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College football: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wants starters to be part of special teams

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches play against Alabamduring first half BCS National Championship college football game Monday Jan.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches play against Alabama during the first half of the BCS National Championship college football game Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Updated: April 22, 2013 12:33PM



SOUTH BEND — Standing on the sideline during the BCS national championship game, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly noticed Alabama had 11 starters on kickoff return.

It stuck out to him.

“Nobody wants to be on kickoff return,” Kelly said Wednesday. “They had 11 starters.”

Kelly wants the Irish to take a similar approach. And he’s using the spring to set the tone for players to embrace those roles.

Notre Dame opened spring camp Wednesday. The harsh weather forced the Irish indoors for the up-tempo morning practice.

Kelly spent the first day observing some of the younger players and others back from injuries.

“For the first two or three days, probably until we get into next week, I want to be able to float around and have a real good sense and feel for some of our players we are counting on to be in key roles for us,” Kelly said.

That will include special teams.

“I want starters to be part of our special teams unit,” Kelly said. “The spring really is for us to integrate frontline guys into special teams.

“That kind of decision has to come from me. I’ve made that and we’re going about it in the spring, to really put our best players on special teams.”

Depth prevented the Irish from going that route in the past.

“You’re running guys down there that are so essential and so critical,” Kelly said. “But now that we’ve been able to build some depth on both sides of the ball, I believe that we can move more toward getting our frontline guys out there.”

As camp kicked off, Stephon Tuitt spent most of the session open to the media on a stationary bike. The Irish could be without the defensive end for a couple of weeks as he recovers from a sports hernia.

“It was something that needed to be repaired,” Kelly said. “That was done before spring break. It’s usually a four-week process. We’re going to be in week two. We think we’ll get him back for the last couple of weeks.”

Tuitt led the Irish with 12 sacks last season.

“We said ‘let’s get it done. Let’s not wait on it,’” Kelly said. “It’s something we may have managed, but we want to get him 100 percent.”

Among those returning from injury, Kelly said Amir Carlisle stood out. The running back suffered an ankle injury before last spring practice and was eventually redshirted.

“I could see us playing Amir and another back at the same time,” Kelly said. “He’s got the ability to play. He’s a very good pass catcher. He has good ball skills. I could see us getting him the football in a number of different ways with another running back on the field.”



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