TWO IN, ONE OUT…INDEFINITELY
Notre Dame expects two of its three most recent concussion victims back for Saturday’s contest against Army, but a key piece of next season’s defensive front will miss a second straight week – for the second straight season.
“(Drue) Tranquill and (Julian) Love were cleared yesterday and they were full contact today,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of his junior safety and freshman cornerback, respectively. “(Daniel) Cage will see Dr. (Jeffrey) Kutcher tomorrow, the specialist we like to refer out to. So he will not play this weekend.”
Cage missed last week’s contest vs. Navy due to a concussion suffered against Miami. He sat out back-to-back outings against Wake Forest and Boston College in November 2015 for the same reason.
Cage was also concussed late during the 2014 spring practice session.
Tranquill and Love combined for 12 tackles in last week’s 28-27 loss to the Midshipmen with Love showing as one of the team’s best defenders. Tranquill earned a game ball vs. the triple-option of Georgia Tech in September 2015 despite playing just one half prior to suffering a season-ending injury.
A REAL PRINCE
The best defense of the Brian Kelly era – and, it must be noted, since at least 1992 in South Bend – was buoyed by the exploits of junior pass-rush specialist Prince Shembo.
Kelly likened one of his current rookie defenders to the former hybrid OLB/DE at Thursday’s media session.
“There’s a large investment in Daelin Hayes,” Kelly began. “He’s learning how to play every single day that he’s out there, and I mean the nuances of the game.
“He’s great to coach and he’s got great energy. You can see he’s going to be a really good football player for us.”
Asked if he saw Hayes as a coverage linebacker or pass rusher, Kelly offered, “I think he’s going to be a kid that if we need to drop him (he could, but) he’s more of a guy that is playing the Buck position. Prince Shembo played it in terms of his ability to rush the passer and drop into coverage. That’s kind of how we see him.
“A dynamic pass rusher, but a guy that’s athletic enough that he can cover a tight end, can cover a No. 2 (receiver) in the short field, things of that nature.”
Kelly added that the 239-pound Hayeswill likely play near 250 pounds in future seasons.
NOT HIS CUP OF TEA, EITHER?
Maybe it is much ado about nothing.
Then again, maybe a 28-27 loss to Navy should have elicited an “all hands on deck” approach, including the vested interest of the reigning national defensive player of the week.
Regardless, the 3-6 Irish may or may not receive more than a few handfuls of defensive snaps from massive pro prospect Jarron Jones Saturday vs. Army.
“This seems to be a big story,” said Kelly of Jones’ limited appearances against Army. “You guys have to keep in mind that he’s going to be really good…next week (against Virginia Tech). That’s his kind of deal. He’s a long, tall guy and he’s going against 6-foot-2, 235-pound scramble blockers (for Army). It’s not his domain.
“He’ll battle for us and he’ll be in there and he’ll two-gap the nose. But it’s a little bit different. They’re not going to zone block him. One guy is going to be at his knees half the time.”
Kelly instead offered a name not heard (nor seen) since Oct. 1 when the Irish beat Syracuse in the New Meadowlands.
“A guy like Elijah Taylor is going to show in this game,” said Kelly of his redshirt-freshman DL. “Short and compact. Physical, really strong, you’re going to see him play and wonder, ‘Where’d he come from?’ He just fits this kind of scheme that we’re playing against. Jarron will get in there and he’ll battle and he’s prepared. But don’t expect 13 tackles for loss. It’s just a different animal.”
Jones burst on the national scene after registering six tackles for loss on Oct. 29 against Miami. He did not register a stop one week later vs. the Midshipmen, playing 12 of the game’s 64 defensive snaps.
ONE NUMBER, ERR, LETTER, TRUMPS ALL
Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer has thrown 47 touchdown passes through the first 20 games of his college career. The number places him among the program’s Top 5 of all-time and within just 14 of Tommy Rees’ total of 61 for second-place on the program’s all-time list. (Brady Quinn’s record number 95 appears out of reach.)
Kizer has already surpassed Rees (23 career wins and 8 losses) in one category commensurate with veterans of the position: total losses as an Irish starter.
“I talk to him mostly about Notre Dame and where does he want to be as it relates to the Notre Dame quarterbacks,” said Kelly when asked if he’s discussed Kizer’s “legacy” with the junior triggerman. “Most Notre Dame quarterbacks are judged by not their numbers but by their wins, and we’re now 3-6. So yeah, I talk about that quite a bit.”
Kizer was technically 8-3 as a starter last season though that doesn’t count a comeback win against Virginia in which he threw the game-winning touchdown pass (and, oft-forgotten, the game’s first touchdown shuffle pass as well).
“I’ve said this all along, we’ve set a pretty high bar and a standard of play at that position,” said Kelly. “At times, he’s reached it and exceeded it, and other times, through no fault of his own, but inexperience around him, he hasn’t reached those. That’s a work in progress for everybody. For him to reach and exceed the expectations we have for that position this weekend would be a higher completion percentage and honing up on some of the details.”
Asked about his working relationship with Kizer, Kelly drew from past experiences in the form of Rees and the passer betwixt he and Kizer, Everett Golson.
“Tommy Rees you could hit over the head with a 2x4. He was a coach’s son and had been in it. That’s who he was,” said Kelly. “Everett you had to tread lightly. It was a change.
“DeShone at times you can get after him pretty good on the right things. But he’s also a bright kid and you can tell him one time and you can move on. You don’t have to beat a dead horse with him,” Kelly added. “So it’s probably a combination of both with him in terms of some things. I have to be firm with him, mostly on fundamentals.”
Kizer has passed for 26 touchdowns and rushed for seven more against nine turnovers (seven interceptions) this season. In 11.5 games last fall, Kizer accounted for 31 touchdowns (21 passing) against 12 miscues (10 picks).