It Starts at the Top

IrishEyes wraps up Day One of its spring coverage with a review of Kelly's approach to special teams, the impact of the winter training table, and his plan to ensure toughness permeates his roster.

It's 1/3 of the game, you know…

Former Heisman Trophy runner-up Rocket Ismail was a member of Notre Dame's punt block team for the bulk of his career (future All Pro RB Ricky Watters was the team's usual PR).

First and second round draft picks Bobby Taylor, Jeff Burris, Pat Terrell, and Todd Lyght sacrificed their bodies as "jumpers" vs. field goal and PAT, with Taylor's efforts paying dividends on a blocked PAT in a 17-16 win over PSU in the now famous Snow Bowl.

National Championship winning QB Tony Rice was a front line member of Notre Dame's "hands team" when then head coach Lou Holtz prepared for an onsides kick.

How will Brian Kelly attack special teams preparation this spring and will front line players be utilized on a regular basis?

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be competing in special teams. We'll begin with special teams right out of the gate. We're going to evaluate our punt team (Friday). I think we should have outstanding presence on our special teams and there's no reason why we shouldn't be a dynamic team when it comes to those areas.

"I think a lot of teams tend to wait during spring practice, relative to special teams. We're going to get to work at it right away. I'm a big believer that you can (add) wins for your football team right away just by playing good special teams."

With front line players likely to win spots along the special teams units, how can those players lost in the shuffle from scrimmage; those less talented, impress the new head man?

"Some of our other guys who have aspirations to continue to play need to excel on special teams. You want to give some young guys the opportunity to get their feet wet and get involved. (Although) you want your front line guys to be dynamic, I think you want to give some of those guys that are playing roles the opportunity to heighten their credibility."

Caution: Wide Load

The inclusion of a training table for Notre Dame's student-athletes made for good message board fodder during the winter months. But aside from curbing unnecessary weight loss that occured in-season last year, and monitoring the players' nutritional intake for the bulk of the school year, how does Kelly believe the practice will help his squad on game days?

"They don't huddle, they're on the line and they have to move," Kelly offered of the biggest change his offensive linemen will endure. "I go back to the work volume element (discussed in Part I), they could not maintain a consistent work volume in the way they play for four quarters so that requires a change in their cargo load.

"They had too much cargo on them. That means body fat; dropping the weight. And in the instance of Chris Stewart, he didn't lose body weight as much as he lost body fat. He gained a higher level of conditioning.

"It's absolutely crucial to what we do…we have to have guys that can run."

On the jockeying fans are likely to see along the offensive line: "We haven't slotted our guards and tackles. We're in a shotgun, and it's a little bit different (in terms of protection) when your quarterback is already five yards deep. (As a result) your left tackle does not have to be 6'7" (with the ability to) kick-slide back (and protect) a direct snap quarterback.

"We can put a 6'5" kid in there and he can handle himself. There will be some bouncing around from guard to tackle position which also increases our depth a little bit."

How he plans to instill toughness: "It starts at the top. It starts with me and our coaches and how we go to work everyday and what our expectations and demands are as it relates to our players.

"How we play; how we practice. It starts at the top and it works its way to the players and (how) they see it. And it manifests itself on the practice field and then into games."

Odd and Ends

  • Junior-to-be Kyle Rudolph will be in "Restricted" mode throughout the spring. According to Kelly, that "does not mean he can't be live," during scrimmage or head-to-head practice sessions. "When we say ‘restricted', he's involved in practice…that requires more time on my part, but that's what we have to do to get Kyle Rudolph into spring ball."

    Freshman RB turned sophomore slot receiver Theo Riddick also falls under this category due to off-season shoulder surgery.

  • Kelly noted that while the team does not have a depth chart, the players are indeed in "Pods and Groups." And those pods and groups would "slenderize….as we start to identify key backups and key players on both sides of the ball."

  • Kelly's evaluation of his quarterbacks will be a gradual process this spring: "Once I know what their strengths and weaknesses are…I have a library (of information). I've stolen from everybody," he joked. "I have plenty of stuff to fit into the quarterbacks, I just have to know what they can handle, first."

    "These guys were well taught. We're not coming in here with a blank slate, they have (football) intelligence. It's still different. It's how you react (on the field as a QB). Does the ball come out on time? Are you seeing (the field) clearly? Their knowledge base is pretty good, but I'm not fooled by knowledge. Its action, and their ability to make plays is what I'm all about."

  • Kelly was asked about the surprising lack of attrition following the regime change – a common occurrence in college football and one apparently prevalent at the outset of Kelly's previous coaching stops. "(My style) hasn't changed much, all of these guys had to jump in and follow a very strict routine. And they all did. I probably applaud Coach Weis and the guys he recruited that love Notre Dame and are here for the right reasons…more so than ‘I'm getting soft.' I hope so."

  • Kelly was asked if he was sending a message to the rest of the team by stating Friday that (supposed stars) Manti Te'o and Michael Floyd had a lot of work to do. "We (were) 15-21 the last three years," Kelly answered while actually short-changing those in the chosen span a lone victory (Hey, I'll concede Duke in '07 shouldn't count anyway). "They know. There are no bruised egos. Everybody knows (where the program is). We're not being nice…we're not beating you with a stick…we have a long way to go and they get that.

    "You guys talked about what they did last year. I really don't care. This is about where they go from here. We have a lot of work to do."

Note: For more on Day One of the spring session, click the links below:

Player Evaluation: Every Single Day

Intensity is Non-Negotiable

Coming Tomorrow: The first "Just the Facts" column of 2010. Top Stories