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Notre Dame Football

Irish 'injury train' has too many aboard; Kelly talks Watts' new spot

September 9, 2021
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Brian Kelly called it the injury train.

Less than a week into the 2021 season, Kelly's Notre Dame squad has too many players aboard it.

On Thursday, in his final pre-game media session before the Fighting Irish host Toledo Saturday (2:30 p.m., Peacock) inside Notre Dame Stadium, Kelly outlined the latest on the injury front.

Linebacker Shayne Simon is lost for the year with a torn labrum; Blake Fisher underwent meniscus surgery earlier Thursday; Kevin Bauman had surgery to repair the fractured bone in his leg that is going to require a plate; Paul Moala had surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon suffered at Florida State.

“A meniscus is probably eight weeks' (recovery),” Kelly said of Fisher. “We hope to have him back this year.”

Bauman, per Kelly, is tracking a six-week return. Both Moala and Simon are lost for the year, which coincides with a position switch for the Notre Dame defense: Xavier Watts is coming off from wideout to join the Irish's linebackers corps.

“Xavier is playing the Rover position now,” Kelly said. “We wanted to strengthen that position. We feel with him there, it gives us the ability to cross-train Jack Kiser at the inside linebacker position in case there is a need there.”

Relatively fortunate as it pertained to injuries as they marched to the 2020 College Football Playoff, the Irish already had been wracked by setbacks the past few weeks. In addition to the Fisher, Moala and Simon injuries that arose from the Florida State game, linebacker Marist Liufau – arguably the most impressive player in Notre Dame's preseason camp – also was lost for the season with a broken bone in his leg that required surgery.

Watts, who has switched from No. 2 to No. 26 per Notre Dame's roster, had not cracked the Irish's wide receiver rotation – though he had flashed at times in practice.

Kelly said the coaching staff had embraced the task to find the team's best 11 players and get them onto the field, regardless of perhaps original position.

"He's certainly looks the part,” Kelly said of Watts. “We're going to play him on Saturday. He's going to play Rover when we get into the right situation. He doesn't have all the knowledge of the position. We're going to pick our spots. You're not going to see him line up on the first play or first series, but we're going to pick our spots and get him involved. He's involved in more special teams right away now.

"We like him. We wouldn't trade him. He's a guy we want on the field and we value him a lot. This is a way to get him going."

After being listed as “unavailable” last week, freshman running back Logan Diggs has been cleared to rejoin the Irish and will be available Saturday against Toledo, Kelly said. Jordan Botelho and C'Bo Flemister both remain out for Notre Dame.

KELLY OFFERS SOMBER 9-11 MESSAGE

The Irish are playing on the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks that rocked the United States in 2001.

Kelly said Notre Dame will begin rolling out is message of tribute in the 24 hours prior to kick off.

"I think playing or not playing, there's incredible significance 20 years post-9/11,” he said. “I think it's etched in everyone's mind that saw it on that day. It's not ancient history to our guys, even if they weren't born. They have a family member or someone they knew that was part of it.

"It hits close to home to so many people. Notre Dame, in particular, will have a celebration, but for a large part, we'll be in the locker room. We'll do something on Social Media that we'll get out in the next 24 hours to let everyone know how important it is to us as players, coaches and as a football program. It's an important date and one we carry with us every single day and remember it. It will always be with us. We thought it was important that we did something to show the importance of that 20-year remembrance."

KEYS EXITS

Senior wideout Lawrence Keys III has elected to exit the Irish program but remain enrolled at Notre Dame. Kelly said Keys is taking 18 hours this semester and on track to graduate, at which point Keys intends to assess his football options.

 
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