Year 4 brings smooth transition for Kelly

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly will begin his fourth year at a job Wednesday for the first time in 19 years. What he sees when he enters the Loftus Sports Center for the first of Notre Dame's 15 spring practices is a system he knows with players who understand it, and a collective personality that differs from the 2012 outfit whose season ended in college football's final game last season.

"It's you know what you got," Kelly said Tuesday during his pre-spring news conference. "You don't come in going, 'All right, if this happens...' You really know what you have and you can really identify the things you need to work on. When you have the protocols and the process in place on a day‑to‑day basis, the expectations have already been set, it allows you to really work on the development of your football team."

Kelly addressed some of those individual developments during a 10-minute opening statement in which he listed specific weight gains for no fewer than eight players. He talked about the returns of Matt Hegarty (mini-stroke), Austin Collinsworth (shoulder/back surgeries), Lo Wood (Achilles) and safeties coach Bob Elliott (kidney transplant), all of whom are back this spring. He mentioned the progress of Ronnie Stanley (elbow surgery) and the trio of Bennett Jackson, Dan Fox and Nicky Baratti, each of whom underwent shoulder surgery.

Kelly said he sees Elijah Shumate returning to safety after dabbling all over the secondary last season, and he will cross-train C.J. Prosise at wide receiver and safety. Whereas Notre Dame lost key defensive leaders in Manti Te'o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, Kelly has seen Wood, Jarrett Grace and Tyler Stockton step up in the offseason, the latter of whom serves as the biggest surprise among the six fifth-year invitees on the roster.

"Each year I've had different groups," Kelly said. "This team is different than last year's team. You have different personalities. I think every year you have to change the way you address the team because it's a different group. Last year I had a lot of guys that clearly understood the way I wanted them to do things. This year it seems to be a similar situation where the guys really have a great work ethic, they're starting to understand the things I need them to do to be successful.

"Now I have to spend more time with them individually in building that leadership as well as our coaches. Each year it's a little bit different. I don't think you can be the same every single year. You have to really play to the strengths of the team."

On offense, Kelly's priorities are figuring out the offensive line — specifically the center position — developing second-year starting quarterback Everett Golson and sorting out the running back duties, which he said will likely fall on George Atkinson III's shoulders to begin with.

He fielded zero catfishing questions among 52 exchanges, and he was happy to joke about more weight gains when a reporter late in the session asked about the kickers.

"Let me get to them. Let's see," he said. "They're not even on here. Sorry."