Kelly Still Learning, Ready To Refocus Team

In the past decade or so around this time of the year we have been using phrases such as “hope springs eternal” or “everyone’s undefeated in March” — this year it’s a little bit different.

And it’s not because there’s no longer hope in South Bend, it’s better than that — the mentality has switched from hoping for a good season to now expecting something great. That shift has to be attributed the success under Brian Kelly, and his continued work toward bringing home a crystal trophy.

This past week Brian Kelly sat down with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen and gave what was his most thorough interview since the national championship loss in Miami, and he had some very interesting things to say.

One of the biggest things that Kelly seemed to harp on was focus — that he himself undersold the enormity of the national championship game (compared to the other big games that Notre Dame played in 2012), and that the team needs to get back to football with a single, focused attention. One of those changes will be not allowing players to play multiple sports anymore:

“It was a mutual decision. Bennett is coming off a shoulder surgery, and then Josh and George are fighting for real playing time. Chris Brown similar situation. Academics played into it too. None of them are failing, but I want to make sure they’re on solid ground academically.”

While I’m sure the decision was indeed “mutual” (“Yes Coach, I will give up track if you say so”), the demand for increased focus is going to be a familiar refrain throughout the spring and summer, one beat into the team’s head again and again by its head coach.  Kelly and the team have naturally set the bar for themselves at championship or bust moving forward, and with elevated expectations comes increased pressure — the only way to get around this pressure is to focus in as closely as possible.  If that means giving up track for Chris Brown, Bennett Jackson, and the Atkinson twins, so be it, although they will undoubtedly miss the opportunity to succeed in two sports.

On the bright side, the speedsters (and the rest of the team as well) will get to showcase their talents after spring ball in the annual combine for returning players. Coach Kelly knows that all players would like to measure up with their counterparts that just left for the NFL, and especially in a year where Notre Dame’s athleticism is one again under fire, players are ready to rise to that occasion:

As with anything, Kelly knows that you must be careful with anything, even training for a Combine-like event.

“My experience is if you try to put a full combine together, somebody gets a hamstring (injury), and you lose a kid for spring ball, all because you’re trying to put a 40 time on paper? So I’ve always waited until after spring ball completes itself and then we try to get all of those numbers in.”

While Kelly, like many, shows skepticism in general over combine measures such as 40 times over actual football play, it does provide the team with an opportunity to markedly measure their athletic improvement and provide motivation for the upcoming season. Once players find out their weaknesses, they can really focus their attention on improving it most to become the best players and team possible — after what happened in January, that is going to be the exact plan for this 2013 team.

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