CAGE QUESTIONABLE, PART II
Notre Dame’s defense was down one nose tackle by choice (head coach, player, or combination of the two) and one other due to injury in last Saturday’s loss to Navy.
While the status of the former is anyone’s guess for this week’s matchup with triple-option foe No. 2 Army, the latter’s future is even less certain.
“(Daniel) Cage we're going to send for further evaluation,” said Kelly of his junior nose tackle who entered the program’s concussion protocol one week ago today. “He's made some progress, but anytime that somebody's in their second week and has not fully gone through the stages as we see them, we'd like to get a second opinion and make sure that everything is good.
“So we generally go to Dr. (Jeffrey) Utcher, who has been really good as a resource for us, so we'll have that appointment set up this week.”
Kelly added that Dr. Utcher was formerly on staff at the University of Michigan but has since entered private practice.
“We've used him in a number of cases, Corey Robinson, for example, and we just like his opinions in certain instances, and we'll probably use that for Daniel,” Kelly said.
Also suffering concussions vs. the Midshipmen were defensive backs Drue Tranquill and Julian Love. Kelly offered that they’ll practice without contact Tuesday and “if everything goes well” will be cleared for contact on Wednesday.
CHASE IS ON THE CASE
Freshman athlete Chase Claypool has not, as posited by many during Notre Dame’s bye three weeks ago, made significant strides in playing time from scrimmage. He does, however, continue to make an impact on special teams where he leads the Irish with nine stops.
“I see him expanding his role certainly next year, and we would have (last week), but he suffered a bit of a hamstring injury during (practice) which put him back relative to practice, and he's a young player that needs a lot of work during the week.
“So it was one where we really wanted him on special teams, in particular (because) Navy did a lot of things well in certain areas. So he just didn't get it. But he's back in the mix for us this week for sure.”
Claypool has caught just three passes this season and been targeted on six occasions.
Notre Dame’s 3-6 start has done little to quell speculation that 2016 could be starting quarterback DeShone Kizer’s last season in South Bend.
If the NFL does indeed beckon and Kizer responds in kind, current sophomore Brandon Wimbush appears the front-runner for a starting gig in 2017.
“I think he's been a very good leader,” said Kelly of Wimbush during his planned redshirt season. “Cares about his teammates. I think he's got really good leadership skills because he knows the janitor's name here. I mean he just is locked in to all the little things that take to be a really good leader.
“And then I think he's been really good in terms of attention to meetings when he knows he's not going to get on the field. So I think he's handled himself pretty well.”
Asked if the Irish staff will have much off-season work in terms of Wimbush’s mechanics, Kelly offered, “I think the ball actually comes out of his hand in a manner that we wouldn't do much there. He's got really good balance and base. I think most of his work will be just decision making with the football.”
NOT BETTER; DIFFERENT
Navy runs the option – successfully. Army?
Technically they run it better, ranked No. 2 nationally (Navy is No. 5 at present) with the Cadets averaging 320 yards per contest via the rush (the same total the Midshipmen totaled vs. Notre Dame in Jacksonville) compared to the Mid’s 299 per outing.
Are Kelly’s Irish defenders up to the mental and physical grind of another week of option football?
“This what they do. They're football players,” said Kelly of his defensive unit. “(It’s a) contact sport. I mean we understand the demands that playing option football takes on our players, and I make sure that our schedule reflects the kind of needs that they have during the week.
“But it’s a tough game. You better be ready, because they're tough-minded individuals at Army. So we'll be smart with our players, but they know what's in store. They (Notre Dame) just finished playing a very tough-minded football team in Navy, and they know that they've got to prepare in a manner that allows them to go out there mentally and physically beat their opponent.”
In addition to a heavier reliance on the fullback, Army has a much different athlete under center than did last week’s foe from Annapolis.
“I think the quarterback (in general) probably defines the personality of that triple option,” said Kelly. “So Keenan Reynolds (Navy 2013-15), for example, was a guy that for Navy puts you in a position where it was more of an edge game, where Will (Worth) was certainly more of a lead, kind of up inside because of his physicality.
“(Ahmad) Bradshaw is more of a Keenan Reynolds guy,” said Kelly of the Cadets triggerman. “He wants to get on the edge. Not as physical, but he's quick, he's elusive. So this changes the style a little bit based upon who the quarterback is. But you're still defending triple. You still have to defend the fullback; you still have to defend the quarterback at the edge and then the pitch, and then what their desire is relative to throwing the football, what their appetite is.”
KEEP YOUR LEGS MOVING
Two weeks of preparation and two 60-minute outings against the triple-option’s leg-based blocking scheme can take a toll on defenders. Kelly has had his Irish defenders take on cut blocks in practice since eschewing that idea in his first brush with the triple in 2010.
What about this week after last week’s practice and Saturday’s game?
“We have to,” he said. “It’s more of a technique where your eyes are and obviously it's for our perimeter players more so than anything else. Inside, you're scrambling off of those blocks.
“Army cuts a little bit more, but they want to get those guys up on second-level plays. So the days of just chop, cut inside, they need to get them up on those athletes that are running to the football. So it's really the perimeter that is doing most of the time on that.”