Brian Kelly didn’t define what he meant by “(boat)load.”
He didn’t use the word boat either. He used slightly more colorful language to describe the number of passes he wants quarterback Ian Book to complete in 2020.
But the question Kelly was answering wasn’t about Book’s goals in his third-year as a starter for the Irish. It was about his leadership.
“He doesn’t really need to walk around and scream and yell,” Kelly said. “He has a presence about him, and he just needs to be Ian Book. Complete a (boat)load of passes. That would be great. You know, he keeps doing that stuff, and lead in the manner of who he is.
“He doesn’t need to be anybody else. Just be Ian Book, and he’ll be fine.”
Book’s leadership has already been tested. Last year, Book became the first quarterback to serve as a captain for an entire season for Kelly at Notre Dame. This year, Book will become the first third-year starting quarterback Kelly has coached at Notre Dame too.
Through Book’s 20-3 record as a starter, Kelly has come to know what to expect from him. So have his teammates.
“What’s great leadership, right? To me, when you battle through adversity,” Kelly said. “After the Michigan game, for him to lead our football team to six consecutive wins, that’s pretty good. That shows some resilience and leadership, and all those guys know that.
“So they want to follow a guy like that just because of his actions from last year. He has a ton of credibility and a lot of respect from his peers.”
Book should have plenty of leadership around him too. He’s not even the lone returning captain from 2019 with offensive tackle Robert Hainsey back for his senior season.
The current roster includes eight scholarship players entering their fifth season of college football in 2020: offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer, defensive ends Adetokunbo Ogundeji, wide receivers Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek, running back Mick Assaf and Book.
That doesn’t include the experience of sixth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford, walk-on tight end Xavier Lezynski and graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor, a safety with three years of experience at Ohio State. If all 11 players make Notre Dame’s 2020 fall roster, it will set a new high for graduate students during Kelly’s ND tenure. The 2015 Irish included nine grad students.
With Hayes, who enrolled early in 2016, and Crawford, Notre Dame has two players entering their fifth round of spring football. Maybe all that experience and all that winning (33-6 in the last three seasons) has created something special for the Irish.
“This is the first team that I’ve had that has really established in their own mind who they are and what they want to be,” Kelly said. “That’s hard to have a group of 18-to-21-year-olds come together and say, ‘This is who we want to be and this is how we’re going to go to work every day.’
“So what you see out here (Thursday) is manifested by how they do things on a day-to-day basis in the locker room, in the community, in the classroom. You don’t need a lot of guys out there yelling, because they’ve set a standard as to how they want things to be accomplished.”
With the NCAA already in the process of studying a change to the transfer rules in football, Kelly wasn’t sure that his opinion on that matter carried any weight.
But eventually Kelly caved when asked for his thoughts on players not having to sit out a year for a traditional transfer. He just wants to make sure the academic part of the equation isn’t lost in whatever new rules come into play.
“This is about getting student-athletes to be student-athletes,” Kelly said. “So if there is a student-athlete component in transferring, I’m fine with it. You should give them the opportunity as long as they’re students and athletes. That’s really my only comment on it.
“I was allowed to go from Central Michigan to Cincinnati. I got to move up. I got to move up from Cincinnati to Notre Dame. So if players want to move and move up, I don’t have a problem with that.
“But I had to do some things to move up, you know. I had to be successful and do things the right way and follow the NCAA rules and be a good citizen. So you don’t just get to choose and do things just because you want to do them. As long as they’re thoughtful and have some parameters, I think it’s fine.”
Notre Dame hasn’t been extremely active on the traditional transfer market. Even as transferring has become commonplace throughout the country, the Irish have added only three scholarship transfers from undergrads — offensive lineman Jordan Prestwood in 2011, wide receiver Amir Carlisle in 2012 and safety Alohi Gilman in 2017 — during the Kelly Era (2010-present). Notre Dame has added six scholarship graduate students in that same timeframe.
Boundary for Bracy?
At 5-foot-10, TaRiq Bracy is the taller of Notre Dame’s two most-experienced cornerbacks. The junior-to-be has an inch on Shaun Crawford. But if both are going to be starters for the Irish this season, the task of playing the boundary corner spot may be a tall task.
The bigger wide receivers tend to play to the boundary — the side of the field to which the sideline is closest from where the ball is being snapped — where there’s less room to work and size becomes a distinct advantage.
Bracy took some reps at boundary cornerback in the first spring practice Thursday with mixed results. He had a tough time defending the likes of Kevin Austin Jr. and Javon McKinley on jump balls.
That doesn’t mean Bracy will be locked in at the boundary. The Irish could even consider abandoning boundary and field designations for their cornerbacks and instead just stick with left and right cornerbacks.
“I don’t know if he’s going to play the boundary,” Kelly said of Bracy. “TaRiq has a lot of traits. First of all, he plays the ball well in the air. He has good speed. The area that also make him a really good Power 5 corner is that he has experience.
“So he brings experience, ball skills, and speed. He has to continue to get stronger physically, but I know (cornerbacks coach) Mike (Mickens) is really high on him early on in what he’s seen. As to where he plays — whether he’s in the boundary, field, right or left — that’s still to be determined.”