Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

August 2011 Archives

Brian Kelly was asked if he still gets nervous before a season opener, prompting this answer. I'm sure parents with kids who drive can relate: 

"Absolutely," Kelly said. "There are different types of nervousness. One is not being prepared. The other is coaching 18-to-21-year-olds. I don't know if you've ever had that experience. Having your kid take the car. It's similar to that. You are still obviously confident in your plan but it still has to come to fruition."

Dayne Crist knew being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame was a week-to-week proposition even before coach Brian Kelly drove that point home earlier this week.

"I've seen him continue to build on where we left off relative to that decision-making process," Kelly said when asked how Crist has performed in practice since being named the No. 1 quarterback. "He has not all of the sudden made some mistakes and gotten sloppy with the football or feels like he's arrived. He's exactly what he has, I think, articulated to you guys. This is only the start for him.

"He's only gotten a chance to start against South Florida. He's got to produce to be the starting quarterback each and every week, so I think he carries that with him in the way he practices."

Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said if media members watched Crist and Tommy Rees compete for the No. 1 job during training camp they would've also named Crist the starter. So, what exactly did Crist do to turn the tide in his favor? He never had a bad day, according to Molnar. His consistency proved to be the deciding factor.

"The biggest thing is not showing any complacency," Crist said. "Sure, I know what a privilege it is to be the quarterback at Notre Dame but I also understand expectations and what needs to get done. I'm just trying to improve every day and not settle on what we've accomplished so far."

Crist said he expects to be more relaxed this year than he was in the season opener against Purdue last season. The amount of reps he has received in the 10 practice days since he was named the starter has also given him confidence. 

While accuracy was a problem at times for Crist last season, Molnar doesn't expect it to be a problem in 2011.

"He's a more accurate passer because his footwork has improved," Molnar said. "Again, last year his footwork was probably not as good as it needed to be. He couldn't work on it because of his knee. Maybe it was just so ingrained in his previous habits. Now he has so bought into what we expect of him and his footwork and he's getting rid of the ball much quicker than he has in the past."

Coach Brian Kelly is preparing his team for three new rule changes in place for the 2011 season, the most controversial of which involves excessive celebration.

Under the new guideline, if a player taunts an opponents or performs an excessive celebration that draws attention to himself en route to the end zone, he will be penalized at the spot of the foul and the touchdown will be taken away.

"I know what they're trying to do with the rules," he said. "I don't know if I was a voting member how I would come out on that, but I don't have much say in it so I roll with it."

Another change calls for a team that commits a penalty that stops the clock with less than one minute left in either half to be subject to a 10-second runoff. This is to keep teams from purposely committing penalties to stop the clock. 

In an effort to increase player safety, rules makers have also limited the times players can block below the waist. 

"We've spent time on it," Kelly said of the excessive celebration rule. "It's obviously a significant rule, whether it's at the 1 yard line or the 1 and a half yard line. How that's going to be legislated, I think, it's up to each crew, but we've gone over it with our players, how significant it is to have a touchdown called back and add 15 yards in penalties. So we've added it to our script as well as the 10-second rule, the run-off rule, which affects the offense and the defense. So a couple of those rules we have to be on our toes relative to game management and specifically the 10-second rule."

Brian Kelly will be more confident calling plays in this year's season opener than he was last season, and not just because he's more familiar with South Florida from his days in the Big East with Cincinnati than he was with Purdue as Notre Dame's rookie coach in 2010.

He has a better understanding of his personnel, including the strengths and weaknesses of starting quarterback Dayne Crist, which should allow him to dial up more successful plays.

"It's knowledge of what you're capable of doing more so than having more plays available to you," Kelly said. "Knowing that these are plays that Dayne has executed very well over the past year, we can go back and look at the successes that he's had in reading a particular play or getting us in the right play, so I think it's more knowledge of what your guys can do rather than we have more plays available to us."

Kelly said last season he was just trying different things while trying to figure out what the Irish offense could be successful doing so he could build from that. It wasn't until after Crist was injured in the ninth game that the offense took on a true identity. 

"While Dayne was in there we were still kind of all over the map and figuring out what our strengths were, and now going into this game we have a good understanding of what our strengths are," he said.

Brian Kelly's recent trend of landing blue-chip defensive linemen continued Tuesday when the Sun-Times confirmed that Jarron Jones of Aquinas Institute-Rochester (NY) has committed to the Irish.

The 6-foot-7, 308-pounder is rated a five-star recruit by CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, making him the third five-star recruit in the 2012 recruiting class.

Jones had verbally committed to Penn State before making a unofficial visit to Notre Dame. 

Tradition is everything at Notre Dame, or at least it seems like it, which is why Brian Kelly's decision to change the team's pregame routine is sure to be scrutinized.

"I'm always looking at ways to manage all the demands on our players' time during the week," Kelly said. "As you know, it's one of the great unique qualities that we have here at Notre Dame is that there's such pageantry and tradition. We want to maintain that, but we want to make sure that our players get ample time to be focused on football as well."

