Aug. 16, 2011

COACH KELLY: Good morning. Welcome to the Notre Dame Media Day.

I will start by saying that they are ticketing out back. I am a big proponent in ‘quid pro quo,’ meaning I can take care of a lot of tickets here. If you want to make that first article… That’s Latin guys. I thought you would be all over that (smiling).

Obviously, another season, another preparation for us. We are right in the midst of that preparation as we lead into the 2011 season. For me it’s really about we’re in the midst of preparing our football team for 2011.

Expectations are always high at Notre Dame. But I can’t really give you a whole lot about our football team until I get another 10 days to two weeks with them. I can give you some early thoughts. I can give you some clearer pictures relative to our football team, where we are position wise. But we’re still cooking, if you will. We’re still in that process of developing who we are in 2011.

I’ve always felt that each year it’s a different personality because new people emerge. Guys that hadn’t played before now play and immediately put their personality into your football team. Those that hadn’t led now begin to lead. They impart their personality on your football team.

So we’re still evolving. I want to make sure that this isn’t one where we have all the answers today about our football team.

We know what the expectations are at Notre Dame, but we’re still building this football team for 2011.

I can tell you what I like about them. This group has been as focused about the task at hand relative to their preparation for 2011 than any team that I’ve coached. Extremely professional in a sense that they go to work every day with a purpose.

It hasn’t been a camp where we really had to take out the stick and get these guys to practice. They really enjoy practicing. They really enjoy the preparation.

I enjoy that as a coach. If you have a captive audience like that, it makes it enjoyable to go out and coach every day. The greatest joys will be in winning. I get that. This is a team I really enjoy coaching because they come to work every day. They really enjoy being around each other. We’ve got a bunch of young men that respect each other and know they’re all in it for the same reason.

Those are some of the things you get in the locker room that maybe you would not get sitting down individually and talking about specifics to the position or the team. I really like our football team and the way it’s coming together. But we still have some more work to do before we kick it off against South Florida.

Those are some general observations. I think we can get into discussion. Question and answer would probably be the best format for me right now. So open it up to questions from the audience.

Q. Brian, what does the number one quarterback have to show you that’s going to separate those two?

COACH KELLY: Well, it really is mastering the offensive system. When I say ‘mastering the offensive system,’ there are so many different things we can do within our offense that that quarterback has to be able to be efficient in all the areas. That is getting us in the right play, checking to the right protection, making sure that the right people get their hands on the football.

So it’s more than just arm strength; it’s more than just leadership capabilities. There are so many other factors involved within the structure of our offense that the quarterback must excel at.

I think there’s also now an added dimension in that we feel very confident about the kind of defense that we can play, that taking care of the football now is a premium. We’ve got to take great care of the football.

I know everybody wants to take great care of the football. That’s actually one of those boxes we have to check off with the quarterback. We have to ensure he’s going to be somebody that is not going to turn the football over.

So mastering the offense, all the complexities within, then really being careful with the football.

Q. I have a question about Michael. As you kind of distance yourself from the day he was reinstated to the team, do you talk to him, the coaches talk to him about what happened on a daily basis, or do you try to distance it?

COACH KELLY: It’s part of who Michael Floyd is for the rest of his life because of mistakes that he’s made. He’s always carrying that with him. We don’t go back and relive that. We look at how Mike handles himself every single day. I think that’s what I focus on more than anything else, knowing that every day Michael, he’s part of our program, he’s got to live up to the standards that have been set.

I don’t think you forget about it; you don’t just throw it under the rug. But you don’t spend time every day gnashing your teeth: Michael Floyd, what did you do to us? It’s past that in that sense. But he’s got to do the right things every day, and I think he has.

Q. You talked about the possibility of using two different quarterbacks. I’m assuming it would be Rees or Dayne or either Hendrix or Golson? Would that be a safe bet?

COACH KELLY: No, no (smiling).

Here’s what I have to do. I’ve got to prepare our quarterbacks to enter the game. We can’t go into a season like we did last year where we had such inexperience that it really impacted a game last year.

Here’s where we are. Let me help everybody out so we can stay away from questions that really are not pertinent to what we’re doing.

Crist and Rees have separated themselves by virtue of their knowledge, by virtue of their ability to manage the offense and structure that we have. They can take the whole offense and run with it, both those kids. So you’ve got two quarterbacks that I have great trust and confidence that they can play championship football for us.

