Brian Kelly met with the media after Notre Dame’s 13th spring practice. Here are the highlights…
• The spring game will pit the first team offense (Blue) against the first team defense (White). Quarterbacks will be in non-contact jerseys. No live special teams.
• Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson was not in attendance Wednesday. Kelly said Stepherson was taking care of a “personal matter” in the morning. Though he’s battled a hamstring injury, Stepherson is expected to play in the spring game.
• Junior offensive guard Trevor Ruhland was on the stationary bike for the duration of practice.
• Class of 2017 signee Cole Kmet, a four-star tight end, was in attendance Wednesday.
• Kelly said he’s looking for his team to finish spring practice strong, concluding with the spring game. He wants his team to keep its attention to detail and focus level up. “We’re not playing Temple this weekend. Really continuing to stick to the process for our players.”
• Kelly said sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes has done a great job of taking his focus and attention to detail to new levels. “This was really great spring for him and for coach to really lay down a great base for learning.
“When you get to that first game, you’re going to see a player that has improved dramatically because he’s really paid attention.”
• Who are the players Kelly can count on? He mentioned all the captains and the depth at running back. Players such as senior center Sam Mustipher, junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, freshman cornerback Julian Love and junior cornerback Shaun Crawford are also players that can be trusted, Kelly said.
Kelly also mentioned junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery as a player who has had a good spring and has shown more consistency.
• What players have emerged late in spring practice? Kelly mentioned the development of players such as sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara, sophomore offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg, sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem and sophomore safety Jalen Elliott.
“Maybe they’re not front line guys the way (the media) sees them, but those are really important players to us,” Kelly said. “…I don’t think anybody’s taken a step back. Nobody is going in the other direction. We’re not looking at anybody and saying, ‘They’ve thrown in the towel.’”
Even first-year long snapper John Shannon had made significant progress, Kelly said. “We’re asking him to do a lot more than he did last year.”
• Kelly on junior tight end Alize Jones: “Well he can do all the things that any tight end in the country can do. What has changed Alize is he’s organized in his thoughts, he’s organized in his day-to-day life. He’s taking care of business off the field. Invariably it always comes back to this: if you’re taking care of work in the classroom and you’re starting the day right…it’s going to trend the right way. It’s trending the right way on the field for him. He knows what he’s doing. He’s really got his nose in the playbook. He’s just really going to be a successful player.”
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Jones — who missed all of last season with an academic suspension — is a difficult matchup.
“I don’t know how you’re going to defend him,” Kelly said. “There’s not a safety or a linebacker…you starting spreading him out and maybe a corner can get a hand in there and deflect a ball. Maybe he doesn’t run the route quite the way a receiver would, but he’s going to be very difficult to defend.”
• The young receivers like junior Miles Boykin and sophomore Chase Claypool aren’t finished products, but they’re gaining confidence.
With Boykin playing a high level consistency, Kelly said the Irish can move St. Brown to the wide side of the field. That gives the offense two big weapons. That subsequently moves Claypool to the slot.
“There’s not many teams that can match the size and physicality of that kid,” Kelly said. “Does that mean he’s on the field for every snap, no.”
• Kelly said the base defense is installed. More third down items are left to go. Crawford, who is on pace to be full-go in August, will get looks at Nickel.
• Kelly on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush: “He runs that offense like he’s been running it for a few years. There’s no panic. There’s a calmness. There’s an organization to it. In those two areas, he runs it as if he’s been doing it for quite some time.”
• An expanded football complex and new indoor practice facility have been approved by the Board of Trustees, Kelly said.