The new routine will take the team from the hotel the night before the game to Mass at the Basilica. From there, rather than walking to the stadium, the team will return to the busses, which will then be driven through the parking lots south of Notre Dame Stadium, and through tailgaiting fans, before reaching the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, where players and coaches can have meetings.

Kelly prefers having pregame meetings at "the Gug," where they have all their video and training equipment, rather than the team hotel.

"We tweaked the schedule to give our guys a breather before we take that walk, which we're going to continue to do; we think that's a great tradition," Kelly said. "A lot of it was generated by giving our players a little bit more time. We wanted to do it in a comfortable environment. Instead of doing it at a hotel, which they're at once a week, we wanted to do it here, where we have all of our training aids, offensively our video, and a comfort level that they have being here. So we wanted to create that on game day for our players but not lose out on the great traditions of being in the Basilica and having the walk." 

After meetings, the team will walk to Notre Dame Stadium via the Hesburgh Library. Fans are encouraged to line the sidewalks to witness the final walk to the stadium.

Tyler Eifert will be the starting tight end when Notre Dame lines up against South Florida on Saturday. Because of a quadriceps injury to Mike Ragone, who will be the back up is less clear.

"They're all very equal," coach Brian Kelly said. "What put [sophomore Alex] Welch and [freshman Ben] Koyack in the mix is Mike has been slowed in camp with a quad injury. He ran yesterday for the first time. If he looks the same or better over the next couple days we expect him to be the No. 2 tight end."

Eifert filled in when starter Kyle Rudolph was injured last season, caught 27 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns and was named the team's offensive newcomer of the year. Ragone, a fifth-year senior, has started nine games in his career. Although Welch and Koyack have yet to see action for the Irish, Kelly said he expects all four tight ends to play this season. 

Brian Kelly has talked about how Robby Toma has emerged as a leader, how sophomore TJ Jones is continuing his ascent and how freshman DaVaris Daniels may earn playing time if he can digest the playbook. 

The Notre Dame coach was recently asked if any other backup receivers had impressed him of late.

"The last couple of days John Goodman has," Kelly said. "John has been an enigma in the sense that he has a lot of athletic ability and he shows real big flashes. We had a one-one meeting a copule days ago about consistency. If he can give us the consistent performance he's capable of athletically, then add him to the list. And Daniels gets better every day. You're talking about TJ, you're talking about Goodman being a swing guy."

Goodman caught 15 passes for 146 yards last season while serving primarily as a punt returner.

"When you look at John, sometimes he has to be more of a split personality," Kelly said. "He carries himself sometimes in a manner that I would like to see a little bit more tenacious, a little bit more aggressive. He's getting there."

One of the biggest question marks heading into training camp was the backup running back position, where Jonas Gray needed to prove that he can not only be a reliable backup to Cierre Wood but also be the physical runner that Robert Hughes was for the Irish last season.

So far, so good, at least as far as Gray is concerned. 

"I definitely think I accomplished a lot of things," Gray said of training camp. "One of the things I wanted to do was become a more physical player. I did that. Just taking the mentality to practice every day to be a physical player, a physical runner, and knowing how to protect my body when I do that, too. I accomplished a lot. I'm very confident with the offense."

Coach Brian Kelly could not have been more clear when he said earlier this the week that Gray's role will contract or expand based on his production. The senior got the message.

"Yes, I am," Gray said when asked if he was comfortable with his role. "I believe in coach Kelly's ability to put us in position to win. I'm down with whatever he's down with."

Although Wood and Gray are expected to carry the bulk of the load, freshman George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel can also expect carries.

"They both do a lot of things well," Gray said. "They both have a thirst for knowledge and they both are very smart players. They don't mind asking the tough questions and they push us, too."

Kelly has been pleased to see both upperclassman mentoring the freshmen. 

"I would not have said that Cierre would be a very good teacher but he's been very good with the young guys," Kelly said. "He really [has]. Just going back to [Wednesday] where he helped on a couple reads with pass protection. He's been good. Jonas has been really good. They know they need those two guys."

Tommy Rees may have been relegated to the No. 2 quarterback but he's still getting more snaps in practice than most backups.

While most coaches give their starting quarterback 80 percent of the snaps, Kelly believes in a 60-40 split, which allows him to talk to his starter while the backup is running the same play.

"Most coaches I talk to prefer 80-20 but I like 60-40 because you can do some teaching," Kelly said.

That plan can change if the starter isn't performing satisfactorily as game day approaches.

"Say we get to Thursday," Kelly said. "If I feel you're not executing some things in the game plan I'll increase your reps to make sure you have those things down."

It's a different story for sophomore Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson.

"The young guys will get some team reps but generally not one versus one reps or two versus two," Kelly said.

One of the biggest questions during training camp was whether Jonas Gray could develop into a reliable compliment to Cierre Wood at running back. Although coach Brian Kelly said Gray has performed well thus far, his role remains in flux, making it likely both freshmen running backs George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel will also get carries. 

"Cierre is our featured back," Kelly said. "Jonas will play in times where we believe Cierre needs a blow. Jonas has a role and that role expands based upon his production, quite frankly. 

"He's had a great camp. I'm real pleased with what he has done. He's going to have to take advantage of his opportunities when he gets them. That will dictate as he moves forward how much playing time Jonas gets. Right now, he's going to give Cierre a blow. We're confident in his ability. He'll get more reps and playing time as he produces. 

As for the freshman, Atkinson has better breakaway speed while McDaniel is a more physical runner.

"Each one of them has their own unique qualities right now as they both grow and learn," Kelly said.

Dayne Crist being named the starting quarterback wasn't the only news from Brian Kelly's news conference on Tuesday.

--- Dan Fox beat out Carlo Calabrese for the starting job at weakside linebacker. "Last year, he was not a guy who liked contact. He likes contact now," Kelly said of Fox. "... He had a shoulder injury when we got here. He had to fight through that. He had to develop a toughness to him, a physicality because when he walked in he had all the tools."

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco: "We see them both as starters." 

---  Former Glenbard West standout Chris Watt will start at left guard over senior Andrew Nuss. 

--- Kyle Brindza will handle kickoffs this season, allowing David Ruffer, who converted 23 of 24 field-goal attempts last year, to concentrate on placekicking.

--- Kelly was so pleased by how his team performed in training camp that he gave players Tuesday off to concentrate on the first day of classes. With the training camp portion of the season having concluded, preparation for South Florida begins in Wednesday.

--- Freshman safety Eilar Hardy will miss the season after undergoing season-ending knee surgery. "Other than that, we do not have anybody we'll lose for the entire season," Kelly said. "If we can keep in that vain and move in that direction from an injury standpoint it would be a great change from last year. We suffered way to many injuries last year."

--- Diaco said Sean Cwynar will be the starter at nose guard. 

--- Kelly said freshmen DeVaris Daniels (receiver) , Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III (running backs), and Troy Niklas (defensive end/linebacker) will all play on special teams this season and perhaps on offensive and/or defense as well.

"I don't want to paint these guys just as [special teams] players but I'm confident they will be on the field in some capacity," 

And the winner is ... Dayne Crist.

"They had a great battle for that position but Dane will be the starter and we hope he will be the starter for 13 weeks," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said while announcing that Crist and not sophomore Tommy Rees would start against South Florida on Sept .3. "We're confident he can lead us to a championship."

The announcement ended a quarterback competition that began after last season when both players had success at the position and continued during training camp. Last week, Kelly said the competition between Crist and Rees was so close that reviewing their statistics only made the decision murkier.

Although Kelly said both quarterbacks have improved tremendously since last season, what Crist has been able to overcome after suffering two serious knee injuries was a factor.

"You have to look at the entire year when you talk about Dane," Kelly said. "Let's look at Dane on a timeline. Here's young man who overcame a serious knee injuries to start the season and then suffered another knee injury that required incredible rehab. An infection set him back even farther but he was able to get back for the spring. He didn't have a great spring but fought through that as well. To have the kind of summer and preseason camp he had put it in perspective where Dayne Crist is this year from last year. He's a much better football player, a much better quarterback. 

"Quite honestly, he's the kind of guy I want to coach. He's tougher mentally. He handles himself in that leadership situation the way we want him to handle it." 

Despite the history of knee injuries, Kelly said he has been impressed with Crist's mobility during training camp, which was another factor in his favor.

"He has to," Kelly said when asked if Crist can move out of the pocket when necessary. "He can't play any other way. He has to play the game the way it comes to him. One of the things he did in camp is show great escapability. After two knee surgeries, he was able to move well and make plays. That was part of the decision-making process. We could not have someone who couldn't extend plays in our offense."

Rees, a Lake Forest product, took over when Crist was injured last season and led the team to four straight victories, including a 33-17 win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. While he is the clear-cut backup, Kelly said sophomore Andrew Hendrix and/or freshman Everett Golson could see playing time in a package that compliments their abilities.

"It was still about his growth and development as a quarterback as well," Kelly said when asked about Rees' 4-0 record as a starter. "He had things as a true freshman he had to get better at and he did. Tommy is a much better quarterback than he was last year."

 Paul Shoults, a Notre Dame assistant coach for 13 years who helped the Irish to national championships in 1966 and 1973, died Sunday night. He was 85.

Shoults played in the same college backfield as Ara Parseghian at Miami (Ohio) and later followed him from Northwestern to Notre Dame, where he coached the defensive backfield for Parseghian's entire 11-year tenure. He also coached the defensive backs for the first two years of Dan Devine's Notre Dame head-coaching stint.

During that time, Shoults coached first-team All-Americans Nick Rassas, Tom Schoen, Clarence Ellis, Mike Townsend and Luther Bradley. 

