Notre Dame Football Notebook: 10 Takeaways From Brian Kelly Conference
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly met with the media Friday afternoon to preview training camp that begins Sunday morning at Culver Academies.
Here are 10 prime takeaways:
1. Injury Update Is Positive
All 85 scholarship players plus 29 walk-ons are pretty much good to go.
• Senior Chase Claypool, the top returning receiver, had off-season ankle surgery but is cleared to play. He will likely be held back some the first week at Culver (Aug. 4-8) before getting worked back into peak form for the Sept. 2 opener at Louisville.
• Junior left guard Aaron Banks had foot surgery but “came out wonderfully,” per Kelly, and has been fully cleared.
• Fifth-year senior center/guard Trevor Ruhland was the top question mark this summer while dealing with knee issues, but progressed extremely well and should become a factor in the interior.
• Fifth-year senior Shaun Crawford (ACL) and senior corner Donte Vaughn (torn labrum) both have been cleared to play after sitting out the spring.
• Sophomore nose guard Ja’Mion Franklin, who torn his quad tendon at Wake Forest last September, has been cleared, while freshman defensive tackle Hunter Spears “has had a good summer for us.”
2. Kelly Remains Non-Committal On Kevin Austin
Rumors have circulated since the spring that the sophomore wide receiver might be sidelined the first month — a la senior running back Dexter Williams last year — for an unspecified reason.
When asked about Austin’s status and whether he would be available in September, Kelly replied: “He’s still on our team but it’s a day-to-day process with him.” The reply mirrors the ones he had for Williams last year.
3. Troy Pride Jr. Starting Off At Boundary Cornerback While Cross-Training
The senior All-American candidate played the field side last year, opposite consensus All-American Julian Love. With Love now in the NFL, Pride’s experience and production last season is deemed more valuable on the shorter side of the field.
“It just makes sense to get a guy like Troy Pride who’s had the most experience in there, but we want to keep our options open," Kelly said. "We need to develop more than just Troy Pride because we’re going to be doing some different things at that corner position.”
4. Finding Answers At Linebacker
Replacing the tandem of Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney might be the tallest order on the team, with the competition expected to be on-going — and now expanding with junior Drew White (out the last 13 spring practices with an injury) and four freshmen.
Competing at Mike are fifth-year senior Asmar Bilal, the starting rover last year, plus sophomores Shayne Simon and Bo Bauer along with senior Jonathan Jones, while junior Jordan Genmark-Heath and sophomore Jack Lamb appear to be the front-runners at Buck (although Simon could cross-train there). Junior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and sophomore Paul Moala are vying for snaps at rover.
“Drew would definitely be in that mix,” Kelly said. “We think J.D. Bertrand is physically able to be thrown into that mix as well … I have worked our schedule to make sure we get more work for key reads for our linebackers, to see them flow to the football. That’s an important part of our evaluation.”
5. Getting A Kick Start
Replacing four-year starters Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome at kicker and punter, respectively, will be vital, so junior kicker Jonathan Doerer and freshman punter Jay Bramblett, who struggled in the Blue-Gold Game, will be tested often at Culver.
Doerer progressed well this spring, but questions about how he responds in crucial game conditions can’t be answered until those situations actually arrive. What has Kelly encouraged about Bramblett, who also excelled at quarterback in high school, is his calm demeanor.
“We like his make-up, we think he’s going to stand up to the environment in the big games,” Kelly said. “That’s just a matter of repetition and technique.”
6. Quarterback Update
Incumbent and senior Ian Book had the best pass efficiency rating of the Kelly era last year (No. 17 nationally), and his progress at the Manning Passing Camp and as a leader this summer have enhanced his confidence, and those around him.
“When you’re exposed to elite players (at Manning Camp), that’s always a positive,” Kelly said. “…He’s begun making others better… Just a young man who is really confident in himself and holding others accountable.”
Sophomore Phil Jurkovec arrived with a higher ceiling, but by trying to do too much too soon he had his setbacks this spring. The feedback to Kelly this summer is that Jurkovec is settling in much better.
“We’re really going to see somebody — we knew what Phil was capable of,” Kelly said. “We knew the talent level that was there. First year there is high expectations, a lot going on, he lost a little bit of his confidence at times.
“He’s going to be fine, we can see that. He’s the kind of guy we feel is really going to blossom this year.”
As for Jurkovec's throwing mechanics that have been explored and changed numerous times since his high school days, Kelly and the staff are taking a hands-off approach.
“You don’t touch it,” he said. “I’ve always philosophically stayed away from motions … I’ve never had much success with it. Let them be who they are. I think most of it is the mental aspect of the game. Get their confidence back, work on their footwork — if you do those things, I think you’re better off.
“We stay away from trying to make major arm angle throws … we haven’t been tinkering or tweaking with his motion. We just want him to get back to being confident about who he is, and I’ve seen that.”
7. Huge Volume Of Captains Likely To Be Selected
At the end of spring, Kelly said he didn’t anticipate that more than three or four captains would be named after the summer. Yet the leadership was such a positive that now it looks like it could even match the record seven captains the team had in 2017.
He expects an announcement of the captains shortly after the conclusion of the Culver camp on Aug. 8.
8. Freshmen Update
A record 10 early enrollees already reported in the spring, while the other 12 arrived in June for summer school. Kelly said it’s way too premature to comment on any newcomers before they even have worked in pads.
“We really try to be careful about the expectations about where they are,” said Kelly of the freshmen in the strength and conditioning program. “We gradually try to bring them up to the group that’s already here. Coach [Matt] Balis felt really good by the end of the summer that they were able to take on the work load for them to give themselves a chance to compete come camp.”
The mental aspect is always the unknown with freshmen, and Kelly stated a better sense of that will come after the five-day initiation at Culver.
9. Road Warriors Theme
Notre Dame will be on the road this year versus, per the Coaches Poll, No. 3 Georgia (Sept. 21), No. 7 Michigan (Oct. 26) and No. 23 Stanford (Nov. 30).
Notre Dame has not defeated a top-5 ranked team — road or home — since 2005, it is 1-7 in its last eight trips to Michigan, and 0-5 since 2009 at Stanford.
“We have to be road warriors,” said Kelly of a primary 2019 theme. “...That’s what they sign up for. That’s why they come to Notre Dame, because they relish those challenges.”
10. Tasting Success And Building On It
After 12-0 regular seasons in 2012 and 2018, with an appearance in the four-team College Football Playoff last year, Kelly’s approach in year 10 remains healthy.
“Ten years anywhere is a journey that you just have to be able to learn, keep working on yourself, and keep pushing the envelope too at the same time,” he said. “Never get satisfied. We got a taste of what it's like to be in the playoffs. I want to win the darn thing.
“…Never get to the point where you think you know it all. Always be working on yourself and trying to get better at your job.”