Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly concluded his third practice of the 15-session spring allotment Wednesday morning inside the Loftus Center – it was the first (allowable) with the added teaching benefit of players donning full pads and the first session since March 10 coinciding with the university’s Spring Break.
“We had conditioning tests on Sunday,” said Kelly. “I was really pleased with their attentiveness on break. A little, rusty, obviously, when you’re hitting the pads for the first time since well, last November, but good action.
“I felt like we needed to make up for a little lost ground. We got in tackling today for the first time (since the season-ending loss to USC). That’ll be an emphasis: we’ll tackle a lot this spring to make up for lost ground.”
Kelly added that more 11-on-11 action, or “team” segments will be a consistent aspect of the remaining spring sessions.
“I think we need to tackle a little more,” he offered. “I think we were a little soft in our practices. We need to do a better job in particular with our wideouts and defensive backs getting together. We need to thud the ‘back more instead of tagging off. We built a lot of bad (tackling) habits. Our ‘backs need to get hit a little bit. I made sure that was part of our practice routine that had been missing.
“And we had missed some opportunities in these morning practices to really get all of our team time in because we were up against the clock. In other words, we had to get them out of here (for morning classes). So I’ve installed our 11-on-11 periods, our team periods, earlier in practice, to make sure that we get all those reps in.”
Kelly jokingly added that an increased emphasis on 11 vs. 11 action would have its inherent drawback.
“Consequently we’ve moved our 7-on-7 periods later,” he said of the pass-only drills. “So those are the ones we won’t get to (if they run out of time) So we won’t be able to throw the ball really well but we’ll be able to run it really well. So I hope everyone is happy about that.”
NO CULTURE SHOCK
It’s reasonable for Irish fans to expect new offensive coordinator Chip Long to put his stamp on the attack this spring and ultimately into the fall.
Quicker tempo (more plays per game will doubtless result) and an increased usage of the tight end position and running backs in the passing game are logical assumptions.
But is the forthcoming offense for 2017 that of the play-caller Long, or Brian Kelly?
“The culture is the offense that we run here (Kelly’s) because, look, we’re (expecting) to win next year and Chip’s going to be the greatest offensive coordinator in the country and Chip’s going to get a head job, right? And then I’m not going to (have to) introduce the Chip Long offense to the next offensive coordinator? So it has to have my culture in it.
“But if he wants to change Ringo/Lucky protection to Ram/Lion protection, go right ahead,” said Kelly of the offense’s terminology. “If he wants to change certain calls, for example, 52-53 protection is now Rita-Lee, I’m okay with that. But the culture of the offense is that that I’ve always run because I have to be able to carry that with me from year-to-year.”
BY GEORGE, HE’S BACK
The name George Whitfield is familiar to most Irish fans. The self-proclaimed “Quarterback Engineer” tutored former Irish starter-turned-transfer Everett Golson when the latter was lost for the 2013 season due to academic impropriety.
Whitfield has since worked with Notre Dame quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer as well.
You can add projected 2017 starter Brandon Wimbush to that list.
“I have no problem with him working out with George Whitfield,” said Kelly. “George doesn’t work on the specifics to the offense. George is really working on throwing the football, moving in the pocket. George is really good with keeping those quarterbacks active and moving.
“When it comes to the playbook, to his teammates, to his coaches here, Brandon understands that when the rubber hits he road, those are the guys that matter the most. He knows when it’s time for Notre Dame Football where the focus is. When there’s time off and he needs to stay sharp, to work with another coach is certainly acceptable. And he works with his high school coach as well in training.”
Kelly added that Wimbush’s short time with Whitfield is different than the extended tutoring the latter offered to Golson.
“I think in those situations it’s a bullpen session,” Kelly said, adding that he doesn’t see a difference in his quarterbacks when they return from a short time frame under Whitfield’s tutelage. “They’re keeping their arms loose, their feet loose. He’s just keeping them active. Good throwing sessions. I think when it’s a longer period like when Everett was there they were watching film. But in those short bursts they’re really just staying in the moment and throwing the football.”
ON THE RUN
Kelly’s offering that Notre Dame’s running backs will likely get hit more this spring than in session’s past begs the natural question:
What about the quarterback? The Irish have a running option in Wimbush, he of the 58-yard touchdown scamper on his second career carry as a true freshman (against Massachusetts) in 2015.
“He’ll be a runner in the offense,” said Kelly. “Do we want him to carry the ball 20 times? No. I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling Quarterback Power or singular runs. He’s going to have options. Hand it off, throw the ball out on the perimeter. You’ll see more of that than you will prescribed quarterback runs.
“We had a little bit more of (QB Power) last year with Kizer, but I think you’ll see Wimbush has the option to get the ball out of his hands more so than prescribed runs.”
For a full transcript of Brian Kelly's press conference click here.