FOOTBALL

Notebook: Brian Kelly still calling offensive plays -- for now

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly is still calling the shots.

At least, for now.

When Mike Sanford was hired as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach prior to the beginning of spring practice, Kelly – entering his sixth season at the helm – said that it was unclear whether he or Sanford would be the offensive play caller come fall.

And while there still isn’t an answer to that question, Kelly called the plays during the Blue-Gold game Saturday, allowing Sanford to focus on his quarterbacks and associate head coach Mike Denbrock to help oversee the offense as a whole.

“His focus right now is that we've got two very, very good quarterbacks,” Kelly said of Sanford. “His focus is on our quarterbacks right now and learning the offense and that's Job One. The next job will be obviously to continue to grow and learn the offense, so there's play calling opportunities there.

“Mike Denbrock right now is running the entire offense. Those are his calls and his decisions to make. Mike (Sanford) really is somebody capable of doing all of those things, but not at this time. And so when we put a timetable on it, right now I'm more ready to be the play caller until all these guys are in a position where they can take more of a role offensively.”

Entering the summer, the question remains: Will Sanford be “ready” to be the play caller Sept. 5?

Youth movement

Notre Dame’s sophomore wide receivers flashed their potential Saturday, as Corey Holmes hauled in a team-high three catches and Justin Brent snagged a dart from Malik Zaire on a crossing route for a dazzling 29-yard score.

And while yards after the catch are essentially a bonus, Kelly was happy to see the duo of young playmakers take advantage of their opportunities in front of an intimate crowd.

“I was pleased that some of the younger receivers caught the ball,” Kelly said. “Corey Holmes caught the ball when he needed to. Justin Brent caught the ball when he needed to. I was pleased there.”

Williams saves the day

Jhonny Williams has not been a force on the defensive line this spring. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound sophomore didn’t see the field last season, either.

Though progress has been hard to come by for the Benton Harbor, Mich., native, he broke through with a game-saving sack in the waning moments of Saturday’s scrimmage.

And according to his head coach, that’s a step in the right direction.

“Obviously for Jhonny, he's worked really hard to put himself in a position physically to get out there and compete,” Kelly said. “He's a really good athlete.

“Transitioning to Notre Dame has been difficult for him. He was underweight and playing at the defensive end position. He's worked so hard on putting on weight and making that transition, and carrying all that weight has been hard for him. He's got to work really hard in school and all those things, so it was nice to see him have some success today.”

Luke quietly contributes

Cole Luke is so good that it’s hard to even notice him.

The 5-11, 190-pound junior cornerback has been quietly consistent this spring, steadily improving as a proven commodity in a talented but inconsistent defense. The Blue-Gold game was no different, as Luke finished tied for second on the team with five tackles.

“I think he's gotten better,” Kelly said of Luke. “Technique is important for him. He's not a 4.3 40 (yard dash) guy, he's got to rely on technique. I think those are the areas that he continues to get better at.

“His tackling is much firmer and much more solid at the point of attack. So I think it's been a good spring for him.”

Intimate atmosphere

Different isn’t always bad.

Saturday’s spring game, unlike so many that preceded it, wasn’t played inside the football cathedral at Notre Dame Stadium, in front of tens of thousands of Irish fans packed into bleachers hovering over the field.

Instead, with the stadium currently under construction, the Blue-Gold game moved to the nearby LaBar Practice Complex, where temporary bleachers were erected and 3,590 fans jammed inside to take in an exhibition that felt more like a high school game than a mammoth college football carnival.

“I thought Notre Dame did a great job in utilizing the resources necessary to pull off a spring game in a real homey collegiate atmosphere,” Kelly said. “It took me back to being at Assumption College and Grand Valley (State), and it was really neat today.

“It just reminds you when you get out on that field, whether you're in front of 83,000 or 4,000, it's still a game. You're still coaching kids and it's still about developing your players and execution and things of that nature. But I thought it was a good atmosphere and we got a lot out of it.”

The players, like their coach, appreciated the smaller, more intimate stage.

“Everybody’s close (to the field). You’ve got some family out there,” junior wide receiver Will Fuller said. “It felt just like a high school game, so that was really cool.”

Prime-time games

Notre Dame announced Saturday that the Oct. 17 home game against USC as well as the Nov. 21 game against Boston College at Fenway Park will both kick off at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

The 2015 schedule is listed below.

DATE | OPPONENT | LOCATION | TIME

Sept. 5 |vs. Texas | Notre Dame, Ind. | 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 12 | at Virginia | Charlottesville, Va. | TBA

Sept. 19 | vs. Georgia Tech | Notre Dame, Ind. | TBA

Sept. 26 | vs. Massachusetts | Notre Dame, Ind. | TBA

Oct. 3 | at Clemson | Clemson, S.C. | TBA

Oct. 10 | vs. Navy | Notre Dame, Ind. | TBA

Oct. 17 | vs. USC | Notre Dame, Ind. |7:30 p.m.

Oct. 31 | at Temple | Philadelphia | TBA

Nov. 7 | at Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh | TBA

Nov. 14 | vs. Wake Forest | Notre Dame, Ind. | TBA

Nov. 21 | vs. Boston College | Boston | 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 28 | at Stanford | Stanford, Calif. | TBA

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly talks to his team following the Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring football game on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the LaBar Practice Complex on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN