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ND Notebook: Special teams undergoing much-needed makeover

Brian Kelly wants to fill special team slots with starters for a much-needed unit makeover.


Posted on March 20, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 20, 2013 at 2:47 p.m.

NOTRE DAME — The No. 1 stretched tight across Louis Nix's torso, trying hard to occupy the space No. 9 once did.

While his number is smaller, Big Lou has only gotten bigger.

The 2013 edition of Notre Dame football rolled out for the first day of spring practice on Wednesday, March 20, looking bulkier in some areas and svelter in others.

Players like Nix, who spent spring break working out with teammates in Arizona, have piled on weight, while backup nose guard Tony Springmann has slimmed down from 300 pounds to 284. Nix is listed at 347, a 21-pound gain from last year.

Nix's fellow lineman Stephon Tuitt couldn't put his newly added 19 pounds on display Wednesday morning. Head coach Brian Kelly said the All-American defensive end is recovering from a sports hernia that has plagued him since late last season.

Tuitt was confined to the stationary bike during practice in the Loftus Center. Kelly says Tuitt is on pace to return to practice for the last couple weeks of spring ball.

“He's already moving really well,” Kelly said. “He feels so much better. He had some restriction in that groin, hip flexor area where he was really restricted in really running out. We said, 'You know what? Let's get it done. Let's not wait on it.' It's something that we may have managed, but we want to get him 100 percent.”

SPECIAL TEAMS MAKEOVER

When addressing the catatonic special teams play of the last few years, Kelly wants to take a page from Alabama's book.

“Standing on the sideline for the national championship game, we're ready to kick off and Alabama has 11 starters on kickoff return,” he said. “Kickoff return, which nobody wants to be on kickoff return. So the emphasis for us in this spring is to really embrace their roles. I want starters to be part of our special teams units.”

While depth issues and wariness to send front-line players into the fray of special teams has kept Kelly away from this strategy in the past, he believes that a better stocked depth chart allows more starters to see the field for ever punt and kickoff return and coverage.

“Every single position is going to have the best players that we can get out there,” Kelly said. “We're going to make them compete for those positions.”

Considering Notre Dame finished 2012 ranked 116th in punt returns and 93rd in kick returns after finishing 2011 ranked 112th in punt returns, a special teams overhaul — or at least a makeover — certainly can't hurt.

CARLISLE IMPRESSING

A handful of previously injured players took their first significant reps in Wednesday's practice, including cornerback Lo Wood (Achilles tendon), running back Amir Carlisle (ankle) and safety Austin Collinsworth (shoulder).

Kelly said Carlisle stood out among those recovering from ailments that kept them sidelined in 2012.

“I think the guy of all the injured guys that stands out to me is Amir Carlisle,” Kelly said. “He's got a gear; he's got a high level where he's really going to be able to help us.”

Carlisle, who transferred to Notre Dame last spring after spending his freshman season with USC, battled ankle issues seemingly from the moment he stepped on campus and has not yet played a down for the Irish.

With the loss of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick and a new running back pecking order yet to be establish, a burst from Carlisle could be just what Notre Dame needs.



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