Notre Dame kicks off spring practice on Wednesday with what Brian Kelly calls a bigger, stronger team.
NOTRE DAME — Following a second viewing, Brian Kelly wasn’t nearly as discouraged as he was in the minutes following the national championship game.
After Alabama topped Notre Dame 41-14 in the BCS on Jan. 7, Kelly said the Irish will need to “close the gap” in relation to the two-time defending national champions. After reviewing film, that gap might not be as wide as he feared.
“I thought watching the game there were some things there that we weren’t in a position yet to even come close to,” Kelly said at a Tuesday, March 19, press conference. “But we’re a lot closer than I thought. On the defensive line, we weren’t pushed around, as many people had talked about.”
Two weeks after the title bout, Kelly welcomed the 2013 off-season with an emphasis on strength and conditioning and weight training. With the first spring practice kicking off Wednesday morning, March 20, Kelly wasn’t shy about rattling off roster-wide weight gains made over the past seven weeks.
Offensive lineman Mark Harrell is up 19 pounds to 305, Kelly said. Center Chase Hounshell is up 20. Linebackers Ben Councell and Jarrett Grace are up 16 and 13 pounds, respectively. Running back George Atkinson III bulked up 11 pounds while receiver Chris Brown is up 10.
Kelly took a breath from reciting stats and sizes, joking: “I can get all the kickers and punters in there too if you’d like.”
If there’s a player who still needs to pack on a few more pounds, it’s starting quarterback Everett Golson. The 6-foot sophomore-to-be weighs in at 188. Kelly would like to see him between 190 and 193.
But while Golson works on his physical growth, Kelly sees the quarterback’s leadership evolving every day.
“He’s stepping out front,” Kelly said. “He’s leading workouts with the players when the coaches can’t be there, whether it be oneonone, sevenonseven. He’s active in meetings. He sits in that chair over there, and he’s on the edge of the chair. It’s a guy that has been the starter at Notre Dame and understands what goes along with that. So across the board, this is a different young man because he’s been in it, he knows what it looks like now.”
With the departure of Gunner Kiel, the competition behind Golson has tightened between veteran and 2011 starter Tommy Rees, former specialist package signal-caller Andrew Hendrix and incoming freshman Malik Zaire.
Notre Dame might not be caught up in the quarterback race it’s seen in past years, but Kelly hopes Rees, Hendrix and Zaire give Golson a run for his money.
“I want them to push to be on the field,” he said. “I want them to go in knowing that Everett Golson has experience, but that’s all he has. It’s your job to go out there and show us that you can be the starting quarterback, not to settle for being the backup.”
Plan for a No. 2 to emerge by the end of April, as Kelly plans to have the depth chart filled in by the end of spring ball.
“So leaving spring ball, we want to set our football team and the depth within the ranks,” he said. “This is not about, ‘Well, we know we have a number of young men coming in in the fall, they’re at this position.’ They come in and they fill in at the back of the line. We’ll see how that takes form when they get here. My point being that we’re setting our roster based on the players we have on campus right now. That’s the work in front of us, which starts tomorrow.”