Four days away from boarding a plane bound for Miami, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly began really stoking the fire Saturday in snowy South Bend. Over a month removed from the regular season finale at Southern California, now is the time, he says, to crank up the heat.
“For us, it has been a long layoff, but one that we think we have properly put the pieces together leading into today and [Sunday], which are really intense practices, physical practices, where we’re out there contacting and doing the things we need to do to be ready for Alabama on Jan. 7,” Kelly said of his top-ranked team’s preparation for the BCS National Championship. “We’ll do that again tomorrow, and then go into our situational practices and then prepare when we get to Miami.
“… If we did all the work that we’re doing right now in the first week of December and the second week of December, I don’t believe it would have had the same effect. We’ve kept timing and we’ve kept conditioning as the focal point, as well as incorporating every player on the roster in the first three weeks.”
Guys like freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel, freshman running back Will Mahone, sophomore offensive tackle Conor Hanratty and freshman defensive lineman Jarron Jones benefitted from the extra work, said Kelly, who added that Hanratty, along with classmate Nick Martin (offensive tackle), will be the next men in at their positions for the title bout.
“We’ve done a little bit of 11-on-11 work because I want to keep that speed that you need against a great team like Alabama,” Kelly explained. “So we did a little bit of ones-vs.-ones today at the end of practices just to keep the speed in the game as well. Scout team has a tendency to become a little bit slower paced.
“We’ll kind of rehearse the same kind of in-week preparation down in Miami as we would if we just had one week in the season.”
Sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, who broke his clavicle in the second half at Boston College on Nov. 10, is expected to play against Alabama. Daniels missed the final two weeks of the season, but he has participated in practice for several weeks. Saturday was his first full-contact session in nearly seven weeks.
“He was in contact drills today,” Kelly said. “He’s good. We would not put him out there unless he was free from injury. “He practiced the last three weeks but in a red jersey. We just didn’t want any contact. I usually don’t put [red] jerseys on guys, but I wanted him to be involved in all the timing work, but nobody could touch him. Now he’s off the red jersey; he can go out and play, jump, get hit, fall down and he’s good to go.
“I think we’ll be fine with him. He’s a really good player that understands that his reps are going to be based upon how he practices and how he performs. I’m certain that he’ll play a role in the game.”
Junior safety Austin Collinsworth, who missed all of 2012 after tearing his left labrum in the spring, which required surgery in early June, had a second procedure to address problems with his back. Kelly couldn’t recall when the surgery took place, but said it was a similar situation as tight end Tyler Eifert experienced early in his career.
“He had a discectomy kind of like [Tyler] Eifert had,” Kelly said. “Very similar. He needed that attended to. He got that taken care of and feels great. We think we’ve got him put back together. He’s champing at the bit.”
Kelly said Collinsworth will be ready to play next spring.
For now, it’s about managing the emotions of the players at Kelly’s disposal and pushing the right buttons.
“We’ve coached them in a sense that we’re waiting to crank it up,” he said. “Every day hasn’t been a baseball bat to them. We’ve kind of paced ourselves; we’ve coached them; we’ve taught them; we’ve made sure we’ve hit the areas that need to be hit in terms of tackling and timing and conditioning. We have to build up as well. If it’s game day right now, we’re not going to be where we need to be. It’s getting a sense and a feel from the coaches and myself that we lead them up to that crescendo as well.”