High expectations again for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- A new playing surface in the form of FieldTurf has replaced the grass surface at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish this season will begin wearing Under Armour uniforms after years in Adidas gear. A new defensive coordinator arrives with a different scheme.

Expectations, though? They don't change.

"They are big every year," fifth-year ND football coach Brian Kelly said Friday. "We recognize that."

Kelly, whose team opens Aug. 30 at home against Rice, met with reporters Friday in advance of Monday's first day of fall camp, which will be held at Culver Academies. A year ago the Irish were coming off a 12-1 campaign that included a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Notre Dame dipped to 9-4 last season, a season that ended with a victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.

This year, college football moves to a four-team playoff system. Earning a spot in that playoffs is the goal.

"That's the mark for us," Kelly said. "That's how we'll measure our program every year."

The biggest topic likely facing the Irish, though? That will be at quarterback, where Everett Golson, the 2012 starter, returns after missing last season because of an academic suspension. He'll battle sophomore Malik Zaire, who redshirted last season.

One benefit is that the two bring similar skill sets.

"They're running the same plays," Kelly said. "It's a huge advantage that you can run the same offense with both guys."

Kelly offered no set timetable on when he'll name a starter.

"I'll make the call when it's clear," Kelly said. "If I know sooner we'll go sooner."

Kelly addressed the status of a number of injured players, the most notable being senior defensive lineman Tony Springmann. Springmann missed the 2013 season because of a knee injury, but a back injury will end his career.

Senior linebacker Jarrett Grace, who is returning from a broken leg, is expected to be close to being back when the season starts, Kelly said.

Sophomore tight end Mike Heuerman recently had hernia surgery and will miss another month.

The news was better for center Nick Martin and linebacker Ben Councell, both of whom are returning from knee injuries. Kelly said the staff will keep an eye on the two but they are ready to practice.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly picked up his 10th commitment for the 2015 recruiting class when Micah Dew-Treadway chose the Irish on Wednesday. (SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES)