SOUTH BEND — Two players caught in a numbers game at Notre Dame took divergent approaches this week to the frustration that comes along with that.
Both of them got Irish head football coach Brian Kelly’s attention.
For defensive tackle Jay Hayes, it wasn’t the kind of attention that advanced his position.
In fact, Hayes allowing his disgruntlement to bubble up on Twitter Wednesday night prompted Kelly to remove the 6-foot-3, 285-pound sophomore from the active roster this week
“There has to be responsibility as it relates to social media,” Kelly said Thursday after practice as sixth-ranked ND (3-0) prep for its Saturday matchup with UMass (0-2). “And you have to think before you hit ‘send.’ ”
“What you have to do is you have to knock on my door instead of hit the send button. These are good lessons to be learned. If he has a job at Google and he talks about his boss that way, he probably is not going to have a job the next day.”
Hayes’ tweets have since been deleted, but the two he sent out read: “When a coach stops coaching you..that’s when you jus (sic) gotta to move on,” followed by, “Gotta get this natty and I’m out.”
Hayes was on track to redshirt last season, but mutually agreed late in 2014 to burn a year of eligibility when ND’s defensive line ranks thinned dramatically due to a string of injuries. That meant the opportunity to play in only three games, and as a backup.
And he did. Hayes collected two tackles in backup duty against Louisville and USC, two losses to end the regular season, and then the 31-28 upset of LSU in the Music City Bowl. However, he has yet to play in a game this season.
“You don’t say, ‘Hey I’m going to take Twitter away from you,’ ” Kelly said of Hayes. “You just tell him, ‘Look, you need to make a better decision next time or it’s going to impact you when you leave here at Notre Dame.
“We have players that want to get on the field. I had a conversation with Jay. He understands the mistake he made. … But we have great faith in Jay. He’s going to play here. He’s still in the developmental stage.
“We like Jay, just like we like (Grant) Blankenship, just like we like (Andrew) Trumbetti, who didn’t play last week. These are guys that are champing at the bit to play. They want to play. But we’ve got good players, and that’s a good problem to have. Jay Hayes is going to be fine. Just a good life lesson.”
Fellow sophomore Justin Brent, meanwhile, is finally showing signs of becoming relevant on the other side of the ball.
The vaunted wide receiver recruit had nine statistic-free cameos as a freshman last season, then agreed to move to running back in August, when that position group was diluted by the transfer of junior Greg Bryant to Florida junior college ASA Miami (where he has yet to play in a game).
The position took another hit on opening night against Texas (Sept. 5), when junior Tarean Folston, ND’s leading rusher in 2014, was lost for the season to a torn ACL in his right knee.
Brent, a 6-2, 220-pound Speedway, Ind., product, has had his own Twitter hiccups in the past, but did his talking on the field this week apparently after initially not being able to crack the rotation of senior C.J. Prosise and freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams.
“He had a great week this week,” Kelly said. “We saw possibly that next step in his development. He’s down to AAA, starting to hit the ball a little bit. So he’s making some progress.
“We watched some film of him on Wednesday, and we’re starting to see the lower pads. We’re starting to see the things we needed to see.”
Jones keeping up
There’s enough depth and variety at tight end, as the Irish move on without injured starter Durham Smythe, that Kelly doesn’t feel the need to push freshman tight end Alizé Jones’ evolution harder and faster than its natural pace
“We have other tight ends that allow him some room to grow,” Kelly said of sophomore Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar, along with grad student Chase Hounshell. “If we didn’t, we would probably have to force-feed him a little bit more.
“We’re not giving him everything. We’re going slow, but every day we’re adding something to his plate.”
Smythe, a junior, suffered an ACL tear on ND’s second-to-last offensive play of a 34-27 win at Virginia on Sept. 12 and is out for the year.
Jones made his first collegiate start Saturday in a 30-22 win over Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Stadium, collecting three catches for 19 yards but fumbling away possession after one of them.
“Early on it was a difficult transition for him from high school to college, and we had to be very careful with his work load,” Kelly said. “I think he’s transitioning fairly well, where we can (do) a little bit more in terms of leaning on him, expecting more. And he’s handling himself much better when he’s being coached a little bit harder.”
Kelly said junior safety Max Redfield, held out of the Georgia Tech game, has made the expected adjustment to wearing a cast on his right hand for a broken thumb and will start Saturday against UMass.
The entire secondary, including Redfield, struggled in the 34-27 win over Virginia.
“I’m not ready to say that we’ve corrected everything,” Kelly said of the group. “We’re going to have to go out and play, and we’ll see. I have confidence that they’re going to play much better than they did against Virginia, but they’ve got to go out and do it now.”
• Kelly said freshman safety Mykelti Williams’ long look this week at possibly ending his redshirt year and moving into the depth chart has led the staff to believe he needs more time to develop.
The Irish lost sophomore Drue Tranquill to a season-ending knee injury last Saturday.
• Kelly said freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush made significant progress this week as he angles for his first playing time, in relief of starter DeShone Kizer this weekend.
“More reps, more comfort level with some of the things we were doing with his footwork. And then just keeping things simple for him,” Kelly said of the key to the improvements. “I feel a whole lot better this week that he could go in and we could win the game with him.”
• Thanks to Notre Dame alum and current Clemson football sports information Tim Bourret for some papal/football connections.
The Irish on Saturday will try to run their all-time record to 5-0 when the pope is in the United States.
Previously the Irish beat Georgia Tech (21-13) in 1979, Michigan (26-7) and Michigan State (31-8) in 1987, and Washington (29-21) in 1995.
For those wondering about ND’s road trip to No. 11 Clemson on Oct. 3, the Pope Francis will be back in Vatican City by then.