Chicago Colleges: Ishaq Williams

Newcomers stepping up on Irish D

August, 14, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- OK, so there was some pretty big news Wednesday out of Notre Dame. You can read and hear all about that here and here. But Brian Kelly did name some other starters for Week 1 against Rice.

The biggest surprise? Early enrollee Andrew Trumbetti will be the starter at weak-side defensive end, where Romeo Okwara had appeared to have the initial leg-up. Ishaq Williams is the other starting end.

"We think that he’s got a huge upside for us in so many areas that sometimes I don’t talk about him enough," Kelly said of Trumbetti. "But a great motor, physical, smart, does all the things that we ask him to do. But again, you’ve got to keep in mind we’re talking about first-and second-down players."

Another first-teamer, a name that is considerably less shocking than Trumbetti's, is Florida transfer Cody Riggs, who will start opposite KeiVarae Russell at cornerback.

Kelly repeatedly praised the approach of his defensive freshmen, saying that tackle Jonathan Bonner is in the two-deep, that linebacker Kolin Hill and lineman Jhonny Williams are third-down pass-rushers, and that linebacker Nyles Morgan will play.

While Kelly admitted that he probably would have been uneasy counting on so many rookies to contribute in the front seven, he says his eyes tell him different when he watches them every day on the practice field.

There is also, of course, a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder. Kelly was asked if the new scheme is easier to grasp than what former coordinator Bob Diaco ran.

"They can go. There’s a lot more going on. There’s a lot more pieces to this," Kelly said. "But Brian let’s them run and let’s them go. And so that’s why a lot of these young guys can just, in the places that he’s putting them, in the fronts that he’s calling with Nyles Morgan, he’s not asking him to two-gap anybody. He’s saying, ‘Listen, we’re going to cover everybody. Just go run. Go make a play.’ And some of the freshmen are getting similar kind of front calls where they can just pin their ears back and go."

Notre Dame spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Three things we learned in the spring
  • The QB rotation is stable: Everett Golson is back from his 2013 suspension, hardened and bigger than ever. And Malik Zaire has taken full advantage of the opportunity Brian Kelly has given him, after Kelly declared the job open. (Notre Dame had just two scholarship quarterbacks this spring.) While few expect Golson to relinquish his hold on the starting role, the prospect of a hungry, capable backup has to make new QBs coach Matt LaFleur happy.
  • Greg Bryant looks like a playmaker: A rough start to Bryant's career last year might have been a blessing in disguise, as knee tendinitis allowed him to redshirt and essentially get a do-over in 2014. The returns this spring have been phenomenal, with the No. 2 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 bringing a burst to the run game that was absent last season. He turned heads in the spring game and says he is carrying a more mature head on his shoulders after last season, as he's hungry to get back on the field and make plays.
  • The secondary is primed to breakout: Notre Dame does not lack for bodies among its defensive backs. KeiVarae Russell enters his third year of starting ready to be one of the nation's top corners, and the Irish return four safeties with starting experience -- one of whom, Matthias Farley, moved to nickelback this spring. Throw in Florida transfer Cody Riggs at corner this summer -- as well as the aggressive approach of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who will bring more press coverage -- and the secondary has all of the ingredients to be very good in 2014.
Three questions for the fall
  • Where will the pass-rush come from? The Irish said goodbye to Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, two linemen who made their living in opposing backfields. There are simply no big, athletic bodies like them on this year's roster. With a revamped front-seven, VanGorder will be tasked with finding new ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps senior Ishaq Williams, now primarily at end, can add a boost to the line.
  • Which receivers will step up? With DaVaris Daniels (academics) gone this spring, it was essentially an open audition for Irish receivers, only two of whom had ever caught balls from Golson before (Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyack). Corey Robinson has continued his growth after a promising freshman campaign, and Koyack will have to emerge as a bigger receiving threat after handling mostly blocking duties next to the departed Troy Niklas. Daniels' expected return this summer will provide a major boost to this group.
  • Will special teams play finally improve? Few areas have given Notre Dame trouble in recent years the way special teams has, particularly the punt return game. Awful weather this spring limited outdoor work, which limited ideal return opportunities. Bryant could emerge as the guy at punt return, though Tarean Folston and Torii Hunter Jr. may contend for chances as well.
One way-too-early prediction

Notre Dame will average better than 30 points per game for the first time in the Kelly era. In Golson, the Irish have the ideal quarterback in place to run the Kelly offense. And with the defense taking massive personnel hits up front while adjusting to a new scheme, the offense will be relied on more than ever to stretch the field, carry the load and put points on the board.

