Oct. 28, 2014
An Interview with Coach Kelly
Brian Kelly: We got back to work on Sunday. Weight training, conditioning. Kind of got the guys back focused on preparations for Navy, then got them out on the field yesterday and had practice yesterday. You know, that typical first day back after a bit of a layoff. You’re trying to get the guys back into a routine to have a chance to obviously get a good look at Navy Sunday and Monday, and now we’re into our Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday, Friday preparations.
We know, obviously, a lot about Navy and have a great deal of respect for Ken and coach. What he does is just well coached, very disciplined offensively, defensively and special teams. When you have skilled players like Reynolds and Copeland and Swain, the fullbacks who have been there, it seems, for a long time, and complementary players at the slot and wide receiver position. That option is very difficult to defend, and seeing that all year in terms of what they do offensively, coupled with the fact that they know their system and they executed it extremely, extremely well.
Defensively, Buddy Green does a very good job of forcing you to use up clock and take time to move the ball. They’re not going to give up big plays. They obviously work well together. Their systems work well together. Offensively they hold on to the football, and then defensively, you know they do a good job not giving up big plays. So we understand the challenge in front of us again, great deal of respect for Navy. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us. We’ve got a lot of work to do this week, but we’re up for the challenge. With that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Playing them every year you would kind of get used to what they’re doing. Do they evolve offensively with different things from year to year?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, they do. I think just little nuances, changing splits and formations, and they know their system so well that each and every week they’re prepared in game, in game to make the appropriate adjustments based upon what they see. I think more than anything else, it’s their ability to make the in game adjustments to what they’re doing. Because they’re not sure exactly what they’re going to get every single week. Teams kind of defensively want to attack them differently and try to defend the option differently.
I think that that’s the secret to their success in that they evolve enough offensively that slight tweaks make it difficult to defend with certainty. And then their in game adjustments are outstanding.
Q. It seems to be, especially when teams don’t normally face Navy, there is a lot of talk about the cut block. With you guys last year playing Air Force and Navy, what did you tell your defensive lineman and your front seven people about injuries and dealing with the tough blocks?
Brian Kelly: Let me back up, the two things that I just mentioned relative to Navy are very important relative to scheme and their in game adjustments. But let’s be clear, we’re not playing a JV team. Keenan Reynolds is an outstanding player. So you still have to have the players, and what makes this team explosive as well is they’ve got two veteran fullbacks, Swain and Copeland, and an outstanding quarterback, so I just want to be clear on that.
As it relates to the cut blocks, stop being crybabies, and go play the game. I don’t want to hear about cut blocks. Get in your stance, get off the ball and play the game. I don’t want to hear about it. It’s part of the game, and they’re legal, and you’ve got to get off the ball and go play. I told our guys this is a no cry zone this week. I don’t want to hear about it. Go play big games and go play the game the right way.
Q. It seemed like last year you had a lot of people in different places at the end of the game, and Jaylon had a big play for you right at the end. How do you feel like his adjustment would be being an inside player against this offense?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, well, you know, again, I think there are different things that we can do with all of our players. Last year we were depleted at this point last year. We were playing some guys that, you know clearly were not in our top two deep at times. We’ll have our guys all hands on deck. So we can move guys around, we can play them in different positions, Jaylon can play inside and outside, we’ve got a number of different fronts that we’ll give them.
So I think it’s important that everyone of our players has the flexibility to play in multiple positions.
Q. As far as your own offense, has Tarean gotten to the point where he’s earned maybe more carries than the other two at this point or do you still want to be open minded that something else could change?
Brian Kelly: You know, I would say standing here right now based upon his performance the last few weeks, he’s probably moved himself at the top of the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean that all the carries would necessarily slant his way. We’re still going to play all three backs. We’re still going to probably be a little bit smarter in situations. We needed to get Cam McDaniel on the field more last year later in the game or last week or two weeks ago against Florida State. He’s a better pass pro, better protector. And Tarean struggled a little bit late in the game. So that was a mistake we made.
I said before and I’ve said this a lot of times, we’re evolving. As a carrier of the football, he’s earned more carries, but I think we clearly know the importance of all three backs and how they all meet the fit in terms of what we’re doing.
Q. And Eilar Hardy, is he back practicing?
Brian Kelly: He is. He practiced yesterday.
Q. He had a really good game maybe last year. Is there any chance he ever evolves into more than a practice player?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, we’re hopeful. There are things that have to occur for that to take place, and those are above certainly what I can control. But we’re of the mindset that we’d like to get him cleared, and that’s a process that is working through right now.
