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Notre Dame Football

Brian Kelly Taking Players Mental Health and Pitt Defense Seriously

October 22, 2020

Pitt week has been somewhat of a quiet week and that's exactly what you want in 2020. 

The week's biggest news was running back Jahmir Smith deciding to step away from the football team to focus on his mental health. 

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly is no stranger to mental health awareness as he's seen coaches and players struggle with it over his time in athletics. 

"Mental health has been an issue in my 30 years of coaching," explained Kelly. "I think it's just today become - I don't know if it's ever easy to talk about, but it doesn't have a connotation of weakness. Jahmir is the opposite of weak. He's a strong young man, and I love Jahmir for his courage, more than anything else. But I think it connotated weakness and that's so far from the truth and especially as it relates to Jahmir."

Kelly also added there are numerous pressures for student-athletes and especially those at a place like Notre Dame.  

"It's always been a concern when you're playing a competitive game, one where there's so many pressures to live up to expectations, whether they be your own or others," Kelly said. "Keep on that at a national institution, bring in the academics and mental health is certainly something that I've always had as something on my plate." 

When it comes to Saturday's road game at Pitt, Kelly knows it will come down to Tommy Rees' offense moving the ball.

The Panthers are giving up just 61.5 yards per game on the ground while Notre Dame is averaging 261 rushing yards. Something will have to give, but Kelly made it clear the Irish will run the ball at Heinz Field. 

"They are a quarters-man team, which allows those safeties free hits and they're playing really a nine-man front," stated Kelly. "It's really about being able to carve out an existence in the run game and no one has really been able to do that up to this point." 

Another concern for Kelly is Pitt's defensive ends despite the Panthers giving up 16 plays over 20 yards the last three weeks. 

The Panthers lead the nation in sacks (29) and tackles for loss (+17). 

"I think the depth they have with the four ends in particular when you bring (John) Morgan in or (Deslin) Alexander. Obviously, when you're defending against (Rashad) Weaver and (Patrick) Jones, I mean, you got two premier fifth-year guys and you don't get much of a blow. In most instances, when those guys come out, you get a bit of a blow when the next group comes in, but those two defensive ends that come in are just as talented and you don't see that very often. 

"I don't know that we have, maybe Clemson is the only team that we've faced that has that kind of depth at the defensive end position. Now Clemson had more depth at the tackle position that we've ever seen, but this is probably the deepest defensive end position rotation that we've seen in quite some time."

Notre Dame will also be getting some help on the outside this weekend. Junior receiver Lawrence Keys III will return to the field after missing last week's game against Louisville. 

"Keys is back," said Kelly. "He's cleared concussion protocol. He will travel to Pittsburgh. Good to see him back up and running. Feel really good for Lawrence. 

"He's had a rough run of it and it's nice to have him back out there smiling." 

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