March 19, 2013
Coach Kelly: Good afternoon. From a news perspective, I think we’ve hit the timing button well here. We’re in between March Madness, so let’s fill it up with a little football today.
We’ll begin with where we are coming off of the 2012 season, that is the first stage of building our football team in 2013, happened two weeks after the national championship game. That was weight training and conditioning. So that’s the applicable time for our team to not only get bigger, faster, stronger, but it now begins with a new group of players, a new football team.
2012, the personality of that team is gone. We’re in the process of not only developing our football players physically and skill wise, but we’re developing leaders within our group, we’re developing position groups and depth within the ranks, and developing an identity of the football team.
It would be easy for me to talk a lot about the individuals today and the progress they’ve made in this first stage, and we will. But for me it is about developing the identity of this football team, developing the leadership within the group. Certainly the players that are on hand in the spring is the primary focus in developing our depth for 2013.
So leaving spring ball, we want to set our football team and the depth within the ranks. This is not about, Well, we know we have a number of young men coming in in the fall, they’re at this position. They come in and they fill in at the back of the line. We’ll see how that takes form when they get here.
My point being that we’re setting our roster based on the players we have on campus right now. That’s the work in front of us, which starts tomorrow.
Before we get to tomorrow, we’ve had some great progress in a number of areas. The first one I would point out, going into year four, our systems are in place. When I say ‘systems’, how we operate on a day to day basis from our coaches and directors on down to sports training, weight training, conditioning. All those things are in place. Our players know what to expect on a day to day basis.
For me it’s very assuring that we’ve got a program now that just continues to build on itself.
What have we done over the last six weeks, seven weeks? Developed the strength, the conditioning level, and the health of our football team. So I’ll touch upon the health first of all of our football team.
Matt Hegarty was a guy that went down for us, had a potentially serious impact to whether he would play again. He’s 100% cleared. He’s had a great off season for us. He’s been able to do all the things we asked him to do. He’ll be an important player in getting on the field on the offensive line.
A number have asked, I appreciate this, about Coach (Bob) Elliott. He had a kidney transplant. He is doing extremely well. He’s been at our morning conditioning the last couple weeks. He’s looking great. He’s back to being a pain in the butt, so we know he’s doing well.
As it relates to some of the players that had surgery after the season, really pleased with Bennett Jackson and the strength he’s been able to put on. I think when you look at an injury, sometimes it puts them back a number of weeks in the weight training, conditioning process.
Our strength and conditioning and sports medicine, our directors work hand in hand, and those players have made great strides.
It is an injured body part; it’s not a player that can’t work out. I think that’s an important distinction to make in that Bennett Jackson is stronger, more physical.
You look at Dan Fox, the same thing, relative to his shoulder.
Ronnie Stanley has put on weight after elbow surgery.
Really, really pleased with our ability to take both of those components, the strength and conditioning, all the work that we do relative to rehab and sports medicine, and Rob (Hunt) and Paul (Longo) do a great job of working together.
We’re well ahead of where we’ve been in the first couple years relative to those players that were injured. They look great.
Nicky Baratti, the same thing with his shoulder. He’s in a great position as well.
The other item would be the fifth year applications have been accepted, so they have been acted upon. So all those players that were under consideration have received their fifth year. Those guys continue to move forward for us.
I think some of the things that are exciting for me would be just some of the weight gains that we’ve had, strength gains at really key positions.
Just to highlight a couple of them, and this does not mean they’ll are First Team All American, this just means that we have addressed some of the areas that we think were very, very important.
Starting on the offensive line, Mark Harrell, up 19 pounds to 305. We needed to get him in a position where he could physically contribute and be in a position to contribute this year.
As we mentioned, Hagerty bouncing back from his illness. Conor Hanratty up to 309 puts him at a strong position to keep for us.
Chase Hounshell up 20 pounds, up to 275. Improving his strength in the shoulder. 21 reps of 225. We needed Chase to really come on for us this year and he’s had a great off season.