Then you’ve got two young guys that have not mastered the entire offensive structure but have excelled in small doses of what we’re doing. So if either one of them would enter the game for whatever the circumstances are, they would not be able to run the entire offense that we want to run against South Florida. I can tell you that with great certainty. However, there are some things that they do very, very well, that if they had to enter the game, we would move towards what their strengths are. That’s really where we are.

How those kind of mix up during the game, I’m going to leave that up to a tactical advantage going into each and every game.

Q. You talked about Darius, wanting him to be one of the those explosive players in the county. What about that position is so crucial to your defense?

COACH KELLY: Well, as you know, he has the dual responsibility of putting his hand on the ground and rushing as a defensive end as well as dropping off in coverage.

That individual position builds that uncertainty, in what you’re getting as a pre-snap look.

If he’s only one dimensional, in other words, if he can only rush the passer and not drop, everybody knows what you’re doing defensively. He now has taken that next step that he’s as good in coverage as he is on the line of scrimmage, defending the run, rushing the quarterback. That was the dimension we needed from Darius.

He’s taken that next step now in year two and can do those things for us. That’s where you build the uncertainty, what is he doing, rushing, dropping. Now you have to deal with the same scenario to the other side of the ball. What is (Prince) Shembo doing. Is he rushing or dropping? We didn’t have that last year, quite frankly. We were at times a liability when we were dropping in coverage from that end. Now no longer that’s not the case.

Q. He talked about how he felt more comfortable as the year went on. Were there things you saw that maybe aren’t reflected in tackles for loss or sacks that: He gets it now?

COACH KELLY: I think it’s the continuation of later in the season as well as what happened in the spring. Those things gave us a lot more confidence in his ability, knowing that he could bring his game to a new level. That’s continued through pre season camp. He’s been a dominating player. He has overwhelmed our offensive line at times. I don’t use that word lightly. He’s ‘overwhelmed’ some of our players. He’s now in that position where we believe he can be an impact player for us.

Q. Can you talk about everybody who might be out.

COACH KELLY: Eilar Hardy has a knee injury. He’ll have surgery on that and will be lost for the season. I think I mentioned Tate Nichols has a dislocated knee. He’s making great progress. We thought two weeks immobilized, two weeks to get him back. He’s ahead of schedule there. Mike Ragone has a quad strain that has held him from competing. He’s getting closer and closer.

I don’t think there’s anybody else that is in jeopardy of not being able to answer the bell when we start against South Florida.

Q. You’re happy with the way the two quarterbacks have kind of stepped up. Are you still on your time frame or are they so close you’re tempted to try to give them a little more time?

COACH KELLY: What we have done is the first 10 practices we made sure that all four quarterbacks were getting enough work we could truly evaluate them. I think I mentioned a few days ago that Dayne and Tommy were clearly getting more reps. But Everett and Andrew were still getting more reps than a normal third and fourth would normally get. We had to pair that back starting yesterday.

Dayne and Tommy are getting a great amount of the reps. Those two guys are fighting for what they can get for right now. The separation has already occurred by the way I script practice with the four quarterbacks.

Q. (No microphone.)

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I believe so. I believe that both of those guys are preparing now. It’s going to be the slightest of margins when we make this decision. I can tell you right now I’m confident that both of those guys, if named to start, either one of them will lead our team in the manner we need them to be lead. It’s that close.

It’s a good situation to have as a head coach. Maybe it’s not so good for the two guys that are in that battle. But from that standpoint, we’re very comfortable with the timeline we have set up.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about Manti Te’o. He had such a great year last year. Have you seen him continue to growing? Can you speak to some of the specifics there.

COACH KELLY: Yes. He’s clearly, from our standpoint, our best linebacker. Now how we compare him to everybody else in the country, we don’t spend that much time doing that. I’ll let you guys do that.

We look at him as a very, very integral part as to what we’re doing defensively. He hasn’t disappointed any day in terms of how he comes out to practice, his leadership, whether he’s having a bad day or not. It never affects the other guys on the field. He just has all those qualities you’re looking for.

We believe he’s a better football player because of the knowledge of the defense and the knowledge that he’s taken just as a player himself.

So, yeah, we think that track is still climbing as it relates to Manti and his ability to be a better player.

Q. Have there been any ill effects? Is he 100% at this point?

COACH KELLY: Yes. All players that have any kind of surgical procedure, we’re always going to keep an eye on those things. Our trainer will always let us know if he’s a little sore. Of course, Manti is never going to take a rep off. Sometimes we have to pull him and say, Hey, why don’t we just settle down a little bit. Knee’s a little cranky today or a little sore. That’s where we are with 50% or 60% of our team. We’re in that period of time where they’re hurt, not injured. Manti is one of those guys, too.

Q. I want to go back to your comment about this maybe being the most focused team you’ve had. You’ve had multiple championship teams. I’m curious how this focus is maybe better or different from what you’ve seen your 12 0 Cincinnati team or national title teams?

COACH KELLY: Some of the teams that I’ve had have been extremely focused on Saturdays, so locked in that they had that kind of steely eye focus that when you walked in the locker room, you knew it was just let them play, let the dogs hunt.

This group does a great job of keeping the distractions at bay as well. They don’t get distracted. There could be things going off around them, and they can really stay focused on the task at hand. Yesterday we had faculty out there, there was a lot going on out there. They can stay focused and locked in on what they need to do for those two hours.

The difference would be the distractions. They don’t get distracted easily at all. They really want to practice football. They really want to play football. That’s been enjoyable for me.

Q. Any theories as to why that is?

COACH KELLY: I could give you a number of them. One of them is the want and desire to be a championship football team. It’s been a long time. They’ve only won six games two years ago, and eight games last year. That doesn’t fill you up, I don’t believe.

If you look at the progression, six wins, eight wins, they want more, and you can see that in their focus.

Q. Brian, how much have you added to your offensive playbook in your second year? With Floyd missing the four months, does he have any catching up to do? How is he doing on that if he has?

COACH KELLY: Mike Floyd does not have any catching up to do from his perspective. The quarterback position has grown in its knowledge base relative to installation offensively. We feel like we’ve been able to do a lot more now that we’ve got our second year with our quarterbacks. So that has grown. But it hasn’t put Michael Floyd behind relative to how he puts himself back into this offense.

Q. At a place like Notre Dame going into your second year, you obviously came here for a reason. The football program needed a bump forward. Talk about the tricky balance about a place that clings to the past, tradition, and getting things like a training table and pushing things along as an interesting proposition.

COACH KELLY: I think anytime you take over and I’ve used this analogy before you take over a blue chip company, blue chip stock, that hadn’t been paying dividends in the manner that a lot of people think it should, there are some things internally that need to be addressed. I think that we have. I think there’s been great support from the University to do the things that I have felt, that Jack Swarbrick has felt, that our president has felt necessary. We’ve moved forward with those things.

You don’t want to change who you are, but there are changes you can make in how you do those things. I think that’s what we focused on, is the things we do on a day to day basis, we feel that we have streamlined those and made significant progress.

Q. Are you happy with where you are one year into turning a corner and making this an elite college program?

COACH KELLY: That to me is more about your message and it’s more about what your players need to believe when they come here. Our recruiting has changed in that we’re recruiting young men that you’re coming to Notre Dame to play for our Lady. Your not coming here to hang your hat because you’re going to the league. If you want to do that, there are other schools for you. We may not get some of those guys that have that attitude. They could be eight star, nine star players, whatever is the highest star is out. If they fit that mentality, we won’t recruit those guys.

We’re starting by recruiting guys that want to be at Notre Dame, get their degree, play for Notre Dame. That’s when it started. It didn’t start because we changed the locker room or we did more collegiate things. It was really about that paradigm shift in terms of attitude.

Q. In what ways has the momentum of last season’s finish carried over into your practices and your preparation?

COACH KELLY: I think momentum equals confidence. So there’s a lot more confidence. I think it was Brian asked earlier about Darius Fleming, finishing strong like he did, carrying that momentum has equaled confidence in the way he’s gone to practice every day. So confidence I think is the one commodity.

Now, that confidence can be eroded if you don’t turn that into winning early. You know what I mean? It’s our job now to build that momentum and confidence into the start of the season. We have some confidence, but we know we’ve got some work to do because 2011 is a different challenge.

Q. Both of your starting defensive ends are on award watch lists for the position, probably also the position that is the deepest in your recruiting class. How are you going to get all these guys on the field? Are we going to see a lot of these guys become 3 4 outside linebackers?