VanGorder knows D won't click overnight

March, 26, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It would probably be easier to list the players Brian VanGorder wasn't asked about Wednesday during his first spring meeting with the media. And though few of the guys he discussed outside of Joe Schmidt drew heavy praise of note, it is clear that Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator is a fan of all he has in front of him.

He just knows not everything is going to click overnight.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly, Brian VanGorder
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNew Fighting Irish coordinator Brian VanGorder (center) will coach a talented but young defense.
"There's a lot of mistakes out there right now, which is not unexpected," VanGorder said. "We get a lot of looks from our offense, and we're in the middle of installs, some players are getting a lot of looks being thrown at them right now. We're moving some guys around, trying to evaluate — it's an evaluation period for us, too. We're trying to find a comfort zone with respects to our players' ability and where he's going to fit best for us as we build our scheme. So a long ways to go, but I really like the players. Hard-working, they come ready each and every day. They're just a good group of players and mentally, they're fun to deal with. Good culture."

Being a veteran of 11 other college and pro stops has helped VanGorder fine-tune the installation blueprint, and he joked that he didn't know what the word "resistance" meant when asked if there had been any from his players in the early going.

But combating the coach's experience is the more versatile offense that his unit is facing every day, along with the overall greenness of a group that features just five total scholarship players entering their final seasons of eligibility (Josh Atkinson, Austin Collinsworth, Kendall Moore, Justin Utupo and Ishaq Williams).

"It's a little bit typical of some places that I've gone into," VanGorder said of the installation process, "but I guess the thing that probably stands out here is our youth, we're so young. Really young in the front seven especially. Young players. Again, so we've got to speed the process up and bring them along. That's the objective."

The 4-3 vs. 3-4 debate, meanwhile, will have to die another day, as VanGorder said he wants to be multiple and that the 4-3 base the Irish have often used through six spring practices is more a product of early installation. And he said there's no getting around the fact that it will be an uphill battle for some of the injured regulars (Jarrett Grace and Tony Springmann, among them) to become acclimated with the new system upon their expected full returns in August camp.

Still, the defensive differences from last year to this year have been enough for offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock to notice, beyond the predictably stout play from names such as Jaylon Smith and KeiVarae Russell.

"I think our defensive line as a whole has gotten more aggressive with what they’re doing," Denbrock said. "They’re playing more into the gaps and playing more up the field. Those guys kind of flash on me. I think secondary wise, there’s probably five or six or seven guys I could say, ‘Wow, I like seeing that. I like what this guy is doing. This guy is challenging the heck out of my guys and making them work.’ From Max Redfield to Matthias Farley. You guys have had the chance to see a couple practices, but even the practices you guys haven’t seen, a lot of the characters remain the same. A lot of the guys that are kind of flashing at you in the practices you’ve gotten a chance to see are doing that day in and day out and that’s obviously a tremendous thing for our football team."

Notes: VanGorder joked that his son, prep quarterback Montgomery VanGorder, joining the Irish as a preferred walk-on this summer is "great for Notre Dame." Asked if he wishes he could coach him, VanGorder said: "I learned a long time ago with my five kids, don’t coach them. They’re all athletes. It didn’t work well so I kind of backed off. Gave them things here and there but kind of let their coaches coach them and let me be dad." ... Asked for his philosophy of man coverage and pressing at the line of scrimmage, VanGorder said: "I’d love to do that. I think my mindset is to, especially in today’s game, is to take more and more control on defense by being aggressive and it starts out there. That’s where you start your decisions as a coach."

Position battles to watch: No. 1

February, 21, 2014
Our series looking at the top positions battles concludes with an area that will feature plenty of new faces in the middle of the Irish defense.

Inside linebacker

[+] EnlargeSchmidt
Chris Williams/Icon SMIFormer walk-on Joe Schmidt played significant action inside for the Irish last season.
No Manti Te'o in 2013 was a bigger adjustment than most expected. The veteran presence of Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese kept things familiar, with Fox moving to the Mike, losing his job to Jarrett Grace, then bouncing back to play some of the best football of his career to close the 2013 season.

Now both are gone, and while the Irish lose Prince Shembo at the starting Cat linebacker spot as well, it is presumed that Ishaq Williams will step in with the chance to fill those shoes. (Jaylon Smith was a freshman sensation as the starting Dog linebacker.)

Grace figured to be the starting Mike, but his recovery from a broken leg means that the doors are open this spring for others to step up and make their marks. Kendall Moore is back for a fifth season and figures to play a big role this spring. So does redshirt junior Joe Schmidt, the former walk-on who earned a scholarship entering last season and played significant action inside in 2013.

One other thing to consider is that there is a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder. And although Brian Kelly said that the Irish will still operate out of a 3-4 base and go 4-3 about half the time, it remains to be seen how much more aggressive, if at all, VanGorder is with the personnel at hand.

