Freshmen expected to have impact for No. 14 Irish
It might not take long for Notre Dame's freshman class to have an impact.
The depth chart released Tuesday for the season-opener Saturday against Temple lists Jaylon Smith, who last year won the Butkus Award as the nation's top high school linebacker, as a starting outside linebacker, and lists six other freshmen.
They include 6-5, 317-pound Steve Elmer as No. 2 at right tackle and 6-5, 291-pound Hunter Bivin at left tackle, Corey Robinson as the backup at one wide receiver slot and James Onwualu as the backup at another, Cole Luke as a backup cornerback, Isaac Rochell as No. 2 at defensive end and Greg Bryant as a reserve at running back.
''They're a pretty remarkable group of kids both on and off the field,'' Kelly said.
The Irish are ready to start the season after seven months of turmoil since losing 42-14 to Alabama in the national championship game.
''Certainly getting back on the field for our football team after a loss is the best recipe for any football team. It's been a long time since we played that last game,'' Kelly said.
The 6-2, 230-pound Smith, who is from Fort Wayne, beat out junior Ben Councell for the job after Danny Spond's playing career came to an end because of debilitating headaches. Kelly said Smith doesn't seem to make the same mistakes twice.
''That's a hallmark of a guy that's going to play a lot of football for us,'' Kelly said.
Former Irish standout Manti Te'o didn't get into his first game until the second quarter in 2009 and didn't start until the fifth game. Kelly, who took over the Irish a season later, said in watching the tapes he didn't think Te'o was ready to start when he did. Asked about that Tuesday, Kelly said it was unfair comparison between Te'o and Smith, saying there's a difference between playing inside and outside linebacker, and the two played in different defenses.
''Jaylon is asked to do a different job. He plays so well in space, very smart player, plays instinctively,'' Kelly said.
One of the biggest questions heading into training camp was who would start on the right side of the line. Christian Lombard, who started all 13 games at right tackle, moves inside to guard, while sophomore Ronnie Stanley will start at tackle.
Kelly said he expects Elmer to also play there.
''That's a very fluid situation. We have great confidence that Steve Elmer could go in there and start for us if we needed him to, as well,'' Kelly said.
Robinson, the son of former NBA standout David Robinson, has shown in practices that he can catch anything near him. But at 6-4, 205 pounds, he doesn't yet have the strength to be an every down player.
''He won't be out there playing every snap,'' Kelly said.
Other freshmen, such as highly rated safety Max Redfield, are expected to see action on special teams.
Kelly said the freshman class, which called themselves ''Irish Mob 13'' during the recruiting process and is the highest rated class Kelly has signed, has shown up on campus with the right attitude.
''It's a very unique group. They have never once said, `Hey, we're the group,''' Kelly said. ''They have blended in so well to an established identity within this football team, and it takes a humble group of guys, and that's why it's a pretty good dynamic.''