Aug. 17, 2010
COACH KELLY: Good morning, we are 13 practices into the 29 practice opportunities. We’re not quite halfway through our preparation for Purdue, but clearly we’re getting a better sense and feel for our football team.
Players are starting to separate themselves as to what we believe to be their roles. We’re identifying and defining at the same time roles for our players. I think it’s very important at this juncture that our players understand that it’s not just about being first team, it’s about being part of our football team this year. So defining the roles, players separating themselves through consistent performance is starting to happen right now.
I think as we spend a little bit more time with our football team through this week, we’ll start to get a sense and feel for who we are, what our strengths are. I think in my opening press conference I talked about what I believe to be some of our strengths, weaknesses and questions. We’ve been able to answer some of those along the way, confirm some of those thoughts, and really, in my opinion, change some feelings relative to strengths and weaknesses and question marks.
Again, 13 practices into it, we’ve got plenty of time left. But clearly from my perspective we’re getting a better handle on our football team.
So with that I’ll open it up to any questions or the questions you have because I’m sure we have a couple.
Q. Where are you right now; are you any further along in your evaluation on the backup quarterback situation?
COACH KELLY: As I think it stands right now, Tommy Rees and Nate Montana are in a very close, competitive situation for that backup quarterback situation. I would think that Luke (Massa) and Andrew (Hendrix) right now, there’s a separation there I guess is the best way I could put it. Part of it is we haven’t given them as many reps either.
Nate Montana, Tommy Rees, those two right now are very, very close. We’re going to need a little bit more time to decide who that number two is.
Q. You mentioned players starting to get them to buy in, rather than being on the first team, be part of the team. Do you have to be cognizant of a veteran being disappointed compared to a redshirt freshmen or a freshman?
COACH KELLY: I think obviously as the head coach, overseeing the day to day operations, you want to maintain a positive morale. That’s very important.
Having said that, I’m not going to put a senior up there who does not deserve to be in that. So what do you have to do? One on one conversation. Be very, very straightforward. Communicate where he is, where he needs to go. In some instances it might be, “Listen, here is your role. Do you accept your role on our football team? If you do, great. If you don’t, then maybe we’ve got to do something else.”
Q. What are your thoughts about the wildcat? Is there some redundancy when you’re a spread offense guy or can that still be part of what you like to do offensively?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think it’s a redundancy. I think it’s a natural progression actually. It’s a lot smoother in its form because we have a lot of those schemes already in in the spread. You can’t block anybody in the spread if they put six guys on the line of scrimmage if they have five.
Answering your question, I think those principles are involved in the spread, make it an easier transition. The final answer to the question is we will run a version of what we consider in the nomenclature the wildcat. We’ll have that element in our offense.
Q. Have you at least identified who your wildcat guy is?
COACH KELLY: You know, last year I had a big tight end at Cincinnati. I kind of like the big, physical guy in there. So we’re going to look at probably two or three guys. We’re going to look at Armando Allen, who had some experience in getting the ball snapped from the center last year. We’re going to look at Theo Riddick and we’re also going to look at Kyle Rudolph.
I think there’s some guys out there that we’re going to kind of get a feel for. We’ll do that now as we get closer to the base installation being in, we’ll get to some of those things now.
Q. Just with Dayne (Crist), when you talk about the progress he’s made, especially with the footwork, how long before a quarterback commits that to memory, to muscle memory, the footwork in your system and everything else that’s involved for a quarterback?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think the footwork can continue to get better probably through the first year. You need some game situations. You need a live rush so you can obviously get a sense and feel for how to slide, move your feet in the proper way.
But I think where we’re at right now, it won’t hold us back from him being effective in running our offense. He’s still got a ways to go. He’s getting better at it every day. And then just making good decisions. As you know, he hasn’t had a lot of experience. We’re trying to create as many game like situations for him as possible.
Yesterday we had a two minute drill that went for about 39 plays, not one series, but they got a couple of series out there. That’s what I’m talking about in terms of getting that experience. So now your footwork really is being tested with the live rush. He made some pretty good progress yesterday.
Q. Does he take hits in practice?
COACH KELLY: No, he does not. Nobody gets near him.
