Nov. 23, 2014

An Interview With: COACH Brian Kelly

Q. I was wondering if you had any injury updates on Jarron Jones or Cody Riggs?
COACH KELLY: We’ve got an X ray on Cody Riggs, no real change. He probably picked at a little bit of the healing in that stress reaction that he has, so we’ve got him in a walking boot, and we think that if we limit his exposure, that hopefully we can get him back on track to giving us the same kind of practice, and same kind of contribution this weekend. Jones, he has his MRI right now, so we’ll see. He’s got a sprain. We think it’s a Lisfranc sprain, and we’ll just have to see what kind of separation there is in that Lisfranc to determine what his status will be. So we’ll get a little bit better read on his situation within the next couple of hours.

Q. Is it too early to tell whether Cage or Day might be ready for USC?
COACH KELLY: Cage, we’re hopeful. We moved him around today. He looked good. We’re expecting to practice him on Tuesday. So my best guess here would be that Cage would be available. Day, we won’t know on his status until he gets rechecked on Monday.

Q. Bit of a simple question, but not a simple answer. But what is your process, what is Notre Dame’s process for determining a holder and special teams? I know generally it’s a back up quarterback or a punter or someone on the special teams. I’m just curious how when you go back to spring practice and you go back to camp how this all kind of phases out and how you kind of determine who your holder will be?
COACH KELLY: Generally speaking it’s somebody that’s in that special teams battery. It’s been here, and it’s been for me, it’s usually been either the other kicker, if you have a back up kicker, it’s been the punter. I’ve had quarterbacks, back up quarterbacks. It really just depends on the situation. But, generally, it’s somebody that handles the ball frequently, or is in that battery that is building a relationship and a confidence with them on a day to day basis. I think that’s pretty standard across the board.

When you’re looking in the NFL, limited rosters put it on the punter. He’s got to do it regardless of the situation, so that’s generally how that works. We started the process with the back up long snapper because he was part of that battery, and we felt in assessing the situation that he was the one that had the best hands. Because Kyle was going to be doing all the duties, we weren’t going to burn up a red shirt on our punter, Newsome, to be the holder. So that’s how we started in that process.

Q. Now that you’ve had a day to review the film. What do you think you got out of J.J. yesterday?
COACH KELLY: We got great energy, we got toughness and we got a guy that played hard every snap. He needs more work and technique and understanding the defense, but we’ve got a guy that played really hard, played physical, and never was overmatched out there, so a lot of positive things.

Q. Did you get him the number of snaps that you wanted and you felt like he needed to get yesterday?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he got close to 36. I think he had 36 snaps, so that was what we were hoping for.

Q. I know you kind of touched on this Thursday, but just what did he show you in the weeks of practice leading up to this to allow you to make this decision?
COACH KELLY: He was difficult to block. Every week our guys had a hard time blocking him. He’s got toughness. He’s got a great attitude, a very aggressive kid, and physically he’s been getting stronger all year in the weight room. The weight training has really helped. So we just liked his demeanor, his toughness. Plays really physical football, and that’s why we were hoping that he could impact and he helped that a lot.

Q. Lastly, you’re 4 1, or excuse me, 3 1 against USC in your career here. What is the beating USC, even in a season where right now you have four losses, what’s that sort of do for the overall outlook of how this season turns out?
COACH KELLY: Well, I just think obviously it’s USC and it’s a rivalry game for us. It’s a huge rivalry game. Great tradition in the match up, but we just need to find a win. I think finishing the season with a victory is all we’re really focused on, again, great rivalry, great tradition, great history.

In a sense, I think this week is even more about just finding a way to get a win for these guys. They’ve played with such great effort. I feel for these guys. They gave everything they had. They’ve got three losses now by a total of ten points, so really the focus is just trying to find a way to get a win.

Q. Obviously, fewer turnovers yesterday. Do you feel like the team overall played better than it had been in recent weeks?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, they played with great effort. We would have liked to have made a play here or there, and you know blocked a little bit better, tackled a little bit better. But we got everything out of these guys. Like I said to them after, I mean, we asked them to control two things, and that was their effort and to play with a great attitude, and they certainly did that.

We’ve got a lot of inexperienced guys that are trying to get the job done the best they can. I’m really proud of what they did. They played a lot cleaner. You know, we obviously had one interception. But we could have done a better job coaching Everett on that play too. So, yeah, I would say we played cleaner, but what I was really proud of was their effort and their attitude.

Q. Seeing the way the season has unfolded. Do you think this team overachieved in going 6 0?
COACH KELLY: No, I mean, look, we’re 10 points from being three more wins, right? Florida State we lose in overtime, and then we miss a field goal here to go to overtime. Very easily, this team could be in a totally different position so that’s college football, you know? They’re very close. We needed to make a play here or there, a kick here or there, and it’s a totally different look on it.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the effort that these kids have been given has been outstanding with the loss of five players and a ton of freshmen having the play. I’m proud of what they are doing for me, and that is playing with great effort.

Q. When a team is struggling, does facing a rival help in the psyche?
COACH KELLY: Oh, they’re excited to play USC. But I think they’re just they want to win a football game, so I think if it was Alabama A & T, they’d be excited just with the opportunity to get a win. So that’s really important to them is finishing with the win, and it’s sweeter because it’s USC too. Playing that last game against USC is going to be memorable for all these guys. But I think the thing that they’ll carry the most is to try to get a win in their last game. That is the most important thing.

Q. Just a follow up on Jay Hayes, has he been impressive since the beginning of the year, but was it just a matter of Danny Utupo taking up a large portion of the reps?
COACH KELLY: I’ve been impressed with him all year. I thought he showed the things necessary for us, but we wanted to, obviously, not play him if we did not have to. And we just got so depleted that it almost became a necessity, and then obviously losing Jarron Jones on the first play of the game, I mean, made it look like we knew something, so we’re glad we activated him. We had to activate him. We didn’t want to, but he’s ready to play and he contributed nicely for us on Saturday.

Q. I take it he got a bunch of work against the offensive line along the way?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he got a ton of work. He was very, very good in giving us the kind of looks. He played fast. He played physical he wasn’t a favorite over there, I tell you what. There were a number of times there was some pushing and shoving on the offensive line because he went hard all the time. So that’s why I knew he was going to be a guy that could come in and help us right away.

Q. What about Jonathan Bonner? Is he in that category or near that level of play that Hayes has shown you?
COACH KELLY: No, he’s not. He’s learning. He’s not as he’s going to be. He has some unique, physical traits that are really extraordinary. He can do some things that some of our other guys can’t do, but he’s still in the learning process of understanding how to play the game. Jay has a natural understanding of how to play the game.

Q. In terms of Day, Hayes and Bonner, are those all three techniques or do they have some position flexibility?
COACH KELLY: Jay’s got some flexibility. Jay can play some five technique. There is no question he’s got some flexibility. Bonner has some flexibility as well, those two. Cage does not. Did you say Cage?

Q. No, I’m looking at Day?
COACH KELLY: Oh, Day. Absolutely, all three those guys have some flexibility.

Q. Would Bonner be a nose tackle candidate?
COACH KELLY: No, no. He’s got some really quick feet and some acceleration. I mean, he’s a guy that could really impact us in some nickel situations inside as a pass rusher, a bigger guy. But he just, it’s still a learning process. He’s putting on weight. He’s developing, but, again, he’s a little more behind in terms of understanding the position.

Q. Coach, I wondered, I saw Everett got hit a few times. I wonder how his shoulder held up? How he’s feeling today and his prognosis going into the week and how much you’ll practice him.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, nothing with the shoulder. He got stepped on. He had, on the injury report, he was fine. No issues, got treatment for getting stepped on, but no treatment necessary for his shoulder. So came out of that really well.

Q. How would you assess his overall play?
COACH KELLY: I’m just finishing grading it right now. We’re grading some other things on defense. You know, I think he did some really good things, and there are some things that we want him to get better at. I think it’s probably a couple of throws that we would have liked to see him pick up a little bit sooner. I think he’s got to continue to work on keeping his eyes down field. But he did some really good things, missed a couple of throws here and there. I thought he probably threw a great ball at the end there that would have required a great catch by C.J., but it was the only place he could have put it. He did some really good things. He played well enough for us to win. Let’s put it that way.

Q. Eventually how good do you think Everett could be? Could he be a top 5 or ten quarterback in the country? Could he be the best quarterback in the country? Does he have that in him?
COACH KELLY: I think there’s got to be more growth there, absolutely. There is a higher ceiling for him. He’s not been tapped out in the sense that it’s as good as he can play. I think there’s a lot of room for development and we hope that this experience that he got this year and going into USC in a bowl game that we continue to see that development. So in answering your question, yeah. I believe that he could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country, no question.

Q. I’m curious how Brian VanGorder has, I don’t know, dealt with is the right word, but maybe processed playing with so much youth and so forth? Is he frustrated? Is he encouraged at what he sees? What’s kind of been his reaction to having to play with a depleted defense?
COACH KELLY: I think as a competitor, we’re all frustrated that we have to play with so many guys that have depleted in ranks. But I think if you had to use one word he’s very encouraged and I’m very encouraged as well because we know what these guys. I looked out there at one time we’re playing against a lot of seniors and juniors for Louisville, and I’ve got five freshmen and four sophomores out there. They’re battling their butts off. So I don’t think you can go away from it any other way but being very encouraged.

Q. In terms of when you say we’re really young, is it physical maturity, mental maturity, is it both? How quickly can you really affect change there when you’re playing every week?
COACH KELLY: Oh, I think the thing that’s really made this encouraging is playing freshmen that physically can hang in there and hold their own with veteran players. That is the most encouraging. Where we have to grow is the football intelligence department, and we’ve got to make time for it. As you know, there are a lot of rigors for these guys, and a lot of work that has to go into the classroom. We have to carve out more time in the off season for these guys to continue to learn football and understand the game. That’s going to be the next point of development for especially our defensive players and players on offense. Understanding the game and that development can take place in the off season.

Q. Is it a foregone conclusion that Greer would start at USC at middle linebacker?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I’d want to talk to Brian about it, but I would probably say right now that was probably be safe with that assumption.

Q. With Nyles, I know we focus a lot on what he’s not doing right. He’s had 20 tackles the past two weeks. Is he outrunning some of his mistakes? Do you still see promise in the sky that he could help you a lot next year?
COACH KELLY: Oh, he’s going to be a terrific player. He just shouldn’t be on the field right now. You know, yeah, I mean, we have one player that we repped all week and he ran up the back of Justin Utupo, just things like that. We’re running cover two and he’s got to close the middle of the field and he knows he doesn’t get deep enough. He’s a great kid. We love him. He’s just, he’ll learn because the kid does everything we ask him to do. He’s going to get an opportunity to be a complete player. It’s just going to take a little bit more time.

Q. Last one for me. I know last night you felt like you wanted to watch the film before you kind of figured out what happened on the missed kick. Did Kyle have some thoughts on that? Do you have thoughts on what exactly happened with that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I do. I think we needed a little bit better hold, and we needed a little bit better kick. I don’t think it’s all on the holder, and I don’t think it’s all on the kicker. I think it was a combination of both.

Q. I’m working on a story on James Onwualu, and I’ve got a couple questions on him. I was wondering, first of all, can you talk about how you think he’s made the transition this year from wide receiver to linebacker?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s probably one of the most astounding transitions. You don’t normally, and you can probably go across the country, tell me the last time somebody’s gone from wide receiver to linebacker. That is probably the start of your story. Then he’s ascending right now. In other words, he’s getting better as a football player. He’s starting to learn the position, understand how to play the position. He’s a tough kid. He plays hard. We really like the direction that he’s going in.

Q. A lot of the story is focused on the pipeline from? Cretin Derham Hall High School to Notre Dame. Obviously, Michael Floyd, Ryan Harris have been a couple of other guys in that. What have been your thoughts on that pipeline over the years?
COACH KELLY: Well, obviously the Cretin Derham’s academic mission parallels to what we’re doing here at Notre Dame. So they’re so well prepared academically when we recruit a young man there. Obviously they’ve done a great job in their football program. So there are so many parallels. They’re a profile school, if you will, for us in terms of recruiting.

Q. Yeah, certainly been a Boone for you. I mentioned Michael Floyd, Ryan Harris coming before James, right?
COACH KELLY: Yes, sir.

Q. Coach, some things get lost when teams not winning games. But you’ve had some young kids really emerge over the last few weeks. Will Fuller and Tarean Folston have been producing a lot for you guys. Can you just talk about how they’ve played the last few weeks and will develop into becoming more of a complete receiver as opposed to just a big play guy?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, it started with Will. I mean, he’s a factor in every game we’ve played. I mean, Louisville had probably two of the better corners in the country and he ran by them at will. And we’re certainly aware of Will coming into the game. Yeah, he has, obviously, put himself in a position to be considered one of Notre Dame’s finest receivers. I mean, and he’s done it in very short order.

Obviously, didn’t play very much at all last year and has made a statement this year. I think what it is is the mental toughness. The ability to make the tough catches, and he’s only going to get better.

I think when you’re looking at Tarean Folston, what I’m most impressed with is when we challenged him as a complete running back, he took that challenge and he stepped up. As you saw, he was in the game late, and he did an outstanding job of pass protection, and that was the piece that was missing for him. He did a great job. Then tough yard running he’s just, again, a guy that’s developed as a sophomore to the point where he’s put himself in a position to get the primetime carries and be in the game late.

Q. On Everett, it’s been a tough year with turnovers and things like that. When he came into the season in high school, he had over 100 more touchdowns than I he did interceptions. He hasn’t failed a lot. Is a season like this where he’s learning maybe I can’t do some of those things, does that help build a foundation for next year where if he handles it right, is that a way he can tap into that ultimate ceiling you talk about with him moving forward?
COACH KELLY: Oh, there is no question. This is really his first full year of seeing everything. Again, you’ve got to go back to his first year where it was really we controlled a lot of the looks. We controlled a lot of the situations. Now he’s seeing everything. He’s only going to be a better quarterback because of everything he’s gone through this year. Like you said, he’s probably turned it over more than he’s wanted or I’ve wanted, but he’s going to have over 30 touchdown passes and 3500 yards and probably throwing it in somewhere in the 60% completion range. That’s a pretty good year for a quarterback, and I think he’s going to be able to build off of that.

Q. Coach, just another young kid that’s been developing over the course of the year. Can you talk about Steve Elmer now where he is and what he needs to do to continue moving forward to reach his potential as a player?
COACH KELLY: Well, he was, of all of our guys out there, he was probably the most physical run blocker for us. He was the one guy that was able to make a dent and move guys up front. So his physical presence is really in the run game apparent. Where he has to grow is in pass protection, moving his feet, getting himself in better body position. I think if he does that, he can be a really, really good football player.

Q. On Everett a little bit, he’s gone through adversity that he didn’t really go through in high school. Have you had to find different buttons to push with him? Do you feel like you have a handle on how he bounces back from adversity and the best way to coach him moving forward in those instances?
COACH KELLY: Yes and no. I think every time is a little bit different. I think for the most part we have a pretty good feel. I don’t want to press him on everything, but there are big things that he has to continue to work on that I’ll press him on. But it’s like any other relationship, you continue to work on the communication skills of how we can be more effective working together and communicating with each other. We’ll continue to work on that in the off season and through the spring and summer.

But I think we’ve got a pretty good feel for each other, where the hot buttons are. What things you can do, and what things you can’t do. I think we’ve got a pretty good space with that right now.

Q. You like to coach kids a certain way, and he probably has a preference for how he likes to be coached. Are those always the same?
COACH KELLY: Are they always the same in terms of how I coach kids?

Q. Yeah, how you coach kids and how he likes to be coached. Do those always sync up?
COACH KELLY: I’ll coach kids and for the most part I’m going to tell you how I feel regardless of whether you like it or not. That’s not going to change. But I can do it with the quarterback position a little bit different because it’s generally the one that’s most scrutinized. So you’ve got to be a little bit more careful with the quarterback position.

Q. With Austin, he talked a little bit how he can’t wrap up exactly how he’d like to with the shoulder. With the youth everywhere else on your defense are you basically forced into playing him even if he’s not even close to 100% just because you need some kind of veteran presence on that side of the ball?
COACH KELLY: I don’t want to bring his play into the spotlight, per se, but he helps us because he can get us lined up back there, but he clearly isn’t a hundred percent either. We would like to have the two young guys back there. Shumate, well, not the young guy, but at least Max back there, but haven’t been consistent enough. So that’s forced Austin into the game and he’s not a hundred percent. He’s given us everything he has though.

Q. I guess with Max and Elijah, did they show you much in practice last week or are you still looking for them to have a response based on the last couple weeks?
COACH KELLY: We haven’t given up on him, let’s put that way. We still believe in him. But they’ve got to continue to show more consistency in practice.

Q. The past couple of games have had nine red zone opportunities. Didn’t come out with the score on three of them and had touchdowns in four. I’m sure you’d like the percentage to be much better than that. Any one thing you can pinpoint as to where there have been lapses there?
COACH KELLY: No, I’d have to probably go back and look at them individually. Obviously some mixed field goals in those situations play a part in it. I’d have to go back and look at each one of them individually to really give you a feel if there is a match up that we missed or a protection or we should have run it or thrown it in a particular situation, so it’s really hard for me to give you a great answer other than we take a lot of time and effort to break down that area of the field and think we come away with the plan that’s going to allow us to score touchdowns in that area.

But it’s still about execution. I think if you look at it, just the last couple of weeks we’ve had turnovers in that area. So I think turnovers have something to do with it as well.

Q. Going back to the safety for a second. Do you feel at times almost that it might be a case that the scheme might be too complex for them? I remember when Jaylon Smith came in you had indicated that if he can’t get on the field, we have to reassess as to what we’re doing that makes it too hard for him to get on the field. Do you feel the same way about the safety position?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think so. But it’s a dramatic shift from where we were last year to this year in terms of the scheme that we’re playing. So we’re never going to put it all on the players. It’s part coaching as well. You’re right in the premise of your question that we’ve got to get the best players on the field, but they also have to be the most productive players. But it’s also about production while they’re on the field. So Max and Elijah are not on the field not just because there are mental mistakes, but there is production lapses as well. So it’s a little bit of both in that sense. In other words, it’s not just simply the scheme. It’s also about production, and we’ve got to keep an eye on both of those things.