Notebook: Martini, McGovern making strides coming back from concussions

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Two of the three Notre Dame football players sidelined by concussions on Saturday against Miami have made significant steps toward a return for this Saturday’s matchup in Jacksonville, Fla., with Navy (5-2), including triple-option ace Greer Martini.

The junior linebacker and starting right offensive guard Colin McGovern were cleared for non-contact practice work Tuesday. An academic commitment kept nose guard Daniel Cage on Monday from advancing through the concussion protocol, “so he’s a day behind everybody,” ND coach Brian Kelly said.

In three career games against triple-option offense (Navy twice and Georgia Tech), Martini has amassed 26 tackles. That includes nine in ND’s 41-24 home win over the Mids last season.

The Irish (3-5) have won the past five meetings between the two teams.

A deceptive first impression?

Freshman wide receiver Javon McKinley underwent surgery Tuesday on his broken left fibula that ends his season with no realistic avenue for recouping it via an injury redshirt year.

The injury, which occurred last Wednesday in practice, came too late in the season and with too many games logged for McKinley to repeat his freshman season.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound freshman from Corona, Calif., was the most highly recruited of ND’s three freshman receivers but the least used in 2016. Primarily a special-teamer, McKinley is still waiting for his first college reception.

But first impressions — at least from the outside looking in — can be deceiving, points out ND associate head coach and receivers coach Mike Denbrock, who referenced 2016 leading receiver Equanimeous St. Brown’s one reception last season as an example.

“Javon is a baller,” Denbrock said Monday during his weekly segment on WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show. “He’s going to be a big part of who we are and what we do, moving forward.

“Equanimeous St. Brown a year ago didn’t play as much as we wanted him to and then unfortunately sustained an injury kind of midway through the season and we lost him and couldn’t necessarily get his redshirt year back.

“But I think the reps that they do get, the experience of being out into the fray and getting a chance to go out and battle at this level is invaluable to their development and I think it’s going to benefit Javon.”

Jones garners national honor

Jarron Jones’ six tackles for loss among his seven total Saturday helped the grad senior earn national Bronko Nagurski Player of the Week honors, announced Tuesday.

Actually, it was a pretty good day for the Jones family, as younger brother Jamir, a freshman linebacker for the Irish, registered career tackles No. 2 and 3 in the 30-27 victory over Miami (Fla.) at Notre Dame Stadium.

Because of the weekly honor, the elder Jones will be added to the Nagurski Watch List’s season award, recognizing college football’s top defensive player. Kelly would settle for some consistency for Jones, who’s been up and down this season.

“We have constant conversations, Jarron and I,” Kelly said of imparting his expectations. “Jarron is extremely affable. He's got a big heart. After a monster game, he was trick or treating as Snow White here in the Gug (during a community outreach event). He's a beautiful kid.

“But he has to be reminded of the day-to-days, and that's my job. So Jarron and I have constant communications, but I think he's doing a great job. I think he clearly understands his role.

“I've been very, very pleased with the way he has matured this year into the kind of senior that you'd want on your football team.”

Catching on late

Navy senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman has the kind of numbers this season you don’t expect to see from a receiver in a triple-option offense.

The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder is a big reason why the Mids are No. 2 nationally in yards per reception (19.4), and he has quantity and quality in his game — 23 catches for 262 yards and a TD.

Kelly was quite familiar with the son of NFL receiver Cedric Tillman (Denver, Jacksonville) from his high school days at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, where ND has pulled offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, tight end Alizé Jones and safety Nicco Fertitta in recent years.

“I think he's blossomed in college,” Kelly said of Tillman. “He's developed more certainly, and you would expect that. But he's been, obviously, a very, very good player for them to the point where he's troublesome.”

Tillman’s only FBS scholarship offer coming out of high school came from Navy.

Squibs

Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco took a page out of Brian Kelly’s book this week, sort of.

While Kelly fired Diaco’s successor, Brian VanGorder, on Sept. 25, Diaco — UConn’s third-year head coach — merely demoted his offensive coordinator.

And he’s a former Irish assistant coach as well, though during the Charlie Weis regime, not Kelly’s. Frank Verducci is now merely the Huskies’ offensive line and tight ends coach, with running backs coach David Corley being elevated to offensive coordinator.

UConn has lost three straight, including a 41-3 smackdown from East Carolina on Saturday. The Huskies rank 106th among the 128 FBS schools in total offense, 125th in scoring offense.

• If you’re the Irish, you better win the turnover battle against Navy and have the lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Mids are 24-1 over the past five seasons when they win the turnover battle and are 60-4 under coach Ken Niumatalolo when they enter the fourth quarter with a lead.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame linebacker Greer Martini (48) went through non-contact drills in practice Tuesday with the hope of returning from a concussion in time to play against Navy Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)