Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wasn't ready to commit to having or not having senior defensive end Ethan Johnson available for Saturday's home game against Air Force (3-1).
Johnson sprained his right ankle in last weekend's win at Purdue and was wearing a protective boot until Thursday. Kelly told reporters after Thursday's practice that Johnson didn't need a plasma rich injection to help the healing process and the next step is just seeing how Johnson moves before Saturday's game.
Johnson has nine tackles this season for the Irish (3-2).
"I think it is going to be (a game-time decision)," Kelly said. "We are going to have to see how he moves. He doesn't have to do some of the jobs that he's used to doing at the four technique. We've moved him down inside. We will see how he goes through warm-ups. Encouraging, but I'm not ready to put my stamp on it right now."
Kelly is anticipating having long snapper Jordan Cowart available Saturday. Cowart broke his hand in a scuffle during the Purdue game.
"He snapped today," Kelly said. "We will help him on Saturday with the pain. If he can't go, it would (center Braxston) Cave for short snapping and (Ryan) Kavanaugh on long snapping."
Notre Dame has used plenty of freshmen on defense this season, and that will not change this weekend against Air Force.
Even though the Falcons use such a complicated offensive system that employs the option and mixes in numerous formations, the Irish will expect defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt along with linebackers Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas to contribute. Notre Dame will also have inexperience at nose guard with sophomore Louis Nix starting.
"They're young guys. They're going to make some mistakes," Kelly said. "We are going to be in a great situation where we're leveled across the board. You are not going to see a situation where we can't get our backer to the fullback. They're going to make some mistakes, but I'm going to tell you they are going to make a lot of plays to.
"We are going to evaluate them, and they aren't the only guys who are going to be in there. (Nose guards Sean) Cwynar, Hafis (Williams), those guys have some good experience too."
It's not easy for a practice squad to mimic what Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson can do on the field.
The 6-foot, 205-pounder has run for 210 yards this season while throwing for 493 yards.
But the Irish got a good idea of what they will face as freshman Everett Golson handled a lot of the quarterback duties on the scout team.
"He's not as big and thick as Jefferson," Kelly said of the 6-foot, 185-pound Golson. "Jefferson is a big thick kid. He can run. But we can demonstrate a lot of things and stress our structure with Golson out there. It was good to have him there. He was a guy who helped us a lot.