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The Journal Gazette

March 07, 2017 2:07 PM

Kelly: Spring practice about 'process'

CHRIS GOFF / The Journal Gazette

It's been about two months since we put the 2016 college football season to bed down in Florida with Clemson's 35-31 win over Alabama in the national championship game.

But a bunch of schools have already started spring practice, and with Notre Dame opening spring ball on Wednesday, it's full speed ahead to the 2017 season. With the ongoing renovation to Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish's spring game will have a limited seating capacity, but that annual Blue & Gold affair, set for April 22, remains the pot at the end of the rainbow for fans and players who need a football fix.

Irish coach Brian Kelly laid out an agenda for the next six weeks, which include 14 practice sessions leading into the spring game.

"The spring for me will be a lot more about process than production," Kelly said. "I'm not as interested in what the route looks like, what that technique looks like. Not to be redundant, but to answer a million questions about depth chart, competition is very important. There is a winner and a loser in everything that we do. We clearly understand that, but I'm less interested in those things and more interested in continuing the process and developing these traits within our football team."

Here's more of what Kelly had to say in Tuesday's media session:

* Sounds like Notre Dame under new offensive coordinator Chip Long will run a faster-paced attack. 

"I think with some of the things that we've been able to do offensively, with verbiage and nomenclature, I believe that we'll be able to pick up the tempo even more," Kelly said. "So tempo is a general term, and I would like us to keep pushing the tempo within our offensive structure. I believe that we'll be able to do that this spring."

* Kelly said he's conducted weekly meetings with team captains, who were appointed in December. They are left tackle Mike McGlinchey, left guard Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill, middle linebacker Nyles Morgan, backup linebacker Greer Martini and walk-on wide receiver Austin Webster.

* Matt Balis, new head of strength and conditioning, appears to have made an immediate impact on the program. 

"I know they feel better, whether it be numbers they see, how their body looks, how they're moving," Kelly said. "We'll see how that translates on the field, certainly. We've got to be able to take it out of the weight room and put it on the football field, but I know there is a really positive feeling among all of the players and the way they feel right now."

* Nick Watkins, coming off an arm injury, is listed as a safety on the spring roster after previously playing cornerback. Kelly said he's fully healthy. Starting corner Shaun Crawford, on the other hand, will likely be limited to non-contact drills this spring.

"You know, he's jumping," Kelly said of Crawford, coming off foot surgery. "I think you're going to see him extremely active in the spring. I don't see him in a contact position at this time, but he won't be cheated this spring."

* Kelly's keeping it simple for Brandon Wimbush, the heir apparent to the departed DeShone Kizer at quarterback.

"What I'm asking him to do are probably more focused on him just taking care of himself," Kelly said. "We've got a lot of good leaders. I'm giving him some leadership opportunities, and I think he's doing quite well, but we're not asking him to come in here and lead the entire building. We've got six captains right now. We're going to probably have as many as seven, so he's well-supported in that role."

The plan for repetitions this spring is for Wimbush to get 60 percent and Ian Book 40 percent, Kelly said.

* Kelly entertained the notion of right tackle Alex Bars moving to right guard.

* The offensive-minded Kelly wants to be more involved in the day-to-day operations of every aspect of the team, not just this spring but lasting into the season. He said he'll have a hand in game plans for offense, defense and special teams.

"It's pretty clear that my players want me to be more involved with the entire football team," Kelly said. "They like it when I'm there in the morning. They like when I'm around. They like when I'm having breakfast with them. They like when I'm available to them."