Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2017 Issue

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

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4 MAY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A fter four years of playing quar- terback at Notre Dame about 10 years ago, Evan Sharpley learned a thing or two about the two ways to measure the importance and mission of a spring football season. "If things are going well it's, 'We have this well-oiled machine, let's keep it going,'" Sharpley said of the preferred spring strategy. "But as we saw here [at Notre Dame] this spring, instead it was, 'We're going to tear this machine down, now we have to put it back together.'" With six new on-field coaches this year for Notre Dame, along with an overhauled strength and condi- tioning staff, and the stench of a 4-8 season still fresh around campus, Sharpley called this spring season "huge," with Brian Kelly tweaking and twisting his practice routine to try to turn the team's fortunes around. The Notre Dame head coach stuck to his "attitude before aptitude" renovation theme throughout spring ball and continually raved about the dedication and improvement the players displayed through the 15 practices. Yet, when asked before the Blue- Gold Game what to expect, Kelly awkwardly warned ND Nation that it wouldn't "see much of a differ- ence" in the caliber of play compared to last year, at least not now. Any visual improvement must wait until the season opener in September. "That's not important to me," Kelly explained when asked about the level of importance player pro- duction would carry in the scrim- mage game. Kelly approached this spring sea- son like a puzzle, fine tuning each position group separately, hold- ing hope that when all the pieces are combined during fall camp, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. "And when we get to Temple," Kelly said of the season opener Sept. 2. "We'll see everything come together." With every team in the coun- try still undefeated, hope forever springs eternal this time of the year, never more than here at Notre Dame, though the coach's assessment was still hard to follow at times during the last couple of months. "I don't think anybody's taken a step back. Nobody's going in the wrong direction," Kelly said of his players. "We haven't looked at anyone and said, 'He's thrown in the towel.'" Let's hope not in April. A couple of weeks earlier Kelly explained how during this spring season his practices were no longer disjointed, but instead more consis- tent to not confuse the players with a changing routine. "They know what the program- ming is going to be about every sin- gle day," Kelly said in a revelation seemingly reserved more for a rookie coach than a veteran skipper. "There is an understanding that they're not going to get a curveball thrown at them in practice." Curveballs will come, but with a 2017 schedule that includes Temple, Miami (Ohio), North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Navy and Boston Col- lege, Notre Dame should be 6-0 be- fore the season even starts. Games against North Carolina and Miami (Fla.) are also winnable because those two teams must replace NFL- caliber quarterbacks, Mitch Trubisky and Brad Kaaya, respectively. Difficult games against heavy- weights Georgia and USC are both at home. The point is, with a steady stream of NFL-caliber recruits each year and a well-compensated coaching staff to develop them, this is an Irish pro- gram that is talented enough to win at least 10 games every season, in- cluding this one. Elite teams don't start from scratch eight years into a coaching regime. So, to suggest that a 7-5 or 8-4 record will show marked improvement this season after last year — like many fans already have indicated — is misguided. The bar for this program shouldn't be lowered because of a four-win campaign. We're left with no choice but to pardon Kelly for last season. After all, six games were lost by seven points or fewer, first-year players formed the bulk of the depth chart and the team did make some late- season strides. But that's it, Coach Kelly. Massive improvement in the win column is the only measure of suc- cess this season — not the eye test or a coach's explanation that progress is being made even in defeat. Blam- ing a first-year quarterback, or a new coaching staff or a revamped defense won't cut it. Sharpley is right when he said sometimes during the spring the machine needs to be torn down and rebuilt. Let's hope Kelly brought the right toolbox in the last two months to get things humming four months from now. ✦ Brian Kelly Vows Changes Will Lead To Success UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Kelly raved about the dedication and improvement his players displayed through the 15 spring practices. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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