Aug. 31, 2010
An interview with: Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. Great to be back here in game week. It’s been a while for me. So I’m pretty excited. We’ll start with Purdue. Obviously for us in an opener, when you’re going against somebody that you haven’t seen for a while in Robert Marve he becomes somebody that we obviously have to plan for.
Know a lot about Robert. Tried to recruit him at Cincinnati. He’s a dual threat quarterback, and I think it starts with his ability to keep plays alive. He’s shown that he’s got great athletic ability.
He’s got some great weapons, Keith Smith led the Big Ten in receptions last year. He’s obviously an elite player. On the perimeter, I think they’re athletic. Justin Siller’s back with them.
I think their receiving corps is as good as we’ll see in terms of depth and athleticism. Clearly, you know, the loss of Ralph Bolden, an outstanding tailback, hurts, but lessened with Al Terek McBurse. He came in as a true freshman last year, got a season of experience. He’s a very athletic player, so I think they’re going to be in good hands there.
So from an offensive standpoint on big play ability, and Marve’s ability to keep plays alive is always a concern. And then, obviously one of the best receivers in the country in Keith Smith.
Now obviously with Al Terek, you’ve got somebody with a great deal of athletic ability and can keep them balanced. Gary Nord their offensive coordinator is a veteran. The offensive coordinator is creative on offense and does a good job of balancing their offense.
I think defensively when you talk about defense, you start with Ryan Kerrigan. Obviously, one of the best pass rushers in the country last year. You know, just extremely tough in the way he plays the game. He’s come after you for four quarters.
If you want a model player in terms of the way we’d like to play, Kerrigan’s that guy. He’s coming after you for four quarters, he’s relentless. I think he was third in the country in sacks. So he’s going to bring a presence off the edge.
Their linebackers are veterans. Both of them have been around now for a while, and certainly bring some stability to the front seven.
Their nose is a pretty athletic kid, so from a defensive line standpoint, linebackers, good experience on that end. One of the best pass rushers around.
And then obviously the big question is their secondary. They’ve got some athletic kids back there. They will be a lot like us in a lot of areas where there will be first time starters. But if you look at their back end, they’re not playing with a bunch of true freshmen. These are upperclassmen that have been around Big Ten football, and I’m sure they’ll have them coached up to play well.
Kicking game, obviously, one of the best kickers in the country. I think he was a Lou Groza watch list candidate last year. He has a great leg. He could probably kick it anywhere from inside midfield. He’s probably a guy that can kick them 60 plus yards. So a weapon there.
Again, I think if you look at any time it’s an opening game, you know, special teams can play a role in the outcome. So I think very good special teams, very good offensively and an experienced coaching staff. Some big play players.
And then defensively, they’ve got their good players at positions that can make an impact in the game in particular Kerrigan.
For us, matchups, again, I think at the end of the day we’re going to do what we do. I worry less about individual match ups, and I spend most of my time focused on the collective match ups of our offense, defense and special teams. Again, for us, this will be more about doing what we do, and recognizing and respecting the player that we go against each week.
So you’ll hear from me each and every week. I’ll outline the guys that I believe can impact the game from an opposing standpoint. As it relates to Notre Dame, we’re more focused on ourselves in terms of what we do and how we execute.
Again, opening game. You want to make sure you play clean offensively. Not turning the football over. It is always very, very important in the opening game to take care of the football. If so, you’ve got a great chance. Questions?
Q. I wondered, can you talk about Tommy Rees nailing down the number two spot? And do you feel a need to try to get him in the game at some point, or does really the circumstance of the game dictate that?
COACH KELLY: Tommy Rees is the number two quarterback because there were only two slots to fill out. I didn’t have 2 A and 2 B.
So really that position is still one that will be evaluated all week, quite honestly, and all year. Rees and Montana will be treated with the second team reps. They’re splitting them right now. There is no number two and number three. So I don’t think it’s accurate to say that he’s nailed that position down.
