Fans and media have likely tired of the requisite "I'm just trying to get better every day" rhetoric that accompanies camp – the players have as well.
Notre Dame is eight days away from its season opener in South Bend vs. Purdue; just four days away from legitimate Game Week preparations.
Kelly stopped by The Gug following an 80-minute practice Thursday night for his final media chat of August camp.
Rest for the WearyKelly noted earlier in the week that players were obviously operating on tired legs. Focus waned on Wednesday, but returned in earnest Thursday as the Irish concluded the week in shorts and shells (shoulder pads and helmets) after a physical camp.
"We've gone in shorts the last two days. The tempo is back up. Yesterday was an hour practice, today was an hour and twenty minutes. Friday will be very short but one in which they're going to have to bring a mental edge," Kelly noted.
"We're going to back off on the weekend, and then come back ready to go with Purdue on Monday."
Friday's practice will be inside the Stadium and involve work with irregular game situations.
"We'll have our bench control script, which is about 49 different scenarios that will occur during the game. I was telling the team, when I was back in Grand Valley, I had about 16-18 scenarios and we've worked our way up to 49 so I don't know if that says a lot about my experience of dealing with different things in the game, or just the obsessive of a coach that may want to cover every scenario that may never occur, but you want to cover anyway," he said.
"We'll put the head sets on and we'll do a dry run of pre-game (preparation), all the things that go on with that."
49 and CountingKelly's 49 special situations have been gleaned through 19 seasons as a head coach. He shared a pair with the gathering Thursday night, including one lesson learned the hard way.
"One was against West Virginia a couple of years ago. We had a 19-point lead with, I think, a minute and three seconds remaining. In every scenario (that could have helped West Virginia come back)…played out.
"(For example) Do you take the safety or punt the ball? (After West Virginia) We put in what we call ‘Turtle Punt' which kills approximately six to eight seconds," Kelly offered. "And you can hold; we have the entire team hold because we don't care if we get a penalty, but we have to get eight seconds off the clock.
"That scenario was a learning experience, because if we had taken off a few more seconds in the West Virginia game, they wouldn't have had a chance to tie the game and take it into overtime."
Kelly's reference was to a 2008 contest in Morgantown in which the favored Mountaineers stormed back from a 13-point lead with just 1:11 remaining to force overtime with Kelly's Bearcats. West Virginia tied the score with a safety (intentional on the part of the Bearcats), a touchdown, two-point conversion, recovery of an onside kick, and the ensuing 52-yard field goal as regulation expired.
Cincinnati won with a touchdown in the extra session, 26-23.
"I think (Turtle Punt) is No. 47 on the list," Kelly said. "We add them as we go and experience things during the season."
Kelly added another scenario, one in which he sprints out of the coach's box to get the attention of game officials.
"If you're calling a timeout, it's hard to get there attention, so we added a 49th, where I get to run out of the coach's box, which is really fun, and run out onto the field and call a timeout," Kelly offered before adding, "You guys learn something new every day. This is my job."
Ready to Roll?The various bouts with the heat and the bumps, bruises, tweaks and pulls that plagued 2010 training camp shouldn't be a major issue heading into preparation for Purdue. Kelly noted most players have returned in some capacity, though senior inside linebacker and special teams competitor Steve Paskorz could miss some time pending the result of a Thursday evening MRI on his knee.
"We got (Dan) McCarthy back in today taking meaningful reps (at safety)," Kelly said. "For the first time, (Kyle) Rudolph took some reps and looked pretty good; he's feeling better. And (free safety) Jamoris Slaughter was fine, we were just being cautious, backing off to avoid aggravating a (groin) injury."
With Paskorz possibly out, the Irish inside linebacker corps was down to three healthy upperclassmen (Manti Te'o, Carlo Calabrese and David Posluszny) as the physical portion of camp closed. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit received promising news in the form of junior WILL ‘backer Anthony McDonald, who suffered a hyper extension of his knee in camp's second week.
"McDonald, if we were in the NFL and you had to put out ‘Probable or Doubtful' (designation): he's gone from doubtful to questionable. He's made great progress; we're moving in a direction that we think we might have him in a backup capacity for Purdue."
Kelly also volunteered information on freshman outside linebacker Justin Utupo, who reportedly along with other players from his high school, had been flagged as a potential non-qualifier entering college. The extremely late inquiry occurred when Utupo was already on campus and assumed ready to compete.
