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Scrimmage brings “key backups” up to speed

Brian Kelly has always felt that one of the strengths of this football team was the depth on the roster. Friday, the Irish coaching staff got a chance to see that depth in action, holding a scrimmage where most of the starters sat, and the key backups were put to the test.

“Today we scrimmaged with very few reps for the starters,” Kelly said. We went with what we consider our key backups today, guys that are going to have to fill in at some time in a starting role, that are going to be called upon at some time during the season to step up and play a very, very important role. That was today’s scrimmage. That was about our key backups getting in there so when we call on them --Next Man In -- they’re read to go.”

Kelly’s “Next Man In” philosophy is fairly common around college football, but it’s good to see that this coaching staff is dedicating real practice time to developing that second level of players, so that when injuries (and graduation) hit, the drop-off between the No. 1s and the No. 2s won’t be as significant.

Here are some other thoughts from Friday’s practice, the final day of training camp for the Irish.

On the battle for the number two quarterback:

“I really liked the way Rees and Montana are battling. The spread comes really natural to Tommy, because that’s what he’s been in. Nate’s got a really strong arm, he’s really athletic, stronger than Tommy. I’d like to put them together. At the end of the day, we’re probably going to end up 2a, 2b with those two guys.”

On scrimmage standouts:

“I liked Jonas Gray, running the football. I thought he did a very, very nice job. We were much better up front. Golic did a nice job at center today. I think defensively, a couple of guys that stood out for me: Fox, we moved him to some Will reps with McDonald being out. I’d have to watch a little bit more film, but I liked what I saw with some of those guys we really tried to get into some key backup positions.”

On the battle for the Dog outside linebacker spot:

“None of them have played a lot of football other than Brian Smith, and it’s kind of a new position going out there for him. Brian was put in a position to win the job, and now he’s gotten competition from Neal at that position. I don’t think it’s going to change: They’re all going to play. That’s the way it is. The first guy on the field doesn’t mean he’s going to be the last guy in the last series on the field.”

Expect any battles on the depth chart to be concluded by Wednesday (at least for Purdue), as the Irish will begin to assemble scout teams and focus completely on the task at hand September 4.

“We’re going to seperate and go into demonstration squads by Wednesday,” Kelly said after practice. “Tuesday is kind of the last shot at trying to figure out where that starting unit is, because you do want continuity as well. I’ll take half of the week to make those final decisions to build the other half for continuity going into game week.”