Q. What makes Keenan Reynolds, I mean, you’ve faced some pretty good quarterbacks. What makes Keenan so effective at running that option?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think when you talk about the option itself, the ability to take what the defense gives you. He’s not somebody that is interested in his own stats. And I’m not saying that Dobbs was, but when you look at an option quarterback, if you give him the fullback, the fullback is going to get the football. I think it starts with an unselfish quarterback, whose understanding of the system is superseding any of his individual stats and accolades. That is number one.
Number two, is an outstanding depth athlete, and the ability to throw the football. He’s not one dimensional where you’d say, okay, we’re just going to lineup extra guys on the line of scrimmage because we know we can’t throw the football. He’s an accomplished thrower of the football. He can spin it on you and he can hurt you. So I think that’s the second piece of that.
And then the third is that he’s extremely elusive. He’s put together pretty well. He’s bigger than Dobbs, and because of that he seems to always fall forward for four or five yards. When you look up there, it’s 2nd and 4, and he does a great job of obviously managing the down and distance. I think those three things really stand out to me.
Q. (No microphone) do you have to adjust no matter what you’re doing more than those other guys in the game?
Brian Kelly: No, we won’t because our responsibilities won’t change. But we’ve seen them both, you know. We know that both of them can hurt us and can definitely change the game around, if you let them run.
So it won’t change how we play game. We’ll still have our responsibilities relative to the fullback. They’re just, both of them definitely have distinctive styles.
Q. Last year you talked about the injuries and some of the personnel that you had because you had some bigger guys. This year in your base defense you’re a little more athletic. Does that allow you to make an easier transition to do some of the things that you need to do because you have maybe a little faster personnel on the field this year in the linebacker position?
Brian Kelly: I would certainly like to say so, but that’s yet to be seen. I mean, they create a lot of problems, and I think the most important thing is it’s not whether you’re athletic or strong or physical, it’s whether you can be 1/11 of that unit and do your job, and get off blocks and make plays and make tackles. That’s why this offense is a great equalizer as it relates to size, speed and strength.
So we have to be extremely disciplined. We have to run and make plays and make tackles and get off blocks. If we do that, we’ll be successful. If not, it won’t matter if we’re more flexible or more athletic than our opponent.
Q. What did they do last season that gave you trouble? (Indiscernible).
Brian Kelly: They were better as a unit. The talent level on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, so I would start there. Then I would say offensively they played flawlessly. I don’t believe they turned the ball over. I think they were outstanding in terms of just their execution. They just played so well that day.
We were a bit undermanned at times in certain positions, and we give a lot of credit for the way Navy played in that game. We battled back and found a way to win the game.
But as I said at the outset, they’re a difficult team. They gave three turnovers to Ohio State, and Ohio State managed to hang on for dear life in the opener. So that is the kind of football team they are. You know, you can get some turnovers from them. The thing is we didn’t get any last year against them.
Q. The four years you’ve faced them, the next week you’ve struggled. You’ve lost to Tulsa in 2012, (indiscernible). Is it some sort of a hangover effect from playing Navy? Do they cause you to change so much that it’s tough to get back in your game for the next one?
Brian Kelly: You know, I really hadn’t looked at it. Maybe I should you always bring up these things that make me queasy after. So I’ll kind of go back and look at that.
What we’ve tried to do this week is run some — like, for example, we’re running some skelly and some 7 on 7 against our defense with our base calls, because we’ve got to get back to our base calls next week, so we have that in mind.
Now 95% of our practice is against Navy, but we know that we have to transition out, and we want to keep speed involved in our practice as well. So I don’t want to say that we have an eye towards Arizona State, but what we have an eye towards is Navy, 100%. But we also have to maintain our base calls, so our guys don’t lose that understanding, because we had a bye week and then you go into Navy. We don’t want them to forget what quarter coverage looks like.
So I don’t know. I don’t know why there would be, to be quite honest with you. There shouldn’t be. You know, Navy is a very good opponent, but there shouldn’t be any carryover. We should be able to play consistently the next week.
Q. Earlier this year you described Corey Robinson as a fun player to coach. What makes him fun?
Brian Kelly: I think his thirst for learning the game. He really wants to learn the game every day. It’s new to him, and so many different things occur, and I never knew that. So that’s fun as a coach and teacher when you get somebody that is in so many ways learning every day that he steps on the practice field. So coachability I think makes it fun.
He plays the game. You know, he’s probably off the field you’d say mild mannered, affable, really just a great personality. But on the field, he’s a tough, tough competitor, and I like tough gentlemen. That’s what he is. He’s a tough guy on the field, and a gentleman off the field. It’s fun to coach those guys.