Q. Talk about a big picture thing in college football. What’s an evolution that you’ve seen, the most significant changes in college football that coaches have had to deal with?
COACH KELLY: I would say that there’s no longer those grinding two a days that I remember when I first started. Gosh, we didn’t have the two a days followed by one two one rotation, it was two a days. I remember some of those days were grinds. Everybody was sleep deprived.
It’s a little different now. The routine is better. The pace is better. But you don’t spend as much time on the field so you have to be very, very good in those meetings.
I think that’s been a really big change in the way college football has gone. Technology has allowed us to do a lot more teaching without having to hit each other.
Q. Over the weekend you talked about the run game. What are some of the things you’ve done from your backs or line that makes you think this is something you’re going to be able to rely on?
COACH KELLY: First, I think it’s having four backs that all have a unique trait relative to that position. So great depth at the running back position.
Obviously some experience on the offensive line. Although some would say you lost your best linemen, they’re not rookies in a sense. They’ve played some football.
As a unit, they work well together. The tight end position is going to provide us some blocking. The last couple years at Cincinnati, we had pass catchers. We didn’t necessarily have a great guy that could block an end. I think the tight end position coupled with five guys that have been working together fairly a long time now, a very good host of backs in four of them, I think all of those things together, I would be very surprised if we were not a solid team running the football.
Q. Every year players talk about game speed. You get out in that first game and the speed is just a little bit different than everything you’ve experienced in practice. With the way you practice, is there much of a difference?
COACH KELLY: We try to make practice more difficult than the games. That’s really what we’re trying to do here. Every day that they’re out there, it is game speed. It is sometimes for the quarterback, particularly the game slows down on Saturdays. That’s what we hope to do with all of our positions, that the game slows down a little bit when we get to Saturday.
Q. Kind of a medical update on (Kyle) Rudolph, (Mike) Ragone.
COACH KELLY: Mike was in gear yesterday. Did some light running. A little bit of individual. I think we’ll continue to move him forward. He felt pretty good yesterday.
Kyle did some movement. Took a little bit of individual, little bit of pat and go, which is kind of our skullly period. They’re getting closer and closer to being activated.
Both the offensive linemen were in gear yesterday. They were non contact. That’s (Dan) Wenger and (Matt) Romine. So from that standpoint, they’re all progressing to the point where, you know, we’ll just let that kind of take its course, but we’re moving in the right direction there.
Q. What was the buy in like early on? Every coach has to go through that. Did you get any blow back early? Was there any testing of you? What is it like now?
COACH KELLY: No, I think I’ve kind of reiterated this from the very first time we got together as a media function, all of the players have done exactly what we’ve asked them to do. It hasn’t been a, Let’s go through this transition. They knew there had to be a sense of urgency relative to their preparation. They were sick and tired of being sick and tired, too. They were 6 6. They felt that walking around campus. We got that buy in from our guys immediately.
Really what it’s been about is just a paradigm shift, different leadership styles. The leadership style has been singularly the one aspect of growing as a team.
Q. And what does the 3 4 present to your offense? Just in general, what does that do to a spread as effective as yours?
COACH KELLY: It negates the weak side running game out of three by one. We like to be in a three by one set for a lot of our snaps. When you’re in the 3 4 defense, there’s no running game in the short game, there’s no passing game, because you have two weak defenders in there. Your focus shifts to trying to attack the field, which of course the defense knows.
So the movement of the front players is that way. Your rotation, your cloud coverages, all your combination coverages come to the field. It negates some things that I like to do.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I really think you could probably list four or five things why people have gone to the 3 4 defense. I would say it takes the middle linebacker out of contrary reads. In other words, play action in his face and the tight end running vertical, what do you do? Do you run gap fit or do you reroute the tight end? It’s really taken a lot of pressure off the Mike linebacker, the 3 4.
Q. You talked about identity and trying to figure that out. Do you have an inkling of the way that’s headed for your team, what your team’s identity might be after spring and a few practices here?
COACH KELLY: Not yet. And I don’t want to force it. I don’t want us to be something that we’re not. However, they understand how I want them to practice. So coming to work every day has been a consistent theme relative to mental toughness, pushing through owies, little boo boos, all those little things that people talk about relative to hurt and injured. Our guys are fighting through a lot of that.
