Irish coach Brian Kelly said his team took the latest hit to Notre Dame’s starting lineup in stride this week. Kelly chose not to divulge information about the specific broken rules that grounded senior running back Cierre Wood for the first two weeks of the season, but said he’s confident in the players that will fill his role.
Notre Dame announced that Wood and junior linebacker Justin Utupo were suspended for the Navy and Purdue games this weekend — a decision that Kelly said was his entirely his own. The coach didn’t say when he first learned about the team rules Utupo and Wood violated, but that he didn’t have to spend much time wondering how he would replace them.
“I don’t know that I worked on contingency plans,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “We certainly went out everyday, practiced and when I made my decision to suspend Cierre and Justin Utupo, we then began to get more reps to other guys. It wasn’t a long period of time that we had a contingency plan because I didn’t know what I was going to relative to the rules violation.”
Senior Theo Riddick jumped to the top of the depth chart at running back in Wood’s absence. He and sophomore George Atkinson III will be expected to carry much of the load this Saturday when Notre Dame opens its season against Navy in Dublin.
Kelly also mentioned that sophomore Cam McDaniel, who split time between cornerback and running back during fall camps, was currently working exclusively on offense. His familiarity with the spread offense in high school makes him another potential candidate to help the Irish running attack early.
He played in the spread offense in high school,” Kelly said. “So two of them (McDaniel and Riddick) are very comfortable in the position they are in right now and one is evolving in George.”
Sophomore running back Amir Carlisle will not be available to help against Navy. Carlisle broke his ankle last spring shortly after transferring from USC and is not yet at full strength. Kelly said they didn’t want to risk using him before he was completely healthy. He did add that he was optimistic that Carlisle would be ready for action in the very near future.
Irish select four captains
After playing Kelly’s first two season with game captains, this year’s team will have four permanent fixtures in the leadership role. Seniors Tyler Eifert and Zack Martin will represent the offense and fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore and senior Manti Te’o the defense as team captains this season.
“There are a number of other seniors that could easily be in that position and I think that’s what I’m most excited about,” Kelly said. “We’ve got great leadership not only amongst our seniors but our veteran football players and it has set a great model for our younger players to follow.”
Receiver By Committee
A year ago Notre Dame’s top receiver Michael Floyd had Eifert to help keep defenses from loading up too much to shut him down. This season Eifert won’t have a sidekick in the passing game. Kelly said he plans on using as many receivers as possible to help fill that role.
“You’re going to need your media guide as it relates to the wide receiver position because they’re all playing,” he said. “Each one of them right now has a different skill set. Nobody is polished to level where they’re a stand alone player other than Tyler Eifert.”
The first three receivers slotted to help Eifert according to Notre Dame’s initial depth chart are fifth-year senior John Goodman, senior Robby Toma and junior TJ Jones. There are plenty of younger plays expected to work their way into the mix as well, such as sophomore DaVaris Daniels or freshmen Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson and Davonte’ Neal. Kelly said all of those players know their specific role and how that fits into this Saturday’s game plan.