Notre Dame Football: Chase Hounshell

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Spring football can be used as a time for players to fully recover from injuries or to ease their way back into shape following surgery. Several Notre Dame assistants spoke with reporters Wednesday for the first time in a long time, and they addressed the condition of several recovering players.

[+] EnlargeDevin Butler
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiNotre Dame cornerback Devin Butler is cleared for everything but contact this spring after offseason shoulder surgery.
Defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, on cornerback Devin Butler (offseason shoulder surgery):
"Going into the fall, we thought that (Butler and Cole Luke) would definitely be competing right now in the spring. It's obviously a setback for him, anytime you're missing a new system, and he's missing new techniques and he's actually missing that full-speed opportunity to see it vs. the offense. But I've been grabbing him after practice and working him for 10-15 minutes. He's doing all of our individual work, so he's cleared for basically everything other than contact right now. ... We want to make sure that shoulder's healed up before we put him in that. So he's coming along well, he's staying into it mentally, he's locked into our meetings, he's asking a lot of questions. So he's doing everything that you can ask a kid who's injured to do."

Cooks on safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder injury that kept him out all of 2013 season):
"A little bit different for Nicky, because he missed basically all of training camp and all of the season. So he's almost back to, just from a mental standpoint, again, new system to that freshman year. So, 'OK, how do I do this? How do I get from Point A to Point B? What is he talking about?' And again, going through that reaction phase, his comfort level's got to come when he's actually engaging wide receivers, taking on blocks, making tackles to build confidence that that shoulder's OK."

And here's defensive line coach Mike Elston on Chase Hounshell, who has missed each of the last two seasons with shoulder injuries:
"Well, it's taken Chase a little bit to feel comfortable with using his shoulder and being aggressive. I think today I finally saw a different side of him that used to be Chase, so we'll see as the rest of the spring progresses. But your third one, you're a little apprehensive at times. I think now he's starting to get a little more comfortable with it and feel better about it."

Irish lunch links

April, 1, 2014
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Radar on for April Fool's jokes ...

Irish lunch links

March, 31, 2014
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Entered the weekend with all my Final Four teams alive. Left it with ... one.

New faces must step up as spring opens

February, 28, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly got into his car on Friday morning and saw that the outside temperature was minus-8 degrees -- as if there was any doubt Notre Dame would be indoors on Monday when the Irish commence Kelly's fifth spring here.

What he will see, though, are more new faces in new places than he probably has during his Irish tenure. And he's anxious to see who rises up from a team that said early goodbyes to three juniors after the 2013 season and welcomes two new staff members.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsBrian Kelly is looking for some new faces to step forward in the spring.
"In an ideal world you'd want your best players to be your best leaders," Kelly said. "Sometimes that's not the case, so you observe daily and find out who those guys are and you try to cultivate those individuals. I think with this group in '14 our best players can be our best leaders and they may not all be seniors. I think we've got some great seniors, I think all of our seniors are committed, but we may have some great underclassmen who are great leaders, too."

The additions of assistants Matt LaFleur (quarterbacks) and Brian Van Gorder (defensive coordinator) have given the staff more flexibility as well, as Kelly said Friday that Kerry Cooks will now coach the entire secondary, not just the cornerbacks, while Bob Elliott will move from safeties coach to outside linebackers coach. Kelly also added graduate assistants in former NFL fullback Ryan Mahaffey (offense), former Irish safety Kyle McCarthy (defense) and Mike Hiestand (defense), son of current Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

As for switches on the field: Matthias Farley has moved from safety to corner, John Turner has gone from safety to outside linebacker, James Onwualu has moved from receiver to safety, Will Mahone has moved from running back to receiver, and Amir Carlisle is now a runner and a receiver. Everett Golson, meanwhile, has returned at a listed 200 pounds, 15 pounds heavier from his listed playing weight from 2012.

Personnel notes: Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Devin Butler (shoulder) are out for spring. … Nick Martin (MCL) and Ben Councell (ACL) will be limited to non-contact. … Nicky Baratti, Chase Hounshell and Doug Randolph (all shoulders) are good to go. … Receiver Luke Massa will not return for a fifth season after initially planning to come back. Kelly said Massa had received a job offer that was too good to pass up.