It’s obviously, from my perspective, great when you can get your number two quarterback in there. I just don’t want it to be mop-up time because we’re down by 40 points. Both of those guys are going to get a great deal of work and their preparation will be consistent through the week. I think that’s a very fluid situation the entire year.
Q. Any update on Paskorz’s MRI, and McDonald’s progress?
COACH KELLY: (Steve) Paskorz is going to be out at least three weeks, and we’ll then evaluate where he is. We’ll brace him and then see what he can do.
We’re making progress with (Anthony) McDonald. He will be in seven on sevens. We’re going to be running around pretty hard. He looked pretty good yesterday. We’re hoping that we have a good day with him again today.
So I think we’re getting healthy on one end with McDonald. We won’t know on Paskorz for about three weeks where he is, and what he can do.
Q. What exactly is Paskorz, is it a strain?
COACH KELLY: Yes, he had a knee strain.
Q. You had some interesting guys show up on the depth chart. I don’t know if they’re absolutely number two guys. but (Danny) Spond and Prince (Shembo) on your defense. Can you talk about those two guys and what they did to get up there?
COACH KELLY: Again, as you know, let’s talk about the outside. For example, we think we’ve got four really good players out there. Two of them are seniors and Steven Filer is in that group as well. The real issue here is who is your next player in at cat if we’ve got to spell (Darius) Fleming there, and that’s Kerry Neal.
So Kerry Neal is the starting drop, but he’s also the back up cat. Then obviously that opens up your depth chart. Filer’s going to be a drop. We tried him at the cat position, it’s not the right fit for him. He could play there in an emergency situation, but right now we list on the depth chart (Prince) Shembo two, but he’s really three. And Filer would be in the game before (Prince) Shembo, for example.
But, again, that’s why I wouldn’t get married necessarily to who is first and second, because they’re interchangeable pieces. Look, we’ve got two seniors in (Kerry) Neal and (Brian) Smith. They’re both going to play. I’m not trying to look towards next year, but Steven Filer’s going to be a heck of a player for us. He’s got to be ready to go because he’s going to take over that drop position when those seniors graduate.
Q. Last thing for me is you had some really good run defenses at Cincinnati, especially the first couple years. It seems like that’s one of the common threads you see in teams that get to the BCS and won BCS games. How do you feel like this unit’s coming along? The defense in total and that run defense aspect?
COACH KELLY: Well, I know you can’t win championships without playing good run defense. I can tell you that right now. So it’s a focus from the very beginning in terms of what we do. So I agree with you. We have to play very good run defense if we want to be a championship level football team. And we’ll get tested right out of the gates.
Purdue is going to run the football. They’re not going to be a one dimensional football team. Danny Hope teaches a toughness, so we’ll get a chance to be tested right out of the gate.
But there’s no question, if you can’t stop the run, you might as well start looking for something else to do because it’s going to be a long day.
Q. In your first press conference or early on you kind of mentioned that in this system the quarterback gets hit. Clearly with Dayne (Crist) that’s a commodity you want to protect. So how would you explain or describe how exposed a quarterback is in this system or what’s in place to protect somebody like Dayne who you do not want to see come out of the game?
COACH KELLY: I think there are two different ways to look at hits. Are you putting him in a position where you’re getting a free run on your quarterback? You know, certainly that’s not what we want to do. Those are scenarios that you can control as a coach, obviously, running hit on your quarterback.
I think what I was referring to more than anything else is that he’s got to be somebody that extends plays, that runs the football. He’s going to get tackled. He’s going to get hit. He’s going to have to run around. He’s not just going to stay in the pocket and protect them and run three man routes. We get five out. But you can get five out and still not get your quarterback hit.
My point being is Dayne Crist is a guy who is going to have to use all of his tools. He’s a pretty good athlete. He can run as well and he can extend plays. He’s going to get hit out there. But we’re not going to put him in a position where we get running hits on our quarterback. That’s just not smart.
Q. Is he, in a way, his own best protection, some of that stuff? You guys didn’t give up a lot of sacks last year. How he reads things, is he his own best protection that way?
COACH KELLY: Absolutely. As you become more comfortable within the offense, the progression forces the ball to come out of your hands in a timely fashion. Coupled with the fact that we’re in shotgun five yards deep, catch the ball, get it out in a timely fashion, good foot work. All those things equal getting the ball out of your hands so you don’t put yourself in a position to get sacked.
We threw for a high completion percentage last year. We’ll continue to do that. A lot of it has to do with the quarterback and his knowledge base getting the ball out of his hands.
Q. There is some scuttle out there about Shaq Evans status. What can you tell us about whether he’s looking elsewhere?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’s no longer on the team. He made a decision that he felt was in his best interest to transfer. We’ve granted him a release, and we wish him the very best. He’s a good kid.
Q. Can you talk about the development of your kicking game? Both punting and place kicking from the start of camp to where it is now?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think what’s been comfortable for me relative to the development of our kicking game is that our punter has been very, very consistent. Ben (Turk) has been doing a very good job from the spring game on. I thought he had a great spring game. He’s really shown a consistency in the punting game that we feel good about.
(Nick) Tausch and (David) Ruffer has been the competitive battle. Here’s what I like about those two: Tausch has been very consistent. Obviously set a school mark last year in terms of his consistency.
Ruffer has shown an incredible strength of leg. We have to get his operation times down. When he can get his operation times down, we think we’ve got combination-wise with those two kickers, a very solid and at times can be a weapon for us in the kicking game, because Ruffer can also kick it deep into the end zone. So I feel really good.
Where my concerns were, quite frankly, in the spring game was we were inconsistent in the short snapping. We had three that were poor snaps in our spring game which had some execution issues. I think we’ve gone past that.
So the development in our kicking game is one that we have three kickers that all can provide some really good things for us.
Q. In 11 months Tyler Eifert has gone from seriously injured to number two on the depth chart at tight end. What has he done to enable himself to rise like that? And, what role might he be utilized in?
COACH KELLY: Well, he had a back injury that really forced him to pull back from all physical activities, including strength training. Once that back issue cleared, we were able to get him stronger physically. So, what you saw previously was a young man that really couldn’t be the kind of player he could be coming out of high school because of that back injury.
He got stronger. He developed a toughness, fighting through some back stiffness in camp and still answered the bell.
He now can be as good as he wants to be. He has great size, can catch the football. He is good at the point of attack.
I just think we are seeing a player that got over an injury and is now maturing in an offense that suits him pretty well.
Q. You get so many questions about the backup at quarterback, but do you plan to bring in another one next year?
COACH KELLY: We are going to recruit quarterbacks every single year. I don’t think you ever go into a year and say we aren’t going to recruit one this year.
We might not take one this year, but I think every single year you are never going to look out across the country and say `this is not the year to take a quarterback.’
I’m always looking for that next guy that can make me smart. A great quarterback is certainly going to do that every year.
I think every year we will look to take a quarterback every year, but maybe some years it will need to be an exact fit. And, maybe that could be the case in 2010-2011, but every year we will look for a quarterback.
Q. When you are talking to those kids, especially after taking three quarterbacks this past year, what kind of questions are you going to get, and how do you respond to that?
COACH KELLY: Well, if you are afraid of competition then maybe you should not come to Notre Dame. There’s going to be quarterback competition wherever you go in the BCS rankings, and if you don’t have the confidence in your ability and you don’t trust the fact that we believe that you can be a player, then you probably should go somewhere else.
Q. I think it was a bit of a surprise to all of us when TJ Jones emerged in the spring, and I think a lot of us thought in the fall those older guys will catch up to him. What has he done to hold on to his spot?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think he’s been a little bit more consistent at that position. Now keep in mind he’s kind of settled into that position while we were moving around other pieces, and in particular Duval Kamara. Duval has played all three positions, and to be quite honest with you, he hasn’t had a chance to settle into that position yet.
So that gives TJ a little bit of the nod in terms of lining up. Obviously in our tempo of offense, you’ve got to pick up a lot and digest a lot. TJ’s done a nice job there. But Duval’s going to play a lot as well. And I think as we continue to move forward, you’re going to see multiple players at that position.