We’re hoping our identity becomes tough minded. Fighting Irish. I think we talked about that before. We’re not there yet, but we’re clearly being consistent with that message. By osmosis maybe we’ll get to that end.
Q. Going back to Tommy Rees for a second. He’s obviously ahead of the other freshmen because he’s been here longer. What’s enabled him to get close to a veteran guy?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that I’m fair to Tommy if I say, He’s just been here longer. If he was here longer, you know, as his only trait, he wouldn’t be where he is. He’s really savvy. He’s a smart kid. He has those intangibles of a quarterback relative to seeing things before they open up. He can anticipate very well. The ball comes out of his hand.
Obviously the weaknesses: we’d like him faster, we’d like him stronger. He has a great head for the game. He understand was the offense very well.
I want to be careful in saying he’s not number two just because he was here longer than the other two freshmen. I think I said at the outset, he showed us early on that he can run this offense. By virtue of that, he got more reps than the other two guys. So that’s where we are right now.
He’s in a battle with Montana. Montana had a really good day yesterday. Nate’s problem is he has a really good day and then a really bad day. I got to get him more consistent because Tommy’s been really consistent.
Q. When you get a freshman QB who should be in high school in January, do you throw a lot at him? How do you bring a guy like Tommy Rees along?
COACH KELLY: We did, we overloaded him. We wanted to see what he could handle. I think in the spring, it was pretty clear that it was too much for him. He used all summer to learn our offense, being seven on seven. He really benefited from knowing the offense and seeing it through the summer. That really was probably his biggest maturation.
Q. When you talk to your team about goals on a daily basis, every practice, every day, do you allow yourself to look beyond Purdue? At this point with a new team, is getting to the opener the only goal that you discuss?
COACH KELLY: We’ve only talked about winning. We haven’t talked about specifics relative to the goals that we have on our goal charts. So my message is really doing the things necessary to be a winner, how you practice, how you handle yourself off the field, attention to detail, all that.
Now, while we’re doing that from a big picture perspective, we’ve already started preparing for Purdue relative to X’s and O’s.
I guess you could say in answering the questions, it’s twofold: it’s working on winning and reemphasizing how important those minute details are as well as we need to get off to a good start and beat Purdue, so here are some X’s and O’s as it relates to Purdue.
Q. You talk about leadership styles, their adjustment to you. Do you find yourself changing your style at all because you might be coaching a player that might be closer to a finished product than at previous stops during your career?
COACH KELLY: No. I think I try to get the best out of every single player, Michael Floyd, you know, to the walk on player. I would hope that my players say I don’t treat them any differently. I still demand the same kind of attention to detail, the same kind of work ethic. Challenging them I think is what they want. I think if you’re a ‘finished product,’ they want to be challenged as well.
I think I’m even handed with that across the board.
Q. How is the kicking game shaping up as far as punting, placement, field goals, your return people?
COACH KELLY: It’s something we work on every day. You know, I think we haven’t changed in terms of the lead guys, (Nick) Tausch, (Ben) Turk. Brandon Walker still has been hampered with a leg injury. He’s been very slow to come around, so we haven’t gotten a ton of work there.
But I think we’ve been pretty good relative to kicking the football, you know, both punting and PAT field goal.
Then our kickoff return guys and punt guys, I think they’re dynamic. I think if you look at who we have back there right now in Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick as kickoff return guys, they’re pretty good. Their backups aren’t bad either. Jonas Gray, Armando Allen. I think we have four guys there dynamic in the kick game.
Then punting, Allen leads right now. (John) Goodman is sure-handed. Theo Riddick is a bit raw. Those would be our specialists right now at this point.
Q. You’ve mentioned from the outset that depth is perhaps one of your primary assets right now. From the freshmen class you were looking mainly at quarterbacks and receivers to enhance. You obviously have T.J. and Tommy. Is there anyone else that you feel really from that class, after 13 practices, that has a chance to really crack that lineup?
COACH KELLY: Probably the topic of conversation for our staff meeting last night, number one for quite a long time, was about who were the freshmen right now that have to be prepared to play. I’ll list them for you. Guys that have to be prepared to play. Now, things could change obviously. We’re 13 practices into it.
