SOUTH BEND – Brian Kelly needed to find out about some of his football players this spring. So what did he do?
He let them beat on each other over the past couple of weeks.
“There were positions that we needed to evaluate through contact,” the Notre Dame coach said, “in particular, tackling on the back end at the safety positions and linebacker.”
The Fighting Irish will close their spring practice sessions on Saturday with the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game (1 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
Kelly lost a number of key veterans from the 2012 squad, so he and his coaching staff have enjoyed watching the younger players battle – literally – for the starting jobs at certain positions.
“We had battles at center and guard that we really needed to see some contact at those positions,” Kelly said. “We couldn't avoid it.”
At safety, the Irish have more bodies competing for playing time than the coaches could possibly have hoped for. Now whether that translates to quality instead of just quantity, remains to be seen.
Sophomores Nicky Baratti and Matthias Farley will be regulars at the position after getting time there last season. However, the horde of Austin Collinsworth, Elijah Shumate, Eilar Hardy, John Turner and Chris Badger are all seeking to back up Baratti and Farley. And that group doesn't even include incoming freshman Max Redfield, who is expected to get a serious look in August training camp.
At linebacker, newcomers Jarrett Grace (sophomore) and Kendall Moore (junior), as well as sophomores Ben Councell and Romeo Okwara and junior Ishaq Williams are getting scrutinized much more so.
“There are a lot of guys that are going to get to compete in a longer format defensively,” Kelly said of Saturday's scrimmage. “You're going to take a look at Shumate. You're going to look at Eilar Hardy. I think that there is a lot to look at individually, defensively.”
A year ago, Kelly had experienced players such as Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Manti Te'o and Kapron Lewis-Moore returning, so he knew what to expect from his defensive leaders. That allowed the coaches to pull back on the contact during the spring sessions. But that hasn't been the case this year.
“This team required (contact) more than last year's team,” Kelly said. “We had some real established players. The contact (this year) was out of putting those guys in individual battles, and I think that this is a different team, which in my opinion, needed more of those contact situations.”
Notre Dame, NBC extend deal
Notre Dame and NBCSports announced an agreement on a new 10-year contract on Thursday.
The new pact will award the television rights to Fighting Irish home football games to the network from 2016 to 2025.
“Coming off one of Notre Dame's best and most dramatic seasons in decades, we could not be more proud to extend this historic partnership, which continues to be one of the most innovative in sports-media history,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said in a release. “We are particularly excited that this extension offers enhanced rights that allow us to bring Notre Dame Football to fans on more platforms than ever before.”
As it has since 2009, NBC Sports Digital will continue to live stream Fighting Irish home games for the web, mobile and tablets. This deal will extend the relationship between the two entities for 35 years.
“In addition to the national broadcast of our home football games, this longtime and valued collaboration with NBC has made a Notre Dame education possible to literally thousands of students,” Notre Dame's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. said. “We are delighted to extend our partnership to bring Irish football to our fans, to continue to help support financial aid, and to tell the Notre Dame story.”
Revenues from the NBC contract have played a key role in Notre Dame's financial aid endowment since the start of the relationship in 1991. University officers decided then to use a portion of the football television contract revenue for undergraduate scholarship endowment (not athletic scholarships). To date, some 6,300 Notre Dame undergraduate students have received nearly $80 million in aid from revenue generated through the NBC contract.
In addition to televising games, NBC has collaborated with Notre Dame on an award-winning series of two-minute halftime messages featuring University faculty and student research.
“While our relationship with NBC Sports is longstanding, the more recent merger between NBC and Comcast has opened up additional avenues to expand the breadth of Notre Dame-related sports programming on NBC platforms,” Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick said.
“Specifically, the evolution of the NBC Sports Network has provided opportunities for special programming featuring inside looks at our football team and several other Notre Dame sports programs and in-depth profiles on the unsung heroes of Notre Dame athletics. These are examples of the growth of our partnership, and we look forward to collaborating on additional projects and distribution strategies in seasons to come.”