FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame completes spring practice today with its Blue-Gold Game.
Although it will not be an actual game and has a scoring system based on various accomplishments by the offense or defense, coach Brian Kelly said he sees the value of finishing with a game-like experience over conducting just another practice.
It continues to have significant importance, Kelly said. We are in the middle of the process here developing so many things for our players. It is an important day for us. I need (quarterback) Everett (Golson) out there. I need (quarterback) Malik (Zaire) out there. I need (receiver) Chris Brown out there. I need (offensive lineman Steve) Elmer out there.
These guys need to keep practicing, and we need more film so we can sit down and coach them and teach them because it all means something. It’s an important practice, and even more so, because there is a little more to it because of tackling.
Here are things to keep an eye on in today’s game:
Golson will be playing in his first game-like situation since he started in the Irish’s 42-14 BCS championship game loss to Alabama on Jan. 7, 2013.
The junior was suspended last season because of an academic violation and returned to the university at the start of this semester after working with quarterbacks coach George Whitfield Jr. during his suspension.
Even though Golson helped lead Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season in his only year playing, Kelly said Zaire could still become the starter when the season opens at home against Rice on Aug. 30.
Golson threw for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions and ran for 298 yards with six touchdowns, while Zaire didn’t play last season as a freshman.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder brought a more aggressive style to Notre Dame after replacing Bob Diaco, who left to become the head coach at Connecticut. The Irish began the transition from the bend-don’t-break philosophy the defense had in Kelly’s first four seasons to a team applying pressure.
Notre Dame’s defense will have some restraints today as quarterbacks cannot be hit, but the Irish will try to cause more turnovers than they have recently. Notre Dame finished tied for 103rd out of 123 teams with 17 turnovers gained last season.
The Irish are also replacing five players in their starting front seven as defensive lineman Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt as well as linebackers Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox left after last season.
The former Bishop Luers star moved midway through spring camp to an outside linebacker spot that puts him inside more than when practice started.
Outside linebackers coach Bob Elliott said the change naturally evolved as Jaylon Smith was playing inside when the defense was in its nickel package.
Smith will be counted on to cover opposing receivers like last season when he started all 13 games and played only at an outside spot, finishing with 67 tackles, 6 1/2 tackles for loss and an interception. But he will be counted on more in run defense and will be facing more offensive linemen this season. Kelly also said at the start of spring camp that he expects Smith to take on more of a leadership role in his second year in the program.