Quick Hits: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's opening spring press conference

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame football is officially back.

Well, sort of.

On the eve of his team's first practice of the spring, Notre Dame eighth-year head coach Brian Kelly met the media on Tuesday. Here are the highlights from Kelly's address.

-- Kelly said that he challenged new strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis to "create an environment down there where we could create the traits necessary for excellence," and Balis accomplished that feat.

-- Kelly has met weekly with the team's captains and seniors throughout the offseason, he said. The Irish head coach lauded Notre Dame's leadership this winter.

-- Kelly said that cornerback Shaun Crawford (achilles tendon) will be "extremely active" this spring. He will likely not go through contact drills, Kelly said, but he has been moving and changing directions and will participate heavily. Defensive tackle Daniel Cage (concussions) and cornerback Nick Watkins (broken leg) are completely healthy and will participate fully.

-- Kelly said that he has not seen a player that has not improved himself this winter.

-- Tight end Alize Jones' challenge, Kelly said, is to remain focused on his school work as he returns from a season of academic ineligibility. "I just try, in my relationship with him, to keep him focused (and have) an attention to detail," Kelly said. If Jones remains focused he has the athletic traits to be successful, Kelly added. He said that he believes Jones is on track to be academically eligible this fall.

-- Kelly said that Notre Dame currently has six captains, but the team could add another.

-- Kelly attended the team's 5:45 a.m. workouts this winter, the first time he has done that at Notre Dame. He said that change in his schedule was responsive to last season's exit interviews, where the players said they would like him to be more involved with the team.

-- When asked about the candidates to fill roles on the right side of the offensive line, Kelly mentioned Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg, Tristen Hoge, Hunter Bivin and Jimmy Byrne as possible starters. He added that Alex Bars, who started at right tackle last season, could play either tackle or guard.

-- How will Notre Dame look different this season? "What we're looking at is a team that's a lot more focused, a lot more attention to detail, a lot more grit. That's what we're looking for," Kelly said.

-- "What we're looking for is not perfection from these guys. It's excellence," Kelly said. He noted that you're going to have some setbacks and he was "the poster boy for that last year." It's about how you bounce back.

-- Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush will get 60 percent of the reps this spring, while sophomore Ian Book will get the other 40 percent, Kelly said. "I'm a big Ian Book fan," Kelly said.

-- "I'll be involved in all three phases of the game," Kelly said. "They're all my players, and I'm going to be responsible for all of them." The head coach said that he has spent much less time focused on the offense and fundraising and much more being directly involved with his players.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium in 2016. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)