The mantra in Brian Kelly’s first two seasons as head football coach of the Notre Dame football team has been “next man in.” That same philosophy applies to Year Three. However, when Kelly addressed the media Friday to open the 2012 season, he put a premium on results rather than chatter.
“I’ll save you from all the superlatives,” he said. “I know when I [went] to Media Day when I was in the Big East or the Mid-American Conference, the biggest thing that I was concerned about was that everybody was going to have an undefeated season because there was so much enthusiasm. We have the same thing here and are excited about it. But I think it’s probably better that we save that talk for action. That’s what this year is about; it’s about doing it and not talking about it. That will probably be the theme as we move forward this year.”
Coming off another 8-5 campaign, Kelly and Co. will try to “climb the mountain” with a new starting quarterback. Junior Tommy Rees, who has started 16 games over the past two seasons, will not have an opportunity to regain that title in the season opener on Sept. 1 against Navy in Ireland. Kelly announced Tuesday that Rees and senior inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese, both of whom were arrested at an off-campus party on May 3, were suspended for the first game.
“Clearly, we’ll have a new quarterback that will start against Navy,” said Kelly, who has an idea which of the three other Irish QBs — junior Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel — will lead the offense in Dublin, but wouldn’t identify the frontrunner. “We certainly feel as if we have capable players that can come in and step in at that position and help our football team win.”
Kelly didn’t disclose his plan for rep distribution in fall camp, but explained that Rees will have opportunities “to stay sharp.”
Hendrix is the only one of the remaining three to have game experience, yet Kelly said that growing pains are not to be excused.
“I don’t have any patience for that,” he said. “You know me; I want it done the right way. We have to have a quarterback that we can trust that’s going to take great care of the football and is going to get us in the right play. As we move forward here it’s developing that trust with our quarterbacks and not accepting anything less than that level of trust of taking care of the football.
“That was the emphasis in the spring and that will continue to be the emphasis, that the starting quarterback against Navy is the guy that we believe carries those traits with him and that we can trust will make good decisions.”
The Irish enter fall camp relatively healthy, with only junior safety Austin Collinsworth dealing with serious injury [shoulder]. He’s expected to be sidelined until late October or November. Other than starters Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta, Kelly said first-year position coach Bob Elliott will have a lot of evaluating to do over the next couple weeks.
“But [Dan] McCarthy, Chris Badger and all the freshmen — [Nicky] Baratti, [Elijah] Shumate, [John] Turner, C.J. Prosise — we’ve got a lot of players back there.”
Don’t expect any Penn State transfers
Kelly said the program was open to accepting transfers from Penn State, but that nothing will likely happen on that front.
“We treated it as if those players were committed to Penn State on their roster,” he said. “We kind of used the recruiting scenario if you will. They were committed and the only way we would be involved with them is if they decommitted. They publicly said that they’re looking to transfer. If that occurred and they wanted to transfer then we would have taken it to the next step. We never got to that point, so it never became a situation for us that we had to take that next step.”
Improving the punt return game
Notre Dame ranked 112th nationally in punt returns last season, averaging just 3.7 yards per game. Kelly joked about not understanding why anyone would ask about that unit.
“Why do we need help there?” he said. “You didn’t see our stats from last year, I guess. I think when you look at the punt return situation from last year, Michael Floyd showed that he could probably be a great punt returner. I think if there was a problem with punt return last year it was that the head coach didn’t put Michael Floyd back there quicker. If you look at all the teams that had great punt return teams last year, they had No. 1 draft picks are guys that are going to be No. 1 draft picks because it is so hard to return a punt. Northwestern led the Big Ten last year and they returned eight punts all of last year. We returned fifteen. It’s just a tough play now in college football with the spread punt and the ability to get downfield before the ball is kicked.”
Backtracking on FieldTurf
Kelly said in a recent interview that he expects the University to install FieldTurf in the near future. On Friday he wanted to clarify exactly what he meant.
“I want to go back on that one a little bit and I want to add one word,” he said. “I said FieldTurf is coming. I want to say I hope FieldTurf is coming. And as you all know, and I’ve said this a million times, that’s above my pay grade I’m not the one who’s rolling out the turf. Certainly Jack Swarbrick, that’s his domain. I do not want to do Jack’s job. I’ve got enough to do with my own. I think I’ve made it pretty clear to all of you that I hope that’s where we go, but that’s clearly not my decision.”
Getting Navy out of the way
Navy features the most unique offense the Irish will fact this season with it’s triple-option attack. Unlike the past two seasons, when Notre Dame produced a 1-1 record against the Midshipmen, Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have extra time to prepare and don’t have to switch defensive gears midseason.
“We’d rather have it this way than have them in the middle of the season,” Kelly said. “It still doesn’t make the task any easier in the sense of how you have to execute on game day. You’ve got three weeks, five weeks if you don’t play assignment football you’re going to get beat. Navy will beat you. But clearly we’d rather have them where we have a little bit of attention to Navy leading up to them other than the three or four days that most of the time you are left to prepare with.”