Notebook: Brian Kelly confident DeShone Kizer is focused on the present

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —A hurricane-ravaged stat sheet and some developmental hurdles haven’t dissuaded the stream of projections placing Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer in the first round of the NFL Draft next April.

On Thursday, The Sporting News released a mock draft with Kizer as the No. 1 overall pick, while ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. on Thursday pegged the Irish junior as the No. 18 prospect overall.

“I just don't know if the 6-foot-4, 230-pound QB has the experience yet,” Kiper wrote. “But the tape doesn't lie; he's a phenomenal prospect (just make sure you throw out the tape — on every player — of Notre Dame's loss to N.C. State in a torrential downpour). I'm excited to see how he progresses over the course of the season.”

Because Kizer redshirted as a freshman in 2014, he actually has two seasons of college eligibility remaining after this season if he chooses to hold onto one or both.

As the Irish (2-4) and Kizer prep to play Stanford (3-2), a team that has struggled against the pass this season, Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium, ND coach Brian Kelly is confident that draft stock soundtrack playing in the background will stay in the background for the nation’s No. 20 passer.

“We talked about it before the season,” Kelly said Thursday night after practice, “that we would not let any of that kind of talk — whether it be Heisman talk or draft-status talk —affect his preparation and get in the way of playing for Notre Dame.

“(Since) we had that conversation before the season started, (there’s) no need to delve into it (now).”

Seeing the Lyght

Kelly’s redirection of his practice emphasis since the firing of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on Sept. 25 — from the quarterback meetings to know the defensive backs — puts the Irish head coach in close company with second year Irish defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, a former ND All-America cornerback as a player and longtime NFL standout.

His impressions?

“For me, it’s been also an opportunity for me to also evaluate our coaches as teachers,” Kelly said. “I’ve been pleased. The first thing I look for is communication and relationships, and I think he’s done a really good job in both those areas.”

In the old structure, Lyght got very little teaching time with his position group. VanGorder’s preference was to load up on meetings as an entire defense. Now the individual position groups meet more often independent of the other positions.

“I like his preparation,” Kelly continued. “I like the fact that he can relate a lot of his experiences to what we’re teaching. And he gets along very well with his players. Obviously he’s got a great background.

“That wouldn’t be enough to just have played the game and have a great background. It certainly helps, but he’s a good communicator. He’s firm and demanding, but he’s fair with his kids and he does a nice job.”

Personnel matters

• Running back Tarean Folston (ankle), who missed the past two games, and backup nose guard Pete Mokwuah (ankle) will be ready if needed against the Cardinal, per Kelly.

• Sophomore defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway continues to make significant progress toward his first collegiate playing time following Aug. 10 surgery for a Jones fracture in his left foot.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder was projected as Jerry Tillery’s primary backup before the injury.

“He went through some light practice this week,” Kelly said. “I think next week we’re going to pad him up and get him rolling on Tuesday. And then when we come back from the bye, we’re hopeful he can start to get involved in the practice structure.”

Blast from the past I

Kelly told his team this week they reminded him of his 1999 squad at Division II Grand Valley State, a youth-laden team that went 5-5 but set the table for a combined 48-6 record in the four seasons that ensued.

“We held them to high standards and really just didn’t make any excuses,” Kelly said. “They were young, but (we) pushed them pretty hard, knowing that they were going to be successful.”

“I’m very confident the (2016 team is) going to start winning, because they’re doing the things I’ve seen winners do.”

Blast from the past II

Former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen will be a guest analyst for NBC Saturday night for ND-Stanford, working the pregame show, halftime show and postgame studio coverage.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly (right) is confident quarterback DeShone Kizer's mind is on the here and now and not his NFL Draft stock. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)