Kelly on Shembo: Kelly addressed Prince Shembo's comments during last weekend's NFL combine, when the former Irish linebacker said the coach told him not to talk in school about the the Lizzy Seeberg investigation.

"That was a collaborative decision," Kelly said Friday. "I don't make any decisions independent when it comes to major decisions at this university. The head football coach works in concert with our administration, so we made a decision based upon the information that we had that we felt it was in Prince's best interest that this was not a matter that needed to be discussed, but that was certainly something that he could've decided to discuss. We didn't threaten him with, he couldn't play or we were going to put him on the bench or throw him out of school. It was still his decision. But talking to his parents and talking to Prince we felt because of the information that we had in front of us that it was a matter that be left alone at the time."
Brian Kelly reiterated Friday that he will again call plays next season. New quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will have full autonomy over his signal callers in the meeting room. And new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will put it all together and oversee the entire offense.

That was the blueprint laid out during a joint news conference to announce Notre Dame's finalized staff for the 2014 season, with LaFleur coming over from the Washington Redskins and Denbrock adding more to his plate after coaching the Irish's outside receivers for the past two seasons (and tight ends in the two seasons before that).

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesHead coach Brian Kelly will call the plays this fall for Notre Dame.
"We're transitioning back to an offense that I feel is best suited for the personnel that we have, and I think it's important to really get that philosophy and influence back into the offense, and I know it the best," Kelly said. "And then, once we're able to lay that in there, I think it will give everyone a great visual look of what that offense will look like, and I think it starts with me. I think it's important that if I want that offense to have the look, it's important that I have the influence in some fashion, and this is the best way to do it."

Kelly also shed some light on personnel matters, saying that linebacker Doug Randolph (shoulder), end Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and offensive lineman John Montelus (shoulder) were all expected to be ready for spring ball come March 3. Safety Nicky Baratti, who, like the other three players, missed all of 2013 with a shoulder injury, will be cleared for contact this spring but might be held until the fall as a precautionary measure.

Defensive lineman Tony Springman (ACL, infection) is progressing but has not been cleared for spring ball just yet after missing all of 2013, nor has linebacker Jarrett Grace (broken leg), with Kelly saying that Grace's recovery is taking a bit more time because he broke a bone in four different places when he left the field Oct. 5 against Arizona State.

Kelly did add that linebacker Ben Councell (ACL) and center Nick Martin (MCL) are both exceeding expectations, though neither is expected to be available this spring after suffering their injuries late in the season.

Notes: Kelly said that Notre Dame will still operate out of a 3-4 base under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, though it will again be about a 50-50 split based on personnel. … Fifth-year players will not be announced until after national signing day, following usual protocol, though Kelly said those players know where they stand. ESPN.com and other outlets have reported that Austin Collinsworth, Christian Lombard, Kendall Moore and Justin Utupo are the four fifth-year players who will be back for 2014. … Kelly said he still needs to fill out one more graduate assistant position. Former Irish and NFL safety Kyle McCarthy tweeted earlier Friday that he will be a GA this season.

Notre Dame mailblog

January, 24, 2014
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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.
For three years, Brian Kelly had success like few others in recruiting players back to school. Sure, Kyle Rudolph left after Year 1 of the Kelly era, but since then the Notre Dame coach had successfully gotten Michael Floyd, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Louis Nix and Zack Martin to come back to the Irish for their fourth (and, in Martin's case, fifth) seasons of college ball.

That changed drastically this season. With several highly projected underclassmen on their roster, the Irish figured to say goodbye to one or two underclassmen early. And even when Kelly said in late December that he had submitted paperwork to the NFL advisory board for Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III, few expected all three to leave school early.

Then January came along, and within one week's span, all three players declared for the draft, choosing to avoid the recent trend and skip their final seasons. Each had his reasons, so here's a look at the trio and a look at who on the Irish roster will be tasked with filling the big shoes in 2014.

(Worth noting: Nix, who had a fifth season of eligibility available to him in 2014, is not included in this group, because he graduated in December.)