Ben Councell up 16 pounds. Now he’s 248 pounds. He was 230. 19 reps at 225.
Jarrett Grace up 13 pounds to 248. He went from nine times of 225 to over 22. Some really great progress there.
George Atkinson III, probably the most pleasing thing with George, he sees his opportunity and he seized. He’s up 11 pounds to 217, and he’s maintained that weight. A good litmus test for us is spring break, how do they come back after spring break.
We had a good workout this morning. Then his strength. He went from five times of 225 to 19. He’s done a great job of really taking care of himself.
Again, you have Alex Welch has done a nice job. He’s going to be a veteran presence for us, Alex Welch. Physical, in line, point of attack, a weapon for us on the edge of our offense at the tight end position.
Troy Niklas is up to 27 times at 225. Getting stronger every day.
Chris Brown, up 10 pounds to 192 pounds. That’s 20 pounds of body weight since the fall.
I was going to bore everybody out of here about size and weight, is that okay? Everybody is going to get up and leave. We’re going to talk body size, vertical jump, hand size (laughter).
Lo Wood coming back healthy. 14 pounds of muscle when he was injured.
All these guys are up across the board. It’s the process of the physical development within our program going into the fourth year where these guys are getting stronger physically, and a lot of that work now is starting to show itself.
That first stage of developing our players to get stronger, to be in great physical condition. Then to have 18 first year performers, guys in their first season of competition, 18 of them got their chance to be on the sideline or in the game in the national championship game. That boomerang effect is huge, that they got a chance to see what it’s like.
You’ve got guys that are really building themselves, developing physically. You have your entire room knowing what it looks like, how to get there. They’ve already done it in the regular season. All those things are in place now as we move into spring ball.
Then, of course, spring ball will be setting the roster. I want to leave spring ball knowing what we have, knowing the identity of our football team, I want to know where the leadership group is coming from, and I want to know what the depth looks like.
This is not going to be about going through spring ball saying, You got this kid coming in in the fall. Those guys will fill in the ranks when they come in the fall. If they’re that good, they’ll move up the ranks. But we’re going to set our football team through the spring, compete, set our roster accordingly.
Those are some of the things that I wanted to get out first and foremost relative to the 2013 football team. It was a bit long, but I thought it was a good place to start. That way we can open it up to any questions.
Q.Brian, can you update us on Gunner’s situation?
Coach Kelly: He is no longer part of the program.
Q.When did you give him his release?
Coach Kelly: We worked on his release last Friday in terms of the compliance. I think we’ve got a 10 day window to get that taken care of. We tried to get that all accomplished last week.
Q.Any restrictions on where he’ll go, from your standpoint?
Coach Kelly: I don’t think it was a restriction as much as we had an open conversation about the schools. Again, I think the schools that he was looking at were in line with the schools that I thought were appropriate relative to who was on our schedule.
Q.Your reaction, were you surprised? Did you see it coming?
Coach Kelly: I don’t know that I’m surprised. We had kind of created an opportunity for him to compete in the spring. So maybe a little surprised from that standpoint because he was actually told that he would be given an opportunity to compete.
Sometimes when you don’t hear that, you know what I mean, you wouldn’t be surprised because, I’m on the bottom of the depth chart.
Q.Of your early enrollees, do you see people in that group that can compete for a position in your two deeps?
Coach Kelly: I think there’s are some guys that are mature enough. James Onwualu, physically strong, 215 pounds. He can play with the veterans right now in terms of conditioning and weight training, going every rep.
We’ll see when we put the pads on. We’re going into a different atmosphere relative to playing the game. But he’s been very, very impressive.
I would say that I’m really impressed with Mike (indiscernible). He’s put on almost 15 pounds. He’s up to close to 230 pounds. He’s got a burst to him. He’s going to be a really good player for us.
I like the way they all have trained.
Steve Elmer, I think his numbers right now, looking at another midyear enrollee, Steve Elmer is 317 pounds right now. He’s put on a lot of weight since he’s gotten here, as well. He’s a guy that physically we think can go in there and compete.
Q.What do you want to see from the quarterback’s beyond Golson? Is it an open competition to be Everett’s backup?
Coach Kelly: I want them to push to be on the field. I want them to go in knowing that Everett Golson has experience, but that’s all he has. It’s your job to go out there and show us that you can be the starting quarterback, not to settle for being the backup. When you’re given your opportunity, to compete and keep pushing.
If you back off at all, you don’t want to be the starter, we can make that happen for you. I want Tommy to go out there and compete to be the starter. I want Hendrix, Malik Zaire to go out there and compete.
Q.Your center situation, you mentioned Hagerty has had a swing to positive health. Who else is in the mix there?
Coach Kelly: Nick Martin playing some center. As I mentioned, Harrell we feel like physically got a lot of reps during the bowl preparation. Those three guys right now will be competing at the center position.
Q.Can you take us through the process with Hagerty, the ups and downs, scares of what he went through? Was there a point where it looked like he might not be ready for spring?
Coach Kelly: I think any time you talk about blood flow, cardiac, all those things, those are terms that we all kind of become very cautious with. You know what I mean? We don’t ever want to put somebody in a position where their life is at risk.
I thought we did an incredible job of being on top of it. Our care was great. Then his follow up in wanting to be back out on the field. It takes two. His family was involved. Really from a consensus standpoint, everybody was on the same page with this kind of serious condition.
He had the best doctors. He had great follow up. He took care of himself. I just think it was everybody pulling in the right direction to get him back on the field, where he feels very, very confident that he can go every single day and not have to worry about his health.
Q.Is Austin Collinsworth cleared for spring?
Coach Kelly: He is. Our workouts, we had seven workouts where the coaches were involved in the conditioning elements. Our defensive staff feels really good. I had a chance to observe him ’cause I wanted to see the guys that are coming back. I was really pleased with what I saw.
Q.You talked about George Atkinson. Is he going to be the guy that gets a chance to be the number one back?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, it’s his time. Now, he’s got some guys that are going to have something to say about that, as well. We like that competition that we have at the running back position.
But, yes, certainly you would think the things he has to do is obviously be a guy that can be on the field, take care of the football. But he’s really committed himself to being that guy.
He did not participate in track and field because he wanted to be solely focused on being the number one back.
Q.Did you have to do any form of I guess repair with your relationship with your players at all after your interview with the Eagles?
Coach Kelly: They don’t like me very much anyway, so it was really very little. I think from that standpoint, it was pretty smooth after that (laughter).
No, there was very little talk about it. I talked to our team behind closed doors about the situation. They appreciated my candor with them about it. We moved on.
Q.What did you tell them if they asked you if this happens in the future?
Coach Kelly: We didn’t get into the ‘what ifs’. I told them what my feelings were. That was the conversation that happened behind closed door, which I won’t get into too specific.
Q.What if it does happen in the future?
Coach Kelly: I think other teams will pursue me in the future because we’re going to continue to win here. That doesn’t mean I have an interest. But I think that’s going to continue to happen because we’re going to continue to have success here.
Coach Kelly: He is cleared 100%, looks really good. Love his demeanor in the off season. He’s stronger, more physical. Looks good.
Q.The numbers game would say that KeiVarae Russell won’t be a starter next year. What do you want to see out of him in spring practice to consider him?
Coach Kelly: That’s what we’re looking for. We want competition. Your program is in good shape when there’s competition within. And competition, without thinking about who’s coming in.
We want that competition. So it’s going to be a competitive situation. The best guys are going to play. We’ll choose the right 11.
Keep in mind we also have to go through the spring and find a Matthias Farley. We need to find those guys that are going to step in and be key players for us during the season. You can never have enough of those guys. We welcome that.
That’s part of our job as coaches to recruit so there is competition amongst the ranks. We didn’t have much of it. Now we’re excited that we’re gaining more and more competition.
Jalen Brown is up to 207 pounds. He’s another guy that will be given an opportunity. It’s going to be exciting to watch how that pans out in the back end.
Q.Will Jarrett Grace be given first shot at the Mike position?
Coach Kelly: I think the way we set things here, there isn’t a depth chart. You don’t walk into the locker room and see a depth chart. Does the first group have to go out? Yes. I think when you talk about the spring, especially when you’re coming in and taking over for somebody like Manti, we’re going to get the best guys on the field.
Certainly he has some experience at the position. It would not surprise me that he becomes a key player for us. But, again, great competition at that position. It’s going to be fun to watch.
Q.Anything specifically you want to see him do in the spring so when Dan Fox comes back in the fall, maybe there’s more competition there?
Coach Kelly: Well, Dan Fox obviously is a guy we know can play the inside position. They played two different positions. We’re not looking at Dan Fox playing Mike. Clearly we have Carlo, Kendall Moore. We’ve got a number of guys that we think can play in there.
I think it’s just going to be, again, setting depth. You saw us play last year. We’re not just going to play one guy. Now, Manti was different. He never came off the field. But we need two and three deep at these positions. That’s really how we’re going to approach the spring.
Q.The right side of the offensive line, you said Nick Martin competing at center. Is he still competing at guard with Hanratty? I see Lombard is listed as a guard and a tackle.
Coach Kelly: I think you have some crossover there. I think that’s going to kind of play itself out.
The first thing we have to do is find that center position, lock that position. Now we have three guys that we feel are physically capable of playing that position. I think that battle kind of takes itself as the primary battle.
Conor Hanratty, we have a lot of confidence in him that he could step in and play the guard position for us. Then that gives us some flexibility that if we feel like maybe one of the other two guys doesn’t stick at center can kick over to guard.
I think you find the center first, then the rest kind of takes care of itself. Lombard could kick down. Maybe Stanley is a right tackle. Maybe Elmer. There’s great competition there. We’ve just got to sort out the center position. Once we do that, the rest kind of moves in line from there.
Q.What about other position changes? You might mentioned that span could get a look inside? Is that a possibility?
Coach Kelly: I don’t think so for the spring. We really want to continue the continuity with him and Councell out at the dog position. They’re going to work there. That will be their primary focus. We’re really focused on the Mike linebackers that have been in that position and keep them inside.
How things pan out in the fall or during the season, we’ll conquer that when we get there. Right now moving forward, he’s at the dog position.
Q.You had a bunch of safeties. There’s some open spots or some room for competition there. Is anybody moving from safety to another position?
Coach Kelly: We’re going to take a look at C.J. Prosise and cross train him at safety and wide receiver. Big bodied guy. We’re doing it because we got a glimpse of him during bowl practices. We had him at wide receiver and really loved his ball skills. He’s a big kid, 218 pounds, got strong hands, a physical kid. So we’re going to take a look at him. We think he may be able to help us there because there are so many talented players at that safety position.
But we’ll evaluate him at the wide receiver position in the spring.
Q.I see Shumate made the list as a safety.
Coach Kelly: He’s a safety. Here’s another guy who came in and has done a great job. He’s at 213 pounds at the safety position. Farley is at 204 pounds now. We really like the size there.
Q.I know you’re familiar with the term ‘basketball on grass’ which is coming to fruition with Joey Brooks.
Coach Kelly: The kid has worked really hard. We like his attention to detail. Again, we’re going to give him a fair opportunity. He’s an extremely athletic kid. Here is the bottom line: he’s willing to do whatever we ask him to do. It will be fun to watch him go in there and compete and we’ll give him an opportunity to do so.
Q.Shumate, obviously you are pleased with the cornerbacks forming behind him. Are you looking for the fourth spot from Jalen and Josh in the competition?
