When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
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FORT WAYNE — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly confirmed what many assumed: The four players under academic investigation by the school will not play in the season opener against Rice on Saturday.
The remaining roster looks even younger than it did before. Kelly spent a good portion of Tuesday’s news conference ruminating on all the green faces.
He said he’s never coached a more inexperienced defense, and on offense a handful of freshmen will be pressed into service before they’re ready.
“Some young guys are going to have to play prominent roles and grow up during the season,” Kelly said. “You can’t just say, ‘We have a bunch of young guys, so we have to be basic,’ but there is some of (that).”
Sophomore Will Fuller replaces DaVaris Daniels at receiver, while another sophomore, Cole Luke, fills in for KeiVarae Russell at cornerback.
In other depth-chart news, Isaac Rochell will start alongside freshman Andrew Trumbetti at defensive end, while senior Matt Hegarty will be the starting left guard. Rochell, a 287-pound sophomore, beat out junior Romeo Okwara to earn the starting spot that would have belonged to Ishaq Williams. There are nine freshmen On the two-deep, six on defense.
“There are freshmen that are going to have to play some form of winning football for us to have the kind of success we want defensively,” Kelly said.
In Daniels, Russell, Williams and reserve linebacker Kendall Moore, Notre Dame will be missing a combined 123 games of experience. Kelly said he has received “zero” new information on the investigation but that the other players have moved on.
“It has not been an issue for a moment for our football team, other than they care about their teammates and what happens to them,” said Kelly, adding that the process is beyond his control.
“I did not feel at any time that I was left out of the loop or blindsided by a long investigation,” he said. “The information that was ascertained in this matter was pretty straightforward. That information was confirmed by (Notre Dame athletic director) Jack (Swarbrick).”
So off No. 17 Notre Dame goes, embarking on its season not knowing if those four will ever join them, but guaranteed of a sharp learning curve.
“There are going to be times where we’re gnashing our teeth a little bit,” Kelly said. “That’s OK. You’ve got some very good athletes. Score a lot of points: That will ease everyone’s concern.”
Notes: Starting WR Corey Robinson underwent thumb surgery Friday but is not expected to miss any time. … Backup receiver Torii Hunter Jr. (grade 3 groin strain) could return to practice next week. … LB Jarrett Grace (leg surgery) was ruled out for the opener. … Kelly did not name captains and said they could vary from game to game. … Kelly granted the team’s wish to sing the alma mater after all home games, win or lose.