On the offensive side of the ball, T.J. Jones, Tommy Rees, Alex Welch, Tate Nichols, Christian Lombard. All five of those guys right now have got to be prepared to play. They’re playing in a two deep role in some fashion.
(Austin) Collinsworth is somebody that is not in the two deep yet, but he’s on every kick team, every special teams that we have. So there’s six guys on offense that are freshmen. It’s the most I’ve ever had in 20 years of coaching that will be eating breakfast with the team when we’re ready to play.
On the defensive side of the ball, Lo Wood is in our two deep, Prince Shembo is right there and most likely will be somebody that will be prepared to play, and Danny Spond has been really, really dynamic. I don’t know that we have many guys that play with their hands and can really shock you. He’s going to be on all of our special teams as well.
You know, six on offense, three on defense, you got nine freshmen right now that will be on the bus.
Q. When you talk about Spond and Collinsworth, you’re talk about first team special teams?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, they could improve our special teams, so they would have an opportunity to be starters on our special teams.
Q. Because you’ve talked about the depth aspect, I think there’s a popular perception this guy went 12 0 at Cincinnati with a bunch of less known recruits, so it should be pretty easy at Notre Dame. How do you respond to something like that?
COACH KELLY: I look at each opportunity that I have every year. You have a new team. If I was at Cincinnati this year, it’s a totally new team. What you did last year with that group is behind you. So take that and go to a new school, it’s a totally new environment. There are new challenges that I have to confront with relationships and building them with players, what buttons to push.
The one thing I had at Cincinnati was three years into it and I really knew the guys we needed to drive, some of the guys we could obviously not put as much time with.
So this one is totally different. I don’t know that there’s any correlation there.
Q. We often hear the expression a team needs to ‘learn how to win.’ Do you buy into that? What are the tangible things that a team has to do in order to learn how to win? How do you go about doing that?
COACH KELLY: Well, the first thing is you got to stop losing.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH KELLY: No. What I mean by this and I’ll elaborate. All the things that detract you from winning, you know, how do you live your life? Are you a guy that likes to drink beer on Thursday night and think you can do that and be the best you can be on Saturday? Are you somebody that likes to hide during practice and pick your spots when you’re going to turn it on?
So I look for all those things that can keep you from winning because I know how to win and I know what the things are that needed to be put in place here.
Our players right now have cut out a lot of the losing things. To me, that’s how you win. It’s not just about what the scoreboard says; it’s about how you go about doing your job seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Q. The last couple weeks we’ve talked with you, we’ve asked you about that inside linebacker spot next to Manti (Te’o). What are some of the assets of the players like (Anthony) McDonald, (Carlo) Calabrese, (Prince) Shembo that you’re looking at and weighing which outweighs the other players?
COACH KELLY: We’d like Mac to play more physical, we’d like Calabrese to play with more finesse. So, you know, again, Carlo, and if you met Carlo, he’s a strong, physical kid. He wants to knock that guard out every time. The problem is the tight end runs down the middle of the field, he’s got to be covered by you once in a while.
Mac on the other hand can cover that tight end down the middle of the field all day long. Once in a while, that guard knocks him back five yards. So, you know, it’s a combination of both of those. We want Mac to be more physical at the point of attack and maintain his really good pass coverage skills, and we want Carlo to be really physical at the point of attack like he is, but he’s got to be able to relate to number two.
Q. Can you mix and match in order to maximize what they do well?
COACH KELLY: I think that’s what I get paid for (smiling).
Q. Are those the main two in competition now for that spot?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, from that inside position they are. I think those two kids right now are really in there. Every day they’re trying to improve on what I just said to you. You can be assured it’s not the first time they’ve heard it. They’ve heard it every single day. So when you’re getting it, you know they’ve already heard what my evaluation is of them.
Q. This is obviously a unique situation, a much bigger stage. You had a blueprint of building or rebuilding programs. Are you following that same blueprint here? How far along in the process of it are you? Is it similar to where you’ve been at other spots as you’ve started?
