By: Kyle Gibson

Instead of rolling with the usual long list of specific quick hits from Brian Kelly’s press conference this morning I’m going to go with a different approach and just talk about what we heard from the Irish Head Coach. Overall there was nothing really ground breaking and most of his comments were things you hear every Fall before camp. The big news had already broken earlier in the week that Sophomore Tight End Alize Jones wouldn’t be eligible this season. Kelly hit on that today saying that he was proud of the way Jones handled the entire situation and took accountability. This wasn’t a dramatic Frozen Five or Golson style situation. This was just one kid who didn’t do what he needed to academically and he owned up to it. No fuss, no cheating, no conspiracy or drawn out investigation. Jones will still be able to be a part of the program, he just can’t suit up for the Irish this season and all signs point to him being completely dedicated to stepping up to the plate and putting in the work to be back on the playing field for the Irish next season.

We won’t really know how big of an impact losing Jones actually is. He wasn’t a main contributor last season as a true Freshman even after starting TE Durham Smythe was lost to injury. There were high hopes for him this season and we know he’s talented but we still don’t know if this was going to be the break-out season that we all wanted. What we do know is that the Irish still have 3 experienced TEs that can shoulder the load just fine. The loss of Jones honestly has a bigger effect on the WRs than it does on the TE position. Jones role on offense was primarily going to be serving as a big receiving target not lining up attached to the O-Line and blocking. But the Irish have someone else that can play that role in newcomer 6’4, 220lb WR Chase Claypool.  Claypool is raw and we’ve speculated all off-season about him potentially playing on defense but Kelly commented today that the staff is pretty set on keeping him of offense this season, at least at the start.

No matter how well Claypool performs the Irish receiving corps needs everyone to step up and Kelly hit on that a number of times. His dialogue was in line with what we’ve know all Spring and Summer. Torii Hunter Jr is the main man but they need big contributions from everyone else too. The first names out of his mouth were CJ Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown, exactly who we expect to hear about. Then of course he went down the list, noting Corey Holmes’ speed and Miles Boykin’s size. There’s nothing here that we didn’t already know although Kelly did comment that they plan to move Hunter around a lot trying to avoid double teams, much like they did in Michael Floyd’s final year. But the coach knows that the best way to free up Torii Hunter is for other players to be a threat as well. Right now, he’s waiting to see who those players will be just as much as we are. Right now his money seems to be on St. Brown and Sanders, and in that order.

When it comes to the QBs, Kelly’s stance has changed a good bit from the “one guy” mentality of Spring. Basically he’s going to do whatever works and we’re expecting to see a lot of both QBs. They’re both too good to keep off the field and he knows it. Kelly essentially said that naming a starter isn’t that important and just because he names a starter for Texas doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same guy the next week. He also noted that it’s not going to effect the locker room, the team doesn’t care. They have total faith and trust in both Zaire and Kizer. Both are leaders and both have earned their stripes. Kelly, his staff, and his players are just going to roll with it as a fluid situation. One thing I found interesting was that Kelly thought they kind of tried to make Zaire play in Kizer’s offense during the Spring. Zaire was obviously behind and had catching up to do, but he thought maybe it was a little unfair to plug him into the same offense that had developed with Kizer behind center. Instead he thinks the offense should be tweaked based on the signal caller. There aren’t going to be major differences but he wants each QB to be able to step in and play his own way. They want Zaire to be Zaire and Kizer to be Kizer because that’s when they’re at their best. The rest of the offense will adjust to them instead of the other way around. That’s the mentality heading into the Fall and that’s what I expect to see this season. Both will play and the play-calling will be tailored to their strengths when each is in the game. Oh, and Brandon Wimbush won’t play unless forced to by injury, as expected.

Let’s flip to defense where BK seems to be feeling pretty good about his secondary. When asked about impressive Freshmen he immediately said the guys on defense and in particular the defensive backs. Kelly feels like any DB on roster, down to the newest guys that just arrived, can play and contribute. He really likes his corners and feels like they will be able to play a lot more man coverage because they have the confidence in so many DBs to handle that, which hasn’t always been the case. With one on one match-ups in the secondary, you can’t have any weak links. Shaun Crawford and a much stronger nickel position this year in general is going to allow the defense to do a lot more than they’ve been able to the last two years in VanGorder’s scheme. Not to mention the wealth and depth the Irish have with DBs now. Kelly also feels that the players are now all comfortable with VanGorder’s defense, something that’s been a hot topic this off-season and we’ll all be waiting to see proof of that. Another quick note on Crawford, the staff wants to play him as much as they can which might mean he’s playing the CB position opposite of Cole Luke when he’s not dropped down playing the Nickel.

While the secondary seems to be the strong point of the defense, many weren’t too happy with the tone Kelly took when discussing the D-Line. He said he wants a 4-5 man rotation on the interior of the line but could only name 3 players, Jarron Jones, Jerry Tillery, and Daniel Cage. He gave very small mention to Elijah Taylor for being impossible to move but with how many options there are on the D-Line this year, it would be nice to hear that there’s a few more likeable options behind the obvious starters. He also noted that he only wants 20-30 snaps out of Jones and Cage who will rotate at the nose. That’s not a very high snap count at all and especially not after watching Sheldon Day practically never come out of the game. Which begs us to wonder why such a reduced number and how is that going to be possible? They do expect Rochell to move inside in a lot of situations like we saw him do a lot last season but Jones should have the talent and stamina to play a lot more and be too good to limit that much. We’ll see how it actually plays out.

Behind the line, Kelly thinks Nyles Morgan is ready and will be the man they need in the middle of their defense. He said Morgan has gained the trust of the other 10 guys around him on the field and he’s become the communicator they need to get the front lined up properly. He also gave praise to LB James Onwualu for stepping up and taking control of a leadership role. CB Cole Luke was another player he noted as a leader along with OT Mike McGlinchey and WR Torii Hunter Jr on offense. Then obviously both QBs as well were in that mix. Back to LB, Greer Martini is going to cross train at all LB positions and he’s going to play a big part even if he’s not actually a starter at any of the three positions. That’s not new, he’s great and the staff loves him. He’ll make an impact whenever he gets into the game no matter how he’s used.

Some random last notes; DL Grant Blakenship is no longer on roster and expected to transfer after being suspended this Spring. As we knew, CB Devin Butler broke his foot this Summer and is still recovering. RB Justin Brent is about 4-6 weeks away from playing after dealing with a foot injury himself. Kelly noted that they’ve made a huge investment in sports science and injury prevention and are utilizing a variety of research and technology to improve as much as possible in that department. Freshman OL Tommy Kraemer is in the mix to compete for the open position at RG and there seems to be a lot of confidence in him having a real shot to start. And last but not least, BK is thrilled about the partnership with Bleacher Report citing that it will allow them to reach recruits and an audience unlike anyone else can. He expects it to have an even larger impact and positive effect than the Showtime series last year.