There will probably be plenty of mixing and matching this spring, as the Irish try to find where some of their young guys are most effective -- notably, Michael Deeb and Doug Randolph, a pair of players who redshirted last season as freshmen.

Outside linebacker has a bit more depth, with Romeo Okwara and Ben Councell, who will likely miss the spring after tearing an ACL late last season. And a major reinforcement inside could be on the way this summer in Nyles Morgan, the No. 5 inside linebacker in the nation and Notre Dame's top recruit from the 2014 class.

But that's a topic for fall practice. In the spring, the Irish need to work on replenishing the position unit that takes the biggest hit from 2013 to 2014 in linebacker, and in particular, at inside linebacker. Several players have opportunities to cement significant roles for the 2014 season.

Notre Dame mailblog

January, 24, 2014
It has been a while. What's on your minds?

Scott from St. Joseph, Mich., writes: Matt, disagree about Michigan State easily being the highlight of the season. The game was marred with questionable penalties and calling by MSU's staff. To me the highlight of the season was the second-half defense against USC. Being able to beat your biggest rival basically without a functional QB and on the hands of a defensive performance remnant of '12 was the highlight of the year for me.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPulling out a victory over Rose Bowl champion Michigan State was the biggest achievement for Notre Dame in 2013.
Matt Fortuna: I think both performances, to be fair, were far from aesthetically pleasing. And yes, we have to give Notre Dame's defense plenty of credit for its play in both games. But the circumstances are too big to ignore here. By beating Michigan State, Notre Dame helped reshape the national title picture. It was the only team to beat a very good Spartans squad, one that ended up winning the Rose Bowl. While it's always big to beat your archrival, let's also remember that USC was without Marqise Lee for the second half, committed 11 penalties and missed two field goals (from 40 and 46 yards), too. And I just can't erase the memory of the Fighting Irish offense coming to a standstill once Tommy Rees went down. No points from either team in the final 30 minutes of a primetime game? No thank you.

Matt from Pittsburgh writes: Matt, O-line starting 5 from LT-RT: Elmer, Hanratty, Martin, Lombard, Stanley? Also how do you see the D-line and linebackers forming out?

Matt Fortuna: That would probably be my early guess, though I'll keep a close eye on that group this spring since Martin will still be out. Matt Hegarty started at center in his place but provides plenty of flexibility, too, so it will be interesting to see where he fits into the picture next fall. My guess for defensive line would be Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, only because I don't know how ready Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) is. If he's 100 percent, it's easy to see him starting. And I'm anxious to watch Chase Hounshell, who saw the field as a true freshman in 2011 but has missed the last two seasons with shoulder injuries. Same with Jarrett Grace at the mike linebacker position (probably not this spring), with possibly Kendall Moore starting next to him. Jaylon Smith (dog) and Ishaq Williams (cat) will be expected to start if and when Brian VanGorder employs a 3-4 scheme, though he said last week he had not delved into schematics yet. Could we see Williams and/or Romeo Okwara play on the line some more? And where will Ben Councell fit into the picture once he's back from his ACL tear?

Jim from Chicago writes: Matt, What role do you see Torii Hunter Jr. having next year? Seemed to be the most athletic freshman WR before the injury. Can he work his way into the rotation with Daniels out in spring ball?

Matt Fortuna: He's the guy on offense, outside of Everett Golson, whom I most want to see this spring. The opportunities will be there for the taking with Daniels gone until the fall, and Hunter was able to battle back from that nasty leg injury to win offensive scout team player of the year. I'm also curious to see what kind of improvements Corey Robinson can make, given his size and potential. In limited practice viewings he seemed to be always making plays, but in games this season there were times where he looked like he could've used a couple of extra pounds.

Chris Kosiak (@C_K_42) writes: Justin Brent going to push for playing time next year? Or does he RS?

Matt Fortuna: It's probably too early to say, though, like Hunter, he'll have a great opportunity to showcase himself this spring with Daniels out. Last year Robinson and James Onwualu enrolled early and ended up taking advantage of the spring transfers of Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, resulting in playing time during the 2013 season. Notre Dame's receiving corps was young then and is young again now, so playing time will likely be there for the taking.

Michael Hughes (@designwithmike) writes: More important to ND success in '14: Red-zone execution or finding good to great defensive leadership?

Matt Fortuna: Good question. I'll go with red-zone execution, since I expect this Notre Dame team to rely much more on its offense than it has so far in the Brian Kelly era. And that means the Irish will have to capitalize on more red-zone opportunities and score more points. With Golson back at the helm after a semester spent training with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. and an improving backfield, I think you'll see the Irish take more chances offensively. None of this is to minimize the importance of defensive leadership, but that's just such an unknown factor at this point, especially since we have yet to see these players get coached by and respond to VanGorder, who seems nothing like Bob Diaco from a personality standpoint.

