Tuesday, the coach that has presided over 18 consecutive regular season victories acknowledged he'd received a few hints from a roster ready to hit someone besides each other.
"You know as a coach – 20 years for me – when they say things like, ‘Coach, when are we going to get our legs back?' You know they're starting to think about games," Kelly said.
"We're in that time period now. Probably another day or two and we'll start scaling back a bit. Give them some time to get themselves ready to get into game week. We'll probably practice today and tomorrow then pull the reigns back a little bit.
Nearly All Hands on DeckJunior linebacker Anthony McDonald exited the spring as the leader for the WILL inside linebacker role. After an August camp competition with sophomore Carlo Calabrese – and a hyper extension of his knee during a goal line drill – he'll likely enter Purdue Week as the only player doubtful for the contest.
"Really most of the things we're talking about, whether it be safety or center or linebacker, we feel like we have quality players that need to play at a consistent level and Carlo is (in the same situation)," Kelly said of Calabrese's current work with the first unit. "We have to see consistency in his performance from day-to-day. We get good day/bad day.
"A lot of that is A.) his experience and B.) getting comfortable with the role at that particular position. Having said that, Carlo is in position that every day he gets a chance to compete and get reps, he puts himself in a better position moving forward."
Regarding remaining (and lingering) camp injuries, Kelly expects a nearly healthy squad for the season's first contest.
"I think we continue to make progress with the guys that have been limited – (Dan) McCarthy and (Kyle) Rudolph have been limited. I think we've been conservative in our treatment, making sure that we get them back.
I don't want to lose them two weeks into the season," Kelly continued, "So we've been a little conservative in both instances. The expectations are they're going to be pretty close to full go when we get into game week.
Battles Up FrontCenter remains a position at which nothing will be finalized. Junior Braxston Cave appears to have the upper hand due to technical improvements and time missed by competitor Dan Wenger due to concussion symptoms. Cave, the powerful run blocking option of the pair, has improved in the art of the shotgun snap.
"That was a constant concern, we address it right away," Kelly said of spring and August sessions spent tracking wayward snaps. "If it's a bad snap or a little bit off, we're taking immediate action. We're pulling (the center) out, we're running (him); we do whatever we have to do to make sure (the center) understands how important it is.
"Both of them, Wenger and Cave, have improved immensely. They've worked on it all summer. They've snapped all summer. They've become much more proficient at it."
That's good news for the physical Cave, who plays a position in which the Irish have missed a brutish presence since the graduation of Jeff Faine following the 2002 season.
"I have great confidence that he can move any nose," Kelly said of Cave. "He can do things physically in the run game; he needs to continue to polish in the pass game.
"I don't know if that's a concern as much as that we continue to try to develop one of them relative to their weaknesses. I have two good players there; they both have to get better at what they're doing."
Bookends: Outside at tackle, it appears two first-time starters have won starting assignments for Week One. Kelly noted that the overhaul on the offensive line helps illustrate that no position should be assumed by a veteran.
"(Left tackle) Zack Martin's a first time starter; (sophomore) Chris Watt's got a chance to start at (left) guard – he's in a battle with Stewart," Kelly offered of a position battle few expected. "Braxston Cave would be a first-time starter at center; Taylor Dever's a starter at right tackle. There are four guys on the offensive line (that worked into competition for starting roles)."
The biggest surprise from the group – at least from a media standpoint – is the sophomore Watt, who did not see game action as a highly regarded freshman last fall.
"He's been running some 1s and 2s since I got here," Kelly said. "He lacked a little bit of experience and understanding the offense; Stew's played a lot of football…(Watt's) just a really good football player that's (improved) each and every day."
Watt has been cross-trained as a backup center, an evaluation that began near the final practice of April when Wenger, Cave and Mike Golic struggled to execute consistent snaps.
"I think he's more of a backup for us at that position if we get into a bind," Kelly observed.
"It's pretty clear he's put himself in position to compete at that left guard, so we don't want to hold him back there," Kelly said of Watt's 2010 placement. "He's made great progress. He's strong, he's physical – he's one of our stronger players. And he moves his feet very, very well. That's a strength of his."
To 2011 and BeyondThe backup quarterback role will likely be filled by Nate Montana and Tommy Rees (2 and 2A, depending on the staff's present evaluation). That gives Kelly three quarterbacks to develop for the season.
"Just by virtue of me not giving them enough reps, we really can't separate them at this point," Kelly said of the young QBs. "I think we really made the decision, moving forward, that both of those guys are going to be going down to the Scout team.
"I really haven't given them a fair chance to succeed," he continued of the players' prospects for the season. "I can tell you Hendrix can throw the ball like nobody that I've coached. He's got an incredible arm – his arm strength is off the charts. And then Luke is such an intriguing prospect with his size (6'5") and how young he is in terms of where he could go, the sky's the limit.
"So I have two really good ones that I really haven't given a chance to show themselves."
Players who earn a spot on the first two units are nearly guaranteed weekly playing time. So too will be a handful of third-string players, as special teams roles continue to evolve. For the rest, a trip to the Scout team in September does not necessarily determine a final 2010 destination.
"I think we try to train them during the week that it's not all demonstration squad work; within the body of our practice they're going to get the opportunity to compete," Kelly said.
"I believe in going 1s vs. 1s (first units) during the week so our offense and defense will go against each other (as will the 2s). There's always going to be an opportunity for a (3rd string player) to be involved in some meaningful evaluation period.
"I would say that generally speaking those guys that are on Demo squad will have an opportunity to break through, and generally do at some point during the year."
Note: Click here for a review of the team's defensive personnel.