And Duval, quite frankly, could play more than just one. He’s a very valuable player on our football team.
Q. Did it help TJ that he played in kind of an up tempo offense in high school?
COACH KELLY: Certainly. I think you become a lot more comfortable with the type of offense that we run if it’s not the first time you see it in spring ball. But I think more than that, to be fair, TJ has exhibited a maturity in handling all the things that we’ve thrown at him at that wide receiver position at an early age. Some are older and struggle with it, quite frankly. And he’s been able to process it all and retain it.
I think a big part of this is retention. The ability to come back and do it. And TJ has shown a great capacity for retention.
Q. You have about five first time starters offense, and if you throw in Cierre (Wood) and Tyler (Eifert), that’s seven contributors, basically, on offense. Is that a normal number for you going into the season, or is it a little high?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s a pretty good blend, actually. You’ve got some excitement in their first start. They’re all young men that we trust, and I told them, listen, you guys are in the same boat as I. I’ve got zero games experience as the Notre Dame head coach, so we’ll all go do this together.
I think they know we trust they can get the job done. But I think it’s a nice balance. We don’t have anybody out there that we don’t think physically can compete at a high level.
Q. Going back to Dayne (Crist), has he taken hits in August?
COACH KELLY: Absolutely not, no. We haven’t let anybody near him. So his first hit against Purdue, I’m certain he’s going to get up there with, all right, am I okay? Am I in one piece? But we did not have the luxury to bang him around. So nobody got near him.
Again, his first tackle and first hit will be against Purdue.
Q. So I take it the back ups took a few hits for him?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, they did. They did a nice job too.
Q. Take you back to your opening press conference when you talked about watching Lindsey Nelson growing up and the excitement. Now you’re three days away from leading Notre Dame out of the tunnel in front of 80,000 people. Talk about that?
COACH KELLY: I’ll be excited, obviously, running out and being on the field for the first time but that will go all away just like it goes away seeing the excitement or the jitters on that first hit. It goes away as a coach on that first play call, especially if they boo you. It gets your attention. We hope they are cheering obviously.
I think that will be a great time for our players. I think once you get into that game and that ball is kicked, you just focus like any other game. You focus like you’re at Grand Valley State.
Q. As you go through this game week because you’ve been through all these different places, you’ve got that experience. But is it different here. Is there a nervous energy for you as you go through this game week now?
COACH KELLY: Oh, absolutely. Especially the first week. But I think I had that at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. I think I’ve had it in all of the spots that I’ve coached, and I think it starts to go away as you get into a routine.
This is a new routine for me. At Cincinnati, we had our press conference in a closet and we could fit everybody, so this is a new experience from that standpoint. I think it’s clearly things that I’ll get used to, but, again, I think it goes away after you get a routine.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about how some of the offensive line battles shook out?
COACH KELLY: It’s still a competitive situation between (Braxston) Cave and (Dan) Wenger. Wenger’s going to play a lot for us. I think (Chris) Watt and (Chris) Stewart both those guys will play a lot. I just think we have two positions in particular those that I just mentioned, where those guys have to play for us. They can help us.
Nobody’s saying that they can’t be the starter, but I just like both those players, Wenger and Watt, those are guys that can really step in and play solid football for us.
Andrew Nuss is a guy that can play a couple of positions for us. He can play guard and tackle. Extremely valuable. You talk about key back ups. Andrew Nuss is a key back up for us in that he can play a couple of positions. And the other guy that’s really come along and shown some flexibility to play center and guard is (Mike) Golic Jr.
So the dynamics are pretty good right now. We’ve got to keep pushing Matt Romine along. He’s making some progress. There is a veteran guy. I think we’ve got some really good pieces there.
I think the center position and the guard position, I think you’re going to have to see Wenger and Watt as well, as long as Cave and Stewart continue to do their jobs, I think you’re going to see those four guys all get some playing time.