Kelly: No one ruled out yet for Saturday

November, 19, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was less talk Tuesday about those who won't play this weekend and more talk about those who will play at home for the final time.

Saturday brings Senior Day for Notre Dame, which will honor 33 fourth- and fifth-year players before the Irish face BYU. Brian Kelly took time at his weekly press conference to reflect on the careers of many of them, notably offensive stalwarts like Tommy Rees and TJ Jones and defensive ones like Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese.

And as of now, no one has been ruled out for joining them for the tilt against the Cougars, with Kelly saying Ishaq Williams (ACL sprain), Kona Schwenke (high-ankle sprain), Isaac Rochell (ankle sprain) and Jarron Jones (ankle sprain) all practiced Monday without any setbacks, though Williams remains day-to-day.

Williams has not played since the Oct. 26 game at Air Force, while Schwenke was injured the following week against Navy and the other two defensive linemen suffered their sprains one week later at Pitt.

It remains status quo for one other player who won't participate Saturday, as Kelly reiterated that Everett Golson would be eligible to practice with the Irish in the lead-up to their bowl game if he is readmitted to school. Kelly said he cannot comment on Golson's academic status but that a decision would probably come sometime in mid-December.

Irish not practicing during bye week

November, 12, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly was wise to avoid a potentially fatal marketing opportunity when talking about Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell.

"They're in our new line of shoewear called 'The Boot,' " Kelly said Tuesday of his defensive linemen. "They're wearing boots right now. They both have ankle sprains, so we're day-to-day with those guys right now."

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsBrian Kelly says the Irish won't practice at all during this bye week in hopes of being healthy for Nov. 23 against BYU.
Adidas is probably not in a rush to release such footwear for next year's Shamrock Series tilt -- where and whenever that might be -- but the injuries do underscore another issue facing Notre Dame from the fallout of its 28-21 loss at Pitt.

The Irish will not practice during this week's bye, Kelly said, the first time he has avoided bye-week practicing in his 23 years as a head coach.

"The guys that I would be practicing, we need," Kelly said. "They need to play a considerable amount of time for us against BYU and Stanford. We're just at that point where, look, if I knew going out and practicing two or three days was going to benefit us greatly in the BYU game, I'd be out there right now and we would not be talking. But it's in my estimation we could have a situation with diminished returns that would put us in jeopardy, so we're conditioning them hard. Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday will be the bulk of our work."

Kelly said that it is not all that different from the Irish's last bye week, following the Oct. 5 win against Arizona State, saying that the team held just one full practice then. But the fourth-year Notre Dame coach does need a few guys to get healthy again for their next contest, Nov. 23 against BYU.

Among the latest casualties was center Nick Martin, who broke his snapping hand in the first quarter of Saturday's contest but played through it the rest of the night.

He can play with a cast if need be.

"He's got a boxer's fracture, which as I'm told is a fracture right at the knuckle," Kelly said. "We're going to cast it, and he's working on it right now and he wants to play and we think we can make it work."

As for the other walking wounded, nose guard Kona Schwenke was slated to get the cast off his high ankle sprain Tuesday afternoon after suffering the injury late in the Nov. 2 win over Navy, while linebacker Ishaq Williams' ACL injury has been upgraded from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1 -- presumably sprain -- and he might be ready for the Irish's next contest.

"Is he 100 percent? Probably not," Kelly said. "But we're hopeful that he's going to be able to contribute."

It's next-man-in, and then some, for Irish

November, 4, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Brian Kelly was finishing up his postgame press conference Saturday, an unexpected visitor made an appearance during the penultimate question.

"Jaylon, we'll be done in a second," Kelly said to Jaylon Smith, who had entered prematurely. "I know it's your press conference, but I'll be done in a second, and we'll let you get going. Is that all right?"

"Sorry," Smith said to the room of reporters. "I'm new to everything."

Within 24 hours, it turned out the freshman linebacker would be a seasoned veteran by Notre Dame's defense's standards. The Irish are hurting on that side of the ball -- just trying to get by, in a sense, with this weekend's game at Pitt preceding a much-needed bye before a two-game stretch against BYU and at Stanford.

[+] EnlargeEilar Hardy
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSafety Eliar Hardy (left) is one of several Notre Dame reserves that were pressed into action due to injuries.
BCS dreams have essentially taken a backseat to figuring out just who is going to play and where, and how the remaining available guy will get ready for when their time comes.

"I think this is probably close to the pinnacle," Kelly said during Sunday's teleconference when asked if this defense has been hit as hard as any he's had in 23 years as a head coach. He added: "They don't give you any points for complaining about it. If they did, I'd complain every minute. So we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."

Ben Councell, the man behind Smith most of the season at the dog linebacker spot, was ruled out for the season Sunday after suffering a significant knee injury in the 38-34 win over Navy. Smith and Councell, of course, waged a preseason battle for a starting spot only after senior Danny Spond, last season's starter, was forced to retire because of hemiplegic migraines. And the linebacking corp is less than a month removed from its other big hit, when Jarrett Grace broke his leg in the Oct. 5 Arizona State game, costing the Mike linebacker the rest of his redshirt sophomore season.

It only gets worse up front, where Kona Schwenke is lost for at least this Saturday's game at Pitt because of a high-ankle sprain suffered on the Midshipmen's final drive. And Schwenke was only starting these last two games in place of nose guard Louis Nix III, who at first was ruled to have a shoulder injury suffered in the USC game, and then knee tendinitis, and now tendinitis and a small meniscus tear, though the school says he will practice this week after undergoing an MRI Sunday. Before that, Schwenke filled in for end Sheldon Day, who missed most of a three-game stretch after leaving a Sept. 14 game against Purdue with a high ankle sprain, and then re-aggravated said ankle sprain against Navy.

And no, it is not a coincidence that most of these injuries have come during this two-game stretch against Air Force and Navy, teams that often cut-block.

"It's unfortunate," Kelly said. "It's the style of offense that the academies play. It is what it is."

Kelly said it will make sense to possibly avoid scheduling multiple option teams in a single season, but that is a bridge he will cross when he gets to it. For now, his next-man-in philosophy is being tested by, well, a lack of next-men-in.

He said he guards against that by putting those who saw 15 or fewer plays in a game through extra conditioning that following Monday, while reserves get roughly half the work of the starters during 11-on-11 and scout team work in a given week.

"I think that we're so close that you don't really think about it in terms of, Oh, I've never seen you out here," redshirt senior linebacker Dan Fox said. "We get a lot of guys in at practice, there's a lot of reps to go around, so next man in and next man in."

Underclassmen such as Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara have been thrust into more meaningful time than most could have reasonably expected entering the season, while names unfamiliar to all but the closest of program observers -- Tyler Stockton, Justin Utupo and Eilar Hardy, to name a few -- saw extended action.

The last of those names, Hardy, helped set Smith up for the game-clinching tackle on Navy's Shawn Lynch during the visitors' final fourth-and-4 try. And he was only there because Austin Collinsworth suffered a neck strain that will require an MRI Monday.

Fellow safety Elijah Shumate, meanwhile, is expected to play against the Panthers after being sidelined the last three games with a hamstring injury, though Kelly had said the sophomore would play going into the Navy game, too.

There are also the knee injuries to left guard Chris Watt (PCL) and cat linebacker Ishaq Williams (ACL), both of whom left the Air Force game a week ago but only one of whom, Watt, could possibly return this week, depending on how quickly the redshirt senior can acclimate to the knee, which will not require surgery. Williams was in an immobilizer this week and could possibly return for the Nov. 23 BYU game.

The return of Watt would give Notre Dame four of its five starters back on the offensive line, as it lost right guard Christian Lombard for the season because of back surgery after the USC game. Still, the bruises have taken their biggest tolls on the other line, which during the spring and summer lost reserves Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and Tony Springmann (knee) for the season, in addition to seeing freshman signee Eddie Vanderdoes leave for UCLA.

All of it leaves the Irish, winners of four in a row, crawling to the finish line, every last piece of Kelly's three straight top-10 recruiting classes fitting into the plan for his push toward a second straight BCS-bowl berth.

"We are running out of next men. We're at that point where from a defensive standpoint, and particularly the defensive line, we're left with very few options," Kelly said, adding, "We'll figure something out. We'll get 11 guys out there. It's just not going to be one of those things where we're going to have the same group of guys out there all the time. As you know, we're going to have to find a way to stop a big, physical offensive line at Pittsburgh, and that is the thing that concerns you the most."

Kelly: Williams to miss Navy game

October, 29, 2013
Two days between speaking engagements with the media offered little in the way of clarity about Notre Dame's injured players this week, other than the fact that linebacker Ishaq Williams was ruled out for Saturday's game with a knee injury.

Coach Brian Kelly also said that left guard Chris Watt and defensive end Sheldon Day remain "probable" for the game against Navy, while Louis Nix is questionable.

"We got an MRI on that ankle and we wanted to rule out any further high-ankle damage to the ligaments, and it was a bone bruise," Kelly said Tuesday. "So it was totally different, so we feel pretty good about that. He'll practice today."

