Friday, April 11, 2014
All hands on deck, again, for punt returns
By Matt Fortuna
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Yes, Brian Kelly knows you've all been frustrated with Notre Dame's punt return game. Trust him, he's been every bit as frustrated as you have, and a Fighting Irish spring that opened on a minus-1-degree day back on March 3 has not given him ample opportunity to properly evaluate the unit.
Getting outside for five recent practices has presented some clarity, but the fair-catch-only rule for Saturday's Blue-Gold game won't offer many surprises to the public.
"I’m sure we’ll drop three of them and the Internet will blow up on the punt returns," Kelly quipped.
Kelly isn't sure who the main guy will be, saying Greg Bryant, Torii Hunter Jr., Amir Carlisle and even sports information director Michael Bertsch will get a chance Saturday. (He was kidding about the last name ... we think.)
By recent standards, TJ Jones performed the duty remarkably last season, leading the charge on an Irish return unit that averaged 7.1 yards per punt return, good for 80th nationally. Of course, given the averages in Kelly's first three years at Notre Dame -- 2.2 (120th nationally in 2012), 3.7 (112th in 2011) and 5.4 (100th in 2010) -- there was plenty of room for growth.
Some lessons from Jones' time, however, could carry over, as Bryant received plenty of reps among the crowd during his first preseason camp last August.
"We have some previous experience watching him and spending time with him," Kelly said. "We’re relying on some of that, quite frankly, as to why we have some confidence. I can’t say for certain we’ve got that thing figured out."
Bryant admitted to having some difficulty last season adjusting to the hang time of punter Kyle Brindza. His mindset, meanwhile, is already up to speed.
"You've just got to be fearless," the redshirt freshman said. "Football is football. It's what we've been doing since we were little, so it's like one man won't bring me down."