SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame wasn't shy about playing freshmen early last fall, with Devin Butler, Will Fuller, Cole Luke, Corey Robinson, James Onwualu and Jaylon Smith logging significant minutes in August and September.
The openings were there on the depth chart for those guys, who were eventually joined by Tarean Folston and Steve Elmer as the season pushed on. Brian Kelly & Co. won't hesitate to deploy freshmen again this coming fall, though a change in the NCAA's rules for summer workouts could help some of those greenhorns be better prepared for their college debuts.
Kelly and his coaching staff can have up to eight hours of contact with players per week during the summer, provided no footballs are involved. That means a lot of film study and a certain set of drills, and for the 21 freshmen who didn't enroll early that'll provide a valuable introduction to the Irish defense and offense.
"We've always counted on some freshmen to be involved in what we've done in September or August," Kelly said Tuesday at his foundation's Football 101 charity event. "Now to actually get to know some of the terminology and get to know a little bit what we're doing I think is a huge thing."
Notre Dame spent spring practice installing its defense and offense under new coordinators Brian VanGorder and Mike Denbrock, and is continuing that process over the summer. Kelly said the goal of the summer workouts is to actually re-install core offensive plays and defensive principles -- the same stuff the team did in the spring -- while working with players in the film room and on the practice field.
With the exception of tight end Tyler Luatua, who will remain in California for his high school graduation and join his teammates Wednesday, Incoming freshmen will arrive on campus Sunday. Once those players undergo a physical and are medically cleared, they'll be able to participate in in Wednesday's workouts, which Kelly likened to the semi-formal organized team activities NFL teams have over the summer.
Kelly said that early look at the incoming freshmen will give him and his coaches a better sense of where the newcomers could wind up heading into fall camp. And too, learning the defense/offense earlier should give guys like Nyles Morgan, Jay Hayes and Nick Watkins a better chance to see the field come August or September.
"I would expect that certainly is going to be helpful in giving a guy a chance to compete as a true freshman," Kelly said.