Right tackle Ronnie Stanley will also practice after leaving last Saturday's game against Air Force, with Kelly joking that he might face discipline for tweeting about being in the infirmary.

"I heard he had a tweet about being at St. Liam's or something. He gets the same — we call it the Zaire treatment today; that's a new standard in our books," Kelly said, referencing Malik Zaire tweeting in September about being cleared to return after having mononucleosis.

Watt, Day 'probable,' Williams 'doubtful'

October, 27, 2013
Notre Dame escaped Air Force relatively unscathed, despite some close calls.

Chris Watt (knee) and Sheldon Day (ankle) are both probable for this Saturday's game against Navy, Brian Kelly said Sunday, while Ishaq Williams (knee) is doubtful.

Kelly also said Louis Nix III is questionable after not traveling to Saturday's game because of knee tendinitis.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Andy Cross/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesNotre Dame's makeshift offensive line protected Tommy Rees well against Air Force.
"When you're playing an option team, as I said to you last week, it's really about getting out there and getting acclimated to what you're going to see," Kelly said during a teleconference. "If he has a few days of practice where we really like it, I could change that. But I would say it's questionable right now."

Ronnie Stanley also left Saturday's game, but Kelly said he was not concerned about his status moving forward.

Stanley and Watt were the latest injuries to an offensive line that was dealt a major blow earlier this week when right guard Christian Lombard was shut down for the season after having surgery to remove a herniated disc in his back. True freshman Steve Elmer started for Lombard but later found himself at right tackle in place of Stanley, with Matt Hegarty moving up to the right guard spot.

Conor Hanratty replaced Watt at left guard.

Romeo Okwara would appear to be the next man in at the No. 2 cat linebacker position in place of Williams, who actually started against the Falcons as a down lineman. But Kelly is keeping his options open.

"Well, we lost him really in the first couple drives. We played Romeo quite a bit," Kelly said. "We played Ben Councell. Justin Utupo played very well for us. We got a lot of guys involved."

Kelly sounded less worried about his team not being ranked in the latest AP poll, though the Irish are No. 25 in the coaches' poll.

"I think we're still in a pretty good position as long as we win," he said. "We've got to win more football games. We're only 6-2. I think if we take care of business and win week after week, we've got some quality teams in front of us, I think we're right where we need to be. Just keep winning football games. I really believe that as long as we just take care of week to week, we're going to be fine when it's all said and done."

As usual for ND, next men in after transfers

March, 28, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Next-man-in might just be Brian Kelly's favorite mantra, and it may have become the defining one of the coach's Notre Dame tenure after the number of surprises that ended up lifting the Irish to an undefeated regular season in 2012.

As the spring departures of sophomore receivers Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson present another test, Kelly could have the very guy to fill at least the dual roles formerly occupied by Neal in both the slot and as a punt returner.

And yes, like unsung starters KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley before him, former safety C.J. Prosise is a convert to the other side of the ball as well, this after redshirting during his first year this past fall.

"C.J. Prosise is doing a great job," Kelly said when asked about his receiving options inside. "Really excited about C.J. You’ll see a lot of him in the spring, you’ll see what I mean. He’s been a very pleasant surprise -- that’s probably the wrong word. He’s been what we thought he could be; he’s just done it a lot quicker than we thought. And again, you’re talking about a slot receiver who's 210 pounds. Nice hands, got deceptive speed, can pull away. And then in terms of the run game, we’ve got a big guy that can do some nice things."

Amir Carslisle, who is expected to miss the next four weeks following a broken collarbone, will be another option upon his return as well.

Kelly mentioned Prosise and TJ Jones as possible punt returners as he looks to re-tool a unit that has finished 100th or worse nationally in each of his first three seasons coaching the Irish.

With another shoulder injury forcing Chase Hounshell to miss a second consecutive season, Kelly said promising Cat linebacker Ishaq Williams has started cross-training at defensive end.

"We can get him 15-20 more reps, and he's all for that," Kelly said. "So he’ll still get his Cat work and he’ll play some defensive end as well. Was really impressed with him. We put him in there on Saturday for the first time without any coaching, and he did some really nice things for us. Had another very good day today, and I promised him a visor if he continues to do that."

