Notre Dame came about as close to fulfilling its “perfect practice” Thursday goal this week as head coach Brian Kelly can remember in the past three years.
Kelly and his staff want their last padded practice of each week to be as close to flawless as possible. He was happy with the results as the team prepares to reach one of its few spoken goals of the year, an unbeaten season at home.
“There’s a great deal of energy and positive vibes around the team,” Kelly said. “If I could just stay in this business based upon what we do on Thursdays I’d be a pretty happy guy, but we gotta do it on Saturday. So we’ve go to carry this over 48 hours and play good football against Wake Forest.”
The ship is running smoother for the Irish this season after two years of an adjustment period with a new coach. Kelly said when he first arrived in South Bend he needed to be more demonstrative so his players knew what was expected of them. Now the nitty gritty details are understood and the players can do a better job of policing themselves.
Younger players lean on veterans this season to help get them up to speed on what the coaches needed to explain in past years. Kelly said taking that step in the team’s development has allowed him to be more hands on as a coach this year.
“Some people say now it’s on autopilot,” he said. “There’s a lot of clichés that you could use in that sense. I haven’t detached myself. I’ve got myself more involved in it. Our guys are understanding what to do and they can duplicate the process and be more consistent.”
Sophomore center Matt Hegarty will likely be unable to play or practice with the team for the remainder of the regular season because of a non-football related medical issue.
Kelly said privacy laws prevent him from getting into any detail about the nature of Hegarty’s issue, but he said the reserve linemen needed to go through some medical tests before he was cleared to return to practice.
“I don’t want it to be a cloak and dagger situation. He’s fine but we have to shut him down until we have some further testing,” Kelly said.
The Irish are hoping he can return for the extra two weeks of practice they will have prior to a bowl game next month.
The additional sessions will give several inexperienced players a chance to tune up for next season. Junior Austin Collinworth, who missed this fall after shoulder surgery in June, has been cleared to work out in the weight room and should be able to practice during December. Kelly said the next month will be a big benefit to young players like quarterback Everett Golson, cornerback KeiVarae Russel and wide receiver Chris Brown, who will get a chance for extra reps leading up to a bowl game.