Undefeated Through Six: Part II

Part II of our review of Brian Kelly's first six months at the helm.

Below is Part II of our review of Brian Kelly's first six months as the head of the Notre Dame football program. Click here to read Part I.

Save the Biscuits for November

January 18th. That's the day Notre Dame football joined the 21st century with the introduction of a training table program for the football squad.

When athletics director Jack Swarbrick spent a few unscheduled minutes with the media following Brian Kelly's first press conference in December, one comment from the session was particularly notable:

"The weight loss on defense was 13 pounds per player during the season," Swarbrick offered. "A training table is at the top of the list; we have to get that. Our weight loss on the defensive side of the ball was a little shocking."

Irish players have since lauded the addition of the convenient and more balanced post-practice food option.

"It's been nice to finish workouts; finish practice, and go up there and get good food," Braxston Cave noted in early April. "When you're working out hard and breaking your body down, getting the right food is what it's all about. Eighty percent of getting your body right is nutrition and 20 percent is just lifting."

Closely monitored nutritional habits could help the Irish linemen reach their reported goal of a body fat range of 18 percent (or under). Strength & Conditioning coach Paul Longo is charged with transforming the entire roster; becoming leaner and quicker in an effort to withstand Kelly's well-publicized taxing practices.

This won't be the first off-season we hear the Irish players are reportedly, "In the best shape of their lives." Its standard operating procedure for all college football programs over the summer to praise a new or tweaked conditioning program.

But a 1-8 combined November record over the last two seasons suggests the Irish and the former regime fell short of their previous conditioning goals.

So while the spring session indicated the team had improved its overall level of conditioning, neither the players nor the staff nor the Irish fan base will appreciate the result until each sits down to Thanksgiving dinner at the tail end of autumn's 12-game slate.

The Breakneck Pace of Spring Practice

Every regime preaches change at the outset. Like Lou Holtz before him, Kelly force fed his squad's metamorphosis.

His spring practices consisted of 24 five-minute segments. Breaks between reps were replaced with sprints to the next line to repeat the drill. Pads popped; body language dropped, especially for the younger players near session No. 15 as a new level of exhaustion limited mental focus as much as physical stress.

If a missionary, a football coach, and an exchange student walked into a Brian Kelly practice together, each would discern individually who was in charge of the proceedings.

A taxing spring practice serves as a rallying point heading into August camp. But for Irish fans, a loss to Michigan in Game Two reduces the media-driven spring hype to a mere footnote in a 17-year collage of false hope.

Kelly, of course, is not building for September 2010. He's building toward a championship, and that will likely take longer than he or you, or I wish. But the goal for next fall is to win them all, and the head coach has embraced his self-professed "5-minute plan" rather than 3-to-5-year formula employed by many that grab the reigns of underachieving programs.

The Irish might not have a championship roster, but exceeding expectations and pushing a team beyond its own perceived limits should be the goal of any head coach. Kelly laid the foundation for that with a spring no Irish player will forget.

Positive Parting

Rare is the class that avoids four-year attrition, and the recruiting class of 2010 is set to lose a member due more to real world pressures than athletic discontent.

Cornerback Spencer Boyd's forthcoming transfer from the University following the summer semester will make official the first defection of the Kelly regime. Kelly had kind words for the young athlete in a difficult situation:

"He's been a good kid," Kelly told the South Bend Tribune earlier this month. "He's done the right things. He's worked hard. He fell behind academically and had a lot of personal things going on in his life.

"Unfortunately, all of the things tipped the scale enough to make it difficult for him to stay in South Bend."

Boyd is expected to pursue his collegiate career in Florida in an effort to be closer to his two-year-old son.

Likely slated for third-string duties next fall, Boyd's on-field loss won't be felt until at least 2011 when the true freshman would have competed for the third cornerback role with classmate and fellow early enrollee Lo Wood and redshirt-sophomore E.J. Banks.

Coupled with the graduation of Darrin Walls following the 2010 season, Boyd's defection leaves the Irish with four scholarship cornerbacks in place entering the '11 recruiting cycle (with two more – Gary Gray and Robert Blanton – set to exhaust their eligibility following the 2011 season).

Power, Big Skill, Skill – 2011 Recruiting

"How do you win? By getting average players to play good and good players to play great. That's how you win."

– Bum Phillips

Kelly's three-tiered recruiting focus allows for player movement and development. Projecting, sometimes pigeon-holing a 17-year-old prospect into his collegiate position has proved tricky over the years and coaches of Kelly's ilk that learn to play the hand they're dealt generally endear themselves to a fan base over time.

But you don't need another lecture on player development vs. the high school evaluation and rating systems. And since I spend most of my time discussing the current roster or trying to figure out if the 1987 squad would beat Brady Quinn's group from 2005, I thought I'd turn to outside help to elaborate the staff's efforts regarding 2011 prospects to date:

Jeff Baumhower: Early it appears this coaching staff has been very well received by recruits. Most recognize the job they did at Cincinnati and have confidence that the staff will be able to get Notre Dame going in the right direction. I've heard a number of kids say "If Kelly could do what he did at Cincinnati, just imagine what he's going to be able to do at Notre Dame."

After Kelly assembled the staff and closed out the 2010 class they ramped up quickly and evaluated the 2011 prospects. They identified the players they thought could help the program and got offers out. They didn't zero in on a couple of top prospects at each position and have cast a fairly wide net: 9 commitments, from 9 different states, by May.

They've done very well on the offensive line which was a huge need. #9 OT Matt Hegarty, # 11 OT Jordan Prestwood and #2 OG Conor HanrattyTony Springmann and Brad Carrico at DE another huge need position. They lead for several other top targets and could have as many as 16 commitments by the time the season starts.

The biggest concern moving forward in recruiting is landing defensive backs, both cornerbacks and safety.

As an aside, given that (Nicholas) Tausch earned the kicking job last year as a true freshman, one of the biggest surprises was that they opted to take a kicker in this class (Kyle Brindza).

Note: The conclusion of our six-month review of Coach Kelly will appear late Wednesday morning. On tap next is team No. 11 in our countdown of the top 15 Irish squads of the last 30 seasons.

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