"One other thing, Justin Utupo was cleared today. The NCAA was incredible in the way, once they got the information, and how they streamlined this was really good. Then our compliance office was outstanding in getting this done.
"He is a full qualifier, eligible to practice and compete with full clearance."
Also returning to the team next week will be sophomore cornerback E.J. Banks, though in a much different capacity.
"He is going to come out as a Scout Team player next week, Tuesday, and we expect him to come and do a great job for us," Kelly said of Banks, who left the team after the first day of training camp.
"He cannot compete. He is no longer on scholarship. He's paying for his own way at Notre Dame, by his own decision, he wanted to come back to Notre Dame and he wanted to be on the team and to prove himself. He's going to get the opportunity to prove himself this year academically and on the field."
NCAA Privacy Laws preclude information on Banks' exact status.
Signal CallersFew competitions for a backup quarterback role have garnered as much attention as Notre Dame's this August. But with Dayne Crist just 10 months removed from ACL surgery, and the entire lot of backups either true freshmen or a walk-on who has never taken an FBS snap, its understandable that Irish fans enter September a bit apprehensive about the triggerman in Kelly's spread offense.
"I think if we looked at (the backup QBs) through different prisms you could probably come up with different answers," Kelly noted. "What I'm looking for: If Dayne Crist goes down in the first quarter vs. Purdue, who's going to help us win? That's really how we've tried to evaluate it.
"I'll have a decision on a No. 2 Monday; we're pretty close to making that decision.
Crist and the offense finished camp strong Thursday after an apparently shaky effort Wednesday.
"He was excellent," Kelly said of his starter. "You have to keep in mind: these are learning experiences for him as well. He was injured last year, so he wasn't thrust into those practice situations where you have a sub par day and how you handle it.
"I had a chance to talk to him after practice and it's a great teaching opportunity for me. Dayne is just a great kid; he's going to absorb all of those opportunities. He absorbed yesterday's lackluster (effort); lack of focus, and came back today and was outstanding. That's why he's a fun guy to coach."
Oh Captain My CaptainAs the team did during the Tyrone Willingham era, Notre Dame will elect game day captains throughout the season. It's a process Kelly used at Cincinnati; one that involves a coaching staff vote prior to each contest.
"We have what we call our 48-hour meeting," Kelly said of a staff meeting two days before each contest. "Generally (the captains) an individual or individuals that have caught our eye relative to the message is that particular week.
"Let's say (the message) is toughness, mental toughness. Maybe there's an upperclassmen that's nicked up a bit, but he's playing hard (through the hurt). He's got a chance to be a game day captain. Its fluid, it changes from week to week and a lot of it has to do with where we are in the season.
"It's really our identity from week to week. When that captain goes out there, he's representing what we've been talking about as a team on a day-to-day basis."
Kelly added that there is no limit to the number of times an individual can receive the honor and that it's usually 2-3 players with (generally) offense, defense and special teams player.
Walk the WalkFans that have yet to see the noticeably trimmer Kelly have just eight days to wait. Foremost in their minds, however, will be the reported conditioning of his team on the field.
For Kelly, the two aren't mutually exclusive.
"Admittedly, I think it's hard sometimes to talk about tempo and pushing it and being in great shape if the head coach looks like I was starting to look like," Kelly said of his spring time frame. "So there was definitely part of that: sending the right message, relative to eating right and nutrition.
"Certainly it was a personal thing on my part, for my health, but also I think for the head coach when he's pushing those things, it's a lot easier to get your guys to buy in if he's buying in as well."
Kelly noted he'd be able to continue his regime during the season.
"There's no question my energy is better," he said. "I'm able to yell much longer."
Or we could just ask Terry, Gerry, Bob and CharlieAt the conclusion of meeting, Kelly was asked if he could have succeeded at this job if Notre Dame were here first collegiate head coaching position:
"Absolutely not. I could not do it. I could not do it," Kelly reiterated. "I learn something every day. I learn about press conferences; what I should say, what I shouldn't say. It's a learning experience and I learn every day. "To have 20 years (of head coaching experience), just to be able to function is…I could not have done the job without that experience."
"I don't think I'm referring to the pressure of the job," he continued. "It's the scrutiny; being in the fish bowl; every word that you articulate you have to be careful, because they all (readers and fans) don't sit in this room. They all don't hear the front end of the question and the back end of the question. So those are important.
"Clearly other things: you have to be an ambassador all over the country. I know I would not have been prepared for that."
Kelly appears completely prepared for the 2010 season. Irish fans – and detractors – will know more by dinner time on September 4.