COACH KELLY: I think the manner in which I go about developing our football team is the same. We’re working on all those things that I’ve already talked about: attention to detail, discipline in practice, fast pace, thinking on your feet, getting game ready. I’m very confident in my ability to get our football team ready to win.
The difference at this position that I’m at at Notre Dame is we’ve got to accelerate that process. We have to operate with a sense of urgency. We don’t have time to let things come as they will. We have to force the issue a little bit.
So there’s a sense of urgency here at Notre Dame that I haven’t had at the other stops, but the plan is the same.
Q. Could you tell us about what you expect from Michael Floyd this year, about his potential?
COACH KELLY: Okay. Michael Floyd. I thought Michael Floyd was overhyped. I thought he was at times average. But in 20 years, I have not had a player who has worked as hard as Michael Floyd has worked. And I mean that. He has out worked everybody on the offensive side of the ball to the point where he has single handedly set the bar for everybody else needs to bring their play.
When we’ve gone in the last couple of days, situational live, if you will, he’s been dominant, he’s been dominant. Believe me, I’m not easily impressed. Again, going back to where I thought he was, watching film last year, wasn’t all that impressed with him.
I’m very impressed with his work. He’s been outstanding. He’s set a bar for the way all of our other players need to compete on a day to day basis.
That’s the Mike Floyd story.
Q. Can you elaborate on what it was, why you thought he was overhyped?
COACH KELLY: Ran down the field and threw it up. He wasn’t a precision route runner. He wasn’t asked to be. He was a match up guy. Bodied people, caught the ball, sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. If you watched him, were evaluating him, you go, Okay, he’s got a big body, he runs down the field, if they throw it up there, there’s a good chance he’s going to get it. You never saw him in positions to run the dig or drive, be one on one, beat coverage on a quick slant on fourth down and snap his hands. All those things that go to winning football games, I didn’t see that. Maybe it’s because they had Golden Tate and he did all that for him. So my evaluation of Mike was based upon the film I’ve had.
We’ve put him in the position I’ve just out laid to you and he’s done all that. That’s why my opinion has changed based upon what I’ve seen with my own two eyes.
Q. You updated us on the injuries on the offensive line. Being out, how did that affect the competition?
COACH KELLY: The freshmen got right in there. (Christian) Lombard and Tate (Nichols), better get to know their names because they’re really good football players. They’re true freshmen. They’re learning every day. We’re going to play the best guys. If they end up being the best guys, and they’re two freshmen out there, that’s the way it is. We’re going to play the best players.
Q. I think we all saw the video online of you guys at the lake. Can you tell us your thinking behind doing that?
COACH KELLY: I’ve always liked to break camp up a little bit. It was an opportunity where we could take our guys away. But it was more about a team building exercise for me and our coaching staff with our players in a less formal structured setting. We haven’t had much time with them. As you know, we had a very short spring practice, and then after that we can’t spend any time with them. So this is really our first chance of spending some informal time with our football team and not have to talk about, you know, running through the line, going up and blocking that guy. It was about just, you know, being people, having that discourse.
So that’s what really forced it for me to do it so early in camp.
Q. How often and in what context do you think of Matt James?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think when we talk about freshmen linemen, which is quite a bit, we think about Matt James. When I see Luke Massa every day, I think about Matt James. Luke obviously was very close with Matt. So there’s that constant reminder of, you know, our freshmen offensive linemen out there competing at a very high level and knowing that, you know, he was going to be doing the same thing. And then obviously Luke, you know, his close relationship with Matt, seeing him every day.
So I can say that I get hit with the double dose every day.
Q. How is dealing with that tragedy yourself and helping others through it over these three months changed you as a coach or a dad or in any context?
COACH KELLY: I think at the time of the event, in other words, at the time of the tragedy, I think that’s when lessons are learned more than any other time. And the response by the Notre Dame community, our president, the response we had as a team, I think sent more of a message out in time of tragedy that Notre Dame’s going to be there. I think the rest has been about healing and dealing with a very tragic situation.
Q. What is the effect of his memory on this program, this team this year? Do you see something there?
COACH KELLY: Quite frankly, I don’t know that our guys carry that with him every day because they didn’t know him very well. I did. Luke did. I think it’s probably a little bit more personal for us, more so than our football team.