COACH KELLY: We really believe that Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson had to take too many snaps last year. I think it was reflected mainly in third down scenarios where if there was an area that we needed to address, it was third down. That occurs through depth and situational substitution. We didn’t have that versatility last year.

So that depth that we have is going to allow Ethan and Kap, who are starters, to be fresh on third down, take a blow here or there, so we’re really coming at you for four quarters. That depth allows that as well as versatility.

Now we can look at situational substitution in certain times within different packages we have defensively. We didn’t have the ability to do that last year. We had to be in a couple of fronts, this is what we did. We had to live with that. It gives us a lot more versatility.

Q. One of the common themes among the players last year when you came in was having to finish strong in November. Obviously you fulfilled that goal. You have a very strong September coming up right now. You’ve mentioned that one of the most important lessons you learned was you have to have that identity quickly. What do you do to prepare to have as strong a September as you did with a stronger November last year?

COACH KELLY: Well, it started in June with our conditioning program. You don’t start in August; you start in June. In the way we tailored some things in June and July, then obviously in camp.

We’ve got to get our best 22 on the field playing at a high level. So our conditioning element in June and July was such that we were putting our football team in a position where we felt like conditioning was not going to be a factor come the first game.

Consequently, we focused a lot more on skills, tackling, all the football skills that you need to have. I know that you probably watched some pre season games. It’s sloppy tackling, it’s missed assignments, it’s poor special teams. It gets you in trouble early in the season, and it did for those. So those have been the focus areas for us.

Cut to the chase. We’ve been able to spend more time on football with our football team. Not getting them in shape, getting them to where we need them to be. It’s been football, football, football. That allows us to prepare our team for the first game.

Q. The interview schedule you have, it’s a lot of the starters. You also have Robby Toma on there. Has he emerged a little bit more this camp and anyone else coming to the forefront?

COACH KELLY: Robby has really emerged as a leader our on football team. So he’s there not necessarily because he’s going to catch a hundred balls. I’d like to see that. But it’s because he has a leadership role in our offense. His personality, his toughness. He really is mirroring the kind of things we want to do on offense. He was chosen because of the way he’s practiced, the way he prepared, because of the way people on our offense look towards Robby Toma.

Q. You’ve talked over the course of the last year about making more explosive plays on the offensive side of the ball. How has that progressed throughout fall camp?

COACH KELLY: Well, we have them. We feel like if you look at our offense, Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, Tyler Eifert, you can throw T.J. Jones in there, all those guys can make big plays for us. It’s our job to have an offense that allows them to do that.

The only issue we have is that that’s it. We don’t have the depth offensively yet that we can roll out the next day.

Question was asked about the defensive line. Defensively at the linebacker and defensive line position, we feel like we’ve got enough depth there that we can roll out the next guy.

Our shortcomings are going to be on offense after that next level.

We’re really thin offensively in the depth of our football program. So if you’re looking at where the perceived weaknesses are in the program, it’s through recruiting and that skill position. That’s got to be addressed.

We had to come in immediately and address the defense. That was easy. We knew where we had to go immediately, and that was on the defensive side of the ball. These next couple years are going to be focused on building depth in those skill areas. After those guys, we haven’t had any guys that are ready to step up into those roles.

Q. You’re up to date on what’s going on in the summer with conditioning. You don’t get a chance to see them in competition until practice starts. There has to be a couple times that you said, Oh, my God, that was pretty impressive after practice. Who are some names that stood out, caught your attention in camp so far?

COACH KELLY: Well, it’s hard not to see the young defensive players, you know. Start with Louis Nix. Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas. Those guys are physically imposing. They get your attention right away. They get my attention because I’m on the offensive side so much that when we put our second unit out there, it feels like a screen every play, we’re cutting people loose. You notice them from that perspective. So I think it starts there.

And then some of our young guys on the offense that have really shown they’re going to be really good players. DaVaris Daniels, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, those guys are going to have to play for us this year. Are they ready right now? No. They have the athletic ability to play BCS football right now. So I think those guys have stood out.

Nick Martin. When Tate Nichols went down with the knee, we had to push Nick right into second team tackle position. So he’s being mentored by somebody that has a vested interest in seeing he does well, and that’s his brother Zack Martin. Zack has kind of taken him under his wing. Nick has done a nice job.

So there’s some young guys that get your attention.