Q. Where would you see him moving forward this season?
Brian Kelly: I would say getting off the line of scrimmage. His ability to separate and come back for the football, attack the football in the air, all those things I think he’s really separated himself this year from last year.
Q. Coach, about Jarron Jones, maybe his Florida State game was his best game of the year so far. How have you seen him mature both off the field and on?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think it’s the natural progression of a young man growing up. Growing up off the field. There is always, for me there’s always been that direct correlation to when you’re coming together off the field, you generally see that happen on the field. If you’re a disaster off the field, you’re usually a disaster on the field. If you’re off schedule, in other words, if you’re not doing the right thing, staying up late, and not taking care of yourself, and not organizing your life, it usually shows itself somewhere along the line.
I just think his maturity, being here at Notre Dame, being in this environment, I think all those things are coming together for him and we’re starting to see that transition on the football field as well.
Q. You guys have such a personality (indiscernible) as the heart of the defense. What is Jarron like?
Brian Kelly: He’s a bit of a personality, too. He has his own personality, but he’s not afraid to be who he is. Had a pep rally the last home game and he’s out there dancing with everybody. So he’s just a free spirit in that sense, well liked by his teammates, but he’s developing that toughness on the field of going from this big guy that maybe was not translating that size on the field. He’s starting to translate that.
Q. Can you tell us how the team as a whole handled the first loss?
Brian Kelly: They were very disappointed, obviously, but they handled themselves in the manner that they weren’t pointing fingers or looking for excuses. They know they needed to make one more play.
If they could have done one thing better during the game, it would have been a different outcome. So they were disappointed, but I’m pleased with the way that they came back and wanted to get back to work.
Q. KeiVarae posted something last week on Instagram about Tavares coming back next year. Have you talked to Tavares?
Brian Kelly: I have talked to him, but we did not discuss next year. Our conversations were strictly about the immediate and what he needed to do to take care of things. Because there are implications relative to eligibility and things like that right now. But we did not talk about what it would look like next year.
Q. And (indiscernible) location of victories, have you had any further update on that?
Brian Kelly: I have not. No conversation at all formally or informally, so that has not been brought up to me. So, again, I take that as it’s not something that’s at the forefront right now.
Q. The positioning of the bye this year, given the fact that you have a unique opponent this week, and you’re coming up against a team physically grueling and mentally draining, could you just talk about whether you think this fell at a good time for you and did you need that week?
Brian Kelly: I don’t know if we needed the week after the game, per se. What was unique and needed about this was our mid winter break. So it couldn’t have come at a better time because we were really able to get our kids out of here and give them a true break. They had been here since June. So if we had to order up a break or a bye, I’d do this every year. You could tell me I could pick when I want a bye, I would tell you, give it to me at mid winter break every single year because it really, truly gives your kids a chance to get out of here and try to regroup a little bit.
Q. You talked about Navy’s efficiency and how they elongate the game. But could you talk about your efficiency this week, given the fact that there are fewer possessions?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, certainly. You can’t have turnovers. You can’t give them extra possessions. We have to score points. There is no question about that. So from an offensive standpoint, Everett knows what the charge is there running the offense. He’s got to be accurate. He’s got to be clean in terms of taking care of the football, and we’ve got to be on top of things offensively. If we’re not, it’s going to be a dogfight.
Q. You mentioned a couple times how Navy is a good team and they’re not a JV team. Do you think there is naturally a misconception out there that this team isn’t as good or this is a team that you guys should just walk in and win?
Brian Kelly: I can tell you among the coaches throughout the country, if we were just polling coaches, they would tell you nobody wants to play Navy. But sometimes when you talk about the average fan, they hear about an a academy, and they don’t think in terms of how difficult of an opponent it is.
So my comments were more towards the fan than you folks who are pretty educated, and certainly college coaches around the did that go good? Get that right in there for you. One is enough for the day.
But I think that’s what I was referring to more than anything else. This is a team that is so difficult to prepare for. When you’re in your routine and you’re doing things and you’ve got to really get outside your routine and change so many things, it’s a difficult opponent.
Q. In seasons past, keeping an eye on November, you’ve had to do it a little more this year in five games and three of them all in November?
Brian Kelly: Well, you know, we think that we start this process in January with an eye towards it. So I think that if we were doing it the right way, we made sure that the breaks that we took during the summer, the way we weight trained during the season, all of those things lead up to having your kids peaking in November.
Our initial plan when we start this process is to be peaking in November, whether we’re playing four games or five games. We want to be at our best in November. So that is the plan going in.
Q. (Indiscernible ) the game wasn’t maybe as intense to him as it might have been to other people and did that really evolve?
Brian Kelly: I think when you’re dealing with a man who is sitting behind an All American, sometimes it’s hard to get that same kind of intensity. Once you get your opportunity and you get some success, and you’re in the mainstream of it, so to speak, I think it just changes your perspective. So I don’t know if it wasn’t that he didn’t love playing the game or enjoyed playing the game or being around, I think you lose a little bit of that edge when you’re not out there, and you see it every year with whether it’s Jay Hayes or Jhonny Williams, you know, even your back up quarterback. Sometimes you want them to have more of a passion. But when they’re not playing, they lose a little bit of that passion sometimes because it’s not as fun practicing.
So I don’t know that I would characterize him that he didn’t love. I think now he has a different perspective of it because he’s playing so much more.
Q. In addition to Drew and Matthias, is there another contingency option like an Onwalu or a Turner?
Brian Kelly: No, those guys are close to the box. We’ve got Collinsworth dressed yesterday. He’s in a harness. He’s going to try to give it a shot and see what he can do. I don’t know if we’re going to have him activated for this weekend, but he was practicing yesterday. We’ll see what happens there. But there is no chance that we’d be able to move Turner or Onwalu back to that position. Tranquill will get more work. Drew would be the next guy.
Q. (No microphone).
Brian Kelly: He’s cleared. Yeah, he practiced yesterday. Him and Ben Councell are both cleared.
Q. I think it was a couple weeks ago that you said he was not truly a number one receiver, but he has other talent around him that he can stand out. Does he have the tools to become like a tough number one threat or is he limited by size?
Brian Kelly: No, I don’t think there are any limitations other than just growing into the position. When I say that, I mean mentally and physically. When you’re the number one, you have to be the alpha. I mean, this has kind of come on to him really quickly. From nowhere, he now has the most catches and is singled out as a B guy. But it takes some time mentally to kind of bring that on. So he’s capable of doing that. I think he’s got to carry himself more like that. He’s got to have the confidence to walk around like that guy, and that’s coming. You can see it every day. I can hear him the way he talks on the sideline in terms of wanting the ball, and then he’s got to continue to develop physically, and then his skill in and out of his breaks, practicing at that high level could really be.
I’ve got a great model. I’ve got a guy like Michael Floyd, that set a high standard that that’s how you practice, that’s how you play. So he’s not there yet, but he certainly can get there.
Q. What have you seen between him and Everett? And when did you realize that he might have something?
Brian Kelly: He didn’t really have any chemistry relative to, hey, that’s my go to guy. I think Everett had more with Daniels than anybody else. It just evolved, you know? Just working together in preseason, spring ball, preseason, and just kind of working with all of those receivers. I’d say that same thing with C.J., and Chris, and Amir, it’s still a work in progress. They’re talking every day.
Amir ran a route yesterday, and Everett’s running out there to talk to him about where he wants him on the route. So I still think that’s enormous.
Q. I think sometimes he can still get upset when he doesn’t make a right play. You mentioned he needs to have that mentality to grow. What sort of mental attribute does that require?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think it starts with, as I mentioned before, that incredible confidence that I’m the best player out here. I think it starts with that kind of swagger that you carry, and it’s coming, you know. He knows he’s a good player. I think it also comes with the confidence that he knows the offense inside and out, and he’s evolving there. He doesn’t know every nuance yet. He’s getting there. I think that those things just take some time.
Then, you know, he’s not physically fully developed yet either. You know? I think all three of those things, he’s making great progress, but he’s ascended to this position quickly, and there still needs to be some time for him to catch up.
Q. Going back to Austin, how did you balance the risk of playing him versus taking the four to six weeks and maybe he comes back healthy?
Brian Kelly: I don’t. Our medical team and Austin, they balance that. I mean, these kinds of decisions when you’re talking about somebody in their final seasons of competition, those are discussions between our training staff, our doctors, and an individual as well as the parent. They’re making these calls. This is not my call. If our doctors feel as though they can protect him and that he can be productive and all those things line up, they’ll try to get him out there. Whether that means this week or next, I couldn’t tell you for sure. All I know is that he wants to be out there. He wants to be with his teammates. He wants to try to help the football team right now if he can.
Q. Having Eilar, how important is it, even if he doesn’t play this year, how important is to (indiscernible) to have Matthias there?
Brian Kelly: Helpful. I’ve got to tell you, helpful. There is no question. He knows our defense very well, even though he didn’t get much work because in the spring he got ton of work. He knows what he’s doing. He’s always been a pretty smart guy. The area where we’ve always felt like he’s been a step behind is a sense of urgency. He’s got a pretty good sense of urgency right now.