Leaving: Stephon Tuitt
Replacement: Isaac Rochell
The outlook: It is worth noting that Justin Utupo will return for a fifth year and that veterans Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) are expected to be back at full health next fall after both missed the 2013 season. Together, all will be counted on to replace the production of Tuitt, who was one of the best pass-rushers in school history. Still, if the Irish are looking for a youngster to step up, they will turn to Rochell, who ended up seeing much more playing time as a true freshman than initially expected this past fall, given the injury bug that affected the Irish in the trenches. ESPN's No. 139 overall player from the class of 2013 played in 11 games, recording 10 total tackles. The 6-foot-3.5, 280-pounder is a far cry from the 6-foot-6.5, 312-pound Tuitt physically, but most typically are. The bottom line is Tuitt will be the hardest of Notre Dame's early departures to replace, but Rochell will probably see his role increase the most in his sophomore season. Junior Sheldon Day, entering his second year as a starter, will be counted on even more this coming fall as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCam McDaniel (33) led the Irish with 705 rushing yards in 2013.
Leaving: George Atkinson III
Replacement: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant
The outlook: Atkinson should be the easiest of the early departures to replace, as his playing time and production took a big dip late during this past season. He was ultimately suspended for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly called a violation of team rules, a violation that Atkinson later tweeted (and then deleted) consisted of him texting during a team meal. Still, the Irish have the always-reliable McDaniel back for another year, and the Coppell, Texas, native actually had more carries (152-93) and rushing yards (742-583) than Atkinson in 2013 while helping with kick-return duties as well. The most important developments to keep an eye on, though, are those of Folston and Bryant, both of whom came to Notre Dame as highly touted four-star backs expected to deliver immediate boosts. Bryant had trouble gaining playing time early and ultimately suffered a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt, but Folston came on strong late in the season, finishing with 88 carries for 470 yards and three touchdowns. Things will be tougher next season with a rebuilt offensive line, and all of these backs need to improve as pass-catchers, but there remains plenty of promise in the fold. Let's not rule out redshirt junior Amir Carlisle, either.

Leaving: Troy Niklas
Replacement: Ben Koyack
The outlook: Niklas, who began his career at linebacker, played tight end at Notre Dame for just two years, coming on this past fall after the departure of Eifert, as he hauled in 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He was improving as a blocker and was on track to become one of the best tight ends in the country next season. Now Koyack will be tasked with a bigger workload in his senior season. He, too, came on strong late last season, finishing with 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, though he often played in two-tight-end sets with Niklas and gave the Irish plenty of offensive flexibility.
What had been expected throughout the past month finally became official on Sunday when Stephon Tuitt declared for the NFL draft.

The move, while not surprising, is a major blow to Notre Dame's defensive line, which also loses nose guard Louis Nix to the pros, where he, like Tuitt, figures to be taken in the first round.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIStephon Tuitt led Notre Dame in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (9) in 2013.
Throw in the early entry of USF junior end Aaron Lynch, and the early parts of the draft could see three different former Irish defensive linemen hear their names called.


Tuitt became just the second player during Brian Kelly's four-year tenure to leave for the NFL before graduating, joining Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Before, Kelly's program had successfully re-recruited the likes of Nix, Zack Martin, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert and Michael Floyd.

Kelly had said that Tuitt received a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee, though ESPN's Scouts Inc. rates Tuitt as the No. 11 overall player for the 2014 draft.

Tuitt had told the Notre Dame student newspaper, The Observer, back in October that he planned to return for his senior season, though he later said that he misspoke. He recently said that he was about a year away from graduating, and his mother had spoken strongly about the importance of his degree. But a rising stock and the departure of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to UConn were likely too much to overcome in the end.

"I'm ready to take my game to the next level and do what what I love to do -- play football, compete and have fun," Tuitt told ESPN's Joe Schad.

Tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III were the other two underclassmen whose paperwork Kelly had sent to the NFL advisory committee. Niklas received between a second- and a fourth-round grade, his father, Don Niklas, told ESPN.com. But Don said that the plan is for Troy to return to Notre Dame for his senior year and receive his degree.

The future of Atkinson remains less clear after he was suspended from the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly said was a violation of team rules. Atkinson tweeted, and quickly deleted, that he was suspended for texting during a team meal. Kelly said after the game that he had not decided what effect the discipline would have on Atkinson's future with the program.

As for Tuitt, the leap to the NFL leaves the Irish thin up front, as they lose a mammoth pass-rusher who started all 13 games in a season that saw the line decimated by injuries. Tuitt battled through those himself, recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery and the added weight that came from that — in addition to an early-season back issue — to lead the team in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (9). He added his second career touchdown, too — picking off Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner in the end zone — after returning a fumble 77 yards for a score in the 2012 opener against Navy.