I think the final piece of that is the veterans. We talked about Darius Fleming. Kapron Lewis-Moore is a different football player. Gary Gray, Robert Blanton, our safeties. They are so much more mature and physical as football players.

Then offensively if there was one guy that we would pick out in camp, it would probably be Cierre Wood in the sense that he’s really been complete. He wasn’t complete, as you know, as a player. In terms of blitz pickup, catching the football, running physically, he’s been very impressive, as well.

Pretty much covered it, didn’t I? Could there ever be another question after that (laughter)?

Q. Obviously Notre Dame has if not the toughest football schedule, one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Do you believe your talent level is championship caliber this year?

COACH KELLY: You know, it doesn’t matter if I believe it. It’s what our players believe in. We believe in them. As I said, our weaknesses are in depth. I’ll put my 22 against anybody else. But the game’s not played with 22. You got to have other guys right to go. We think we have some areas we need to address that give us more depth. But we’re confident in our 22 against anybody in the country.

That’s not going to be good enough. You’ve got to develop the next level of players. That’s what we’re still doing. That’s why I can’t be complete in everything of my evaluation of our football team because we’re still trying to develop that next group that’s going to have to play for us.

Q. Coach, the landscape of college football is seemingly changing by the hour. Where do you see college football headed in terms of the formation of super conferences and how will that impact Notre Dame three, five, seven, nine years down the road?

COACH KELLY: Yes to all that (smiling).

Q. Thank you, appreciate your time (laughter).

COACH KELLY: I think we have to be cognizant of what’s going on out there. There’s no question. I think there are implications. I think it’s pretty clear that television contracts and affiliations, we’re seeing individual networks pop up with schools. It’s no longer Notre Dame. It’s a number of schools.

All those things, those shifting sands that you talk about, we just need to know that we can hear the tree falling in the forest, so to speak. We’ve got to have our ear to the ground and be aware of all those things. And I know we are.

Q. Earlier you mentioned there’s a small margin between Crist and Rees. Can you tell me what it’s going to come down to as far as your decision?

COACH KELLY: No, but I’ll know it when I see it. Not to be cute with the answer. As I said, we still have seven, eight days of a lot of work, a lot of scripted work, a lot of situational work, whether it be in the red zone or third and long.

What we’re doing mostly now is situational work with the quarterbacks. They’re not going to go back there and everything is first and 10. Now we start putting them in situational work and see how they perform in situational work. That will be one area. Then I think the other area will be when it’s seven on seven, the patience that they have to make sure that we don’t turn the football over. Those will probably be the factors. We need more of that before we can get to that final decision because it’s going to be such a close margin no matter however it comes out.

Q. How do you feel the team has adapted to your style of play? This is your second year, first recruiting class. Talk about how they’re adapting to your coaching style and your style of play.

COACH KELLY: I think they know my style pretty good. It’s not just getting your starters, it’s getting everybody acclimated to that. We’ve got freshmen that have only spent a couple of weeks with me. You know what I mean? It’s not just the guys that have been here a year and a half or two years, it’s everybody. We’re closing in on that. They know how I want them to practice. We don’t have it perfect yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Q. Talk about the practicing you’ve seen from Tyler Eifert from his position?

COACH KELLY: Point of attack blocking is the focus for us with Tyler as we came into pre season camp. We know what we can do with them detached, we know what we can do in the passing game. He’s very fluid, can catch the football. He’s a great guy for matchups, in our favor that is.

It’s really point of attack blocking. He’s making progress there. Getting stronger at point of attack. That’s been our focus with him, in getting him to be better at the point of attack.

Q. A year ago it was pretty safe to assume it was going to be Dayne (Crist). Now it’s 50/50. Do you see a different edge in his approach with this competition on his mind?

COACH KELLY: That’s a good question. Not that those other questions that have been asked weren’t great questions.

Your first inclination has been that Dayne (Crist) has slipped. He has not. He’s much better. He’s a much better football player than he was at this time last year in all aspects: demeanor, focus, buying into Brian Kelly’s system vis à vis other systems that he’s had taught to him. All those things have made him a better football player and a better quarterback.

But Tommy Rees came in as a blank slate. He didn’t have any other systems that we had to flush out. So Tommy has really hit the ground running, and that’s why it’s made it such a great competition.

So we’ve got two quarterbacks that have gotten better from last year more so than anybody slipping a peg or two.