MORE FRESHMEN FIRSTS
It’s option week!
Notre Dame’s annual encounter with Navy’s triple option probably doesn’t elicit such an exclamatory response from Irish players and coaches but the week doubtless requires heightened mental preparation and attention to detail.
It also, according to head coach Brian Kelly, will include an adherence to the newly minted deep defensive rotation.
“This is a game where we'll have to play more players. It's a different game. It's a downhill game, and it's a physical game, where you're tackling, you're running every play,” said Kelly.
That means myriad freshmen and other rookies will encounter the triple option for the first time this week and Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville.
“This will be their first foray and (they’re) obviously playing a very, very difficult offense,” said Kelly specifically of his freshmen defensive backs. “I think if it was Week 1 or Week 2, there would be more hesitancy, but these guys are confident that they can do the job and do it with discipline.
“They've had to learn to play with discipline in other fashions, so I think that has been built in, in a sense, of playing with discipline and other forms of offenses that we have faced.”
Kelly offered that both Nicco Fertitta and Jalen Elliott would receive more snaps than they did last week (presumably as backup safeties). Fellow back seven relative rookies vs. the triple option include cornerbacks Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride, safety Devin Studstill, and Will linebacker Te’Von Coney.
Veterans of at least three starts/rotation regulars against the triple option include Isaac Rochell, Cole Luke, Greer Martini (see below), and James Onwualu. Junior Drue Tranquill has started, and starred, twice.
BACK IN THE SADDLE?
Irish defenders will be prepped per usual by Notre Dame’s scout team offense this week. The difference? It is assume a walk-on safety will run the show under center.
“The ‘Swag’ team, they're up and running,” said Kelly of the group led prep quarterback Robert Regan last season. “We started with them taking option about two weeks before the bye week, and they began in the first period of our practices just to get them sharp so this wouldn't be the first time they were touching the football.”
Regan, brought on by Kelly as a preferred walk-on with the 2015 cycle specifically because of his ability to run an option attack as he did at Hinsdale South High School (Darien, Ill.) moved from quarterback to safety in the off-season.
He received the game ball against Navy last October for his efforts running the ‘Swag’ team prior to a 41-24 Irish win.
Saturday’s win against Miami was not without cost as three Irish regulars, linebacker Greer Martini, nose tackle Daniel Cage, and left guard Colin McGovern, left the contest with concussions.
“Cardiovascular (testing) is the next piece, which we went through yesterday, and Greer Martini will go through practice today in a non-contact (jersey),” said Kelly of the program’s concussion protocol. “So he'll be able to go through our 11-on-11, but we'll put a red jersey on him so he doesn't contact. But he'll be able to get through all of our reads and make sure he gets a full day of practice from that standpoint.
“Colin McGovern will do the same. He'll go through practice. He passed through his cardiovascular test yesterday, and he'll go through a similar protocol where he'll get into a lot of our non-contact type of drill work today.”
Kelly noted that Cage is one day behind the pair in his recovery after missing the cardio exam yesterday because of an academic matter.
“He'll take that today,” said Kelly. “So he's one day behind everybody.”
SOPHOMORES TO FIGHT FOR SPOT
Notre Dame’s punt return competition has been reopened between incumbent C.J. Sanders and momentum-changer Chris Finke, the latter of which took back a Hurricanes punt 23 yards to set up kicker Justin Yoon’s game-winning field goal.
“We're going to let C.J. and Chris compete for it this week, and we'll make a decision on Saturday,” said Kelly.
Finke has returned just three punts this season, one for 15, one in which he was dropped upon receipt, and the aforementioned 23-yarder. Sanders has brought back two punts for 51 yards vs. Texas in the opener, included therein was season-high 40 yarder, plus a 24-yard return one week later vs. Nevada. His longest since is just 12 yards against Duke.