Coach Kelly: Absolutely. That’s where we’re looking right away, setting that two deep, plus the guy that is going to play in the nickel position, more flexibility there, with Collinsworth who played nickel for us a couple years ago.
We wanted to put Elijah at that safety position. He’s a heck of a tackler. He’s very physical. He needs to work there. We don’t want to be bouncing him around corner, nickel. We really want to focus on a position with him. I think obviously that’s a position that best suits his skill set.
Q.Obviously competing, but fair to say that Baratti, Shumate competing for the role next to Farley?
Coach Kelly: Absolutely. I think Matthias is going to be challenged as well. We think he played well for us last year. That experience is going to prove well for him. Baratti got a little experience playing last year. A much better situation than when we lost Jamoris Slaughter. We felt like we were shorthanded. We don’t feel like that’s the case. Turner, Eilar Hardy have had really good workouts. They’re starting to show up a little bit more. I’m noticing them. That’s a good thing for them.
Q.The end of last year you mentioned how this season you see maybe more of a quarterback driven offense. What do you know from Golson and also your receivers and tight ends this spring?
Coach Kelly: There’s a number of answers into the question. The development of Golson now will be consistency week in and week out. Getting us in the right protection. Playing at a tempo and a pace that we can control the football game at the pace that we want to play at. Just the next step in his development, which there’s a lot of things that he’s going to have to work on.
He’s already shown it. He’s been great to work with. His attention to detail, absorbing all the things.
Daniels, he needs to go and step his game up another level.
Chris Brown, T.J. Jones, all those guys. We’re looking forward to them elevating their game with great experience. They all have had great experience. It’s nice to have a group of guys like that coming back.
Q.Just at a big picture level after Alabama, you said it’s pretty clear what you need to do to get over the top. How did that experience change winter conditioning? What you want to get done during spring ball?
Coach Kelly: My comments after the game and my comments after I got a chance to watch the film were a little bit different.
I thought watching the game there were some things there that we weren’t in a position yet to even come close to. But we’re a lot closer than I thought.
On the defensive line, we weren’t pushed around, as many people had talked about. That was a concern of mine.
I think looking at where we wanted to go after that game, continue to recruit depth within the program. If there was one thing that stood out for me, we were in that game, and we lacked depth at some critical positions which didn’t allow us to do some of the things I would have liked to in that period of time before the game, especially on the offensive line.
So in the recruiting process, that’s one answer towards that question.
The second answer towards that question is to just continue to build the strength of your football team. We need to continually get bigger, faster, stronger. Year four is seeing those results really hit home for us right now.
Q.It’s been a while since you’ve had a year four.
Coach Kelly: It’s been a long time. I like fours, eights and 12s.
Q.The biggest difference in year four to three is what? Is it more and more and more of what you’ve been building?
Coach Kelly: It’s you know what you got. You don’t come in going, All right, if this happens. You really know what you have and you can really identify the things you need to work on. When you have the protocols and the process in place on a day to day basis, the expectations have already been set, it allows you to really work on the development of your football team.
Q.You mentioned leadership already. With Manti gone, where do you think you’re going to look for that defensively?
Coach Kelly: Well, I think it’s starting to show itself in a number of different areas, which is really good to see from my standpoint.
I’ll give you a couple examples. Lo Wood has been terrific in terms of leadership. Jarrett Grace has been terrific in terms of leadership. Tyler Stockton, who didn’t play much for us, is a leader even though he’s not on the field. Obviously sometimes you want that guy that’s on the field as well.
But guys are starting to understand what it takes to be a leader. You can say ‘leadership’ all you want, but what does that mean? It means holding others accountable.
It’s still a work in progress for us, but I like what I’m starting to hear out there. We’re hearing people speak up, taking that level of accountability and running with it.
Q.You mentioned DaVaris a second ago. What kind of development is necessary from showing a flash here or there, title game he was good, to being a kid who understands that he has to come out every practice?
Coach Kelly: Just hit him over the head with a stick every day. I mean, really, this is just a matter of him deciding he’s going to do it. He’s capable of doing it. He wants to do it. We have to show him how to do it. He knows he’s the guy in the mix. Sometimes it’s a matter of maturation.
He understands what we want from him because we think he can be great. But he’s got to move his game up to get there. That’s a process we’re working on with him. We’ve seen some good early signs. I would be surprised if he didn’t have a great spring.
Q.You mentioned Alex a little earlier. Physically where he is seven months removed from ACL.
Coach Kelly: Moving very well. In terms of his size, 246 pounds. Your tight ends, 246, Koyack is 261, Niklas is 259, and Brooks is 222. We’re getting the kind of guys that can go in there and physically hold their own at that position.
He’s a really accomplished pass catcher, too. He can catch the football. He’s got really good hands. I remember him at Elder High School when I was at Cincinnati. I thought he was one of the best tight ends in terms of catching the football. Now he’s got some size to him.
Q.Is his conditioning all the way caught up or something that will stretch through the summer to come back from the ACL?
Coach Kelly: I haven’t seen signs of him being fatigued and not being able to finish some of the real difficult workouts that we’ve had.
Q.Back to leadership a little bit. When you look at Everett now, year two as a starter, how is that dynamic different compared to the first year guy as a freshman?
Coach Kelly: He’s stepping out front. He’s leading workouts with the players when the coaches can’t be there, whether it be one on one, seven on seven. He’s active in meetings. He sits in that chair over there and he’s on the edge of the chair. You know what I mean? It’s a guy that has been the starter at Notre Dame and understands what goes along with that.
So across the board, this is a different young man because he’s been in it, he knows what it looks like now. So every single day we see a step up.
He’s excited. He can’t wait to start tomorrow and get the offense rolling.
Q.You personally talked about last year starting all that stuff, remade yourself a little bit. Is it sort of more subtle tweaks now when you look at all this different leadership you have coming in this year?
Coach Kelly: Each year I’ve had different groups. This team is different than last year’s team. You have different personalities. I think every year you have to change the way you address the team because it’s a different group.
Last year I had a lot of guys that clearly understood the way I wanted them to do things. This year it seems to be a similar situation where the guys really have a great work ethic, they’re starting to understand the things I need them to do to be successful. Now I have to spend more time with them individually in building that leadership as well as our coaches.
Each year it’s a little bit different. I don’t think you can be the same every single year. You have to really play to the strengths of the team.
Q.You have all nine coaches of your staff back for the first time since you’ve been here. What does that do for you guys heading into spring?
Coach Kelly: Well, first of all, it says a lot about Notre Dame, what a great place it is to work at, because all these coaches had opportunities. They saw Notre Dame as being the place they wanted to be.
I think from my perspective, it’s a continuity you love because everybody knows what to expect, everybody knows what the expectations are from me, as well as what they need to do to get their players at that next level because they know them well. Obviously they’ve invested a lot of time with them over the last few years. Most of our coaches have that investment.
It’s definitely a plus moving into the 2013 season.
Q.From an offensive philosophy standpoint, last year you created a lot of mismatches with Theo and Eifert being hybrid players. You lose both of them. Do you still take that same mismatch philosophy into this year’s offense?
Coach Kelly: I think we’re going to find out a lot more about that as we go through the spring. As I said, we think we’ve got some players that can complement the offense across the board. I don’t know that we have the kind of singular great players that we had last year. We’ve got a lot of really good players. I’ve had great teams that have had great players across the board, then I’ve had great teams that have had individual players.
I think that’s work in progress for us to figure out. The spring will allow us a better window towards that.
Q.That may be one of the top goals or priorities you need to figure out this spring?
Coach Kelly: No. I think obviously continuing to work on the offensive line, the center position is a key position for us, getting that settled, then the development of the quarterback position, continue to look towards that elevating itself, then the runningback position. I think those are the probably, in that order, the things right down the middle, if you will, relative to our offense.
Coach Kelly: Each year you have a comfort level with certain units. Last year obviously when you had Zeke (Motta) and Jamoris (Slaughter), you felt great at safety. When you looked at running back and tight end with Theo Riddick, Cierre (Wood) and (Tyler) Eifert. This year the comfort level is the left side of the offensive line. You couple that with Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo. There’s different comfort levels because you know what you’re going to get from those guys.
The left side, then obviously one player on the right returning in (Christian) Lombard, that should prove to be a strong suit for our football team.
Q.There’s so much invested in the game, it can be devastating to a team’s psyche, but it can also be a motivator. Can you talk about how you’ve seen your guys respond in trying to build off of that.
Coach Kelly: Well, I think it’s unmistakable when you see it and you’re in that environment, you want to get back there because there’s no atmosphere like it. It’s not a normal bowl game. It’s times 10. They all want to get back there. They know what they did last year to get there. For them to do it again, they probably have to even do more.
It’s a great motivator for your football team. I think the experience you gain from going through that process is invaluable. So both of those working together, the motivation to get back there, then the experience of actually getting to that, knowing what it looks like, propels your team.
Q.At one point last year you talked about Everett (Golson) needing to physically grow, putting on a suit of armor in terms of running the ball. I hesitate to take you down the height and weight road, but has he done what you wanted?
Coach Kelly: I could get the kickers and punters in here, too, if you would like (laughter).
That’s one area that I would like him to get better at. He’s 188 pounds. I want him playing in that 190, 192, 193 range. He’s working at it. He’s stronger, there’s no question. We’d like him to continue. That’s got to be a big point of emphasis. Take care of the offense, continue to develop as a quarterback, take care of yourself, make sure you’re eating right. He’s a picky eater. We’ve got to get him to eat better.
He knows what he needs to do. This isn’t a message being sent out to Everett. These are conversations I’ve had with him. He’s got to continue to put on weight and get that coat of armor for the fall.
Coach Kelly: Let me get to them. Let’s see. They’re not even on here. Sorry.
Q.I’m leaving then.
Coach Kelly: (Kyle) Brindza is up to 250 (laughter).
Q.Through 12 games last year, the regular season, you had one of the great defenses at Notre Dame over the last 40 years. Yet after the national title game, several of the Alabama players made the comment that maybe what made you so great during the regular season was the downfall, using the word ‘predictable.’ When you see the tape of that game, do you concur you were predictable or this is what got you there and you have to continue doing?
Coach Kelly: We’ve got great coaches. Coach Diaco and his staff are really, really sharp. First of all, we’re going to clearly do what we’ve done up to that point.
However, we learned some things as well. We’re always looking to learn. When you have a long layoff like that, you have that much time, we’re going to look at some things that I think will make our defense even better. Like I said, Coach Diaco is one of those guys that doesn’t feel like he’s learned everything. He’s always analytical, he’s always critical, he’s always looking to improve. I think after that game, we’ve learned a lot about where we want to go moving forward.
As I was saying earlier, that’s the benefit of playing in that game, is that even though we lost the football game, you can learn a lot from it.
Q.Did you concur with that statement?
Coach Kelly: I just danced around that for like 20 seconds and you’re going to come back at me again (laughter)? I think we learned a lot about what we need to do, things that we can do to be better, not just our players but our entire coaching staff.
Q.Is it realistic anymore to have more than four scholarship quarterbacks on a roster?
Coach Kelly: Well, it’s not something that I’ve actually thought about. But clearly kids want to play, especially at the quarterback position. At first glance you would think that five might be heavy in terms of scholarship quarterbacks.
I think it’s something that we have internal conversations about relative to what the right mix there is. But for me to be definitive, I think it depends on what year those quarterbacks are. You got a couple of seniors, you might be able to get away with five.
