Brian Kelly Notebook: Injuries, Xavier Watts, 9/11 Anniversary

News and notes from Brian Kelly's Thursday press conference ahead of the Notre Dame/Toledo matchup this weekend
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News and notes from Brian Kelly's Thursday press conference ahead of the Notre Dame/Toledo matchup this weekend.

Kelly Talks About Mounting Injuries

Notre Dame had four players who needed surgery this week.

Starting left tackle Blake Fisher (knee), backup linebacker Shayne Simon (shoulder), backup linebacker Paul Moala (Achilles) and backup tight end Kevin Bauman (knee) were all added to a mounting injury list that already included linebacker Marist Liufau (leg).

It’s a troubling start that every coach frets about.

Injuries are part of the game but the teams that are successful deep into the season usually avoid multiple long term injuries. Simon and Moala are done for the season and Bauman and Fisher are gone for at least six and eight weeks respectively.

It could be one of those years where the Irish have to patch together a “new” team every week. The good news is that only Fisher was a starter. The bad news is that there are 11 games left in the regular season.

“Anytime you lose guys this early in the season, it's a concern, “ Kelly said. “We have more surgeries in the first week than you would want to have, so that's a concern. We cannot continue on this trend of having guys out for the entire season because of year-ending surgery. We hope that we've gone through that and we're going to trend on the right end of injuries.”

20th Anniversary of 9/11

Some of the current Notre Dame players weren’t born when the World Trade Center was bombed. It’s still part of our history.

The anniversary will be a significant storyline for the team and for the game day experience.

“I think playing or not playing, there's an incredible significance of 20 years post 9/11,” Kelly said. “I think it's etched in everybody's mind that saw it on that day and even if you didn’t see it, it's not ancient history to our guys even if they weren't born. They have a family member or somebody that they knew that was part of it and so it hits close to home to so many people. Notre Dame in particular will have a celebration, but for a large part, we will be in the locker room so we are going to do something on social media that we'll get out here in the next 24 hours that lets everybody know how important it is to us as players, as coaches, as a football program, because sometimes it's like, well what does it mean to Notre Dame. And to Notre Dame football, it means a lot. It's an important date and one that we carry with us every single day and remember it and it will always be with us. We thought it was important that we did something to show the importance of that 20 year remembrance.”

Xavier Watts Adds To Depleted Rover Depth Chart

Kelly said that he is moving sophomore wide receiver Xavier Watts to the Rover position. Jack Kiser, who starts at the Rover spot, will cross train at the inside linebacker position which has been crushed with losses of Liufau and Simon.

“We moved him there because we felt like we wanted to strengthen that position,” Kelly said.

With Simon and Moala out with injuries, Notre Dame needs another body there. Three freshmen — Lorenzo Styles, Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie — will compete for snaps on the backend of the receiver rotation. Styles is the most likely to get more playing time.

Kelly said “we felt really good about where we were at at the wide receiver position. We felt like we could afford to move a good player like Xavier, who has the skills and could make that jump to defense and contribute this weekend.”

Toledo Continues Two-Quarterback Trend

Trying to defend McKenzie Milton in the fourth quarter against Florida State was a challenge for Notre Dame in its 41-38 overtime victory. Milton led the Seminoles to 10 points. He was 5 of 7 passing for 48 yards.

Toledo likely won’t wait that long to bring in its second quarterback. Carter Bradley and Dequan Finn played against Norfolk State. Carter, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, was 8 of 12 passing for 183 yards and touchdown against Norfolk. Finn was 4 of 5 for 38 yards passing. He rushed for 82 yards on nine carries. Finn came off the bench.

“I think what concerns me the most is the two quarterback situation again,” Kelly said. “I think that they are very difficult to defend. They've got a very good scheme that puts each of those two quarterbacks in a position where they can make plays. They got receivers that are skilled and run very good routes, but I think their offense is set up with their offensive line. 

"They have five good power offensive linemen. So, when you have a really good offensive line, a really good scheme offensively, two really good quarterbacks and veteran defensive players that returned from last year, this is a very mature team. In 2019 they beat BYU, who we know had some very talented players on. They get your attention. That's kind of where we're at."

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