Kelly unsure of defensive lineup for Pittsburgh

The two-deep for No. 24 Notre Dame is no longer two deep on

defense.

Even for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who like a lot of coaches

operates on the principle of next man up, that’s a concern.

”We are running out of next men,” Kelly said Sunday. ”We’re

at that point where from a defensive standpoint, and particularly

the defensive line, we’re left with very few options.”

Kelly got a bit of good news Sunday, though, announcing through

spokesman Michael Bertsch that nose guard Louis Nix III, who missed

the past two games with knee tendinitis and a small meniscus tear,

would practice this week. Bertsch made the announcement Sunday

evening after Nix underwent an MRI, although Bertsch said he had no

further information. Nix’s replacement, Kona Schwenke, is out with

a high ankle sprain sustained late in the 38-34 win against

Navy.

Backup linebacker Ben Councell sustained a season-ending knee

injury against, although Kelly declined to be specific about the

injury. Starting defensive end Sheldon Day aggravated a high ankle

sprain against Navy and may be ready to play when Notre Dame (7-2)

faces Pittsburgh (4-4) on Saturday, although Kelly said that

previously when Day missed four of five games.

Starting safety Austin Collinsworth sustained a strained neck

against Navy and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday. The

other starting safety, Elijah Shumate, who missed the previous

three games with a hamstring injury, is expected to be ready for

Pitt, Kelly said.

Kelly compared Notre Dame’s injury situation against Navy to a

scene in the movie ”Apollo 13,” when an oxygen tank exploded as

astronauts were en route to the moon and NASA scientists threw

items on a table and said those were all the materials they had to

fix the deadly carbon-dioxide gas level in the spaceship.

”That’s what we did this week. We threw it all on the table,

and we figured out how to get it done. That’s why I’m proud of the

guys,” Kelly said. ”We didn’t complain about it. It’s part of the

game. Injuries happen. You’ve just got to find a way to get it

done, and they did. We found a way to get it done.”

Romeo Okwara, a 258-pound outside linebacker, was forced to play

defensive end against Navy and may be the backup at both positions

against Pitt. Okwara had been listed as the third-string outside

linebacker two weeks ago, but moved up a notch after Ishaq Williams

sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury against Air

Force.

Kelly said there will be a number of players working on learning

different positions this week.

”It becomes an issue now where we have to be very creative in

what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. That’s why I don’t want to

commit to anything today on Sunday because we have some more work

to do in terms of looking at our personnel,” he said.

At least part of the reason for the rash of injuries is facing

Air Force and Navy, which both run option offenses and use cut

blocks, in back-to-back weeks, Kelly said. In 23 years as a head

coach, Kelly said he can’t remember ever seeing so many injuries on

defense, although he said he has seen it on the offensive side. The

Irish offense has some challenges as well.

The Irish lost starting right guard Christian Lombard to a

season-ending back injury two weeks ago and left guard Chris Watt

sat out against Navy with a posterior cruciate ligament tear,

although Kelly expects him to be able to play against Pitt. Kelly

said Watt just needs more time to adjust to playing with the

injury.

”I think as he adapts to it this week, I think he’s going to

feel a lot more comfortable,” he said.

As for the rest of the injuries, Kelly hopes it doesn’t get any

worse. At least the Irish have a week off after the game against

Pitt. Anyway, Kelly said it does no good to complain.

”They don’t give you any points for complaining about it. If

they did, I’d complain every minute,” he said. ”So we just take

care of it internally and get the next guy ready.”