Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly met with the media on Friday to look back on 2010 and give some early thoughts on 2011. If Kelly seemed rather chipper in his comments, it was easy to understand why.
The Irish, after all, won their final four games in impressive fashion and bring the majority of that 8-5 team back, including superstar receiver Michael Floyd. So as happy as Kelly was with the 2010 finish, he's even more excited about the 2011 possibilities.
"Eight wins was not enough in the first year, but we accomplished a lot of the real foundation principles of a championship program," Kelly said
Kelly said the three best things about 2010 were that the team played its best at the end of the season, the defense became a force and that the program "put the fight back in the Fighting Irish." He called all of that "the first coat of paint" for his plan to revive Notre Dame into a powerhouse.
"Year 2 will be more about the players," he said. "It will be about fitting what we do in all three phases into the players that we have."
And the Irish will have a lot of good players to work with. Of course, the biggest question this offseason will be at quarterback, where Tommy Rees won every start in that four-game winning streak, while Dayne Crist is recovering from another ACL injury. Kelly said he thought Crist would be able to go through spring practice like he did last year, when he was protected from contact but took most of the needed reps.
As for Rees, Kelly said he is "more than a warmup band."
"Here's what we learned about Tommy Rees: he's accurate and he's tough," Kelly said. "Those are two great qualities to have. If you had to map them out and put them on the board, I'd take those two."
But Kelly added that Crist and Andrew Hendrix have those qualities, too. There's also Nate Montana, Luke Massa, incoming recruit Everett Golson in the mix. Kelly said he can't work with six quarterbacks and would limit the reps to the top four.
"There will be some paring down," he said. "There will be some guys who understand that if they're not in that top four, they will not be able to get reps at the position."
Kelly said he has a good idea of how to use the quarterbacks and their differing styles, but he didn't want to share that publicly until he has talked to the quarterbacks individually.
The coach also announced that kicker David Ruffer has been awarded a scholarship for next year as a fifth-year senior. All of the other seniors who have a year of eligibility left have applied for an extra year, and Kelly will meet with them on Monday to determine who will come back.
Kelly also hinted at some position changes and said that receiver Theo Riddick -- who converted from running back last year -- could be moved to the backfield once again to help with depth there.
Last offseason, players had to adjust to Kelly's new style and system, and the team was hampered by injuries. Kelly said he talked to strength coach Paul Longo on Friday morning and "it was the first time I've seen him smile in a year. We had 15 surgeries this time last year, and this year we have three." The only player expected to miss extended time is defensive lineman Sean Cwynar, who had surgery on both his back and foot and could be out 6-to-8 weeks.
Other than that, Kelly said, the players are already hitting the weight room, knowing what to do and hitting the ground running.
"It's night and day [from last year]," he said.
No wonder he was in such high spirits.