Notebook: Navy transfer Alohi Gilman staying out of crossfire with Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Navy transfer Alohi Gilman has been everything Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly thought he would be — and more.

From leading 6 a.m., Friday workouts for redshirting players, to providing great defensive looks at safety in practice for the No. 1 Irish offense, to looking every bit like a force in the Irish secondary beginning in 2018 and beyond.

This week as Gilman’s new team, AP ninth-ranked ND (8-2), prepares to play his old one (6-3 Navy) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, Kelly is coaxing the 5-foot-11, 199-pound sophomore from Laie, Hawaii, to be more of a bystander and less of a scout.

“He really knows very little about it, and not enough that we could gain any kind of tactical advantage,” Kelly said Thursday night of the Mids’ triple-option offense. “We wouldn’t put him in that position anyway.

“I’ve never felt like you ask a (transfer) player, ‘Hey, tell us what the signals are.’ It just compromises the trust with the players that he was with. We’re glad he’s not on that team, to be quite frank. Just good that he’s with us.”

Gilman, who grew up in the same Oahu neighborhood as former ND players Robby Toma and Manti Te’o, was Navy’s second-leading tackler as a freshman in 2016. He amassed 76 for the Mids, while playing cornerback, free safety and strong safety.

He had a game-high 12 tackles in the 28-27 Navy victory over the Irish, Nov. 5, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla.

The NCAA in September denied Gilman’s request for immediate eligibility, so he’ll have three seasons to play for the Irish beginning in 2018.

A room with a view

Notre Dame first-year quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees is one of just two Irish assistant coaches who spend game days in the press box and not on the sideline (defensive coordinator Mike Elko is the other).

And Kelly has no second thoughts about moving him.

“I think it’s gone fine for what we’re trying to accomplish,” Kelly said. “And that is Tommy gets a different perspective from the box than we get from the field. So I think it’s the appropriate place to have the quarterback coach. We can’t see some of the things that Tommy can see up there.”

And there’s one other not-so-obvious benefit apparently, at least for junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

“I like it, because (Wimbush) can get on the phone, and if I wanted to say something to him or (offensive coordinator) Chip (Long) wanted to say something to him, he can just keep the phone up to his ear.

“It’s the perfect guise of, ‘Leave me alone. I’m on the phone,’ whether he’s on the phone or not. It works pretty good in our program.”

Personnel matters

Grad transfer wide receiver Cam Smith will spend his Senior Day at Notre Dame the same way he spent much of his star-crossed career at Arizona State — on the sideline with an injury.

It will be the sixth game Smith has missed this season and fifth in a row because of a hamstring injury. He started four games early in the season and has eight catches for 60 yards and a TD in 2017.

Kelly said Thursday night there were no other significant injuries for the Irish that would warrant missing the game.

Outland semifinalists

Both Irish senior guard Quenton Nelson and grad senior offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey made the cut Thursday to six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy, given annually to the best interior lineman in college football on offense or defense.

The last Notre Dame player to win the award was defensive lineman Ross Browner in 1976.

Five of this year’s semifinalists are offensive linemen. Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown, Western Michigan offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and Ohio State center Billy Price were the others. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the lone defensive player among the semifinalists.

The field will be narrowed to three finalists on Tuesday. The winner of the 72nd Outland Trophy will be revealed on Dec. 7 on ESPN during The Home Depot College Football Awards Show.

A nose for success?

Perhaps last year’s 28-27 loss to Navy was the twisted inspiration for Kelly’s eventual offseason makeover of the strength and conditioning program.

If not, it should have been.

Navy, with the second-most inexperienced offensive line in the 128-team FBS last season and with a quarterback in Will Worth originally scripted to be an understudy to injured QB Tago Smith, surged and domineered an Irish defensive front on a fourth-and-1 play to perpetuate a 16-play, 75-yard drive that led to the eventual go-ahead score.

And then did it two more times on fourth down on its next possession as Navy ran out the final 7:28 with 14 ball-hogging plays.

All told, Navy converted eight of its 13 third-down opportunities. On the five it didn’t, the Mids went for it on fourth down all five times and converted four of them.

Some of ND’s best success against Navy defensively in the Kelly Era came when the Irish moved All-America defensive end Stephon Tuitt inside to nose guard.

Could 6-7, 306-pound Jerry Tillery have a similar effect Saturday?

“Stephon was physically a different player,” Kelly said. “What Jerry has is he’s hard to block. He’s got the ability to get off blocks. He’ll be difficult to handle in there.

“I think we’re physically stronger with (defensive tackle Jonathan) Bonner. We’re going to be able to run in a little more depth than we did last year inside, with Myron (Tagovailoa-Amosa) and (Kurt) Hinish. I just think we’ve got better depth to be able to move some bigger bodies inside.”

Navy transfer Alohi Gilman during the first practice of fall camp for Notre Dame football, Aug. 1 at the Culver Academies in Culver, Ind. (Tribune File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)