DUELING DEFENSIVE DUO’S
Seven spring practice sessions have afforded Kelly a chance to review myriad position battles and though they now have more answers than remaining questions, they’ve likewise unearthed more potential pieces of the final puzzle.
“The defensive tackle position is a very fluid position right now, especially at the three-technique,” Kelly offered. “I think that’s a very competitive situation with (Jonathan) Bonner, Micah Dew-Treadway…I think you’re seeing at the defensive end position Jay Hayes, (Julian) Okwara…I’ve seen a lot of competition (at Buck linebacker) between (Te’von) Coney and (Greer) Martini.”
Kelly added that Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott are competing at the boundary safety position opposite senior Nick Coleman. He doubled-down on the likelihood that the Rover position would be manned by more than one as well.
“Drue Tranquill and Asmar Bilal, both of them are going to play,” said Kelly. “There’s no question that both of them lend themselves to maybe different styles of offense we may see. One is obviously a little bigger, but Drue Tranquill is not small. You could probably put him at Will linebacker. But making the analogy that he’s a big physical kid, too. Asmar brings us a little something different.”
Back in the fold: Bilal’s junior classmate and fellow Indiana native Josh Barajas was back at practice Friday. He had missed two previous media viewings due to illness.
“He got ill and had been out for three days, so he took a step back,” said Kelly of the highly touted Andrean High School (Merrillville, IN) prospect. “The good part of it is we’re teaching fundamentals, so it’s going back to the fundamentals with Josh. He’s a great kid, we love him, and he got sick, he got ill.
“He missed three practices but he’s back in, he’s engaged, so hopefully we get him rounding back into shape the next week or so.”
Barajas worked mostly with the punt return last season as a blocker in the middle of the formation.
Ex-Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco once dubbed it, “An extended catch radius.”
That’s coach-speak for describing a tall guy with long arms that can jump high, and Notre Dame’s wide receivers and tight ends unit has it in ample supply. They’re not light on poundage, either:
Wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown (6’5” 204), Miles Boykin (6’4” 225), Chase Claypool (6’4” 224) and tight ends Durham Smythe (6’5” 255), Alizé Jones (6’4” 245), Nic Weishar (6’4” 225) and Brock Wright (6’4” 252) are an imposing perimeter collection
“You can see where this offense clearly is going,” said Kelly when asked about his size at wide receiver. “We’ve got depth at the tight end position, we’ve got big-bodied wide receivers. We’ve got a very physical offensive line and we’re very deep at the running back position.
“You guys can figure out where that takes you.”
(Since he left it open-ended, I’ll answer: It leaves the Irish fan atwitter at the prospect of an increased emphasis on a physical running game – an ephemeral aspect of most Kelly offenses produced to date.)
But where does it leave two important cogs that are, shall we say, vertically challenged?
“(C.J. Sanders) and (Chris) Finke would be certainly the exception to the rule at the receivers,” said Kelly of his two sub-5’10” targets. “But they have a place in our offense and they’ll be used accordingly. The offensive structure is such that we can use those guys. They have a place, they can be effective players, and they will be used accordingly.
NOT JUST DIFFERENT, BETTER
Kelly’s admitted need and subsequent adherence to establishing better fundamentals throughout his squad has not wavered this spring.
In this case, it’s not only culture beating scheme (Kelly’s team mantra in 2015), but proper technique through repetition, too.
“We’ll be a better defense because our run support will be so much better. We’ll cup the ball better. We’ll be better at the fundamentals,” Kelly began. “We know as we went through the season and we became more fundamentally sound, we saw how our defensive improved each and every week. We’ll be better at taking away the football because it’s an emphasis every single day.”
As new defensive coordinator Mike Elko offered last week, you can’t talk about turnovers, and then go out and work on other things (scheme, blitzes, etc.) you have to instead practice what you preach.
“Today we spent 25 minutes in different segments during practice on how to get the ball out (force turnovers) in different fashions,” said Kelly. “How to stay on your feet and not jump and getting in the face of the quarterback. Making short windows on 3rd-and-4-to-6 so it’s a difficult throw.
“So fundamentally we’ll be better, fundamentally from a run-support standpoint, all of those areas, not giving up the big play…How that translates, your players still have to make plays. But I know going into the season we’ll be smarter and fundamentally sound.
“If we walk away from every game and go, ‘That’s a smart defense and fundamentally sound with the players that we have,’ I envision that that will be pretty good.”