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Friday at 4: Questions answered & questions open-ended; Kelly to be less ‘forthright’

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Notre Dame

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish walks onto the field before the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes at the University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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For those tiring—or long tired—of the “Where Notre Dame was & is” sequence, today’s running backs entry should stand as welcome news. Only the quarterbacks remain, tentatively slated for Monday morning.

The concept has been purposefully simple. Remembering the top concerns and comforts of two months ago helps illustrate what may or may not have been accomplished during the spring practices. The intent has not been to be overly optimistic. Whether the series has been or not lies in the eye of the beholder, like most things in this life. As of Friday’s sunrise, it seems optimism has been the sentiment most retained.

“The ‘where Notre Dame was and is’ articles give us optimism based on comparison and not wishful thinking,” mikeyaccblog commented Friday before yours truly had even considered rising from bed. “Almost all positions have been covered, and all point to depth, talent and improvement. We would be remiss if we didn’t recognize that.”

By no means is mikey wrong. The question of the running backs coming into the spring was would there be a suitable No. 2. At this point, it seems the Irish have two such capable backs, if not actually two or three starter-quality options. The depth at receivers is, with the exception of junior Equanimeous St. Brown, unproven yet still quite tantalizing. At linebacker, Notre Dame lacks that thorough depth but its starters are quite proven and should post some notable tackle totals by the end of 2017.

Perhaps those positive aspects stick to memories because good things often do, especially when they match improving weather and coming vacation days. Thinking about a dynamic offense all summer is certainly more enjoyable than pondering a lack of defensive line assurances while turning hot dogs.

Tap the brakes, though. And this is not meant to welcome the pessimism and apocalyptic musings often seen following these articles. The topic here is not the coach, the director of athletics or the Notre Dame Board of Trustees. The topic here is measuring springtime progress and optimism.

“After a crappy season though we want to view the changes as all positive – and particularly on the defensive side I think,” DPU Man ND Fan posted. “I get that, and I agree that these seem like solid steps in the right direction. But are we deluding ourselves into thinking that this level of transition can ever be seamless and easy?”

DPU’s concern is valid. He can continue to advise other fans to at least remove their feet from the pedal on the right. He need not worry about the Irish themselves. None of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, offensive coordinator Chip Long or defensive coordinator Mike Elko gave even a slight indication the Irish had completed a seamless and easy transition in the final days of spring practice.

“What’s important right now are the things that I talked about, and then when we get to Temple, they should have an expectation of all that coming together,” Kelly said, referring to his buzzwords of grit, attention to detail and process.

“It’s going to depend a lot on [the players], what they do in the weight room, their running, their skill development through the summer. Just keep building on what we’re doing with our offense, our fundamentals,” Long said. “In fall camp, we’ll be able to add everything else in the offense.”

“There’s not a switch that you flip that gets you to the top of the elevator,” Elko said. “You have to climb the stairs.”

The offensive line’s spring performance brought “cause for some skepticism,” as the was & is entry read. At safety, junior Nick Coleman emerged, but he still needs “to develop love for contact in order to truly fit in to the field safety position.” Not enough defensive line showed suitable promise this spring to ease concerns, yet more showed potential than had been expected. That speaks not only to the expectations entering spring but also to what they should be leading up to Sept. 2.

Spring provided answers to some questions, both for the coaches and for the fans. Only September will reveal if those answers are the right ones. Other questions remain open-ended. In those spots, where Notre Dame is bears much similarity to where it was.

The Associated Press’s Ralph D. Russo got some one-on-one time with Kelly before the Blue-Gold Game. From that, Russo put together a profile of Kelly not all that different than others seen this offseason, though it is well-written (as is usual from Russo) and includes an intriguing baseball analogy from Kelly ending with, “I’m going to hit again. I know how to coach.”

Russo had some noteworthy quotes left over from his interview. Those touch on Kelly’s involvement with all aspects of the team, on the temperature of his chair and on his supposed NFL interest.

Kelly also responded to those who feel he blames players.

“What I will change this year is that I can’t be honest with assessments of players to the media, totally honest,” Kelly said. “Because it’s portrayed as throwing players under the bus, being disloyal to a player. They don’t know the relationship with the player. Based upon what happened last year and the fallout that occurred from other media sources, it doesn’t do the university – it doesn’t do our program – any good for me to be forthright when it comes to those kinds of assessments of our players.”

This is an unfortunate symptom of our 140-character era manifested by talking heads, a list far too long to fit this space, even if there is quite literally no character limit.

In the room, with full context, Kelly’s honesty has often yielded a better understanding of the Irish program as a whole. When those tidbits are splintered by those looking for retweets or viral relevancy, Kelly’s words become improper indictments.

The month leading up to the NFL Draft jumps to mind as an obvious example.

To those who insist Kelly called rising senior center Sam Mustipher “atrocious” following last season’s defeat to North Carolina State, note Kelly said the “lack of ability to manage the snapping of the football” was atrocious. That phrasing places blame not only on Mustipher, but also on the quarterback and the coaching staff, if not also those who allowed a game to be played in a literal hurricane. It was a needed acknowledgement of one of that day’s costly flaws. If he had not referenced it, Kelly would have been lampooned for some version of obliviousness.

Here, I’ll tap the brakes, lest I really get rolling. Bluntly enough, Kelly’s candor has at times come across as abrasive, but when heard with a level-head, it was a far more positive trait than a negative one. It will be a distinct shame if short-sighted commentaries lead Kelly to reduce those insights.

With that disappointment abridged, what should I do instead? Well, this did post at 4 p.m. ET on a Friday.

Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame was & is: Rover
Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Safeties
Where Notre Dame was & is: Cornerbacks
Where Notre Dame was & is: Offensive Line
Where Notre Dame was & is: Wide Receivers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends
Where Notre Dame was & is: Running Backs