Lesar: Patience still the plan for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Improvement is a process, says Brian Kelly.

That’s why the coach suggests that Notre Dame football fans consume Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game with a discerning palate.

Not much that junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush shows – or doesn’t show – Saturday will have a lot to do with whether the Irish will be better than 4-8 come fall.

“(The fans) aren’t going to be able to see the things that I see,” Kelly said. “What they’re going to be looking for is more of the individual players making plays. They’re going to look toward the quarterback. They’re going to be looking toward some individual defensive player. That’s not going to tell the whole story.

“This isn’t about telling the story. This is a continuation of what we’ve been doing since January. What I hope, at the end of the game, is that – more than anything else – we continue to work on the things that are really important to me (which is the process).

“I don’t think the average fan is looking for that. If I had them with me for the last three months, they would be tuned in. They’d say, ‘I see that.’

“They can walk away from the game and say, ‘I don’t really see much of a difference (from last year).’ That’s not really important to me. When we get (near the season opener with) Temple, that’s when it should all come together.”

If it’s possible to break away focus from the path of the football, there are three areas that could make for interesting viewing, especially among those 25,000 who are expected to soak in the atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium. Television won’t allow that luxury.

• Can the offensive line block?

Rumor is … the Irish have two guys on the left side – guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey – who passed up opportunities to go high in the NFL draft to come back for another season.

Last year, though, their ability to dominate an opponent never really manifested itself on a consistent basis. High draft picks should have been automatic.

Add in a re-built right side with guard Alex Bars and tackle Tommy Kraemer and the operation of the line will be a critical piece of the puzzle.

• Can the defensive line get to the quarterback?

How bad was it last season? Against a lot of very average offensive lines, the Irish ranked in a tie for 117th (out of 128) in the nation with 14 sacks. They shared that spot with juggernauts like Fresno State, Charlotte, Texas Tech and UTEP.

Only three of those sacks were credited to the defensive line. That level of futility is hard to fathom, especially with an NFL prospect like Jarron Jones in the middle. Shouldn’t they have accidently gotten more?

Daelin Hayes will be the one guy Irish fans can fixate on as a star on the horizon at one end. But, on the other end, seniors Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti have been underachievers in three previous seasons. Is a trend set to be broken?

• Can the linebackers tackle?

Don’t worry about middle linebacker Nyles Morgan, he’s the real deal destined for a big-time season if healthy.

Beyond Morgan, the linebackers around him are relatively unproven commodities. Forget how they adapt to a new system. That can be worked out in summer camp. For now, can they wrap up a ball carrier and bring him down?

It didn’t happen all the time last season.

There are so many issues that won’t be able to be deciphered in a scrimmage that will fly by in two hours. Don’t count on learning anything about safeties, that depth chart is still fluid. Notre Dame’s offense will only be as good as its line – plenty of playmakers who can excel if given a chance are behind it.

And, how ‘bout last season’s seven losses decided on the final possession? No way to know if the Irish have figured out how to close out a game until the real bullets start flying.

It’ll be here before you know it.

Until then, analyze the parts and be patient on the whole.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly talks his team during practice, Friday, April 7, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