The 6-foot-6, 312-pounder notched 12 sacks in 2012, 1.5 off Justin Tuck's school single-season record, and he leaves Notre Dame with 21.5 career sacks, just three off Tuck's school record.

Underclassmen reserves Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones saw extended playing time this season because of injuries in front of them, and they gained experience that will serve even more beneficial moving forward -- when they will be asked to do much more in 2014.

Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) meanwhile, are both currently on track to return this fall, adding depth to a unit that sorely needs it. Starting end Sheldon Day returns for his junior year as well and will enter the season as the marquee man up front, this after entering 2013 as the seemingly unknown commodity next to future draft picks Tuitt and Nix.

Niklas expects to return for senior year

December, 23, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tight end Troy Niklas doesn't know what he doesn't know, which for now means that he is expecting to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, unless something unforeseen changes before the Jan. 15 deadline for early entry into the draft.

"I mean, there's always the possibility," Niklas said, giving himself some room. "I can't really say — I'm pretty sure I'm coming back."

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)Troy Niklas is expecting to return for his senior season.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly submitted pro evaluations for three underclassmen: Niklas, Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson III. Niklas figures to be the only of the trio with a serious decision to make about his future, given the likelihood that Tuitt gets picked in the first round.

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Niklas was one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award this season, as he caught 28 passes for 422 yards with five touchdowns as the former linebacker continued to evolve into a complete tight end.

"He does so much for us," Kelly said. "Eight sacks this year, and he's a big reason why. If you're looking at all the jobs he does for us during the game, if he's not catching the ball, he's extremely effective for us in other areas."

Niklas hopes the process of hearing back from the NFL can point him in the right direction on what he needs to work on for next season, though he's admittedly unfamiliar with the process.

"I have no idea. I'll be learning a lot," Niklas said. "We'll probably go over it after the bowl game, most likely, and then I'll be able to tell you what goes on and stuff like that. For now, I don't really know anything."

Notes: Kelly, a Boston native, was thrilled about the Irish playing Boston College at Fenway Park in 2015, a game that was announced Friday. "You guys were all kind of talking about my contract last year — the reason that wasn't signed was the Fenway game. It was being negotiated. They're hard negotiators in Boston. We were finally able to get my family Green Monster seats, so then I signed the contract." … There are no new injuries to report since bowl practices began. As for the already injured, Chase Hounshell (shoulder) is practicing with the scout team, Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be held out of contact until the spring and Tony Springmann (ACL, then infection) might not return until next fall. … Kelly half-kiddingly said the first and second-team offensive lines are essentially working as one, with Conor Hanratty ready to move to center if necessary, and with Mark Harrell behind him at guard. Walk-on Kevin Carr is available as well.
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."

Day to play against USC, other notes

October, 16, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Sheldon Day is scheduled to speak with reporters Wednesday, as sure a sign as any that he will actually play Saturday after missing the majority of Notre Dame's last three games because of an ankle sprain.

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame is expecting sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day back after he missed the better part of the last three games due to injury.
Brian Kelly said that Day practiced Monday and is expected to play against USC this weekend, though the head coach had sounded pretty confident publicly about Day's condition going into each of the last three games. Day missed the Michigan State and Oklahoma games and was very limited in the Arizona State contest two weeks ago.

Versatile lineman Kona Schwenke had started opposite Stephon Tuitt in Day's absence.

"He doesn't stay blocked," Kelly said of Day. "One of the things that makes a defensive lineman a great player is he gets off blocks. Sheldon gets off blocks and is a great pass rusher. He's a guy that early in the season was a great pass rusher and wasn't staying blocked. He'll figure into our game plan on Saturday."

Kelly also said that, among players already ruled out for the season, Chase Hounshell (shoulder surgery) is the closest to returning to full strength, with the end possibly getting to put pads on within the next 10-14 days.

Doug Randolph and Nicky Baratti (both shoulder) are in a light rehab process, while Tony Springmann (ACL tear) suffered an infection after surgery but is recovering well.

