Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame to be a football coach. Now, entering his third season leading the Fighting Irish program, he feels as if he’s doing that again. Or at least the way he's used to. After being pulled in so many directions as a busy representative for the University, he’s focused on developing stronger relationships with his players.
It started back in January when I was committed to being a better head coach in the sense that I needed to spend more time with my players,” Kelly said Saturday following the squad’s first practice of the 2012 campaign. “This job has a tendency to distract you a little bit. I took it because I wanted to coach and I wanted to be around the guys.”
Kelly explained that he was losing touch with his players.
“I’ve never been that kind of coach, and I felt myself sliding towards that in my first couple years,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything on their part; I think it’s probably more on my part being more accessible and being around the guys a lot more.”
Some things take time, which is also the case when it comes to identifying a starting quarterback before the Irish take on Navy in the Sept. 1 season opener in Ireland.
“I was pleased,” he said. “I was pleased with all of them, and I was pleased with Tommy Rees. He was out there coaching all the quarterbacks, which just reaffirms the kind of kid he is to me. We’ve got good camaraderie, we’ve got good work and all of them have made significant progress. Now it’s about those reps and getting the work. Our rotation today was just one day. I told our guys … I told our quarterbacks in the meeting that it’s going to take some time for us to start to sense and feel where there might be a separation.”
There will plenty of opportunities to see what each can do at the offensive controls now that Kelly has designated more time for 11-on-11 work in practice this fall.
“As you know, there are a number of those [offensive] guys that we have to sort out and give them a lot of reps,” he said. “Today was different than in the last few years relative to getting a lot of reps for our guys today during practice.”
Kelly said the extra scrimmage work was geared more for the offense, but that it will help better develop depth on defense as well.
“Our defense, relative to where we are, we have over 2,000 live snaps cumulative on the defensive side of the ball on returning players,” he explained. “That’s a lot of snaps. The 11-on-11 suits the offense a lot more because of our lack of experience in some key positions versus the defense. But our defense is going to be able to get more of the depth work. On one side of the ball, to answer your question, it helps our offense and it helps the needs of inexperience, and on the other side it’s really helping our defense build the depth.”
Carrico’s career is done
Confirmed earlier in the day, it appears as if sophomore offensive guard Brad Carrico’s career at Notre Dame is over before it started. The 6-5, 290-pounder from Dublin, Ohio, had surgery on his foot during the offseason and is on track to be medically redshirted and won’t return to action beyond the 2012 season.
“We are in the final stages of getting a medical hardship for him,” Kelly said. “He’s had surgery on that foot; it’s not going to allow him to play again. We’re waiting on some paperwork there, but we’re moving in that direction.
“He’s had a pretty complicated foot issue. At first it was diagnosed and then we had another diagnosis. I don’t know the exact name of the injury, but it’s more than just ligament damage. I know this: After the [surgery], there was more work to be done on the foot. He may only be in the first stage of that process.”
Kelly has yet to make any decisions, but a closer bond with his players, he said, will make it easier to name captains this season.
“We have two leadership entities in our program,” he said. “We have a unity council that is a group of peer representatives. Our front row here is all of our seniors and any one of them could be in a leadership position. As it relates to game-day captains versus electing captains, I’d say I’m more inclined in my third year hear to elect captains because I know them so much better and they know me. I haven’t made that decision final, but to answer your question, I think both of those things I’m thinking about every day.”
Possible punt returners
If Kelly wanted to keep it a secret, senior running back/receiver Theo Riddick let the cat out of the bag when it comes to who will be returning punts this year.
“That I couldn’t answer yet, in terms of special teams, because we haven’t spent enough time on it,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a number of guys that we’re going to work back there. I think I’m more concerned with him on the offensive side of the ball right now.”
Perhaps Riddick is simply confident he’ll eventually add that responsibility, as he did in the first half of last season, to his list of jobs.
“It’s going very well,” Riddick said. “I never lost my confidence; I’m a very confident player. But it is just more repetition, having guys around me, versus catching the ball by myself. It’s a comfortable feeling [now], and once you get comfortable back there, things just get a lot easier.”
Riddick said he worked on punt returns after practices last season, during the spring and this summer.