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 2

September, 9, 2012
1. The QB position is, um, interesting. Well, that's one way to put it. Brian Kelly says there's no controversy, and that Everett Golson is his starter. Golson played well before Tyler Eifert (concussion) went down, but in the game's biggest moment -- when Kelly himself said that Golson probably was healthy enough to play -- he went with Tommy Rees, who ultimately delivered. The Irish escaped 2-0, and that will, in some way, validate the move. But does Golson need to look over his shoulder now? Things will only get more difficult at Michigan State, a tough environment that will also mark his first legitimate road test.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrian Kelly has led the Irish to a 2-0 mark for the first time since 2008.
2. Players must get healthy. Notre Dame suffered a number of injuries Saturday that severely hampered it. Kelly said after the game that he thought none would require surgery or have any long-term effects. The wounded include: Kapron Lewis-Moore (calf strain), Jamoris Slaughter (shoulder), Eifert (concussion), DaVaris Daniels (ankle sprain), Ishaq Williams (elbow) and Sheldon Day (dehydration). Kicker Nick Tausch also hurt his groin earlier in the week, forcing Kyle Brindza in.

3. The O-line has some work to do. We knew the ground game wouldn't take off like it did in rushing for 293 yards against Navy. But few saw the Irish's front having so much trouble with Purdue's talented defensive line. Notre Dame rushed for 52 yards Saturday as a team, and Golson was on the ground early and often (five sacks). What was believed to be the team's biggest strength now prepares this week for Michigan State's tough defensive unit.

4. ND is 2-0 for the first time since 2008. This category counts, right? Rees' biggest completion, a 10-yard third-and-6 throw to John Goodman, may have come with no time left on the play clock. And Purdue insisted on playing two quarterbacks, when one (Robert Marve) looked better than the other (Caleb TerBush) for much of the day. But the Irish weathered the storm of multiple injuries to key players and, when it mattered most, took care of business. How they did it, and what's in store next, is anyone's guess.

ND's spring breakout players

May, 21, 2012
Who made names for themselves this spring? Glad you asked.

RB/WR Theo Riddick: Riddick seemed more comfortable this spring, as the learning curve from playing two different positions is all but gone and he is ready to make plays. The senior stood out during several intrasquad scrimmages. If Riddick can be an effective punt returner this fall, he can be the complete package for the Irish.

WR John Goodman: It's not often you see a fifth-year senior on lists like these, but Goodman, as coach Brian Kelly said, was the Irish's go-to guy this spring, and he served as an offensive captain in the Blue-Gold game as a result of being the unit's most improved player. No longer in the shadow of Michael Floyd and with one last chance to succeed after being invited back for another year, Goodman is primed for a breakout season this fall.

NG Kona Schwenke: Like Goodman, Schwenke was a captain in the Blue-Gold game, winning most improved defensive player honors while temporarily supplanting Louis Nix from the starting spot in the middle. He added some weight and improved his handwork, and he figures to see plenty of snaps next season, regardless of whether or not he starts.

LB Ishaq Williams: Kelly revealed that Williams went home to Brooklyn, N.Y., for a few days in the winter to think about his future. He has apparently come back with a new focus, as the rising sophomore had a strong spring, filling in for the injured Prince Shembo at the cat position and coming up with a pick and a fumble recovery in the spring game.

LB Jarrett Grace: Playing time may be hard to come by -- he is, after all, backing up a likely first-round draft pick in Manti Te'o -- but Grace has made the most of his opportunities. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco loved him this spring, and, after redshirting his freshman season, Grace figures to spell Te'o every now and then this fall while also seeing duties on special teams.

Big plays, good and bad, mark spring game

April, 21, 2012

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- From the stands, one could imagine the minor sigh of relief Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly exhaled upon Everett Golson's 19-yard touchdown pass to Theo Riddick in the second quarter of Saturday's Blue-Gold game.

It came after the defense forced another turnover, after Golson fumbled the drive's first snap and after the sophomore quarterback seemingly ran in circles before drawing a facemask penalty on Kendall Moore.

"The quarterback position, as I mentioned to you before, is the art and science," Kelly said. "In putting both the art and the science together, he's very creative. The art part he's got down. It's the science and the consistency, all of those things to be a championship quarterback."

Two drives earlier, Kelly was likely the only one among the crowd of 31,582 to control himself as George Atkinson III took a short pass from Tommy Rees, juked Cam McDaniel and made 19 yards out of nothing.

Because two plays later, the running back mishandled a pitch from Rees and turned it over for the second time in the first half.

Golson, the great unknown of this four-man quarterback derby, finished 11 of 15 for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He carried the ball six times for 25 yards. He was the only quarterback to not throw an interception.

Atkinson, whose electricity was on display during kick returns last season, rushed for 124 yards on just 15 carries, and added 54 receiving yards on three catches.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III
Matt Cashore/US PresswireGeorge Atkinson III ran for 124 yards on 15 carries, but also made some big mistakes.
"Both of those guys are exciting, electric players," Kelly cautioned, "but they are a heart attack for me."

So goes it for the Irish at the end of the spring season. They put up 500-plus yards of offense in five games a season ago, but ranked 118th in turnover margin. They entered fall camp last season with a quarterback controversy, and they also ended it with one.

