Notre Dame has officially moved from fall camp into preparation for its Week 1 matchup against the Louisville Cardinals. The Irish now have 12 days to get ready to play the Cardinals, who will be playing their first game under a brand new coaching regime. After practice today, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly laid out the philosophy that he believes will guide his 2019 team to success.
"What we're really excited about is that this team has handled everything that I've asked them to do in terms of practice," Kelly said. "The leadership has been great. Certainly all the things that go into winning, the traits that we ask them to work on every day, I've been really pleased with that.
"I think this team, it's really going to be about the basic tenets of football. We're going to have to run the ball well and stop the run. We're going to have to play with a physicality. And you really can't see that right now (early in practice). Our first glimpse of it will be when we play Louisville. The success of this team is going to be up front, our offensive line and defensive line."
Although Kelly wants to see his team run the football, today's practice showed why the Irish will also lean heavily on an aerial attack. Quarterback Ian Book was as good today as he has been all camp, hitting nearly every throw he was asked to make and pushing plays down the field. The Irish seemed to make a concerted effort to put him in situations where he had to throw the ball deep and he made some throws that will play on Saturdays against anyone. Book has been good, even very good, in camp so far, but he was great for the first time today and that bodes well for the Irish.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame seems to be finding some clarity on one of its important positions: linebacker. The Irish are replacing Drue Tranquill and Te'von Coney and the 200-plus tackles those stars combined for last season. The starting spots seem likely to go to redshirt sophomores Drew White and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and fifth-year senior Asmar Bilal. Kelly also mentioned names such as Jordan Genmark Heath, Shayne Simon, Paul Moala, Jack Kiser and Jack Lamb as players who could see the field. Coney and Tranquill played nearly every snap last season, but it will likely be more of a rotation at linebacker in 2019.
"Different packages, down and distance, you'll see different faces," Kelly said. "We've got a better feel on who (the linebackers) are and what their strengths and weaknesses are (than at the beginning of camp). It's not just like, 'Ah, let's pick a guy.' I think we've got a pretty good idea."
On the other hand, there is still little clarity at cornerback, which is the other position the Irish are really searching for a firm answer. Troy Pride Jr. is locked into one of the spots, but the other remains up for grabs. Donte Vaughn was the presumptive starter there, but he has been a little bit banged up in camp and Shaun Crawford, who has had three season-ending injuries in his Notre Dame career including one suffered in fall camp 2018, has made a push to earn that starting spot. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound fifth-year senior is a versatile player, capable of playing safety, nickel and corner. Corner seems to be his quickest path to playing time and he's impressed Kelly with his performance in camp.
"His confidence is back," Kelly said. "His swagger is back, he's back to talking, which is a really good thing for Shaun. He's really going to help us in a lot of different roles, including special teams."
I also asked Kelly about his reaction to former Irish and Bishop Luers linebacker Jaylon Smith signing a $64 million contract extension with the Cowboys on Tuesday. The coach hadn't spoken with Smith, but he was excited for his former star.
"(Smith is) just someone who has such a positive outlook on life, is always taking the stance that, 'I'm going to persevere, I'm going to do it the right way,'" Kelly said. "He's never backed down from the way he's handled things and he's rewarded for it. I think it just strengthens your convictions that if you do it the right way and you stick to it and you don't listen to all the naysayers, things can turn out all right. ... You choose your path and he chose his path and stuck with it and stayed positive. Man, it's a great story."