A Work in Progress

An exasperated Brian Kelly spent time with a media horde in excess of 30 following his squad's final practice prior to the Easter Holiday.

This was not how Notre Dame's new head coach and his staff wanted to enter the seven-day Easter Break…

Preaching hustle and tempo. Correcting stances in skeleton drills. Correcting the alignment of veteran receivers. And most of all, he did not expect to serve as the squad's prime source of motivation in practice No. 4 on a beautiful spring day in South Bend.

"We're a work in progress," Kelly began with a touch of coach-speak before following with anything but. "I was pleased with some of the things we did (in terms of communication) defensively. But we're just so far from where we need to be in terms of attention to detail. This was a step back for us today, but I want to make sure that I'm clear that I like what I saw defensively; but we've got to do this thing together. We're not on the same page yet."

Kelly's main source of angst was that his effort and enthusiasm was not matched by the troops.

"You're an 18, 19, 20-year-old and you're playing at Notre Dame, and its 70 degrees outside and I've got to motivate you?"

Kelly had stopped practice during the media viewing session to chew out student managers for "(messing) up his drill," (improper cone placement). He lit into the receiving corps for not running through cones after the catch. He lit into the offense for failing to stop when he blew the whistle.

You can be certain those offenders won't commit the sin of continuing action again.

"My point," Kelly continued in his post-practice interview, "Is I've got to be out here motivating a 19-year old Notre Dame football player to come out here and get after it? That's where we're not on the same page yet."

Brian Kelly knows a .500 football team when he sees one. But he'll coax, or possibly rip, this three-year malaise of mediocrity out of the group. Because like everything else involved with the Notre Dame football program, the responsibility is his and his alone.

"No, that's what they hired me for," Kelly answered when asked if it was up to the team's leaders to motivate when the team is sluggish. "We've got to get it out of them. They don't understand what I want from them yet so I've got to go back and I've for the re-communicate the message and what the expectations are, and how we practice and how we come to work every day…that falls on me.

"I've got to do a better job of that."

While the players and fan base have the fallback luxury of their annual false sense of security and self-worth – the summer speculation period – the head coach and his staff realize the start of the 2010 season, the true proving ground and ultimate end of the Kelly honeymoon period, is right around the corner.

"I could come out here and work on my tan and we'd go right into the summer," Kelly stated. "(But) we don't have time. We've got to do it now. It's got to get done the right way. You get 15 practices and that's all you get and then they're going to be gone (for summer vacation). We can't touch them until August. I can't wait until August to put this team in a position to win. It's got to happen today."

Pitch and Catch Concerns

Perhaps searching for a few words of faint praise, the media asked Kelly to evaluate the early performance of the still-recovering Dayne Crist.

"Sloppy fundamentally. He's about as sloppy fundamentally as they are," Kelly observed. "His footwork has got to get better. His read progression (must improve)."

Aside from that, how did you enjoy the play Mrs. Lincoln?

"(But) he's got really good football intelligence," Kelly continued. "Maybe we're putting a little too much out there in terms of our offense right now. I've got to maybe look at scaling this back a little bit, but his weaknesses right now are the fundamentals and (we're) stressing those every day.

Kelly admitted Crist's surgically repaired knee is likely part of the problem.

"Oh it's all interrelated, certainly. He spent so much time on quad development and getting that thing stronger, now he's got to work on his feet."

As for the future quarterback's potential targets, notably the slot receivers?

"There's more work to be done the closer to the ball you are. You've got to work option routes and releases," Kelly offered of a slot receiver's role in the spread. "When you're on the outside, you play outside the numbers it's pretty basic stuff.

"That's a key position for us (the slot)," he continued. "We're really struggling to find out whether we can get Theo (Riddick) ready there; we've got some other guys. But we've just ‘got guys' right now. There's nobody I'm going to tell you right now that I'd feel comfortable with at that position."

Accentuate the Positive

There was at least one notable positive gleaned from Wednesday's practice that will elicit nods of approval from football purists in search of a reason to believe in the team from South Bend next fall.

"Today was (a special teams) evaluation," Kelly noted. "We want to see (which) guys want to hit.

"Everybody wants to say they'll hit you, and then you put them in a drill and find out who can hit. There's no lying out there. You're one-on-one, you've got to run down the field and you've got to strike somebody.

"I believe we've got a lot of players that can help us on special teams and make us a very good special teams unit," he continued. "Today was the first indication who those guys are that (are willing) to run down and hit somebody."

Educating the Masses: When the line of questioning turned technical, Kelly used the opportunity to refute a bit of misinformation regarding the positional requirements and responsibilities of the linemen in his new offense.

"Nothing," Kelly noted of the difference between a left tackle in the spread vs. the former pro set offense employed by Charlie Weis' staff. "There's no difference: kick slide, (have a) good base; (but) we'll pull the tackle. He may be out in space.

"But relative to back-side cut-offs, sifts, scoop, base, drive, one-step, three-step set…it's the same thing."

Kelly added that the spread quarterback begins deeper in the pocket (due to the prevalence of the shotgun snap). "They're still responsible for the width of the pocket in the pass game (the offensive tackles); the guards and center are responsible for the depth of the pocket.

"When it comes to the spread offense, what (the offensive line does) up front is the same thing."

Note: Fans (and reporters) wondering about the future game day adjustments of the 2010 Irish offensive linemen and running backs would do well to remember how often Jimmy Clausen lined up in the shotgun last season, especially during final three quarters of most contests. (My guess is more than 65 percent of the offensive snaps and nearly 80 percent in the second half; but I'll go back and verify over the Easter holiday).

New Names to Know

In the aftermath of the verbal beatdown the squad received from coach Kelly in his post-practice interview, the media wondered if there were any major surprises among the group through four practice sessions.

"You mean positively or negatively?" Kelly quipped. "I could go on for about 20 minutes here negative. "Positively, I like some of the things on defense. I like (Anthony) McDonald. McDonald is playing downhill; physical, we're looking for another big guy inside (at linebacker next to Te'o).

"I like four safeties right now. I think we've got four safeties that showed some real good downhill tackling ability. That puts (sophomore) Zeke Motta in that conversation. I think (redshirt-junior) Jamoris Slaughter (has played well). And I really like (Dan) McCarthy (another redshirt-junior), the way he's playing.

"I think if I had to throw two guys out, I'd throw out the McCarthy kid and the McDonald kid that are going to be able to help us defensively."

Kelly did not mention Harrison Smith by name, though he did note "four safeties" and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco noted Smith as a positive on Monday. (Click here for our defensive notebook ).

Doctor Kelly's Injury Update – Kerry Neal: Kelly (the resident anatomist of the coaching ranks) concluded his interview with a status report on senior outside linebacker Kerry Neal, who was seen limping out of Monday's practice with a boot on his foot and the aid of crutches.

"He has a strained gastroc muscle." Kelly stated before feigning self-congratulations for his pronunciation of the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle. "Whoa. Pretty good?"

(Neal was at practice without crutches or the aforementioned boot. Instead wearing a black sleeve over his right calf.)

When asked if he could spell "gastroc" Kelly replied, "Absolutely not. I'm not required to, I'm a football coach."


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