FORT WAYNE – Brian Kelly said Notre Dame’s spring practice this year will be the most unique of his college coaching career.
The Irish open practice on Monday, and after practicing Wednesday, the team will have a 14-day break with workouts resuming March 19.
We’re on a tighter window relative to our schedule this year with the school calendar, Easter falling a lot later, Kelly said during his pre-spring practice news conference Friday. Taking advantage of the NCAA rule that you don’t have to count consecutive days when you have a spring break, we’ll practice next week twice, we’ll have spring break, and then we’ll be able to get the remaining 13 practices in.
It’s spread out a little bit better than trying to get all 15 in after spring break with obviously trying to finish up before Easter. That’s the reason why we tried to stretch out spring ball a little bit longer because of the way the schedule fits this year.
The practice schedule leading up to the Blue-Gold spring game April 12 isn’t the only thing that will be different this year.
Kelly announced reassignments on the coaching staff and some position changes for players.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who came to the staff after Bob Diaco left to take the head coaching job at Connecticut, will work with inside linebackers, allowing him to move around to different units at practice.
Bob Elliott, who has worked with safeties the last two seasons, will handle outside linebackers, and Kerry Cooks, who was the co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach the last two years, will be in charge of the entire secondary to allow VanGorder to move around. Mike Elston will continue to coach the defensive line.
It’ll give Brian an opportunity to move around a little bit during practice and really have his hands in everything that is going on, Kelly said.
The offense had smaller tweaks as offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who took over after Chuck Martin left to become head coach at Miami (Ohio), will coach all receivers instead of just outside receivers like last season. Tony Alford, who handled slot receivers last season, will keep his focus on running backs.
Notre Dame has a new quarterbacks coach in Matt LaFleur. Scott Booker will continue to coach tight ends, and Harry Hiestand will stay with the offensive linemen.
A good staff and I really liked the last three weeks in terms of our working, Kelly said.
The Irish also have some position changes and missing and returning players.
Matthias Farley, who started 19 games at safety the past two seasons, moved to cornerback, and James Onwualu went from receiver to safety. Running back Amir Carlisle will also play slot receiver, a position running back Will Mahone has moved to permanently.
Kelly said defensive lineman and former Bishop Dwenger standout Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) is out now but is showing improvement. Linebacker Jarrett Grace (leg) and safety Devin Butler (shoulder) are sidelined, as well.
Center Nick Martin (PCL) and linebacker Ben Councell (ACL) will be limited to non-contact drills. Defensive lineman Chase Hounshell (shoulder), linebacker Doug Randolph (shoulder) and offensive lineman Christian Lombard (back) are cleared for spring practice. Receiver Luke Massa will not return for a fifth year because of an internship opportunity too good to pass up, Kelly said.