Alabama center Jones gets much-anticipated green light

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Alabama center Jones gets much-anticipated green light

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Barrett Jones returned to Alabama's offensive line in practice this week, quelling fears the All-American center would miss the BCS Championship against Notre Dame on Monday.

Jones previously had not practiced with the Tide following the SEC Championship as he dealt with a sprained left foot. He's the best player on Alabama's vaunted offensive line, and without him the Tide certainly would've had a more difficult time going up against Notre Dame similarly-vaunted front seven.

"Im just happy for him being back," left guard Chance Warmack told reporters Wednesday upon Alabama arriving in Miami. "Hes practicing with us and hes doing a really good job right now."

Jones has been a stalwart on Alabama's offensive line since its 2009 championship season. Monday will mark his third championship game appearance in the last four years, but he doesn't see experience being a key point in Alabama's favor on Jan. 7.

I think that might be a little overplayed," Jones said. "Once you get on the field its going to be about not necessarily whos the best team, its going to be about who plays the better game that day. Certainly our coaches have been in these situations and have learned how to effectively prepare us for the National Championship game. I think if there is an advantage that might be it.

Brian Kelly, though, feels he's gone through all the necessary channels to prepare Notre Dame despite his inexperience in the championship field. The third-year Irish coach quickly reached out to coaches at LSU and Oregon to get their input on a preparation schedule, and feels he and his staff successfully navigated uncharted waters to get their players prepared for Jan. 7.

"We've used all the models out there at our disposal to make sure that happens," Kelly said.

Brian Kelly hasn't settled on Notre Dame's starting QB vs. Texas

Brian Kelly hasn't settled on Notre Dame's starting QB vs. Texas

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We know both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire will play against Texas, but has coach Brian Kelly decided on who takes the first snap Sunday night in Austin?

“Nope, haven't figured that out yet,” Kelly said. “I mean, we're both doing the same things that we've been asking them to do, and that may be something that we discuss in the locker room. It's not really an issue for us right now. It's not something that we've contemplated.”

There’s far more prestige than importance in being named Notre Dame’s Week 1 starting quarterback given Kizer and Zaire will rotate in and out of the offense under the lights at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. There isn’t a concrete plan to get each player a certain amount of reps, and deciding who takes a snap or series will “be more by feel,” Kelly said.

Kelly said he doesn’t need to leave Austin with any separation between Kizer and Zaire and ideally would be able to play both based on situations and the flow of the game. There could be that separation, though, but that’s not what the seventh-year Irish coach is hoping to get out of Sunday evening.

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So how both play will be far more important than who takes that first snap.

“If they both play dynamically and feed off each other, my ideal situation would be I'm playing them both because they're both playmakers,” Kelly said. “And if we can find a way that they both can feed off each other, help our offense to be the productive offense that we want it to be, I'd love to see them both play.

“You know, nobody seems to think that this can happen, but we're going to give it a shot.”

Notre Dame will approach Texas game thinking four arrested players will play

Notre Dame will approach Texas game thinking four arrested players will play

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — While Notre Dame’s four active players who were arrested in Fulton County, Ind. earlier this month still have to go through the university’s Office of Community Standards, all signs are pointing to linebacker Te’von Coney, running back Dexter Williams, cornerback Ashton White and receiver Kevin Stepherson being available against Texas. 

Those four players were all formally charged with possession of marijuana in Fulton County on Monday, and Coney and Stepherson appeared in court and entered not guilty pleas on Tuesday. Safety Max Redfield, who was dismissed from the program two days after his arrest, was formally charged with possession of a handgun without a license and possession of marijuana, and pleaded not guilty to both charges. 

When asked why Redfield’s punishment was different than the other four Irish players in the car, Kelly confirmed that it was because of the handgun allegedly in his possession. 

“That changed the whole situation, and that's what caused the dismissal,” Kelly said. “And as an upperclassman not really living up to the standards that I set. The other four guys, we're talking about possession of marijuana and me dealing with that situation. It was the handgun that was the game changer.”

Senior cornerback Devin Butler, who was charged with resisting arrest and battery to a police officer last week, remains indefinitely suspended, Kelly said. 

Coney, Williams, White and Stepherson still will have hearings in front of Notre Dame’s Office of Community Standards, which received reports on each today and will likely begin their review process shortly, Kelly said. It seems unlikely any of them would receive discipline from the university that would affect their status to play in the Texas game and beyond given all four were first-time offenders and only charged with possession of marijuana. 

Kelly said he didn’t consider suspending those four players given he never has gone that route for a first-time marijuana possession or use offense. All four will be subject to random drug testing in the future. 

“I think all drug testing programs need to be educational first,” Kelly said. “And if you find as though that that is not changing somebody through counseling and education, then I believe there needs to be a punitive component.”

So for now, Notre Dame will commence practice for Texas expecting Coney, Williams, White and Stepherson to play. Coney is listed on Notre Dame’s depth chart as its No. 2 Mike (middle) linebacker, while Stepherson is the No. 2 X (field) receiver behind Torii Hunter Jr. and Williams will split kickoff returns with C.J. Sanders and back up Tarean Folston and Josh Adams at running back. Those three guys are likely to play on Sunday, while White could see time on special teams or in a reserve cornerback role, too. 