Q. Can you talk about the excitement for yourself? There is going to be a lot of hype for you and your players this week. How do you balance the momentum of what’s happening for your players along with this is what we’ve got to get done?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think that’s a good question. We went into the stadium on Friday of last week and there was a I don’t know, a tightness to our group. Maybe an apprehension or too much pressure on them.
I sense that we were tight on a Friday going into the stadium after we had now been at 20 some odd practices. So it was pretty clear to me that our football team needed to stop thinking about being Notre Dame football players and just play the game.
So the past week has been really talking about just go play. And I used my own circumstances to try to bring it on a more understandable plain for them. That is I can’t come to work every day thinking I’m the head coach at Notre Dame. There are just too many things out there that you would succumb to all the pressure. I come thinking about the process every day of building our football team and preparing. That’s what I want our players to do. Focus on playing hard.
Look, at the end of the day, if you do that, if you play hard and give everything you have for four quarters, my experience has shown me that that’s going to be pretty good, and we’re going to have a lot of success. So that’s kind of how we’ve dealt with the burgeoning pressures of being at Notre Dame. We’re just going to go play, play hard, and then we’ll kind of sort it out when the game’s over.
Q. You mentioned Wenger’s going to play, but just talked about Braxston a little bit. What gave him the edge?
COACH KELLY: Well, Wenger got dinged up, as you know. He had a concussion and it was a pretty severe concussion. It took longer for him to come back. He’s a tough kid, and as you know, going through the injuries that he’s gone through, he wanted to get back there.
We had to hold him out until he cleared, so that really gave Braxston probably the nose at the end to take that number one position.
Braxston’s improved in a lot of areas. First of all in his physical conditioning. He is in such better condition to play a longer period of high level football for us. He could only go in spurts for us in the spring.
So first of all, he took care of himself physically. Secondly he’s been really good with the shotgun snaps. He’s been very inconsistent in the spring. This is a new trait for him and something that he had to learn. He spent a lot of time on it.
So I guess I would say a lot of this is on Braxston. He improved in the areas that he’s needed to to put him in the position he’s at right now.
Q. Great coaches are generally classified as great motivators, especially in the college game. It is so essential to be able to impart inspiration to 18 to 21 year olds. That’s been considered a short coming here in the past. What do you consider your role as a motivator?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you motivate through a lot of different stimuli. I think one is morale. I think if you have great morale and you have a trust within your group, that creates, you know, that intrinsic motivation that is so necessary for any successful business or organization.
And I think the preparation that we give our players during the week, they gain a confidence level going into the game that they are as prepared physically and mentally as anyone in the country.
So that motivation comes from those two stimuli, which I think we do a great job during the week of providing our players. But I’m not going to be giving the big rah rah speeches. I just don’t do that. I think I do a lot of my work leading into Saturday.
Q. In the past there’s also been sometimes scholarships given out to walk ons prior to the season. Anything like that occurred this year?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we put (Nate) Montana on scholarship. He was a walk on, and awarded Montana a scholarship. So Nate Montana is now on scholarship.
Q. Could you just talk a little about Danny Spond coming in as quarterback, and starting at outside linebacker, but because of some of the injuries is now at inside linebacker. But you mentioned the use of his hands?
COACH KELLY: Well, the kinesthetic awareness, the ability to play in space, to use your hands and have body control, we don’t spend any time teaching that stuff. You just have it naturally. He can fend off blockers.
For somebody that is not physically ready to play championship level football, he can make up for it in his awareness of how to use his hands and how to be in a good leveraged position. You know, how to get a defensive linemen off the block. Well, you yell at him louder. He’s just got to have a way of getting off blocks.
It’s the same way with Danny Spond, he has a way of using his hands, his body control. He’s just got a good awareness for the game.
Q. One final thing on the motivation aspect. Lou Holtz always had to quote that motivation is simple. You eliminate those who aren’t motivated. What is your approach? Do you consider yourself more of a yeller or do you just like to keep it more even keel?
COACH KELLY: I try to reach our players and communicate to our players through everything that I have at my disposal. