SOUTH BEND – There are some aspects to the 2012 Notre Dame football that would make any coach, including Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly feel confident heading into its season-opener with Navy (Saturday, 9 a.m., CBS).
Kelly's team is strong within its front seven defensively, the coach has indicated that this might indeed be his fastest team since he arrived in South Bend three years ago, and offensively, when considering the tight end, offensive line and running back positions, there is talent and depth.
On Wednesday, Kelly noted that he is “confident that this team can stop the run and can run the football too. That is a pretty comfortable feeling as a coach.”
However, all is certainly not perfect with the Irish, as their inexperience in the defensive secondary, wide receiver position and most importantly, quarterback, could cause sleeplessness with any coaching staff. But in regards to first-time starter Everett Golson at quarterback, Kelly can take solace in the fact that he has such a tremendous rapport with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin that will lend comfort to the stress of a long football season.
“(Chuck and I) can have a very short conversation and know exactly what the outcome is going to be when we go onto the field,” Kelly said. “Him being (offensive coordinator), I know what to expect. It's not going to be a surprise.”
Martin spent four years coaching under Kelly at Grand Valley State (200 to 2003), as well as each of the past two seasons, on the defensive side of the ball. However, his experience overseeing the Grand Valley offense when he was head coach of the Lakers gave Kelly the confidence that Martin could work side-by-side with him to guide the Irish offensively this season.
“When we come out on the field, our guys are executing the things that I want done,” Kelly said. “Chuck is just really good at following through on whatever decisions were made, relative to our offensive structure; I know that it is getting coached.”
Throughout training camp, both Kelly and Martin worked extensively with the four quarterbacks and that is something that was a bit different than in years past. However, Kelly enjoyed himself immensely getting more involved in the offensive drills early in each practice.
“It's been great,” Kelly said. “It's been fun to work with the young quarterbacks who are learning every day. It's been a captive audience. These guys want to get better. Probably in my career, it's been the most energized for me, to get out there and teach and coach guys that want to learn.”
Martin spent the first seven years of his career working on the defensive side of the ball, so he isn't entrenched with a particular offensive scheme that he is adamant in employing. That adaptability is a major plus in his working relationship with Kelly.
“We'll play to the personnel that we have,” Kelly said. “Chuck is really good at being flexible. He doesn't have to be in this particular formation. He doesn't have to be in this type of offense. He can really adapt well to all circumstances.”
Another area where Martin's adaptability has impressed Kelly is that of being an assistant coach again. When Kelly left Grand Valley State for Central Michigan, it was Martin that took over as head coach and guided the Lakers to consecutive NCAA Division II National Championships (2005 and 2006). So to leave that position of running an entire program for an assistant job (He served as safeties coach and recruiting coordinator for two years) at Notre Dame might have been a difficult move for some.
“Chuck was in a leadership position (the last two years) on the defensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “He didn't have the title (of defensive coordinator), but he was a valuable member of our staff. He felt validated. It's how you treat (the coach).”
Kelly explained that his voice in the meeting rooms and sidelines may be the final one, but it is far from the only one when it comes to thoughts for the program.
“It could be 'Hey, I'll tell you when I want you to talk,'” Kelly said. “It's never been that way. I want people to be who they are. I want ideas. If you disagree let's talk about it. So I don't know that there has ever been an environment here where Chuck has felt stifled.”