Freshmen Forces

Part II of our review of today's Media event focuses on Brian Kelly's surprise notation of his freshmen competitors.

Not many recruiting analysts referred to Brian Kelly's first class – one put together on the fly and ranked 19th ranked by Scout.com – as a class on which a championship team could be built.

That possibility remains distant, but according to the head man – the guy that actually works with the kids for 4-5 years after the accolades end and the star ratings become completely irrelevant – the 2010 freshmen class will impact the Notre Dame football team.

"Probably the (No. 1) topic of conversation for our staff meeting last night, for quite a long time, was ‘Who are the freshman right now that have to be prepared to play?'" Kelly offered before listing them by name.

"Guys that have to be prepared to play – now things could change, we're 13 practices into it: on the offensive side: TJ Jones, Tommy Rees, Alex Welch, Tate Nichols, Christian Lombard.

"All five of those guys right now have got to be prepared to play. They're playing in a two-deep role in some fashion.

"(Austin) Collinsworth is somebody not in the two-deep yet, but he's on every kick team, every special team that we have," Kelly added of Collinsworth, who appears to be in a similar situation to that 2009 freshman safety *Zeke Motta faced last August.

"So there are six guys on offense that are freshmen – that's the most I've ever had in 20 years of coaching – that will be eating breakfast with the team when we're ready to play.

"On the defensive side of the ball: Lo Wood is in our two-deep. Prince Shembo is right there and most likely will be somebody that will be prepared to play.

"And Danny Spond has been really, really dynamic. I don't know that we have many guys that play with their hands and can really shock you. He's going to be on all of our special teams as well.

(Kelly noted that both Collinsworth and Spond were competing to be starters on the Irish special teams.)

"Six on offense; three on defense. You've got nine freshmen right now that will be on the bus."

Aside from the now requisite "get on the bus" rhetoric, Kelly's observation of the newcomers served as a welcomed surprise for a roster already lauded for its overall depth.

(*Note: Motta ranked fifth on the squad with 166 special teams appearances last fall.)

Big Uglies

Five players accepted by most observers as likely redshirt candidates when camp began were defensive linemen Louis Nix, Bruce Heggie and Kona Schwenke, and offensive linemen Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols.

Kelly elaborated on the latter duo, stating that seniority meant far less than quick feet and tenacity when searching for the right mix along the offensive front.

"Lombard and Tate (Nichols): you better get to know their names, because they're really good football players," Kelly said. "They're true freshmen and they're learning every day. We're going to play the best guys. And if they end up being the best guys and they're just true freshmen out there; that's the way it is. They're good players."

While Kelly didn't include Schwenke in his freshmen rundown, defensive line coach Mike Elston did add the first-year defensive end to the depth conversation at his position of interest.

"We've got eight guys we're working with," Elston began. "Ian Williams, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson, Emeka Nwankwo, Hafis Williams, Sean Cwynar – those are our top guys right now. Those guys will play; they'll rotate in every 3-4-5 plays, you'll see a lot of guys cycling in.

"The 7th and 8th guys continue to develop: Tyler Stockton and Kona Schwenke. We need to develop those guys so they can play winning football for us."

Surprise Addition

Over the summer, IrishEyes rated Notre Dame's position groups from 1-12. The top group in our eyes, both through depth and the quality of its starter(s) was the tight end unit.

With All-America candidate Kyle Rudolph; senior and Blue Gold Game star Mike Ragone; reliable veteran blocker Bobby Burger; and two redshirt-freshmen in Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic in the mix, it didn't seem likely that freshman Alex Welch would knock on the door for 2010 playing time.

As noted by Kelly above and echoed by his position coach Mike Denbrock, Welch has proved this website wrong (first time for everything) by fighting his way into the conversation in mid-August.

"He and Tyler and Jake Golic have really benefitted from the unfortunate things that have happened to Kyle and to Mike – and really Bobby Burger, also has been a little slowed," Denbrock noted of Welch and the injury bug that has reduced the tight end crew to date. "(Burger) got nicked in our scrimmage Saturday so he has not been going full speed either. We're about at half-strength right now.

"The younger guys have benefitted from the standpoint of the ‘Next Man In' philosophy that we carry with us – they have been a great example of (players) given an opportunity, and taken advantage of it.

"Alex Welch in particular has put himself in position where you have to (acknowledge) as a coach that this guy has to help us in some way," Denbrock continued. "And it's up to us to make sure we find ways where he can be a value to a football team and help us win on Saturdays.

"But he has demonstrated every skill that you would ever want in this offensive scheme for a tight end and he continues to get better all the time. Now we have a lot of install; so he's a little lost…but gaining ground fast and doing some good things on the practice field."


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