I think really when you’re recruiting, what are you looking for when you’re recruiting at that position? In other words, there could be some dual threat guys there.
I don’t want to put myself at, Hey, I’m never going to get to five. But that’s a lot of quarterbacks. I think circumstances in terms of class, where they are in the class, whether they’re a guy that can maybe play multiple positions, have a lot to say in that as well.
Q.Along the defensive line, that’s probably going to be viewed as the strength again of the team, the people you have coming back. Depth wise, with the position vacated by Kapron, that’s kind of what’s separated the SEC from the rest of college football. Do you feel you’ve put yourself in a position where you’ve become a top program with that?
Coach Kelly: We’re getting there. I think there’s still work every year on the defensive line. I don’t think there’s any coach that’s going to stand behind this microphone and say, We are so loaded in depth at the defensive line. Everybody feels like there’s a hole somewhere.
I’m just looking at our guys with Kona Schwenke is a veteran established football player on the defensive line. People would love to have him as a guy that hasn’t started a lot. Here is a guy that can go in and compete right away.
We really think a lot of Jarron Jones. He’s a 300 pounder that we think is going to be able to compete for us.
I talked earlier about Chase Hounshell, how important it is for him to step up for us. He’s shown that. He’s healthy. He’s 275. We’d like to get him in the 280 range. He’s working towards that.
When I look at our list with (Stephon) Tuitt, (Louis) Nix, (Tony) Springmann, I feel pretty good. I think Justin Utupo is going to be able to help us. He lacks a little bit of size, but he’s a tough competitor, four years into the program, very strong, up to 281 pounds. I really think that we’ve got some depth there, especially guys that haven’t played a ton that can definitely contribute to our success.
Q.Do you have Sheldon as the top?
Coach Kelly: I think Sheldon Day, he’s 286, a guy that’s played a lot of valuable minutes for us. Obviously he’s a guy that we expect to step into that position, as well.
Q.Brian, doubling back to Gunner. Can you give us any idea what he had in mind of where he might be going to?
Coach Kelly: There were a number of nationally regarded programs across the board. There were too many for me to even get into. Some regionally, some national, but a pretty long list.
We gave him pretty good leeway to find the right resting place.
Q.You mentioned you weren’t surprised. Is there a disappointment there? You worked hard to bring him in. He was obviously a prominent recruit. Is there a disappointment he wouldn’t have tried to stick it through a little longer to see where it could go?
Coach Kelly: Sure. I think you never want to see guys not stay in the program. You don’t bring guys in expecting them to transfer. There’s always a sense from my end that we wish he would have given it an opportunity.
But kids make decisions based upon what are important factors to them. Gunner and his family felt like it was best for them to pursue other opportunities.
Yeah, I mean, again, we’re coaches, teachers, educators. We want to see guys succeed.
Q.You talked about developing the personality, identity of the team. Do you try to push a certain identity or do you lean on them to see what happens?
Coach Kelly: I put them through a number of different opportunities through conditioning, weight training, through practice, to create those opportunities for the team to kind of show itself.
We’ve done some things up to this point and I’ve seen some things as to where we’re going. Now we’ll use the spring ball to find out more about our team, then we’ll use pre season camp. I think all of those things come together and they establish the identity of your team.
Q.Is there something that you saw that last year’s team didn’t have that you want to make sure this team does have?
Coach Kelly: No, no. I liked our football team, the way we competed. Again, I think we’re talking about some very basic tenents here. Our guys need to respect how they play the game, playing hard for four quarters. If we can get to that level, not beat ourselves, we’re probably going to win our fair share of games, you know what I mean? Then you build on it from there.
Q.Is Gunner still enrolled at Notre Dame?
Coach Kelly: I believe he is. My last conversation with him was that he was going to finish up school because it impacts his eligibility. It’s my understanding, unless something has changed, that he’s enrolled in school and is finishing out his semester.