Notebook: Brian Kelly chills out in more ways than one during Notre Dame's bye week

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly’s wide-ranging, bye-week priorities didn’t include taking in the Garth Brooks concert, Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Very expensive,” the Notre Dame head football coach said with a wry smile. “I can’t get into that kind of price range.”

Maybe hanging out in the cold the night before at son Kenzel’s high school football game was what took the wind out of that notion. The youngest of Kelly’s three kids, a junior, is a starting defensive lineman for South Bend Saint Joseph High.

The Indians (6-4) took out Kankakee Valley on the road Friday night, 38-21, to advance to a Class 4-A sectional semifinal against New Prairie (7-3) this Friday night.

“The matchup of the century, Kankakee Valley versus Saint Joe’s,” the elder Kelly proclaimed. “Concession stand — I didn’t know it was spelled with a K, but they kept reminding me to come to the ‘koncession’ stand with the K.

“That’s what I learned on my bye week. High school games are really exciting unless it’s below 38 degrees.”

As it pertains to college football, Kelly’s bye week priorities were getting some extra work in on No. 3 Notre Dame’s opponent Saturday night in San Diego, Navy (2-5); giving the Irish players 4½ days off to recharge; hitting the road, along with his assistant coaches, to recruit; and doing some cursory self-scouting.

“We didn’t cast a net over everything that we’re doing,” said Kelly, his Irish 7-0 for the first time since 2012. “Some were special teams-related, which you’ll see on Saturday.”

Personnel matters

Running back Jafar Armstrong practiced Monday for the first time in nearly a month, and Kelly said he expects the team’s third-leading rusher to see action Saturday night against Navy.

“I think the biggest issue with him will be volume — how much will he play?” Kelly said during his weekly Tuesday press conference. “We had him on GPS (Monday). He ran out at 19 miles an hour. He usually tops out somewhere in the 20s.

“We’re pretty excited about where he was with his first day.”

The converted wide receiver missed ND’s past three games with an infection in his left knee. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder has rushed for 245 yards on 47 carries with a team-best five rushing touchdowns. He also has seven receptions for 87 yards.

• Junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr., has resumed practicing and is expected back in the starting lineup against Navy, after missing the Pitt game Oct. 13 with an ankle sprain.

“Took all the first-team reps,” Kelly said. “Showing no ill effects.”

• Place-kicker Justin Yoon experienced some groin soreness late in ND’s 19-14 win over Pitt on Oct. 13.

“We feel like he’s going to be fine,” Kelly said. “We just wanted to be careful with him in this off week, make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Kelly was open to the idea during the bye week of Yoon supplanting inconsistent sophomore Jonathan Doerer on kickoffs, and the minor injury to the senior may have played a role in the Irish coaching staff standing pat.

“I think Justin has been used when we felt like Jonathan wasn’t technically correct,” Kelly said. “It’s really Jonathan’s job. He’s had some technical errors that we’re trying to work him through. We just need him to get through some of these little technical errors.

“We’ve used the off week to really hone in on him. We feel a lot better watching him over the last week or so. So it’s really his job. We’d rather have Justin focus on field goals and extra points.”

• Navy has started three different quarterbacks the past season and a half, and the Irish are preparing for all three.

Freshman wide receiver Lawrence Keys III is playing the part of 5-9, 185-pound Malcolm Perry, who is playing more slotback now. Freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec is imitating 6-2, 212-pound Zach Abey, who has moved from quarterback to wide receiver in the spring and now plays both.

And freshman walk-on wide receiver Leo Albano is mimicking in practice Navy’s most likely QB starter, 6-1, 200-pound Garret Lewis.

The 6-2, 205-pounjd Albano was an all-state quarterback and was also all-state in baseball last season at Bishop England High School in Charleston, S.C. The four-year starter at QB amassed 7,578 total yards and 106 TDs in his high school career.

“We spent a lot of time with that scout team outside of this week just working on the mechanics of (the triple option) in the spring, preseason,” Kelly said, “so when we get into this, it’s run effectively to the level it can be.

“It’s never going to be as effective. You’re never going to play with the kind of speed that you need to.”

Collateral progress

One of the unintended benefits of a Notre Dame bye week is a chance for some younger players to make a lasting impression.

Four freshmen who did just that stood out for Kelly — two who were already regularly playing but may have bumped themselves up into larger roles, and two who may have strengthened their holds on niche roles.

The two established freshmen who may push for more significant playing time are wide receiver Kevin Austin and cornerback TaRiq Bracy.

The two who are emerging as players whose value in playing in 2018 may exceed a potential redshirt season are offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson and safety Paul Moala, the latter a Penn High product.

Notre Dame’s Jafar Armstrong (8) runs for a touchdown against Wake Forest Sept. 22 at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC.