SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame has a boatload of returning starters, talented newcomers adding depth and momentum from last year's finish going for it as the team opens fall camp on Saturday. Head coach Brian Kelly sees one major strength for the Irish, however: Familiarity.
Now in his second season in South Bend, Kelly knows the players' strengths and weaknesses, and they understand the message and expectations from the staff. That should hopefully lead to better, more intense preseason practices and, Kelly hopes, a strong start to the season.
"It allows us to get to football," he said. "It allows us to get to the fundamentals of the game. It allows you to start to look at schemes. Those are things I couldn't talk about at this time last year. I was talking about learning the names of our players."
Kelly previewed Notre Dame's preseason camp on Friday in a 35-minute news conference that hit on a lot of topics. The subject that came up most often was, not surprisingly, the quarterback situation. Dayne Crist is expected to get the first snaps at starter on Saturday and probably has the inside edge for the job when the Irish open against South Florida. But it's still technically an open competition between Crist, sophomore Tommy Rees and freshmen Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson.
Kelly insisted he didn't know who would win that battle.
"I'm going through it just like you guys are," he said. "I'm going, 'All right, is it Dayne? Is it Tommy?' You could make the case for any one of them. So we have to, in camp, really do a great job of giving them the appropriate reps necessary for us to make these kinds of decisions."
The starting quarterback will be determined by Aug. 22, Kelly said, so the team can prepare for USF with its No. 1 quarterback. Whatever decision he ends up making, he doesn't think it will become a controversy inside the team.
"I think they've got a great deal of confidence in whomever we choose," Kelly said. "Our team will not be talking in the locker room about who the quarterback is. They'll get behind whoever it is. That maybe would have happened last year when they didn't know everybody. But they know what we're about now and they know we're here to win."
Crist and Rees will not face live contact in training camp, but Golson will because he has some problems with fumbles in the spring. Hendrix will also have to take on some tacklers this month because the team expects him to provide a running threat.
Some other highlights from Kelly's news conference:
Notre Dame is ranked by most preseason publications and checked in at No. 18 in the first coaches' poll this week. Kelly said he's not worried about expectations getting the best of his players.
"Right now, we're being recognized maybe a little bit for what we did at the end of the year and because we're Notre Dame," he said. "The way we go to work and the way they practice for me, I don't walk around with my Top 25 T-shirt on."
Kelly said he wants to be in Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' position, where he's talking about being ranked No. 1.
-- When asked for his main concerns about this year's team, Kelly settled on the third running back. Freshmen Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III will be relied upon to provide depth in a thin backfield behind starter Cierre Wood. Senior Jonas Gray must become more consistent and develop into the power back.
"The real key to that is Jonas Gray," Kelly said. "He's going to really be the deciding factor there for us. If he can give us the kind of play there we think he can, it's going to lighten the load on those two freshmen."
-- The Irish are in excellent overall health entering camp. Kelly announced that running back Cam Roberson (knee) and lineman Lane Clelland (knee, back) would miss the season with injuries. Otherwise, he said, everyone will go full speed.
Kelly is also excited about the freshmen who arrived this summer. Strength coach Paul Longo told him they were the best conditioned freshmen class he had ever seen. Kelly said the new wide receivers and defensive linemen will be given a long look as potential contributors during camp.
"All those guys got the thumbs up from coach Longo," he said.
-- In the most amusing part of the news conference, Kelly caught himself when he talked about offensive linemen Christian Lombard getting a redshirt year last season.
"Not a redshirt year; we don't redshirt at Notre Dame," he said. "God, I can't wait for this email I'm going to get."