There is no conference championship for Notre Dame football. The Irish enter almost every season with a national-title-or-bust mindset and this year is no different, especially after they came within two victories of that championship last season.
Coach Brian Kelly said he hasn't seen much of a difference in his team's mindset going into this season.
“I think most of the teams I've coached here believe that they can win a national championship,” Kelly said. “They've tasted a little bit. So I think there is maybe a little bit more (urgency), but I think they've all, each team that I've had, has been driven for that goal. They're all driven the same way.”
Kelly spoke Friday at his annual season-kickoff press conference. Today, the Irish will travel to Culver Academy, where they will conduct their first handful of fall camp workouts before returning to South Bend to workout in the new football practice facility. Camp officially begins Sunday as the Irish prepare for their season opener against Louisville on Sept. 2.
Fall camp is the time for position battles. The last two years, all eyes have been on the quarterbacks, where Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush battled for the starting job. With Wimbush having transferred to Central Florida, Book is the unquestioned starter, and the most important fight for playing time is at linebacker. There, the Irish are trying to replace All-American Te'von Coney and two-time captain Drue Tranquill, a Carroll graduate.
Coney and Tranquill combined for more than 200 tackles last season and their potential replacements include Jordan Genmark Heath, Jack Lamb, Asmar Bilal, Bo Bauer, Drew White and J.D. Bertrand, among others. Kelly tweaked the practice schedule specifically so that there will be plenty of opportunity for all of them to showcase their skills “flowing to the football,” as the coach called it.
“The linebacker position is going to be exciting,” Kelly said. “We've got a lot of good players there that have to be able to show themselves and have some production. Again, we're going to put them in a number of positions to do so, so that will be one that requires a lot of attention, but one that we're looking forward to.”
Heading into camp in 2018, the Irish had already had their captains settled for several months. This season, Kelly wanted to see some leaders emerge during summer workouts and get input from the team before deciding. He originally thought there would be a smaller group than in years past, but that changed since the end of spring practice.
The Irish will likely name captains within the first week of camp, according to the coach. They'll probably be chosen from among the leaders of Notre Dame's eight “SWAT” teams, which work out together in the offseason.
“Sometimes you don't know how the summer goes,” Kelly said. “So what's happened is (SWAT teams) really strengthened our hand when it comes to true leaders. The development of this team has now changed course, and there is much more depth in that leadership category, and you'll see more than just a few (captains).”
On the injury front, the Irish have few issues heading into camp. Offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland had a knee injury that some feared could limit him well into the season, but Kelly said he's done a “terrific job.” Chase Claypool, the team's likely top receiver, is fully healthy after recovering from offseason ankle surgery. The Irish won't place a heavy load on him early, but they expect him to be 100% against Louisville in 30 days.