With access to Brian Kelly, his assistants and a handful of veteran players, today’s Media Day felt a little different than most. That’s understandable, with the aftermath of unexpected academic suspensions still lingering over the program. With the investigation still on media lockdown, speculation has varied widely, but it’s clear that Kelly is moving forward, the only thing a head coach can do.
With a flight to catch and quote to transcribe, here are a few quick thoughts before heading back to the Inside the Irish HQ:
The defensive line is really, really young.
Listening to Brian VanGorder speak and catching up with Mike Elston, you get the feeling that the potential loss of Ishaq Williams is a killer in that it really gutted any semblance of veteran depth on the defensive line. Kelly now plans to start Isaac Rochell with true freshman Grant Blankenship backing him up. Chase Hounshell? Seemingly buried beneath them.
Andrew Trumbetti won a starting job, though Romeo Okwara will play quite a bit. That’s youth on top of youth on top of youth.
The good news on the defensive line? Sheldon Day is going to be very, very good. Talking to Day, he said his body fat is down to 13 percent, a scary number considering he weighed in at 284.5 pounds today. (He made sure to mention the half-pound.)
Rounding out the two deep is fifth-year senior Justin Utupo and true freshman Daniel Cage, who’ll back up starter Jarron Jones. Staying healthy up front will be critical, but we’re going to see more than just those mentioned, as Jonathon Bonner, Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill all have pass rush ability.
Matt LaFleur is an interesting young coach.
What a great addition the Irish quarterback coach appears to be. He’ll have the ability to work with Notre Dame’s young quarterbacks, and show a little bit more attention to a position group that’s been helmed by the offensive coordinator the past four seasons.
I asked LaFleur a little bit about the translation from coaching the guys playing on Sunday to working with college kids. Considering he was dealing with two rookies in Washington with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, it wasn’t that much of a difference, but it certainly gives him a more moldable piece of clay.
Last thing to watch: Everett Golson didn’t make it through 2012 without missing significant time because of injuries. That makes Malik Zaire one hit away. And that makes the third-stringer two hits away. Whether that makes DeShone Kizer, who I know the staff would like to redshirt, or Montgomery “Gummy” VanGorder the true third-stringer, remains to be seen. (Or hopefully not, for LaFleur.)
Get ready to see an athletic linebacking corps.
First, Jaylon Smith could have a monster year. He was too smart of a kid to answer some of my questions honestly, but when I asked him if he had a person goal of 100 tackles, he almost gave me a truthful answer before giving me the Crash Davis and talking about accountability to his teammates, something we heard from every player and assistant repeatedly.
But after chatting with his coordinator, position coach Bobby Elliot and strength coach Paul Longo, Smith inhabits some rarified air physically, with a body fat that’s in the 3-percent range and muscles barely contained by skin. Middle linebacker Joe Schmidt could barely talk about Smith as an athlete.
“A specimen,” Schmidt said. “The definition of a specimen.”
Paired with James Onwualu, the trio of Schmidt, Smith and Onwualu is a really dynamic group. Just about every person I spoke to raved about Onwualu, both athletically, but more so as a student of the game. One staffer called the move to defense, “the best thing that could happen to Onwualu as a football player,” as the wide receiver depth chart wasn’t nearly as friendly as the strongside linebacker job.
As for Schmidt, he didn’t want to talk about his size and I couldn’t blame him. He’s got all that he needs in this system, assuming the defensive line can protect him.
It appears that Matthias Farley is turning into the Tommy Rees of the Irish defense. Fans might grumble when they see him on the field, but he’s a key part of the defense and a perfect teammate.
Corey Robinson looks like Demolition Man with his blonde hair.
It’s not that he likes it, but you can tell Everett Golson is getting comfortable with the media coverage that comes with the starting quarterback job. His table was packed from start to finish of the 45-minute availability window.
There’s confidence in Nick Martin, he seems ready to lead.
One of the funnier moments: A photographer getting free advice from Longo on his daughter’s training regimen, and Longo talking up the Q-angle for young girls -- which he explained was the angle that measures the triangle that’s formed from the hypotenuse of the right triangle made if you connect a female athlete’s hip to her knee.
Longo also talked about the Catapult system that Florida State has gotten a lot of publicity about using, a GPS-like measuring system that tracks athletes and their heart rate. Notre Dame’s soccer team uses it, and Longo’s kicked the tires on the system as well.
Needless to say, the Irish are in good hands with Longo’s approach, and he applauded Jack Swarbrick‘s commitment to sports science.