Notre Dame, Kelly will have to fill holes after suspensions

Examining Brian Kelly’s comments on Everett Golson, the academic investigation and the defensive youth movement as the season opener approaches.

Posted on Aug. 26, 2014 at 4:54 p.m.

NOTRE DAME — Game week is finally here.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly kicked off Rice week Tuesday, Aug. 26, by offering his thoughts on the four players suspended in the academic probe, Everett Golson’s return, young defensive talent that needs to emerge and the delay in announcing team captains.

A breakdown of his comments:

Four players at center of academic probe won’t play Saturday

What Kelly said: “I know that when we go through an academic process like this, that involves our Honor Code, that this is a process that's out of my hands. I've been through one already with Everett (Golson), so I know the workings of it. It does me no good to put a timetable on it. It does me no good to think about what day. I moved on and the process will take care of itself.”

What’s next?  So DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore are still out. This comes as no surprise since Notre Dame would likely have announced otherwise if investigations had been concluded (and if it resulted in any players being reinstated). 

Kelly expects to hear an update on the situation soon since classes begin Tuesday and, although he hasn’t heard any new information, he doesn’t feel as though he’s been kept out of the loop throughout the investigation.

Notre Dame has already scrambled to plug the holes those four leave behind, which means sophomores Cole Luke, Corey Robinson and Isaac Rochell will be tested in starting roles Saturday.

As a team already low on experience, potentially losing Russell, Daniels, Williams and Moore for the season means several freshmen will have to step up earlier than anticipated. Kelly offered some insight on which freshmen will have major roles in that process:

Captains will be named in the next 24 hours

What Kelly said: “I have a small senior class. I have 17 fourth-year juniors, the largest class that we have ever had here in terms of numbers. So we have a lot of underclassmen that can be leaders that are sophomores. So we have a lot of leaders out there. We're taking our time and making sure that we're going to get the right guys out there.”

What’s next? There isn’t a clear-cut Zack Martin or Manti Te’o choice on a team that will start only six seniors (not including redshirt seniors) against Rice.

One of the issues here is that some of Notre Dame’s best players are also its youngest. Sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith comes to mind, and while he may be the best athlete on the team, he might also not be ready to be a captain for 12-13 games. 

Kelly said he wouldn’t be opposed to naming game-by-game captains like he did in 2011, when team captain Harrison Smith was joined by a different player every coin toss.

“There is a lot of different variables here,” Kelly said. “I know this: I've got a really good leadership group within this football team. We're not devoid of leaders because we haven't named captains on Tuesday of game week.”

When Notre Dame does announce its captains — and the team plans to within the next day — expect Golson, Smith, senior Nick Martin, junior Sheldon Day and senior Cam McDaniel to be in the mix.

It’s been 600 days since quarterback Everett Golson last saw game action

What Kelly said: “We need to be cognizant of that fact that this will be his first game since playing against Alabama. We need to get him into the game, probably you hear this from everybody, but have some success early on with him and get him into the flow of the game. I think once he starts to get comfortable playing the game at fast pace, then we just call the game like we normally would.”

What’s next? There’s a lot of hype swirling around Golson, who was welcomed back to the team in January after a semester-long academic suspension, and a lot of it is deserved. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. He’s been groomed under renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield.

But it’s easy to forget Golson hasn’t played one down of college football since the shellacking at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship game Jan. 7, 2013.

It’s helpful that Golson’s first game back comes against Rice, which is a strong Conference USA team but is one of the weaker opponents on Notre Dame’s loaded schedule. The Owls bring defensive tackle Christian Covington, who has landed on just about every preseason watch list he’s eligible for. On the other hand, Rice graduated its top two pass rushers after last season. 

Golson also hasn’t shed his red no-contact jersey during preseason practices, so the first time he gets tackled Saturday will the first time he’s been hit in exactly 600 days.

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