Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had plenty of news during his 40-minute pre-spring press conference.
The eighth-year coach appears to have re-invented himself following a 4-8 season, and there’s other changes happening inside the football program.
Here are the other main topics Kelly discussed Tuesday.
WEIGHT ROOM GAINS
Though every football coach in America is touting the gains made during winter conditioning, Kelly’s players are in a different situation.
With new strength coach Matt Balis in and former strength coach Paul Longo on disability, the players have been vocal on social media about enjoying the workouts. Kelly said it’s a program the players were asking for.
“They were, they were,” Kelly said. “And we couldn't give it to them. Our former strength coach wasn't able to do it. He's on disability right now. We couldn't give them what they wanted. So it was something that they needed and wanted. So we're giving them exactly what they want. It's proving itself to be not only beneficial for us as a program, but for the players as well. They're seeing themselves in a different light.”
Kelly spoke generally about the teams’ offseason conditioning. He wants the entire football program to be aligned and build the “traits necessary for excellence.” The strength program is a “very positive” environment that challenges the players, Kelly said.
“The last eight weeks I think we've been developing those traits necessary for excellence on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “We’ll continue to work on that through the spring. So the spring for me will be a lot more about the process more so than production. So I'm not as interested in what the route looks like, what that technique looks like. I'm more interested in attention to detail. I'm more interested in laser focus. I'm more interested in grit. I'm more interested in those traits that are necessary to win a championship.”
Kelly said Notre Dame’s strength program combines high-intensity workouts with velocity-based training. That includes Olympic lifts, as well as speed, agility and quickness training.
“I know they feel better,” Kelly said. “I know that they feel as though their confidence in their workouts, whether it be numbers that they actually see, how their body looks, I know that they feel a lot more confident in how they're moving. We'll see how that translates on the field, certainly. We've got to be able to take it out of the weight room and put it on the football field.”
• Injury updates: junior cornerback Shaun Crawford (Achilles) has recovered well and should be “extremely active,” this spring. Crawford, a starter before going down in Week 2 against Nevada, will be in a non-contact role, but will participate in many drills.
Senior defensive tackle Daniel Cage (concussion) and senior cornerback Nick Watkins (arm) are fully healthy and good for the spring. Sophomore receiver Javon McKinley (broken leg) has a slight limp but is further along than expected, Kelly said.
• Kelly revealed that junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush will get 60 percent of the snaps this spring, his first year as the starter. After playing as a backup in 2015, Wimbush redshirted last season.
Sophomore Ian Book, who redshirted last season as well, will get the remaining 40 percent of the reps.
• Tight end Alize Jones could be a major piece of the team’s offense, despite missing all of last season with an academic suspension. Kelly said Jones is on track to be eligible this fall.
The challenge is keeping Jones focused on his academics. Jones is active on social media, but Kelly wants him locked in on his school work and football.
"I just try, in my relationship with him, to keep him focused (and have) an attention to detail,”Kelly said. “He can’t lose focus on the most important things. He can’t get distracted.”
• Kelly was asked about the right side of Notre Dame’s offensive line, a group much more in flux than the left side, which returns third-team All-Americans Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.
Kelly mentioned sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg, junior Tristen Hoge, senior Jimmy Byrne and fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin and as possible starters. He added that senior Alex Bars, who started at right tackle last season, is a candidate at either guard or tackle.
• Only two position changes are listed on Notre Dame’s 2017 spring roster. Juniors Nick Coleman and Ashton White, both reserves in 2016, are moving from cornerback to safety. Those changes were revealed by defensive backs coach Todd Lyght on National Signing Day last month.
• The Irish currently have six team captains but could add another, Kelly said.