Notre Dame football notebook: Day's injury tests depth

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - One of Brian Kelly’s offseason priorities that lingered into fall was building depth behind his vaunted starting defensive line.

Saturday the Notre Dame head football coach may find out just where that stands.

There’s still a chance sophomore starting end Sheldon Day will join preseason All-Americans Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt at some point Saturday during 22nd-ranked Notre Dame’s clash with Michigan State (3-0) at Notre Dame Stadium (3:30 p.m. EDT; NBC-TV).

Kelly said Day practiced Thursday for the first time since spraining an ankle in Saturday night’s 31-24 escape at Purdue, but that his availability would be a game-time decision. Day has started all three games for the Irish (2-1) in 2013 and has garnered seven tackles, with one for loss.

“He looked pretty good (Thursday),” Kelly said. “We’ll see how he responds.”

True freshman Isaac Rochell (3 tackles) is listed as Day’s backup, but more than likely it will be a committee replacing Day if he is unable to play. That group includes sophomore end Jarron Jones (0 tackles), backup nose guard Kona Schwenke (0 tackles) and outside linebacker Ishaq Williams (6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss).

“It’s all hands on deck,” Kelly said.

ND’s potential depth at the end positions took three big hits this offseason with season-ending surgery for juniors Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and Tony Springmann (knee) and the change of heart of recruit Eddie Vanderdoes. Vanderdoes has nine tackles, two for loss, in two games for his new school, 13th-ranked UCLA (2-0).

Pros and cons

For all the hand-wringing over the production and fitness level of Nix and Tuitt to date, the concern hasn’t drifted upward to the talent evaluators at the next level.

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., on Wednesday, released his latest Big Board of top 25 pro prospects for the May 2014 draft, and Nix and Tuitt both held firm at Nos. 3 and 15, respectively.

ESPN colleague Todd McShay, whose ratings are a week older, also had Nix No. 3 and moved Tuitt up a spot to No. 12. Irish offensive tackle Zack Martin made McShay’s top 32 as well, moving up a spot to No. 30.

Both Tuitt and Nix have a year of college eligibility remaining after this season if they choose to exercise it.

Kelly said Thursday he does not have regular in-season conversations with his pro prospects to take their temperature about whether their draft stock is becoming a distraction. But he has made a significant shift in being proactive and talking about those topics in the offseason.

“It’s important to lay down a good foundation and a transparent foundation of, ‘Hey, here are the things you have to do along the way if, in fact, you want to look at the NFL.’ ” Kelly said. “I don’t want to paint the picture that we don’t talk about aspirations and goals and dreams of playing at the NFL level with our players. We try to do a lot of that in the summer.”

Predictability quotient?

There reportedly were rumblings during and after ND’s 31-24 win at Purdue Saturday night from the Boilermaker players and coaches that Notre Dame’s formations and personnel groupings were tipping the Irish plays to the heavy underdog Boilers.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said his team self-scouts on a regular basis, meaning the Irish coaches go over their own film after games to try to eliminate or at least mitigate predictability.

“I’ve been doing it a long time,” Kelly said Thursday when asked about the Purdue remarks. “We lined up in the same formation 11 times on the last drive. They knew exactly what we were doing. And we had the ball for 7:22, so it’s still about execution.

“Those are good sound bites and all, but we know what our tendencies are. We have (that) self-scouting information at our fingertips first thing when we get in Sunday, from our graduate assistants.

“I don’t know how to respond to that other than to say we’re responsible on our end to make sure that we have all that information and that we have to be able to break tendencies if we have them. Generally speaking, bye weeks are where we do a more thorough evaluation of those things.”

Predictability quotient II?

Brian Kelly compared last year’s team to hunting dogs. During the week, he could get such a strong read on their mental state, it was easy to project how they’d play on Saturdays.

And with this year’s team?

Well, there is no dog analogy yet and a bit of mystery on how things will translate from the week to Saturdays.

“I think there’s always going to be a little big of uncertainty when you’re dealing with 18- to 21-year-olds,” Kelly said. “That’s going to be a given, and that’s why the gray hair and all those things, the weight gain, all that.

“I think as you go along, you do get to know your team and how it’s going to respond. ... We’re not there yet, but I’m getting a better feel for our football team each and every week. I’d like to be there right now. The problem we have right now is our first four weeks don’t allow us time to really grow up.”

Badger cleared

Former Irish safety Chris Badger will have a chance to play at Notre Dame Stadium after all this season.

It just will be in a different uniform.

Badger, who transferred to Brigham Young in his hometown of Provo, Utah, last month, was granted a waiver Thursday by the NCAA for immediate eligibility.

Badger cited wanting to be closer to his mother, Shauna, who is ill, as the reason for the transfer. The Irish and BYU meet in South Bend on Nov. 23, ND’s final home game of the season.

Badger was a member of the same recruiting class (2010) as some of the seniors who will be playing in their final career home game against Badger and the Cougars. But a two-year Mormon Mission wiped out the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and he redshirted last season.

Because the NCAA clock stops during a Mormon Mission, Badger is technically a redshirt freshman and will have three season of eligibility after this one.

Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day (91) tackles Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (28) during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER