comeback effort Saturday night.
Claypool lined up wide right on the Hail Mary attempt. Conversely, he was aligned as a tight end to the boundary – his hand on the ground as an in-line blocker – before running past and leaping higher than a defender for his 33-yard reception.