Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2017 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 27 of 63

28 MAY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI P icture a 270-pound running back with 4.4 speed and wig- gle. Unrealistic? Pipe dream? Probably, but head coach Brian Kelly and first-year offensive coordinator Chip Long are attempt- ing to build an overall unit whose identity includes both pace and physicality. Usually those items are deemed exclusive in nature. Offenses often are either categorized — or perceived — as physical (Alabama, Stanford, Michigan …) or finesse (the entire Big 12). Combining both elements is rare. Pick a lane and an identity to emphasize within a finite amount of practice time. Under Kelly, Notre Dame's offense usually has been identified as more finesse than physical, including last year. "We needed to tackle a little bit more, I thought we were a little soft in our practices," Kelly said earlier this spring. "We needed to do a better job, particularly with our wideouts and receivers getting together. We needed to 'thud' the back more instead of tag- ging off. We built a lot of bad habits. "Our backs need to get hit a little bit. I made sure that was part of our practice routine that had been missing." On a few occasions this spring when practice was open to the me- dia, and even in the Blue-Gold Game, the quarterback sometimes did take a direct snap from the center (not 100 percent shotgun), two backs were sometimes aligned to both sides of the quarterback and a tight end even lined up in the backfield as an extra blocker in rare sets. A team can still be highly physical in the shotgun — just ask Ohio State and Alabama — but the Fighting Irish added a few more wrinkles to improve that area. The 2017 team is also better built for such an approach (similar to 2015) because of an offensive line that returns 76 career starts (com- pared to 27 last year), inexperience at quarterback and quality size at the skill positions. "I can't put my head on my pil- low at night if we're not going to be physical," the 33-year-old Long said. "That's one of the No. 1 parameters in spring ball — understand how we take care of the ball, understand our tempo and force our physicality each and every day. If we do that we're going to win games and close games, be able to put teams out. "If we're not going to be physical, then I won't sleep much at night and probably won't be around here very long." At the same time, another goal is to play with more tempo. The language from Kelly's offense hasn't changed much in an effort to keep some con- tinuity, but the speed limit is trying to be raised. "Tempo to me is when the play is over," Long said. "Not once the play's going how fast we're going — but between the plays. Guys un- derstand working there and training their eyes after each and every play to find the signal or find the board and getting lined up." Can pace and physicality realisti- cally find a union? Per NCAA stats, Long's Mem- phis offense last year averaged 74.2 plays per game to Notre Dame's 68.8, which is not a radical difference. (Texas Tech averaged 86.8 over 12 games, Tulsa 85.7 in 13 and national champ Clemson 81.3 in 15). SPRING OVERVIEW: OFFENSE A veteran unit is aspiring to quicken the pace while also building a more physical identity Junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown led the Irish with 58 receptions, 961 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches last year. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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