Visitation will be 10 a.m.-12 p.m. (CST) Thursday, Aug. 25, at Welsheimer Funeral Home in South Bend (17033 Cleveland Rd.). A brief service will follow. A graveside service and burial will be Saturday at Sugar Creek Baptist Cemetery in Washington Court House, Ohio.

Skip Holtz hasn't started talking to his South Florida team about what it will be like when the Bulls travel to Notre Dame Stadium for the season-opener against the Irish, but he plans to as the Sept. 3 game draws closer. Expect his players to have a good idea what to expect. Few people have experienced Notre Dame from so many angles. 

"We'll start talking and addressing Notre Dame and their personnel and we'll also address playing at Notre Dame with all the history and tradition they have there," Holtz said during a Monday conference call. "Having been through it in three phases --- as a coach, as a player and as a student, I'll be able to give them a little bit of insight into what we're walking into."

Holtz will return to Notre Dame for the first time since watching his father Lou coach his last game for the Irish in 1996. It's a place that remains close to his heart. He fell in love with the campus before his father was named head coach there. He played for the Irish as a walk-on receiver and watched his father win a national championship and later joined the coaching staff. 

Two of his siblings also attended the University, which also happens to be where his parents own burial plots.

As difficult as it might be, Holtz said he will try to keep his emotions in check while focusing on the bigger picture --- preparing his team to defeat the Irish, who are ranked 16th in the Associated Press Preseason Poll.

"I'll talk about Touchdown Jesus and a lot of the traditional things that are on that campus," Holtz said. "I want them to go and understand what they're walking into with the history and everything that is there. It will be more of an educational process because I don't want them to go there and be [awed]. I want them to understand we're going to play a football game but I want them to understand the whole experience. We've even talked about taking the team over on Friday to the College Football Hall of Fame as a big picture [about] tradition and history [of college football]. 

"It will be more facts about Notre Dame, the stadium and the history, then it will be my personal experiences."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had this to say when asked about the scandal enveloping the Miami program. 

"It's obviously not good for college football," Kelly said. "You can't put a good spin on it. What I can tell you is there are a lot of good football coaches out there who believe in recruiting the right kids --- kids that understand and recognize the value of getting an education first --- [and that] can alleviate some of those things. 

"That's not to say the kids at Miami didn't want to go to school but they had other things in mind, too. As a coach, as a program, you recruit guys who understand they are coming to a school to get a degree and the value of that degree and what it costs and play football.

"The rest of that stuff, we have to be more vigilant --- everybody."

Notre Dame defeated Miami 33-17 in the Sun Bowl last year and is scheduled to play them at Soldier Field during the 2012 season.

"The penalties have to be severe for people who don't play by the rules," Kelly said.

Irish 16th in AP poll

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Notre Dame is ranked 16th in the Associated Press preseason poll. It's the first time the Irish have been ranked since November, 2009.

Notre Dame will play three opponents this season also ranked in the Top 25. Michigan State (Sept. 17) is 17th, USC (Oct. 22) is 25th and Stanford is seventh.

Here's the rest of the rankings:

1. Oklahoma

2. Alabama

3. Oregon

4. LSU

5. Boise

6. Florida State

7. Stanford

8. Texas A&M

9. Oklahoma State

10. Nebraska

11. Wisconsin

12. South Carolina

13. Virginia Tech

14. TCU

15. Arkansas

16. Notre Dame

17. Michigan State

18. Ohio State

19. Georgia

20. Mississippi State

21. Missouri

22. Florida

23. Auburn

24. West Virginia

25. USC

Brian Kelly had made it clear that one of two freshman running backs would receive playing time as the third running back behind Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray this season. What we didn't know until recently is that both George Atkinson III and Cameron Roberson can expect to contribute on Saturdays.

While the competition for the third running back spot is ongoing, Kelly said both will play special teams.

"Both can contribute," Kelly said. "George is going to be a really good player for us. He's 6-foot-2, 205 right now. He's going to get physically stronger when he knows what he's doing and Cam is physically fit enough to play right now. Both will have to have some role. I hope it's limited."

Brian Kelly said he will announce the starting quarterback for the Sept. 3 season-opener against South Florida on Tuesday.

The Notre Dame coach said the competition between senior Dayne Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees remains incredibly close as both players took turns working with the first-team offense while rehearsing game situations this week. Kelly will mull the decision over the weekend before making an announcement.

Kelly said he and his staff used statistics and production charts to help determine which player should start and it only made the decision more complicated. 

"The deeper we dig into the numbers the cloudier it becomes," Kelly said. "I've been doing this a long time and sometimes you look at the numbers and they tell you who the Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks are. We are going to have to get into subjective things as we move forward because the numbers are so equal."

In other news, backup tight end Jake Golic broke his arm in Thursday's practice, underwent surgery on Friday and will be out for at least six weeks. Golic, who played in three games last year, is the son of former Notre Dame and NFL defensive lineman and current ESPN personality Mike Golic and the nephew of Bob and Greg, who also played at Notre Dame. His brother, Jake, is the second-string center for the Irish.

"We weren't going to say anything until we talked to his family but he Tweeted it so ... That's my life," Kelly said. "I have to read the tweets to find out what I don't know."
They may not turn out to be the players most identified with Notre Dame during the 2011 season, but young defensive players such as defensive tackle Louis Nix and defensive ends Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and defensive end/outside linebacker Troy Niklas have been impressing coach Brian Kelly during training camp, which bodes well for the future.

"Those guys are physically imposing," Kelly said of the aforementioned group. "They get your attention right away. They get my attention because I'm on the offensive side so much that when we put our second unit out there, it feels like a screen every play, we're cutting people loose. You notice them from that perspective." 

Several freshman offensive skill position players don't have the luxury of taking a year or two to develop. Kelly is counting on receiver DaVaris Daniels and running backs George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel contributing right away to an offense that lacks depth at running back and wide receiver.

"Those guys are going to have to play for us this year," Kelly said. "Are they ready right now? No. [But] they have the athletic ability to play BCS football right now."

Nick Martin was elevated to second string when a knee injury ended sophomore tackle Tate Nichols' season. Fortunately for him, easing his transition is older brother Zack Martin, who started all 13 games for the Irish last season and was one of the team's most consistent linemen.

"He's being mentored by somebody that has a vested interest in seeing he does well, and that's his brother Zack Martin," Kelly said. "Zack has kind of taken him under his wing. Nick has done a nice job."

The four-way quarterback controversy has become a two-man race, and a dead-heat at that, but that doesn't mean Notre Dame offensive coordinator/quarterbacks' coach Charley Molnar is disappointed in what he has seen from sophomore Andrew Hendrix or freshman Everett Golson.

"We have two young guys that will be battling over the next several years to be the quarterback of the future," Molnar said. "Both of those guys are so promising that we really felt it was important give them work early during camp, but also we had to be smart and not do anything to hurt our development for 2011. We gave them the right amount of work, I think it was the right measure, and we're backing off a little bit on them right now. The battle between who is Nos. 3 and 4 right now is ongoing, and that will go on every single day from now until the bowl game."

Molnar said he envisions both players getting game experience this season.

"I see both of those guys getting on the field for Notre Dame," Molnar said. "They are both talented young men. Will they have to go in to the football game to help us win the game at that point? Hopefully, that won't be the case. Hopefully we can get them in the game and get them some experience. Both of them have distinct skill sets that really set them apart from a lot of other quarterbacks, not only in our program, but anywhere. They both have tremendously strong arms, they're both fast decision makers, and can really make plays with their feet. They're both really talented football players and they're a lot better now than they were during spring football, and I anticipate them being a lot better at the end of the year than they are today."

Greetings.  My name is Julian Green and I am a friend and former classmate of Corwin Brown from Gillespie Elementary and Julian High School in Chicago.  I have been asked by the Brown family to assist with media inquiries they have received over the past few days.  
The statement below is from the Brown Family and will serve as their only statement on this issue at this time, until they determine otherwise.  They understand there are many questions about the circumstances involving the events of last Friday and hope this statement will answer some of those questions.    
However, moving forward they are asking for privacy on this issue, as they deal with recovery, coaching and counseling for Corwin and the entire family.
As a result, no one will be granting on the record interviews on behalf of the family. 

Thank you.

A spokesperson for the family of former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said his behavior during a recent SWAT team standoff at his home in Granger, Ind., may have been the result of brain trauma suffered during his playing career.

Brown was charged with three felonies as a result of his standoff with St. Joseph's County Police on Aug. 12, including criminal confinement and domestic battery, according police. After his wife and three children fled the home, Brown barricaded himself inside for seven hours while a SWAT team surrounded the house. The standoff ended when Brown, 41, suffered an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the torso.

"We believe Corwin is suffering from symptoms similar to those experienced by the late Dave Duerson and were caused by the many notable collisions during Corwin's career in the NFL," spokesperson Julian Green, a friend and former classmate of Brown's at Julian High, wrote in a statement released by the Brown family.

Duerson, a former Chicago Bears safety, shot himself in the chest on Feb. 17, presumably so his brain could be tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a trauma-induced disease found in a growing list of former football players.

The family hopes to consult with neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the foremost authorities on sports concussions. 

Brown played collegiately at Michigan before an eight-year NFL career with the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and New England Patriots.

"We can no longer remain silent and we believe it is important that his former teams, teammates, coaches and the NFL understand the severity of this situation," the statement read.

Notre Dame's Sept. 24 game at Pittsburgh will kick off at 11 a.m. CST, the Big East Conference has announced.

The game will either be televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.
The competition between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees has come down to mastering Brian Kelly's offense and limiting turnovers.

"It's more than just arm strength and leadership capability," Kelly said when asked what traits will determine who becomes Notre Dame's starting quarterback. "There are so many other factors involved within the structure of our offense. We feel very confident about the kind of defense we can play. Taking care of the football is premium. That's one of the boxes we have to check off."

It was no surprise that the quarterback competition was the theme of Notre Dame's media day. While Kelly said the competition remains too close to call, he still plans to name a starter 10 days before the season-opener against South Florida on Sept. 3.

With Crist and Rees separating themselves, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson have seen their repetitions reduced.

"Crist and Rees have separated themselves by virtue of their knowledge and ability to manage the structure we have," Kelly said. "They can take the whole offense and run with it. We have two quarterbacks that we have great trust and confidence in that they can play championship football for us. Then we have two young guys who have not mastered the entire off structure but have excelled in small doses. If either one of them entered the game they wouldn't run the [entire] offense but there are some things they do very, very well. 

"If they entered the game we would move toward where their strengths are."

After the way he has bounced around during his four-year Notre Dame career, playing a couple positions isn't a big deal for Andrew Nuss.

The fifth-year senior was recruited as defensive lineman before being switched to offense and moved up and down the line from guard to tackle to guard again. Having already earned a business degree, Nuss wasn't even sure whether he would return for his fifth and final season until coach Brian Kelly told him he would be competing for a starting spot.

Nuss and former Glenbard West standout Chris Watt are battling to become the starting spot at left guard. Even if Watt wins the job, Nuss' versatility makes him a valuable backup. 

"Let him battle for guard position," Kelly said of Nuss. "I don't want him to be a utility guy immediately because you don't give him a fair shot to earn a starting position if you do that. He has had a great battle with Watt and both of those guys will play. As a team player we need him to play tackle for us because he has that versatility and if we don't play him at tackle our next guy in is a freshman. He has been both a guy we wanted to take care of and give him a chance at guard but also as a team player he has got to play a little bit of tackle."

Backup left tackle Tate Nichols dislocated his kneecap, will be immobilized for two weeks and is doubtful for the season opener against South Florida on Sept. 3, according to coach Brian Kelly.

--- Defensive end Ethan Johnson, meanwhile, missed Saturday's practice because of illness. 

--- Kelly said it may be difficult for Danny Spond to unseat Prince Shembo as a starting outside linebacker.

"Prince is really strong," Kelly said. "Danny had a lot of good things going but prince has really been a solid, solid player."

--- Kelly said he expects between six and 10 freshman to play this season and singled out freshman defensive end Troy Niklas for catching his eye. 

"His ability to play in space is extraordinary," Kelly said of the 6-foot-6 1/2, 250-pounder from Servite-Fullerton (CA). "Whatever adjective you want to use with the kid use it. He is a special kid."

--- Kelly said freshman kicker Kyle Brindza has excelled on kickoffs and is the team's No. 2 punter but that junior punter Ben Turk has been the best of the specialists thus far.

"Of all the specialists he has been the guy that has made the most progress," Kelly said.

The competition between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees to be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame is too close to call after the first nine practices, coach Brian Kelly said. 

"It's very, very competitive between Dane and Tommy," Kelly said Saturday. "It's too close to call at this point, which is what we thought. Both have done very, very good things."

Sophomore Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson are competing for the third spot. While Crist and Rees are clearly the Nos. 1 and 2, the youngsters might see playing time in packages that highlight their athleticism. 

"Today, Tommy got a lot of the first-team reps," Kelly said. "Dayne has got most of the first-team reps. We wanted to give a balanced representation. It's still a battle between those two, not that Everett and Andrew haven't made progress. They just haven't got as much work. I can't get all four of them the same amount of reps. 

"The quarterback battle is between Crist and Rees and the two young guys continue to make progress in the limited reps they get."

The SWAT team standoff outside the Granger, Ind., home of former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has ended, according to multiple reports from the scene. 

Brown was taken from the scene by ambulance to South Bend's Memorial Hospital, where he is being treated for a self-inflicted gunshot would to the side, according to the  South Bend Tribune. He is listed in "fair" condition.

A SWAT team remains dispatched at a Granger, Ind., home belonging to former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown.

A St. Joseph's County police officer contacted by the Sun-Times said police reponded to a domestic violance call at 11:55 a.m. He said no other details were available.

A WSBT reporter said he heard shots fired inside the house after arriving on the scene. A neighbor told the station that a woman and several children made it out of the house.

A St. Joseph County police officer told the South Bend Tribune that the Indiana Michigan Power Co. has shut off power to the house. Police also said they have talked to the occupant, who they believe to be Brown, for two hours and are trying to get him back on the phone.

Police confirmed only one person remains in the house. According to the Tribune, police have said over the bullhorn: "Please let us know that you are OK," and "Nobody here wants to hurt you."

Brown was the defensive coordinator under Charlie Weis. He was a position coach for the New England Patriots in 2009 but has not been employed by the team since February.

