Personnel Notebook: Offense

Brian Kelly took time after Friday's practice to answer a few personnel-related questions. Irish Eyes breaks down the latest developments regarding the team's offensive position battles.

The Brian Kelly regime isn't the first staff to preach change from the outset of the spring. When a successful coach takes over a mediocre ball club, the status quo rarely remains.

And when said successful coach takes over a program that dropped more games in November than it did September and October combined in its recent two-season span, proclamations of "finishing" and "competing" serve purpose rather than as requisite coach-speak.

"We're getting to more of a consistency as to the way we come to work everyday," Kelly noted after practice Friday afternoon, the team's 10th of 15 scheduled sessions. "They understand what's expected so it's more about every single day duplicating that same intensity.

"We got a little tired on Wednesday, especially with the new tropical conditions here in South Bend," he continued. "And that was a great teaching point for us because we got a little soft at the goal line. But they came back today with good energy and good intensity and we'll be able to finish it up tomorrow."

The Irish will practice Saturday morning (today) at 9 AM. The two hours are open to the media and represent the last practice viewing allowed to outsiders before the annual intrasquad scrimmage on April 24 – Kelly's first appearance in front of Irish fans at Notre Dame Stadium.

You are where you are

Kelly was asked if his spring "creativity" aka: position experiments, were still under staff consideration.

"I don't look at it as being ‘creative' as much as I want to address the needs on our team with the personnel that I think can best fit. I think (Steve) Paskorz is going to stick at the linebacker position. I think that's pretty solid for us (the move and position).

"I don't know that there are any other positions out there that we're going to look at entertaining players in other positions. I think that's pretty much pegged right now."

In addition to Paskorz's move from fullback to inside linebacker and sophomore Theo Riddick's move from running back to wide receiver, Lane Clelland was moved from offensive tackle to defensive end prior to spring's first practice. The junior-to-be is now back on the offensive side of scrimmage, competing for a backup tackle role.

Clelland's initial move served a dual purpose. "Two things: one, I think we felt like from a defensive standpoint, we weren't sure whether Hafis (Williams) could play out at the 4 (technique)," Kelly offered. "So Lane was brought (over to the defense) primarily because we weren't certain about Hafis' situation, (but now) Hafis has shown he can really anchor us at that 4-technique."

(The 4-technique plays defensive end in the team's base 3-4 defense and generally lines up nose-to-nose with the opposing offensive tackle.)

"That left us with the decision," Kelly continued, ‘Where are we at the tackle position?'

"We felt that if we looked at both of those positions two weeks into it (the move), that we're best served giving us depth on the offensive line now that Hafis can step in and play the 4."

Though not a position switch as much as a tweak in technique, one prominent Irish player has yet to find a permanent home along the five-man offensive line.

"Here's really how it will go," Kelly explained of his approach to the offense's front wall. "Someone has to play inside and out. Someone has to be a ‘swing guy'. We're really trying to figure out whether Trevor (Robinson) is best for us as a (right) guard or tackle.

"Some days we think he's a better (right) tackle and there are other days we like his set inside better, and we like Taylor's (Dever) set – his edge set – on the outside as a tackle. And really it's just all about your footwork and your ability to set the edge. That's an ongoing battle right now that we're simply trying to evaluate day-to-day."

Though the situation is certainly fluid (and I'll be able to report more following today's practice) the offensive line appears to break down as such:

  • Left Tackle: A battle between redshirt-freshman Zach Martin and senior Matt Romine.
  • Left Guard: 5th-year senior and soon-to-be Notre Dame Law Student Chris Stewart seems to have this spot on lock down. Stewart also played left guard for Charlie Weis' staff last season after beginning his career at right tackle and then right guard.
  • Center: Junior Braxston Cave appeared to have a clear edge over 5th-year senior Dan Wenger, though Wenger was seen with the first unit during Wednesday's brief media viewing when the team went live at the goal line to conclude practice.
  • Right Guard: As Kelly stated above, either senior Taylor Dever or junior Trevor Robinson.
  • Right Tackle: Robinson or Dever.
  • Sixth Man: Though Kelly made no mention of this yesterday, conversations with offensive line coach Ed Warinner (early in camp) pointed to senior Andrew Nuss as the team's most versatile backup OL.

Skill Position Pecking Order

As was the case entering last season, Armando Allen appears to have the first unit running back position sewn up. His backup brigade shows promise, but a less certain status.

"I think we're getting closer. I don't think we'll (complete) spring ball and say ‘we're done,'" Kelly said of the running back competition. "I think we'll need (the whole) summer before we really have it. But I think we're starting to get a better feel for our players as to where they're going to end up.

Jonas Gray is doing a nice job right now at the running back position. We know Cierre (Wood) is very talented. Robert Hughes has been very steady for us – a veteran that's played a lot of football. And of course Armando (Allen) has, I think, separated himself as the No. 1 back. But other than that it's a horse race. I think all of those guys can probably give us something."

Though this will serve as a surprise for fans and program outsiders, Kelly appears far less comfortable with his myriad candidates at wide receiver.

"As you can see one of the areas that we're most concerned with is finding that rotation. T.J. (Tai-ler Jones) is a freshman that's playing a lot at the X but you know, he's a young guy," Kelly offered with the chuckle of a coach who's seen plenty of freshman errors in his career. "We lost him (mentally) at about Period 13 on Wednesday. (Kelly's practices consist of 24 5-minute periods.)

"He was gassed, so Theo (Riddick) got a lot more time today. Theo and (Jones) are going to be out at the X. Shaq (Evans) is making some improvement. Deion (Walker)…those guys are coming on. But boy, we just need time at that position. That's one area that's a work in progress.

(Note: The "X" Receiver is generally considered to be the split end – not the slot receiver as most imagined to be the destination for Riddick and Jones. If the "X" designation differs in Kelly's offense, I'll find out today. Jones was seen wide rather than in the slot on Monday when we watched the early portion of practice and again late Wednesday during a 3rd and Long team period.)

"Michael (Floyd) we know is a good, solid player for us but he's got a lot of things that he can get better at too. I can't tell you that it's a position that I'm ever going to sleep easy right now. We have a lot of work to do at that wide receiver position."

Senior Duval Kamara and junior John Goodman have consistently appeared to work with the first unit in brief media viewing sessions this spring.

Kelly also noted that Dayne Crist receives about 60 percent of the practice repetitions while the team's "No. 2" (presumably still Nate Montana) garners the remaining 40 percent.

As for the potential No. 3 QB?

"We have to establish 1-2 and then we'll continue to work 3," Kelly said. "I'll have (QB) 3 to go for the first game."

At present, early enrollee freshman Tommy Rees would serve that role, though he'll receive August camp competition from incoming QBs Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa.

Note: Irish Eyes will have more following today's practice as well as a defensive notebook on Sunday. Top Stories