With Brian Kelly meeting the media in just a few days, our friends at Fighting Irish Digital Media got a head start, posting a great interview with Jack Nolan talking with the Irish head coach on the state of the program.
I’ll post the video below, but here are a few bullet points that I found interesting.
* Strength & Conditioning: It’s been fun to watch Notre Dame be the team that gets better as the game/season goes on as opposed to the team that wilts down the stretch. It wasn’t too long ago when the Irish had one of the ugliest November records you could imagine (it’s probably the main reason Charlie Weis was shown the door).
Kelly talks briefly about how strength and conditioning have made a big difference, entering the fourth year of Paul Longo’s training program. That difference should be seen up front along the offensive line, where fifth year players Zack Martin and Chris Watt are joined by fourth year veteran Christian Lombard, while the “youngsters” likely joining the starting lineup, Nick Martin and Conor Hanratty, each have spent multiple years in the training program. (A pleasant reminder that this program has come a long way since 2007...)
* Replacing Leaders and Contributors: Nolan wouldn’t have been doing his job if he didn’t ask Kelly about the unenviable task of replacing a transcendent player like Manti Te’o or a great leader like Kapron Lewis-Moore on defense. But Kelly rightly pointed to the fact that while the program will miss both players, they’ll also have ten guys returning that started at least two games for a defense that finally took the leap from good to great.
“You’ve got a group of players coming back that understand how to play championship defense,” Kelly said. “We couldn’t talk in those terms before.”
On offense, Kelly talked about the challenges of replacing an offense that looked to Tyler Eifert to carry the load in the passing game and Theo Riddick (with a smattering of Cierre Wood) on the ground. While the offensive philosophy with Everett Golson was basically to find single coverage with Eifert and throw him the ball, Kelly talked about the evolutionary step this offense will take and how it will use camp to "(fit) players to where they can help us the most.”
“We really love the players we have,” Kelly told UND.com. “Camp will be sorting out who is the playmaker and how we can get them the football.”
* Staff Continuity: Only in the rearview mirror will most be able to appreciate the staff that Kelly has put together. A few years down the line, we’ll likely see both Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin running their own college programs and guys like Mike Elston and Tony Alford on track to lead their own as well.
That Kelly has built a staff that seamlessly preaches the same message, has wonderful camaraderie, and is relentless on the recruiting trail is a credit to a head coach that took a lot of heat for bringing in a staff that he trusted, not one with national visibility.