News still bad for Wenger
SOUTH BEND - Second opinion, same result.
A University of Michigan medical team on Wednesday delivered the same news to Notre Dame fifth-year senior football player Dan Wenger that the ND doctors had done a couple of weeks before - the backup center's season is over.
And possibly his career as well.
Irish coach Brian Kelly made the announcement at his Thursday press conference, though he did allow for a trap door of sorts for Wenger to continue playing football next year, either by petitioning the NCAA for a rare sixth year or hitting the NFL's back roads as a long shot to launch a pro football career.
Wenger hasn't played in a game for the Irish (2-3) this season and hasn't practiced since early September, when he suffered his second concussion of the fall. The first came on Friday the 13th, in August training camp.
Notre Dame hosts Pittsburgh (2-2) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium (3:30 p.m. EDT; NBC-TV).
"It was really over my head," Kelly said of the medical decision on Wenger. "He has been cleared to begin the process back, if you will, if he had another year and wanted to continue playing football again.
"He's been put on a program to move back in that direction - a little bit of light exercise, followed by an increased volume week after week."
Wenger has been attending practices since the second concussion and also has traveled to road games, helping out as a student assistant coach of sorts.
'He's part of our football team," Kelly emphasized.
How big a part in the future depends largely how the Notre Dame compliance office and the NCAA look at the gray area in Wenger's injury file.
Players who petition for sixth years due to injuries usually have to be debilitated in two separate seasons. Wenger's concussions clearly qualify this season, but how will the NCAA look at Wenger's broken wrist his freshman season in 2006?
Wenger didn't play that season, but he did practice extensively on the scout team.
"There's a lot out there," Kelly said. "I think it will get sorted out when our compliance people start to examine it."
Wenger came into this fall camp battling junior Braxston Cave for the starting center spot. The 6-foot-4, 298-pounder played in eight games as a sophomore in 2007, starting three games at guard and two at center.
In 2008, he started all 13 games at center but was displaced in 2009, when former Irish coach Charlie Weis moved Eric Olsen to center. He was still a versatile and valuable backup that season.
Location, location ...
Sophomore Nick Tausch is back at the top of that depth chart, this time as kickoff man.
Kelly decided this week to replace senior David Ruffer on kickoff duties, though he'll remain the top place-kicker with a perfect 13-for-13 on field goals.
Ultimately, Tausch's ability to place the ball outweighed Ruffer's extra distance.
"(Ruffer) was kicking it hard," Kelly said, "But we'd have a 'squeeze left' (coverage) on, and he'd kick it to the right. It really compromised some of our coverages, so this really is about ball placement."
* Starting offensive tackle Taylor Dever (hamstring) practiced Thursday for the first time this week, and Kelly said his availability for Saturday's Pitt game would be a game-time decision.
Seniors Andrew Nuss and Matt Romine will likely fill in if Dever isn't able to go.
* Starting offensive guard Chris Stewart seems to have distanced himself from a bruised knee suffered in last Saturday's 31-13 win at Boston College. Same for starting center Braxston Cave (ankle).
* Starting middle linebacker Manti Te'o was held out of Thursday's practice after coming down with the flu.
"Nothing major," Kelly said. "He could have played today if he had to."
Two standout high school senior prospects are scheduled to take official recruiting visits to Notre Dame this weekend - one already committed, 6-5, 225-pound defensive end Ben Councell of Asheville, N.C. - and one intriguing non-committed prospect - linebacker Christian French of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"He shows incredible speed, quickness, jumping ability and instincts," CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said of the 6-61/2, 225-pounder with 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash.
French has already taken a visit to Oregon and has Texas A&M on the docket next weekend.
Now the math. Notre Dame is sitting on 20 verbal commitments. If every player returned for next season, including all eight scholarship fifth-year senior candidates, the Irish would have 18 scholarships to give.
It's not unusual, though for the bottom line to look a little funky this time of year.
Here are some possibilities of how ND could free up as many as 25 spots, as Lemming suggests the Irish coaches would like to:
There are only two scholarship fifth-year senior candidates who are current starters - cornerback Gary Gray and offensive tackle Taylor Dever. Those likely would be the only two locks.
Kicker Brandon Walker, injured linebacker Steve Paskorz and backup defensive end Emeka Nwankwo would seem to be long shots to return. Tackles Andrew Nuss and Matt Romine, and tight end Mike Ragone could go either way.
Then there are two juniors who might jump into the NFL Draft pool a year early - wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
And then there is always the prospect of more players transferring out, joining safety Derek Roback (Ohio), cornerback Spencer Boyd (South Florida) and wide receiver Shaquelle Evans (UCLA).
On the other side of the ledger, if walk-on David Ruffer returns for a fifth year, you would think he would do so as a scholarship player. A possible sixth year by center Dan Wenger, if he goes that route, would take another scholarship.
Spread the word
Notre Dame would still like to get a quarterback in this recruiting class, though currently Kelly has only one scholarship offer out to an uncommitted QB.
That would be 6-5, 225-pound Jacoby Brissett of Dwyer High in West Palm Beach, Fla. Brissett is scheduled to visit North Carolina this weekend and Wisconsin the next.
Whoever else ND decides to pursue down the stretch run of recruiting, it's not a prerequisite that they have run the spread offense in high school. But Kelly said it is necessary that they have spread offense skills.
"What does that entail?' Kelly said. "He can't just be a thrower and he can't just be a runner.
"So does he have to be a dual threat? No, not necessarily, but he'd better be able to at least keep you honest when you're in the spread offense. He can't just throw fastballs. He's got to have at least one breaking pitch. He can't just bring one skill set to the table."
Staff writer Eric Hansen: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6470