Notre Dame players focusing on themselves for now

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has bigger things to worry about

right now than defending national champion Alabama.

With the national championship game between top-ranked Fighting

Irish (12-0) and the Crimson Tide (12-1) more than a month away,

Kelly’s main concern is making sure his will be ready to play after

44 days without a game.

”We’re just trying to be better than Alabama on Monday, Jan.

7,” Kelly said. ”So our entire focus will be on a one-game

season, trying to be better on Monday, Jan. 7. So you can

understand, we don’t want to be better than Alabama on the 27th of


Alabama has already shown it knows how to be ready after long

layoffs, winning the BCS title game in 2009 and again last season.

Kelly said he talked to coaches at LSU, Oregon to get advice on how

best prepare for a long layoff and they reinforced his plan of

starting off slow with fundamentals.

Last week and this week, Irish players have been focusing on

conditioning, weightlifting and school work. It’s a chance for

players who may have lost a few pounds to get back up to weight and

gain strength, he said. Notre Dame will hold its first practices on

Friday and Saturday, then hold six more practices before players

head home on Dec. 21. They’ll return to campus for practices Dec.

28-31, and then leave for Miami on Jan. 2. They will practice three

times in Florida before the game.

The early practices will have a preseason camp feel stressing

fundamentals and giving younger players more work, then begin to

fine tune the practices for Alabama as the game draws nearer, Kelly


The time away from the field will help some players. Kelly

mentioned linebacker Manti Te’o specifically as someone who needs a

little time to recover with all the attention he’s been under as he

begins traveling the nation for all the awards he’s up for. He won

the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker on Monday and was

named one of the Heisman Trophy finalists, too.

”He’s burned out. There’s no question. He’s on fumes,” Kelly


Irish players said they’re trying to make the most of their time

away from the field.

”We’re not taking this period off. We’re not taking a break.

We’re going to get after it. We’re going to let our bodies heal,

give it the proper amount of time, but we’re still going to be

doing some stuff to make sure we’re going to be on our A-game,”

safety Zeke Motta said.

Running back Theo Riddick said the Irish are still working.

”You basically have to watch more film, do all the little

things that got you here. You can’t really relax,” he said.

Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said he’s not worried about the

long break.

”I don’t care if we have to prepare for two months. We’re

playing for all the marbles. I think we’re going to do a good job

with this preparation,” he said.

The Irish also have some distractions to worry about as some

players weigh whether to come back for fifth-years, others put in

paperwork to the NFL to get an idea about where they might be

drafted and some coaches could be considered for openings.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has been mentioned as a candidate

for several jobs.

”That’s a good thing, all three of those things,” Kelly said.

”That means good things are happening in your program. Those are

the kinds of problems I want to have to deal with on a day-to-day

basis because that means that you’re developing your program in a

manner that is putting you in a position to compete for


Kelly expects everyone to be ready to play against the Crimson

Tide. Nose guard Louis Nix is recovering from a wrist injury and

tackle Zack Martin is recovering from an ankle injury. Receiver

DaVaris Daniels, who sustained a broken left clavicle against

Boston College, also is expected to be back.

Kelly said his goal during the six weeks between games – two

days longer than the time between the sixth game of the season

against Stanford and the final game of the regular season against

Southern California – is for the Irish to heal, improve and be

ready Jan. 7.

”It’s a one-game deal,” he said.