I think what our team knows about it is, you know, the tragedy of one mistake can cost you your life, and how fragile everything is. But I don’t believe that they give it much thought on a day to day basis. They’re so focused on the end here, and that is winning football games.
Q. Coach, what has surprised you so far in your first year now having a couple practices under your belt, and what are you going to be happy with at the end of the year?
COACH KELLY: Surprises? I haven’t had a lot of surprises. I think there’s a lot of things that go on on a day to day basis here at the University of Notre Dame that puts you in a fishbowl, and there’s a lot more scrutiny. But that’s not a surprise, it’s just different.
So I don’t know that there I wouldn’t use the word ‘surprise’ in any fashion. We’ve gone to work the same way. Our practice schedule is the same it’s always been since I was at Grand Valley State. We’ve got great support staff. All that’s been really good.
At the end of the day, I want our football team to be better in November than they are in September. If they are better in November than they are in September, I’ll be pretty happy.
Q. Coach, John Goodman did a little bit of everything last year. Can he have a more defined role offensively this year?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he will. He’ll be on the perimeter. He either is going to play the W receiver or the X. He’s not an inside guy. So he’ll be on the edge of our offensive structure.
He’s in a competitive situation. We can win with John Goodman. We can win football games. To be a championship player, he has to be more consistent, and he knows that. He’s got to finish off plays. But we can win with Goody. He’ll stay at that outside receiver position.
I think in answering your question, it’s more defined for him in his own mind.
Q. Any role on special teams?
COACH KELLY: Right now he’s fighting Armando Allen for the punt returner position.
Q. Andrew Nuss, what did you see in him that made you see tackle rather than guard? What’s gotten him into a position where he’s challenging for a starting position?
COACH KELLY: It’s interesting. When we have staff meetings, I’m the first to ask Mike Elston about the offensive line, not Ed Warinner. Mike kept pounding the table on Nuss. Ed did, too. Ed liked him. He just kept pounding the table. I said, “Tell me what it is he does.” He said, “His competitive fire, he’s just really competitive and moves his feet well.” When we hear ‘very competitive’ and ‘moves his feet well,’ we think, Okay, tackle.
So I don’t know that he’s not made no guard as much as we felt like with Zack (Martin) really firmly at the left tackle position, you know, Taylor (Dever), (Matt) Romine and Nuss, let ’em all compete, you know, because we all thought that they were similar in some capacity. They all had some strengths, things they needed to work on. We wanted to make it competitive.
That’s why we, at the end of the day, went with Nuss out at that tackle position. Quite frankly, he can play both, and that’s what helps him as well.
Q. With the center competition between Cave and Wenger, is it different from your inside linebacker because those guys are both pretty complete or is it complementary like the other?
COACH KELLY: You know, Wenger a lot more consistent snapping. Braxston, we struggle with his shotgun snaps. Braxston, when he blocks you, you’re blocked. The problem is, his choice of who he blocks he is not always correct. So if we can get his choices as to who he blocks to be consistent, he can block anybody that he goes against.
So, you know, Wenger has been really consistent. A Braxston has a huge upside. We have to keep polishing Braxston at this time and he’s making really good progress.
Q. To put a finer point on Nichols and Lombard, are they on the left side or right side?
COACH KELLY: Nichols is on the left side and Lombard is on the right side.
Q. Who is the big guy that is going to be the one that everybody is going to look to?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that we have a football team that is star ridden, that there are stars. There are guys that people gravitate towards. There are guys that set a standard for the way they play. And right now it’s (Manti) Te’o on defense and (Michael) Floyd on offense.
Q. To follow up on Michael Floyd. You talked about what he did that you saw was all he thought he had to do. There are a lot of guys that run out in any team, NFL, college, that have to do that.
COACH KELLY: Well, I think what I was alluding to is he wasn’t asked to do a lot of the precision things that I think he’s very capable of doing. And I don’t know, I wasn’t there in any of the staff meetings. You had Golden Tate, he was pretty good. They asked him to do a lot of that. Michael Floyd can do more. He’s capable of doing a lot more. He’s shown to me that he can be that guy that is a complete wide receiver.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone.
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