Stay tuned for details as they develop.

With so many returning starters on both sides of the ball, most of the competition during training camp is between second-and-third stringers.

Building depth for this season and the future is a priority for coach Brian Kelly.

"We all know who those front-line guys are," Kelly said. "It's all about building that next unit. Who's going to step in? I've got an example. We're better when when we can count on Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood. We don't want to get to a point where we put those guys in and there is a big dropoff. We're giving a lot of reps to the second-and-third units."

Backup cornerbacks Jackson and Wood aren't likely to see time at nickelback. Senior Jamoris Slaughter is expected to fill that roll. But the two emerging sophomores are competing for playing time in a backup role.

"Lo has been more consistent than Bennett," Kelly said. "Bennett has flashes of greatness but they are unfortunately at the wrong position to have flashes. You can't have a good series and then a bad series. Lo has been very, very consistent for us. As a staff we're feeling really, really good at developing that depth at the cornerback position." 

One of the most-watched position battles during training camp has been at weakside linebacker, where juniors Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox are competing for the starting spot. It's a critical position because opponents will likely attempt to run away from strong-side linebacker Manti Te'o, who led the Irish with 133 tackles last season, which was the most of any player since Tony Furjanic had 147 in 1983. Te'o also led the team with 15 tackles for loss.

"Carlo has been very professional," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "There has been one of the five days where he didn't start [practice] well but he finished well. Carlo is doing well at the 'Will'. Fox has still got to close on him."

Calabrese started the first eight games last season before suffering a hamstring injury. He finished with 60 tackles.

Fox was primarly a special teams standout last season and will likely see more playing time in 2011 even if he doesn't win the job from Calabrese.

"Both those guys, I really like them a lot," Kelly said of the pair. "They have got a chance to play a lot of football."

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- Although who will be named starting quarterback remains the biggest question surrounding Notre Dame football, the first five practices of training camp have focused on running the ball and stopping the run. The result has been more Stone Age than cutting edge, but that's how coach Brian Kelly wants it.

If a team starts creating its identity during the first week of practice, Irish opponents will want to wear tight-fitting mouthpieces.

"We've called it building a toughness for our football team this week," Kelly said. "We know we can play fast. We know we can spread it out and do those things. We want to really have our guys focus this week on our toughness as a football team."

The Irish participated in a full-contact practice for the first time Wednesday and Kelly said he liked what he saw from a running game that wore down opponents late last season. He also liked what a defense that excelled against the run during that same span accomplished against his experienced offensive line. 

The result was a dream day for interior linemen.

"If we could practice like this every day that would be all I can ask for," guard Trevor Robinson said. 

The early season focus has made it more difficult to evaluate the quarterback derby, where senior Dane Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees are competing with sophomore Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson.

"We're so focused on the run game right now, a lot of it is about playing smarter and not faster at this point, so obviously the veterans are going to have a leg up during this segment," Kelly said. 
"Everett and Andrew would obviously show better if we were just playing faster. Right now, Dane and Tommy have shown the ability to play smarter --- getting in the right run checks, making sure we've got the right plays called. That has really been our focus and those guys have really pushed themselves up a little bit because of the way we're playing right now."

Pete Duranko, an All-American on Notre Dame's 1966 national championship team, died Friday night, his hometown newspaper has reported.

The Johnstown, PA, native was diagnosed was with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease in 2000 and became a national spokesperson for ALS. He was 67. 

Duranko was recruited to Notre Dame as a fullback but was switched to defensive end. He went on to play eight years with the Denver Broncos.

"He was selfless. No ego," former Irish center George Goeddeke told the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. "I remember the humor. He had the practical jokes going and he kept things light. And, he was an unbelievably disciplined guy as far as his workouts, his work ethics, his study habits and his life. I called him Possum Pete because he would always sneak up on you with some goofy quirk. He would sing the Notre Dame Fight Song in Polish. He would always do something off the charts. It was priceless."

By Neil Hayes

Expect Brian Kelly to get more done during fall camp than he accomplished in his first season last year.

"What's happened more than anything else is when we come into this camp now, we know our football team so much better," Kelly said during Friday's introductory news conference. "Year two is a year where you're not as concerned about what your personnel are going to do. You know your players. You know what to expect. They know what to expect. It allows you to get to football. It allows you to get to the fundamentals of the game. It allows you to start to look at your scheme, particularly situationally. Those are things I couldn't talk about at this time last year. I was talking about learning the names of our players, knowing their strengths and weaknesses."

The Irish started practice Saturday without senior offensive tackle Lane Clelland and sophomore tailback Cam Roberson, who are both recovering from knee injuries. Otherwise, head athletic trainer Rob Hunt reports the team is in prime physical condition.

Quarterback derby is on

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By Neil Hayes

It was no surprise that the first official question posed to Brian Kelly at Notre DAme's season-opening press conference related to the quarterback position. The Notre Dame coach can only hope it doesn't become a theme as the Irish begin preparations for a season that many believe will result in a return to national prominance.

"We go into camp and clearly believe all four of those guys can compete and help our football team win," Kelly said Friday. "We [have] just got to find out how that plays out."

The four players in question are Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson, and they present a potential dilemma for a team that was ranked 18th in the USA Today preseason poll. Crist is the favorite to start against South Florida on Sept. 3 after starting nine games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Backup Tommy Rees filled in for Crist and has experience on his side. Hendrix and Golson have never taken a collegiate snap but are the kind of athletic quarterbacks that excel in Kelly's offense.

"It's really going to come down to the ability to run our offense at the pace and the tempo that we want to run it," Kelly said. "Dayne and Tommy get the first shot at that because they've got a little more experience. We all know Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson have got great skill sets. Look, I can tell you, I'm going through this just like you guys are. I'm going, 'Is it Dayne, is it Tommy?' You can make the case for any one of them. We have to in camp really do a great job of giving them the appropriate reps necessary for us to make these kinds of decisions."

Kelly said he will use the first 19 training camp practices to evaulate his quarterbacks and decide who will start, leaving two weeks to game plan for South Florida.

He also said that defenders will not allowed to tackle Crist and Rees during practices while Hendrix and Golson will be fair game.

"It starts with Dayne having to have escape ability," he said. "He still has to extend plays. He doesn't have to reverse fields, doesn't have to run the ball for us to be successful. You know, when I had Tony Pike at Cincinnati, he could not run the football either. Escape ability, though, is absolutely crucial. He's got to be able to extend some plays. I'm not worried about his injuries because he can't be worried about them. We're going to throw him in there and have him go compete."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly reinstated senior receiver Michael Floyd, according to a statement released by the university.

Floyd was arrested for drunken driving in March after running a stop sign near the school's main entrance. Prosecutors claim his blood-alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice Indiana's legal limit. Floyd was immediately suspended from the team after his third alcohol related offense in three years.

Floyd, who owns the school record for career touchdown catches with 28 and is second in receptions with 171, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to a year probation. Kelly said the reinstatement was the result of Floyd showing personal growth. Notre Dame, which finished 8-5 during Kelly's first season last year, starts practice Saturday.

"Over the last four months, Michael impressed those that had close contact with him including professional advisors," Kelly said. "Based on my own observations, I am very pleased with the progress Michael has made since March. That is why I am comfortable reinstating him to our football team. Michael knows that he must continue on this positive track. I look forward to witnessing the development he has made based on lessons learned from this situation and how that will lead to better choices in the future."

Floyd was twice charged with underage drinking in his home state of Minnesota in 2009 and 2010.
"The last four months have been the most humbling stretch of time in my life," Floyd said in the same statement. "I embarrassed myself, my family, the university, my football team and many more people. I know it will take time to earn the trust and confidence from everyone I let down last spring but I am prepared to do so and will strive to become not just a leader on the team again, but one also in the community. I am grateful for the opportunity to earn my degree this year from the University of Notre Dame and I look forward to reuniting with my football family this fall."
Few can say collegiate intermural boxing served as a springboard to a professional boxing career, which is one reason why light heavyweight Mike Lee's seventh pro fight will be on the same Notre Dame campus where he earned a finance degree from the Mendoza School of Business.

The fight against an as-yet-unnamed opponent will be part of a six-bout fight card scheduled to be held at the Joyce Center on September 16, the night before the Fighting Irish host Michigan State. All proceeds will benefit the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation and the Robinson Community Learning Center, which provides education and mentoring services for underprivileged kids in South Bend, Ind.

"To think it was only five or six years ago that I got that letter that somehow I got into Notre Dame," Lee said at a press conference announcing the first pro fight to be held on Notre Dame's campus. "It was the best day of my life, to be honest. Notre Dame has done so much for me during my four years there. This is an opportunity for me to give back."

Lee's improbable road to being undefeated in six pro fights (four by knockout) is drawing notice across the boxing world. The Wheaton native and former Benet Academy-Lisle linebacker got his start during Notre Dame's long-standing Bengal Bouts, which were started by Knute Rockne in 1920. Lee became a three-time champion. 

His passion of the sport thus sparked, he took a year off after graduating with a 3.8 GPA to pursue boxing full-time. He won the 2009 Chicago Golden Gloves, prompting his decision to turn pro. The 24-year-old is currently being managed by Top Rank and trained by Ronnie Shields, who has also worked with Mike Tyson, Pernell Whitaker and Evander Holyfield.

"We're on the path where we need to be," Shields said of Lee, who has four knockouts. "He's getting better and better every fight."

Because of his lack of experience, Lee is being brought along slowly, but thanks to the support of Notre Dame fans he has already become a surprising draw.

Tickets for the Sept. 16 event can be purchased at the Notre Dame ticket office or by calling 574-631-7356.

"I promise that weekend we'll have two wins for Notre Dame," Lee said.

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