“The university will work their process, and we'll continue to move forward,” Kelly said. “There's no deadline, per se. But we kind of work as if they're going to play, and if something changes, the university will let us know.”

Breaking down Notre Dame's Week 1 depth chart

Breaking down Notre Dame's Week 1 depth chart

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We’ve finally reached game week after a long offseason, and with that, Notre Dame released its first unofficial two-deep depth chart of 2016 on Tuesday. A few notes and observations from it:

— Sixth-year graduate student Avery Sebastian is listed as Notre Dame’s starting free safety over freshman Devin Studstill. “Sebastian's had a good camp,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He's been really rock solid.” Kelly sees Sebastian as someone who won’t be prone to mistakes, and he’ll replace dismissed senior Max Redfield even though the more natural in-the-box safety will be playing out of position. 

— Junior Andrew Trumbetti jumped ahead of redshirt sophomore Jay Hayes after Hayes missed a few days of practice due to a high ankle sprain. Hayes had taken most of Notre Dame’s first team reps at weakside defensive end since the end of spring practice, but Kelly said “being out five or six days in a very competitive situation gave Andrew just enough opportunity to take more reps and put himself in a really good position.”

— Three of the four players who were arrested earlier this month but not suspended (RB Dexter Williams, WR Kevin Stepherson, LB Te’von Coney) appeared on the depth chart. Williams will split No. 1 kick return duties with receiver C.J. Sanders, while Stepherson is Torii Hunter’s backup and Coney will be behind Nyles Morgan at Mike linebacker (Kelly said Coney, a natural Will linebacker, has been cross-training at Mike). Ashton White didn’t earn a No. 2 cornerback nod, with those going to sophomore Nick Coleman and freshman Julian Love. All four players are expected to play this Sunday against Texas. 

— There weren’t any surprises on the offensive two-deep. As expected, the No. 1 QB is listed as DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire, while top running back duties will be split between Tarean Folston and Josh Adams. 

— There are five true freshmen on the defensive two deep: weakside defensive end Daelin Hayes, Sam (outside) linebacker Jamir Jones, cornerback Julian Love, strong safety Jalen Elliott and free safety Devin Studstill. Expect more than just those five freshmen to see snaps this year, too (for example, Kelly said freshman defensive end Julian Okwara will travel with the team to Texas) which underscores how young a lot of Notre Dame’s defensive depth will be this fall. 

Notre Dame’s full depth chart is below (players with "OR" are listed in alphabetical order)

Quarterback
1. DeShone Kizer (RS sophomore) OR Malik Zaire (RS junior)

Running back
1. Josh Adams (sophomore) OR Tarean Folston (RS junior)

W (Boundary) receiver
1. Equanimeous St. Brown (sophomore)
2. Miles Boykin (RS freshman) 

Z (Slot) receiver
1. C.J. Sanders (sophomore)
2. Corey Holmes (RS sophomore)

X (Field) receiver
1. Torii Hunter Jr. (RS junior)
2. Kevin Stepherson (freshman)

Left tackle
1. Mike McGlinchey (RS junior)
2. Hunter Bivin (RS junior)

Left guard
1. Quenton Nelson (RS sophomore)
2. Trevor Ruhland (RS freshman)

Center
1. Sam Mustipher (RS sophomore)
2. Mark Harrell (Graduate student)

Right guard 
1. Colin McGovern (RS junior)
2. Tristen Hoge (RS freshman)

Right tackle
1. Alex Bars (RS sophomore)
2. Tommy Kraemer (freshman)

Weakside defensive end
1. Andrew Trumbetti (junior)
2. Jay Hayes (RS junior) OR Daelin Hayes (freshman)

Strongside defensive end
1. Isaac Rochell (senior)
2. Jonathan Bonner (RS sophomore)

Nose guard
1. Daniel Cage (junior) OR Jarron Jones (Graduate student)

Defensive tackle
1. Jerry Tillery (sophomore)
2. Elijah Taylor (RS freshman)

Sam (outside) linebacker
1. James Onwualu (senior)
2. Jamir Jones (freshman)

Will (inside) linebacker
1. Greer Martini (junior)
2. Asmar Bilal (RS freshman)

Mike (middle) linebacker
1. Nyles Morgan (junior)
2. Te’von Coney (sophomore)

Cornerback 
1. Shaun Crawford (RS freshman)
2. Nick Coleman (sophomore)

1. Cole Luke (senior)
2. Julian Love (freshman)

Strong safety
1. Drue Tranquill (junior)
2. Jalen Elliott (freshman)

Free safety
1. Avery Sebastian (6th-year graduate student)
2. Devin Studstill (freshman)

Kick returner
1. C.J. Sanders (sophomore) OR Dexter Williams (sophomore)

Punt returner 
1. C.J. Sanders (sophomore)
2. Chris Finke (RS freshman)

Holder
1. Montgomery VanGorder (RS sophomore)
2. DeShone Kizer (RS sophomore)

Placekicker
1. Justin Yoon (sophomore)
2. Tyler Newsome (RS sophomore)

Punter
1. Tyler Newsmen (RS sophomore)
2. Jeff Riney (RS freshman)

Long snapper
1. Scott Daly (graduate student)
2. John Shannon (freshman)

Kickoffs
1. Tyler Newsome (RS sophomore)
2. Justin Yoon (sophomore)