April 18, 2015
Coach Kelly: I thought it was a great atmosphere out there. We weren’t sure what to expect with the stadium not being in play for us, but I think our game ops crew did a great job and Chad Klunder and his staff putting together the operations for today should be commended. I thought NBC worked well given the limitations. So we’re really pleased with the overall operations today. I thought Notre Dame did a great job in utilizing the resources necessary to pull off a spring game in a real homey collegiate atmosphere. Took me back to being at Assumption College at Grand Valley and it was really neat today. It just reminds you when you get out on that field, whether you’re in front of 83,000 or 4,000, it’s still a game, you’re still coaching kids and it’s still about developing your players and execution and things of that nature. But I thought it was a good atmosphere and we got a lot out of it.
We really wanted to center this game, particularly in the first half, around the quarterbacks and really wanted to put them in a position where they could utilize their skill set and I thought we did that. I thought they were able to do that. I thought they both competed at a high level in the first half, and I think we all say they’re all capable of playing championship football. Both Everett and Malik played well, did very good things. Malik probably made one poor decision putting the ball up for grabs, but neither one of them turned the football over. Everett tried to force a ball late in the third quarter. Other than that, I thought their judgment was excellent. The zone read game was strong. The decisions they made were excellent, so really pleased with them in the first half. I think for me it was pretty clear that we’ve got a very good offensive line. They’re going to be able to control the line of scrimmage in most instances and we’ll continue to go to our strength, which we believe is up front. So was really pleased with what we saw there and continue to grow in a number of other positions.
C.J. Prosise was impressive with not only his ability to break into the second level but he showed his toughness in lowering his pads and playing physical. He’s really rounding into a — he’s a guy that you’re going to fear. When you turn on the film, you’re going to look at him and go, He scares me. So some good things offensively.
Defensively, I thought Max Redfield continues to show why he’s going to be a big player for us defensively. Jaylon did what we wanted him to do early on, was all over the field. Nice to see Jarrett Grace out there making plays. And again, very competitive situation. Really pleased with the kids’ play and across the board the way that we were able to put together the game under less-than-ideal circumstances. So with that, we’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Brian, where is the C.J. Prosise thing heading. Is he going to be a hybrid player, is he going to be a full-time running back?
Coach Kelly: Well, I think as we continue to move forward, he’ll get every opportunity to take over a starting position, whether it’s at wide receiver or whether it’s at running back. So I’m going to play the 11 best players, and whoever the 11 best players are are going to be on the field. So I’m not going to paint him into any particular position or category. If he’s the best running back, he’s going to start. If he’s the best wide receiver, he’s going to start. So it’s my job, it’s our job to get the best 11 players on the field, and right now it’s hard to make the case that he’s not one of the best 11.
Q. Did anybody maybe jump out and surprise you today that hadn’t earlier in the spring when the lights were on and it was game speed?
Coach Kelly: I was pleased that some of the younger receivers caught the ball. Corey Holmes caught the ball when he needed to. Justin Brent caught the ball when he needed to. I was pleased there. I think although Nick Watkins got beat by Will Fuller, he made some solid tackles, played physical. So I think those three freshmen, hoping that they continue to grow and emerge. I saw those guys continue to get better, but it will be one of those things where I’ll have to sit down and watch the film to get that kind of depth in terms of who surprised.
Q. Can you talk about the offensive line in terms of establishing a running game, how important is that for you next season, and also about the people who ran the ball today?
Coach Kelly: Yeah. Again, I think we’re trying to really get that left guard position settled. So we had a revolving door there with Nelson and Bars going in and out, so we wanted to keep that obviously a competitive situation. And getting Nick Martin back to what we consider his best position at center. We felt like we wanted — today was a day that we really wanted to emphasize the run game and get our offensive line working together and get into a good rhythm. We ran some tempo with them as well, and we just really think that that’s the strength of our group and wanted to see them working together and I think we saw that today. Running backs, all three of them are capable of being a really solid force. Folston is just really solid in all phases. I thought Greg did some pretty good things today. But again, the guy that keeps jumping out at us is C.J. Prosise.
Q. Coach, with Quenton Nelson, what did you want to see from him at the start of spring and what have you seen from him now that spring’s done?
Coach Kelly: I think when you’re talking about that position itself, the guard position, it’s picking up movement, right? We know if you put a guy in front of him, he’s going to win a one-on-one matchup. It’s movement, it’s the ability to move and adjust when you’ve got games and slant and angles and things of that nature where if it’s in front of him, he’s going to knock that guy out. It’s the ability to move and redirect, because Alex Bars is really good at that, he’s really nimble and moves his feet well. We wanted to see Nelson continue to improve and that’s where he’s gotten better each and every week. I think that’s his greatest improvement through this spring has been in pass protection more than anything else and picking up line games.
Q. Coach, what do you tell the quarterbacks at this point? Do you tell them it’s even going into the off-season or do you just rate each of them individually?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, we keep working on each individual and where they need to continue to grow individually, and then the decision on playing time will take care of itself. They can’t control that. All they can control is what’s in their purview and that is the fundamentals of what we’ve asked them to work on, and the rest they can’t really worry about, it’s not their call.
Q. Is it the biggest challenge for Malik? Obviously he hit Fuller in stride in that long pass. He had some earlier passes that looked like were a little bit wayward. Is his main challenge right now consistency?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, I think with Malik, he has a tendency to hold back on his left side. So some of them are fundamentals, which are coming and working with him, and he’s got to do a lot of that work in May and June as well. But he’s made great progress in his mechanics and delivery, and he’ll continue to work on that. So we saw improvement from the spring day 1 to day 14, and I think we’ll continue to see that as he goes through the summer.
Q. With the quarterbacks from now until the beginning of camp, what do you feel like they need to work on, and I guess how much of that is part of your ultimate evaluation in terms of figuring out who’s going to play or how much each of them do end up playing?
Coach Kelly: Yeah there are certain things. For example, when we got backed up, we got backed up in Everett’s last possession. Everett made a great throw to Torii Hunter down the middle of the field to pick up the big third down. We had a hands-to-the-face on our left tackle that put us back inside the 10-yard line. Everett had a wide open receiver on the perimeter which would have only picked up 10 to 12 yards, but what would have improved our field position markedly for us to punt the football. He was a bit disinterested in the throw because he knew that that wasn’t to get us a first down, nor was it goes to get us another possession. He’s got to make those throws so we can punt the football. Those little things of game managing are the things that we’re working on and that Everett’s got to improve on in his game. So game management situation with Everett, consistency and efficiency with his read option game we’ve got to continue to work on. I thought he ran the ball effectively and efficiently today. He ran with his pads down. He made good decisions of turning it up and stepping out of bounds when he needed to. Those two things in particular. Game management, I thought he worked in the pocket well, stepped up, when he had nothing he took off, and then again, I think the read option game. Those things he’s got to continue to work on.
And Malik, it’s really about his consistency in all the things that he does. He does some things so well and then there’ll be a couple things that are not consistent. He’ll do it so well in the same play, then there’s a dropoff. So we think that’s more concentration, that’s just more focus and just working on those things with him.
Q. Last year I think the OTAs were really more for the defense to sort (inaudible) system a second time. Are the OTAs this year just purely quarterbacks for you, is that the biggest benefit of these?
Coach Kelly: I think the OTAs for us will be continuing to work on what we saw in the spring as some of our strengths and going back to them, and really focusing on who we are. You know, we’re trying to — we want to have an identity when we come into camp. We’ve got to play Texas, Virginia and Georgia Tech right out of the gate. We have to have an identity of who we are. We can’t wait four or five weeks to find out oh, well, we’re a running team, we’re a passing team, we’re this, we’re that. We want to use those OTAs to really start to establish our DNA and our identity as to who we are.
Q. I want to clarify, there was something I think on NBC that you called the plays today and you weren’t expecting Sanford to really take over the offense for another year. Is the implication that you’re going to call plays again this fall?
Coach Kelly: All we said, and I said this I think when we were here, is that his focus right now is we’ve got two very, very good quarterbacks. His focus is on our quarterbacks right now and learning the offense and that’s Job 1. The next job will be obviously continue to grow and learn the offense so there’s play calling opportunities there. Mike Denbrock right now is running the entire offense. Those are his calls and his decisions to make. Mike really is somebody capable of doing all of those things, but not at this time. His focus right now is working with the quarterbacks. And so when we put a timetable on it, right now I’m more ready to be the play caller until all these guys are in a position where they can take more of a role offensively. That’s just a matter of where we are right now because most of Mike’s time has been developing the quarterbacks.
Q. You’ve had some great individuals on your offensive line. Do you think this could be your best 1 to 5 in terms of your starting lineup?
Coach Kelly: Well, I think it’s the deepest. So I think you probably go 7, 8 is really the difference here. And I thought what was really revealing to me today is that when the quarterbacks flipped, it was hard to tell whether it was the first offensive line or the second offensive line. Usually you know when the second offensive line is in there. It was the third offensive line where you saw a bit of a dropoff in there. But with the first and second offensive line, both those quarterbacks were effective and efficient with whoever was in there and I think that was the big telltale for me.
Q. Speaking of offensive line, that throw to of Ronnie Stanley, has that been in the works for a while, and also how important is he to that line?
Coach Kelly: Well, the only way he was going to come back for a fifth year was if I put that play in. That was the sealer. As we were going back and forth on academics and he was really committed to coming back to Notre Dame for a lot of reasons, the number one reason for him coming back was to get that football today. I’m kidding.
We wanted to put in a trick play and Ronnie’s got good hands, he’s an athlete, played basketball at Gorman and we were kind of messing around with a play. I ran it when I was at Central Michigan to Joe Staley, who’s a pretty good offensive tackle for the 49ers, and we had some pretty good success with it. So I said, well, let’s put it in. It was a forward lateral, though. They just didn’t throw the flag. It had to be a backward lateral, but I told them we haven’t repped it enough so it’s probably not going to be a backward lateral, just don’t throw the flag because I don’t want to have to have to run it again.
Q. Coach, how nice is it to see a kid like Jhonny Williams in the final minutes of the game when he’s just out there but he’s going full speed trying to get the win for the defense?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, it’s been — you know, obviously for Johnny, he’s worked really hard to put himself in a position physically to get out there and compete. He’s a really good athlete. Transitioning to Notre Dame has been difficult for him. He was underweight and playing at the defensive end position. He’s worked so hard on putting on weight and making that transition, and carrying all that weight has been hard for him. He’s got to work really hard in school and all those things, so it was nice to see him have some success today because he’s a good kid that works hard and obviously a local guy, it’s nice to see him have some success.
Q. And just on a lighter note, the goatee I think we’ve all kind of noticed it.
Coach Kelly: Yeah. It will be gone on Monday when I get out on the speaking circuit. I was hoping it would come in red but it came in gray, I look older, so I’ll have to shave that off.
Q. Coach, as the spring ends, how do you see the linebacker situation shaking out, especially with Jaylon having cross-trained a little bit. Is that something you’re still looking at?
Coach Kelly: Well, the different sub-packages will determine where he’s playing, and we feel like we’re in a position now when we’re in our base defense, he’ll be inside. When we get into some of our sub-packages, we can choose where he plays. He can be on the outside, he can be on the inside depending on what we want to do. I think we’ve firmly established that we can move him around. He becomes a player now after this spring that within our sub-packages we can move him inside or outside, that’s pretty clear.
Jarrett Grace has established himself as a middle linebacker that can come in and help us in a number of different situations. He’s smart, he gets guys lined up, he gets himself lined up and he can play. Nyles Morgan continues to get better and better, and Joe Schmidt now is going to get a chance now to probably play both Mike and Will. So just gives us more depth at those positions where at times you know last year we were really thin. Te’von Coney’s had a great spring. He’s had a chance to learn a lot of the middle linebacker position. Good problem to have that we’ve got some depth now at that position.
Q. The offensive line you mentioned kind of has been the deepest there. You’ve got many options on the second unit there with the defensive line as well.
Coach Kelly: Yes.
Q. Seems a little bit deep. Would you consider that maybe a little bit more comfort level with the depth that you have there this year?
Coach Kelly: Yeah. I mean, and we didn’t play Jarron Jones, right? He didn’t play any this spring. Add Jarron Jones back to the mix and now you’re talking about probably four, five guys that can play inside and give you really good solid play. So again, depth on the — what I thought was different about this spring was the depth on the offensive line and defensive line that allowed us to do a lot more things together, 9 on 7, inside drills, 11 on 11, run play action work that we hadn’t been able to do since I’ve been here, which gives us a clear evaluation of our football team and who we are, and that makes it so much easier for us moving forward and you can do it with depth. So yeah, we’re going to have three, four guys that we can count on inside. Clears up who’s going to play where moving forward.
Q. Almost didn’t hear anything about Cole Luke. It’s almost like you just take him for granted?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, and he’s had a pretty good spring. I think he’s gotten better. Technique is important for him. He’s not a 4.3 40 guy, he’s got to rely on technique. I think he’s gotten better. I think those are the areas that he continues to get better at. His tackling is much firmer and much more solid at the point of attack. So I think it’s been a good spring for him and one that I think obviously we’re feeling confident that he’s gotten better through the spring and hopefully we get some more guys back there this summer.
Q. Just real quickly with the recruiting calendar, you have until May 31 with the evaluation period. Do you have any satellite camps set up?
Coach Kelly: No, we’re not going off campus.
Q. It’s going to be exclusively —
Coach Kelly: It will all be here, everything is going to be done here.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the fan play, and obviously that was a huge momentum shift for the defense?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, we were hoping that would be. I told Max we’re going to throw it up there, make sure you get it and score because we need to close the gap here a little bit. So a little bit of a manipulative scoring in the second half. Everett came to me and said, Do you mind if we have a little fun with the play? I said, I thought we were having fun with the play just calling the play. You know, I think that’s probably where we’re going to go with this offense is to play two quarterbacks in the fall. I thought it looked great. I think two quarterbacks is probably the way to go. So whoever that fan was, it got us thinking. We’ll be here late tonight coming up with much more of an offense for the fall and probably for Texas with two quarterbacks.