SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame will be without its leading returning rusher when the team opens its season Saturday in Dublin, Ireland. And the decision to suspend senior back Cierre Wood was entirely coach Brian Kelly's call.
"This is strictly an independent decision that I made relative to the decisions that those young men made," Kelly said Tuesday. "And they violated the rules that our players know, and the rules that they know every single day about being in this program."
Wood and defensive lineman Justin Utupo are suspended for the Navy and Purdue games, while quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese are suspended for just the Navy game. Last year, Kelly didn't suspend star wideout Michael Floyd for any regular-season games following an arrest for DUI, but he was suspended for most of spring practice. Floyd was reinstated to the team for fall camp Aug. 3, and went on to become a gameday captain by the end of the season.
Kelly lauded Floyd's transformation off the field last season, and hopes the same scenario plays out with his four suspended players for Week 1.
"The ultimate goal is we want them all to turn out like Michael Floyd's situation, where they make life decisions to change the way they are," Kelly said. "And so the ultimate goal is to get -- with any kind of sanctions or any kind of suspensions, we want better citizens. We want more accountable citizens. We want people representing our program in the right way."
With Wood out, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III will take on increased roles in the Notre Dame offense, while running back-turned-cornerback Cam McDaniel has returned to the backfield. However, USC transfer Amir Carlisle will not be available Sept. 1, Kelly said.
Still, the Irish have enough running back depth to shoulder the loss of Wood, especially against a pair of teams that ranked in the bottom third among rushing defenses in 2011.
"You understand that as a head coach with 18 to 22 year olds, that you hope that everybody makes good decisions all the time. I hope my son makes good decisions and my daughter," Kelly said. "I think we all get disappointed, but we also know that they are young and we want them to learn from the mistakes that they made. And in this instance, we are hoping that's the case for Cierre and Justin, I'm very confident that they will learn from their mistakes."
Now lining up at wideouteveryone?
Notre Dame's two-deep depth chart was released this week, and none of the team's talented young pass-catchers were listed as starters. But that hardly means they're pigeon-holed into a No. 2 or No. 3 slot in the X, Y or Z positions.
"You're going to need your media guide as it relates to the wide receiver position, because they are all playing," Kelly said. "Each one of them right now has a different skill set. Nobody is polished to the level where they are a stand alone player at the receiving core other than Tyler Eifert. He's a stand alone player."
There's no single receiver likely to replace Michael Floyd's 2011 numbers -- 100 catches, 1,147 yards, 9 touchdowns. But Kelly is hoping Notre Dame's fairly deep crop of wide receivers -- and a hybrid back in Theo Riddick -- can do the job just as well as one player did in 2011.
"You also have veterans that are going to get an opportunity: John Goodman, we know about Robby Toma; Danny Smith who has been with our program, he's going to get an opportunity to play -- DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, Davonte Neal, and I've probably left out a couple others," Kelly said. "They are all going to have to play collective roles in our offense."
Te'o, Eifert headline Irish captains
Last year, safety Harrison Smith was Notre Dame's only permanent captain, with other players cycling in as gameday captains during the season. In 2012, the Irish will have four captains, all seniors: Manti Te'o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Eifert and Zack Martin.
"What struck me more than anything else was when they got up before their teammates, the things that they said about being a captain at Notre Dame, and in one particular instance, Kapron Lewis-Moore was brought to tears," Kelly said "You love the see the passion and love for Notre Dame, their teammates, and they are great representatives.
"I think that's what I'm most excited about is we have got great leadership, not only amongst our seniors, but our veteran football players, and it's set a great model for our younger players to follow."