Notebook: Notre Dame's DaVaris Daniels makes delayed impression

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly’s first impressions of reinstated Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels have been, well, mostly second-hand so far.

Because of protracted paperwork, when it comes to ND’s leading returning receiver, Kelly hasn’t yet been able to take advantage of a new NCAA rule allowing the coaching staff to work directly with players eight hours a week during June.

“We had to keep all our workouts voluntary this week rather than mandatory, where the coaches could be involved,” the Irish fifth-year head football coach told the South Bend Tribune.

“So all I can tell you is that he’s bigger. He looks good. And I think he’s of the mind-set that he wants to have a great year. And I expect him to.”

Kelly also expects Daniels to start classes — finally — on Monday, a week later than the rest of the Irish veteran football players. ND’s incoming freshman players are scheduled to begin summer school on June 17, when most of the rest of the summer school student body gets started.

The Vernon Hills, Ill., product, listed at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds the last time he played in a game, was dismissed from school for the spring semester for academic shortcomings. He was then readmitted to school in late May, with the intention of him starting classes this past Monday. But the senior, with potentially two years of college eligibility remaining, couldn’t break through the red tape.

“He just was readmitted so late, it’s been a scramble to get him going,” Kelly said.

Daniels had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, second only in all three categories to 2013 team MVP and current Detroit Lions’ rookie TJ Jones. But Daniels faded in the classroom late in the season, something he attributes to both dealing with pain from injuries, that he kept from the coaching and training staffs, and also immaturity.

Kelly has repeatedly claimed Daniels has the talent to be one of the nation’s elite receivers but not yet the consistency. But the coach said he doesn’t feel like he has to take a hard-line approach to Daniels reintegrating with his team as Kelly chose to do with star receiver Michael Floyd in 2011.

Floyd, though, was coming off a spring drunk-driving arrest, his third brush with the law during his college career involving alcohol. Kelly gave Floyd a zero-tolerance edict upon returning to the team for his senior season, but Floyd was stripped of his captaincy.

He went on to a strong senior season, got his Notre Dame degree, left the school as its all-time leader in receptions and was a first-round draft choice of the Arizona Cardinals in the spring of 2012.

“I don’t see these as parallel situations at all,” Kelly said. “With DaVaris, it’s: ‘Take care of your business in the classroom,’ and I think he will.”

Tune-up for Golson

Unsatisfied with a spring that failed to inspire ND head coach Brian Kelly to name him as the starter for the 2014 season, senior quarterback Everett Golson spent a week of his free time before summer school getting a second dose of intensive training with quarterback “engineer” George Whitfield Jr.

Golson flew to Whitfield’s home base of San Diego the last week of May, as did a couple of other high-profile college quarterbacks — Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.

“Everett vetted it out with us before he went, so we were well aware this is what he wanted to do,” Kelly said. “When Everett makes decisions, he has a good plan in mind. He knew what he wanted to work on. There were some things from the spring that he felt like he had not accomplished, and they had a slew of guys that he could work with.”

Golson spent two months during his own academic exile with Whitfield in San Diego last fall while the Irish were laboring to a 9-4 record back in South Bend. Kelly endorsed that move, especially after the fact, saying Golson’s understanding of the game had improved dramatically upon his return to the team.

“I talked to him (Thursday), and he felt really good about this last trip,” Kelly said. “It was mostly footwork and repetition, and there was really nowhere in (Golson’s home state) South Carolina where he could get that work accomplished. So it was a good, positive thing.”

Saving Grace

The good news about Notre Dame senior linebacker Jarrett Grace’s elongated comeback from four fractures in his right leg continues to be that there is no new bad news.

The 6-foot-3, 253-pounder, who was ND’s starting middle linebacker when he exited the active roster on Oct. 5, has not been ruled out or ruled in for the upcoming season. But ND head coach Brian Kelly has more reasons for optimism with each passing day.

“He had a real good X-ray the other day,” Kelly said. “He’s in great spirits and progressing very well. Obviously, the next few weeks are going to be key for him as he ups his movement. He’s probably in the best place that he’s been in a few months. Everything looks like he’s making the kind of progress he needs to make towards August.”

Which is when the Irish kick off fall camp in preparation for their Aug. 30 season opener with Rice.

Grace played in six games for the Irish last season, starting three, before suffering the injury in a Shamrock Series game against Arizona State in Arlington Texas. He underwent surgery shortly thereafter and then again on March 29, the latter time to have a rod inserted in the leg.

Having played behind 2012 Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o for most of his career, Grace recorded 41 tackles in half a season in 2013 in his first extensive playing time. The Irish installed a new defense this past spring while Grace remained on the sidelines.

Former walk-on Joe Schmidt and incoming freshman Nyles Morgan are the top candidates to fill the void if Grace’s comeback does fall short.

“Jarrett Grace has played a lot of football and has a great understanding of the game,” Kelly said. “So I’m not concerned about him (playing catch-up). My biggest concern will be, when does he gain that confidence back where he’s not thinking about the leg?

“And that won’t happen until he goes into camp and has the first tackle and sticks his nose in there and gets up and says, ‘Oh, I’m OK. I didn’t get hurt.’ To me, when guys have to come back from big injuries, it’s always been that confidence factor that’s the biggest hurdle.” ¦ 574-235-6112 ¦ Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

 Notre Dame's DaVaris Daniels (10) is eager to get back to playing football. (SBT photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)