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Notre Dame Football

Freeman, Gundy outline teams' COVID prep; Fisher set to start at RT

December 27, 2021
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Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy isn’t worried about a depth-chart or a two-deep.

He just wants to play a game.

Specifically, the Fiesta Bowl Saturday morning against College Football Playoff-ranked No. 5 Notre Dame.

So Gundy’s No. 9 Cowboys are taking all imaginable precautions and reimplementing their COVID-19 protocols in advance of the first-ever scheduled meeting between the Pokes and the Irish.

“We are 100% fully committed to playing this game,” Gundy said Monday evening via Zoom in his first full press conference on-site in Arizona. “We want nothing more than to be as healthy as possible and play this game and want to enjoy Scottsdale. We are back to full protocol. So far we’ve been fortunate. A large majority of us have been healthy.”

New Irish head coach Marcus Freeman reiterated a similar stance for his Notre Dame team, which arrived mid-afternoon Monday in the Valley of the Sun and was set for its first on-site practice in advance of Notre Dame’s return to the site of its 1988 national title.

"We're just continuing to follow the protocols that we've had,” Freeman said, also via Zoom shortly after his team landed, “and that I think the biggest thing now is just the awareness. [Letting players know] ‘Hey, this thing is real and it's more real than it's ever been.’ So, we have to be smart in terms of what we're doing out here in Arizona, wearing our masks when we are supposed to and being really, really smart about the people we’re around.

“You cannot come down here and just go out and hang out and treat this like a normal bowl trip. We have to be really smart, and I think our team is definitely understanding the case and understanding what we have to do."

Freeman said the Irish will continue their weekly COVID-19 testing that has been standard throughout the 2021 season prior to Saturday’s game; otherwise, same as the Cowboys, the Irish intend only to test those players who are symptomatic.

BLAKE IS BAAACK

Throughout much of bowl practice, freshman Blake Fisher has been working his way back into form following a near season-long setback to a knee injury Fisher suffered in the season-opening win at Florida State.

Since Josh Lugg was injured in bowl camp, Fisher has worked back into the starting right tackle spot, and he is expected to make his first start since Labor Day weekend against Oklahoma State.

“I didn't know going into bowl practice that (Blake) was going to be able to play,” Freeman said. “He's gotten to the point where he's ready to play and ready to help us. We obviously know what type of talent Blake is, obviously being the starter as we went into the Florida State game.

“With the loss of Josh Lugg during bowl practice, this is something that kind of naturally happened.”

Likewise, it gives Notre Dame a chance to see its talented set of foundational tackles – Fisher and fellow true freshman Joe Alt – together on the field as starters for a game prior to their sophomore offseasons.

“We wanted to put (Fisher) on the right side for a few reasons: One, Joe Alt has done an unbelievable job as our left tackle and has been a huge asset to our offensive line throughout the course of this year,” Freeman said. “Then, the ability to kind of not have three moving pieces, right?

“Instead of moving Blake to left tackle, Joe to right tackle instead of just leave Joe where he's done a great job and where he's excelled at, move Blake right into that right tackle spot, and we're extremely excited about having both of those guys on the field."

ELSTON IN THE LEAD DEFENSIVE ROLE

Freeman emphasized that he will maintain intimate involvement in the Irish defensive attack against Oklahoma State, but Freeman revealed that veteran defensive assistant Mike Elston has been positioned to handle the bulk of play-calling duties in the Fiesta Bowl.

"Nick Lezynski will come down, because he's had a more active role with the linebackers,” Freeman said as he outlined the Irish defensive staff alignment this week. “We activated him from the analyst position, the senior analyst position, to the linebackers and special teams. He'll come down.

“We'll still leave (safeties coach Chris) O'Leary up. Elston and (Mike) Mickens have been down (on the field), and they'll stay down.”

 
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