Kelly said that Torii Hunter Jr. probably would have been playing this year had he not suffered a broken left femur in during U.S. Army All-American bowl workouts, while Daniel Smith (ankle) and Jarrett Grace (leg) had successful surgeries following their injuries two weeks ago in Arlington, Texas.

Among those contributing this season, Kelly said that Tarean Folston has recovered from a hamstring injury suffered on his career-long 36-yard run in the Sept. 28 loss to Oklahoma.

"He looked better when we got a chance to run him out, and we expect him to be part of the mix for us," Kelly said. "That was the Oklahoma game moving forward. He just didn't feel like he could cut it loose. We had a play -- I think it was a series or two later -- where he was coming out of the backfield, and Tommy (Rees) overthrew him. He really couldn't cut it loose on a mesh route, and that's when we pulled him out of the game. He's a lot better. I think he's 100 percent. He feels a lot better, and he looked really good in practice yesterday."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The first public plays in Notre Dame uniforms for Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle are being put on hold.

The two will sit out Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game as a precautionary measure, coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday.

Robinson is recovering from a hyper-extended elbow while Carlisle nurses a broken collarbone suffered March 23.

Kelly said that Carlisle returned to practice in pads Wednesday but was limited to no contact.

Robinson, who enrolled this spring, presumably injured his elbow while making a diving, one-handed catch during Saturday's scrimmage, the entirety of which was open to reporters and others on hand for the coaches clinic.

Carlisle has yet to take a snap in a Notre Dame uniform after transferring from USC following his freshman season of 2011, getting a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately and then breaking his ankle before last spring, forcing him to redshirt in the 2012 season.

Dan Fox, Bennett Jackson, Nicky Baratti, Chase Hounshell and Tyler Plantz are all out Saturday as well. The first three of those players have been used lightly this spring while recovering from offseason shoulder operations. Hounshell will miss the 2013 season after suffering a serious shoulder injury this spring, similar to the one that forced him to miss last season.

Kelly said the offense, wearing white, will be scored Saturday against the defense, wearing blue, with no live special-teams play, though Kyle Brindza will punt.
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."
Our series continues with the defensive line.

Starters returning: Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Players returning: Sheldon Day, Tony Springmann, Kona Schwenke, Chase Hounshell, Jarron Jones
Players departing: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Stockton
Newcomers: Issac Rochell, Eddie Vanderdoes

The breakdown: The defensive front was the strength of Notre Dame's defense in 2012, and it returns the bulk of production up there. While Lewis-Moore will be tough to replace from both a production and a leadership standpoint, Nix and Tuitt are both among the best in the country at their positions. Nix recorded 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble last season. Tuitt fell just shy of Justin Tuck's school season-record for sacks, finishing with 12 (along three forced fumbles, a 77-yard fumble return for a score, and a blocked kick).

After enrolling last spring, Day managed to see the field in every game as a true freshman -- he notched 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a hurry -- and he figures to be the frontrunner to replace the open starting spot this spring. Springmann and Schwenke proved to be valuable reserves as well, while Jones redshirted during his first season and Hounshell sat out the season while recovering from shoulder surgery (after playing as a true freshman in 2011).

Vanderdoes was the last prospect to sign with Notre Dame, and quite possibly the best. The five-star tackle is ESPN's No. 10 overall player in the country, and at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, he has the frame that should give him a chance to play and contribute this fall. Rochell is another ESPN150 player coming into the mix, and the numbers will present both coordinator Bob Diaco and line coach Mike Elston with a good problem to have this offseason.
The last question of Brian Kelly's Tuesday news conference ended up shedding light on the absence of Chase Hounshell through four games.

Hounshell, a sophomore defensive end, will have shoulder surgery this week and miss the rest of the season. He had not played this season despite appearing in seven games as a true freshman in 2011, and Kelly had said earlier this season that he was simply buried behind others on the depth chart before revealing after the Michigan State game that Hounshell had a shoulder issue. Hounshell had not traveled to East Lansing for that game.

Hounshell had offseason shoulder surgery and was limited in the spring. He recorded four tackles last season and has a redshirt option available, much like junior safety Austin Collinsworth, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery and whom Kelly again reiterated will not play this season.

Kelly also said that ends Kapron Lewis-Moore (calf) and Sheldon Day (foot) are at full strength following the bye week, and he added that Everett Golson had a bit of a shoulder issue that has since cleared up.

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