Few clues could be gathered from Saturday's spring game -- in which the defense defeated the offense, 42-31, for those counting -- as the offense netted 551 yards but turned it over six times.

Rees took the game's first snap, played five drives, completed 7 of 14 passes for 84 yards and tossed a pick to Matthias Farley. Andrew Hendrix came next, connecting with Tyler Eifert for a 25-yard score and eventually playing four drives. He was 4 of 9 for 51 yards, rushed for 13 yards on a pair of carries and threw a pick right over the middle to Ishaq Williams.

Gunner Kiel started the second half, completed his first pass for 11 yards and was promptly picked by Chris Salvi on the next play. The freshman played the entire third and fourth quarters — which were eight minutes apiece with running time — and went 5 of 10 for 57 yards, adding 15 yards on three carries.

"I think we saw some things that we haven't seen before in terms of ball placement," Kelly said. "Then we saw some errors that, unfortunately, are all too familiar. So, I think there were some strides made, but clearly we're not there yet. We've got a lot of work to do with all the quarterbacks to get them to the level that we want. And we have a high bar set for them."

Kelly mentioned having seen the same movie before with Rees' and Hendrix's picks, specifically saying that Rees needs to know that "zero" is OK on third down, especially in drop-eight situations. He said the offense can't run everything with Kiel after just 15 practices to work with him.

And he said Golson needs to do a better job of getting plays in quicker, a fact the signal caller acknowledged goes a long way in earning the staff's trust.

"You never really know which way the play's gonna go with me and George," Golson said of himself and Atkinson. "That's because we're just not consistent: One play we're making a good play, one play it's a fumble or turnover, so I think just being more consistent on the positive end will help us out."

Added Atkinson: "There's so many things I can work on. I don't think I did that well today, personally. I still need fundamentals, basically. Just work on fundamentals and taking the coaching and everything else."

Atkinson said he doesn't want to give his staff a roller-coaster ride when he's on the field. Having a man under center who can protect the ball will go a long way in easing the blood pressure of everyone in the huddle and on the sideline. But an answer there isn't coming anytime soon.

"The guy that really commits to the details this summer is probably one of the guys that's going to start it," Kelly said. "So if you can go to any of those voluntary workouts, then let me know. I'd be happy to field that when I'm on the golf course. Just text me if you have that opportunity. The point is all of them have a lot of work to do. We'll see who does a great job this summer."

Roster breakdown: Defense

March, 29, 2012
Our breakdown of Notre Dame's 2012 roster continues today with the defensive side of the ball.


The players: Aaron Lynch, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell, Sheldon Day, Tyler Stockton, Kona Schwenke

The incoming: Jarron Jones, Romeo Okwara

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTackle Louis Nix is a key cog in what should be a strong, experienced defensive line for Notre Dame.
The breakdown: Injuries forced all three current starters — Lynch, Nix and Tuitt — to play much more than expected last season, and none disappointed. They are all second-year players now, and their pass-rushing ability should have opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks on their heels. Lewis-Moore has been cleared for spring following a season-ending knee injury in 2011 but might not start, though he will likely see plenty of playing time as the line rotates. Hounshell (shoulder surgery) is not cleared yet, but he will likely see significant time this fall after playing as a true freshman last year as well.


The players: Danny Spond, Manti Te'o, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, Kendall Moore, Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa, Carlo Calabrese, Jarrett Grace, Justin Utopo, Connor Little, Ben Councell, Joe Schmidt

The incoming: None

The breakdown: As we said with Tyler Eifert yesterday, everyone knows what Te'o is capable of, as he likely would have been a first-round NFL draft pick had he left school following his junior year. Fox and Calabrese shared the other inside role last year, and their experience should prove valuable. Shembo has been working at the cat spot this spring, and up-and-coming talents like Williams and Spond figure to see extensive playing time.


The players: Bennett Jackson, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson, Austin Collinsworth, Dan McCarthy, Jalen Brown, Cam McDaniel, Eilar Hardy, Chris Salvi, Joe Romano, Will Salvi, Connor Cavalaris, Matthias Farley, Blake Breslau

The incoming: Elijah Shumate, Nicky Baratti, C.J. Prosise, John Turner

The breakdown: The loss of Tee Shepard really stings this group, which is down to four scholarship corners with a combined zero career starts. Jackson and Wood are in position to take over as the new starters, and playing time last season should help with the transition. At safety, Slaughter and Motta saw plenty of time the last two seasons, and Slaughter in particular has shown a nose for the ball and the capability of providing a leadership force that Harrison Smith is leaving behind. Collinsworth will likely also see plenty of snaps after playing last year.