Q. Are you going to pay attention to the top 25?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I’ll be glued to my TV no. I’m not watching that stuff. I’ll be working on Navy and trying to figure out a way to get some points to slow them down.
Q. We had a chance to talk to Coach Van Gorder last week, and he mentioned he hadn’t had a chance to deal with triple option in ten years. And you’ve been on the good and bad side of defending this. What is your top advice to him in the last couple weeks?
Brian Kelly: We talked just about preference relative to where we want to put the birds, where we want to put our guys. But our philosophy is the same. We talked about it in the hiring process, philosophically how we wanted to go about defending it.
So we worked together defending option when we were together, even way back when. We had an option team. So I had a pretty good idea. That hasn’t changed much. I think it was more about, how are we going to operate? Are we in three down, four down? Are we in two high, one high? Who is inside, who is outside, that kind of stuff.
Q. Some defenses will be conscious of the cut block and give a little ground. Others will approach it more aggressively. Where do you stand on that? I think you would say aggressively.
Brian Kelly: Well, inside out, you’ve got to play. You can’t be concerned. We’re not going to be concerned about that. Certainly you’ve got to play them off on the perimeter, certainly. You know, corners and safeties, and outside players have to use their hands and they’ve got to do a great job of playing off the cut block, so that is something that you have to teach and you have to use drills to get those kids acquainted with how to utilize their hands. But when your hand is on the dirt, you’ve got to go play.
So I separate those two. Guys that have got to be physical, play and not worry about those things, and then those guys that on the perimeter that have to play off the cut block and use good technique in doing so.
Q. In terms of your offense play caller (indiscernible). Does it feel there is a greater sense of urgency to score than have them chasing you? Is it more difficult to be patient?
Brian Kelly: You’re going to get enough possessions, on average, between 8 or 9 possessions times 7, that’s 63 points. So I try to figure it out, each possession you just have to score. If that takes a little bit longer, you’re still going to get your possessions, the way the game plays out. It’s not rushing. It’s the difference between being quick and being in a hurry. I think when you’re in a hurry, you get sloppy, but you can be quick as long as you’re sharp. So I kind of use that motto going into the game.
Q. One question about two weeks ago: You talked about the players knowing that they had to make another couple plays. When you’ve also used the term, “you get what you deserve” with your team. You get what you deserved in that game?
Brian Kelly: I guess it depends on who you ask.
Q. I’m asking you.
Brian Kelly: If you ask certain people, they would say we did. We’ve gone over it ad nauseam, so we’re kind of past that really. We’re past that, and I kind of leave it at that.
Q. You said earlier about the defensive fronts and different things. Is it important for an option team to act rather than react? Because a lot of times if the fullbacks get the ball, sometimes they’ve got four or five yards before you can act. Do you really have to be that aggressive defensively?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, it’s a Catch 22. If you’re too aggressive, they can take advantage of so many different things that you do. But if you’re a passive reading team, the same can hold true. But here’s the most important thing: They do what they do better than anybody can defend it. So you have to change up your looks, and you have to be extremely disciplined in what your plan is, and that’s really the bottom line. You’ve got to go in there knowing that they do it better because they practice it every day versus all the looks. You’ve got to change it up on them and you have to be very disciplined at what you do. If you do that, then you’ve got a fighting chance.
Q. Have you had a chance to look at (indiscernible) performance last night?
Brian Kelly: I did not. I didn’t get home until the game was over, but I heard he was doing great though.
Q. Real quick, we had a chance to talk to Mike Denbrock last week, and he claimed the call sheet here this year is bigger than ever before. What are the pros or cons come game day of having a bigger call sheet?
Brian Kelly: You know, I’ve had some call sheets that kind of just tried to give answers for many, many things. So if you’re seeing different looks, you have answers for them. Your call sheet is still going to be your base. I think what expands it is answers for different things. So when you go into unpredictability in other words, new defensive coordinator, your call sheet may expand a little bit because you want some answers for things that you may not have seen or had not seen on film. I think when it comes to Navy or it came to Florida State, we kind of knew what we were going to get, so your call sheet doesn’t grow any bigger.
Q. Just generally, how has it been working with Mike in this season in that new role? Has it gone the way you expected it would?
Brian Kelly: I think it’s gone better. I think he’s great to work with. Does a great job organizing things. Really knows what I’m looking for, and is able to kind of pull out the things that I request and lay it together and put it together. I think Tony and Matt and Scott and Harry, have all kind of really come together as a group under that kind of leadership. It’s worked out very well.