SOUTH BEND — Kicker Nick Tausch was quietly tucked away Wednesday, out of the line of fire of the first extended rant of the Brian Kelly Era of Notre Dame football. “We stink right now,” the Irish first-year head coach said in a response to a rather benign/generic warm-up question. “We’re just so far from where we need to be in terms of attention to detail. This is a step back today. ... You’re an 18-, 19-, 20-year old and you’re playing at Notre Dame and it’s 70 degrees out and I’ve got to motivate you? That’s why we’re not on the same page yet.” He went on to describe No. 1 quarterback Dayne Crist’s fundamentals “as sloppy as they come,” the slot receiver position as one without any candidates he’s comfortable with, and claimed to have enough unpleasant spring surprises to fill 20 minutes with the media. Tausch knows his day of scrutiny will come. For now the sophomore kicker, who sandwiched three painful missed field goals around a school-record 14 straight makes as a freshman in 2009, is just happy to be pain-free in his right (kicking) ankle. The injury, which then-coach Charlie Weis didn’t become aware of until moments before the Irish were to take the field at Pittsburgh on Nov. 14, ended up knocking Tausch out of ND’s final three games of the 2009 season. “We didn’t know what it was at first, but finally figured out it was a sprained ankle,” Tausch said. “I tried to kick on it in practice or whatnot, and it would inflate up. I’m not sure exactly when it happened or how I did it. It was just a nagging pain.” Now what nags him most is the competition. Tausch’s sudden exit from the lineup opened the door for walk-on David Ruffer, the former high school golf standout whom Weis plucked from the interhall ranks in 2008 when then-No. 1 kicker Brandon Walker was struggling. Ruffer, a senior who never so much as attempted a field goal in high school, nailed the first five of his career in five attempts during Tausch’s absence, including 42-yarders against Pitt and Stanford. “I’ve got competition, but I think that’s a good thing,” Tausch said. “It helps everybody get better.” There certainly is plenty of competition elsewhere on special teams, particularly at Golden Tate’s vacated punt return spot. No fewer than 17 players auditioned Wednesday, including three early-enrolling freshmen — Tai-ler Jones, Spencer Boyd and Lo Wood. Kelly also went searching for coverage personnel. “Today was an evaluation day,” he said. “We want to see guys who want to hit. Everybody says they’ll hit you. And then you put them in a drill, and you find out who can hit. “There’s no lying out there. You’re one on one. You’ve got to run down the field and you’ve got to strike somebody. I believe we’ve got a lot of players that can help us in special teams and make us a very good special teams unit.” Given Kelly’s mood Wednesday, Tausch was probably fine with the fact that the coach didn’t mention him by name. Surprise, Surprise There was some good news to come out of Kelly’s mouth Wednesday, and it came from the defensive side of the ball. When asked about pleasant surprises four practices into spring, Kelly singled out junior-to-be linebacker Anthony McDonald and four safeties — Zeke Motta, Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter and especially Dan McCarthy. “McDonald’s playing downhill,” Kelly said of the 6-2, 230-pounder and former high school teammate of Crist. “He’s physical. We’re looking for another big guy inside. “I think if I had to throw two kids out, I’d say the McCarthy kid and the McDonald kid are going to be able to help us defensively.” For what it’s worth — and keep in mind Kelly’s depth chart is a moving target — here’s who lined up in the No. 1 defense Wednesday during drills: Senior Ian Williams at nose guard; juniors Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore at ends; senior Brian Smith and junior Darius Fleming at outside linebacker; sophomore Manti Te’o and junior McDonald at inside linebacker; senior Harrison Smith and junior Slaughter at safety; and seniors Darrin Walls and Gary Gray at cornerback. Closing the Book(store) It was a given that 2009 Bookstore Basketball MVP Joseph Fauria wouldn’t be back to help defend Hallelujah Holla Back’s title in the famed intra-campus tourney. The 6-8 Fauria has since transferred and is now competing to be UCLA’s starting tight end. But Holla Back teammates Crist and running back Jonas Gray won’t be competing, either. Kelly is having his football players take a hiatus this year from the competition that even some head coaches — most recently Tyrone Willingham — have played in. “We’re in such an evaluation period right now that their No. 1 focus has to be their lot on the football team,” Kelly said. “We’ll revisit a lot of those historical things they’ve done in the past (next year), but right now, we can’t run track, you can’t be playing baseball. They’ve got to be worrying about football. ‘Once we get our hands around it and the pulse of it, obviously we want to be part of this community. We want to be part of traditions. But we’ve got some work to do.” Squibs
- Two future Irish football players were taking in Wednesday’s spring practice session: Brad Carrico, a defensive end from Dublin, Ohio, and the first member of the 2011 recruiting class; and Tate Nichols, an offensive tackle from Walton, Ky., who will enroll at ND in June.
- Kelly had a much fancier name for the injury, but essentially linebacker Kerry Neal was limited to upper-body exercises at Wednesday’s practice because of a strain in his leg. It’s a step up from Monday, when Neal left the field walking with a crutch.
- ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported former Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen is scheduled to visit the St. Louis Rams, who hold the first pick in the NFL Draft (April 22-24), after Clausen’s April 9 Pro Day at ND. He is also scheduled to visit Cleveland (seventh pick) and Buffalo (ninth) and to hold private workouts at ND for Washington (fourth) and Jacksonville (10th).
- ND players will have a smaller window than usual between the end of spring semester and the beginning of summer workouts. Kelly has the Irish back on campus and starting an early session of summer classes on June 7, roughly two weeks sooner than usual and the start of regular summer school.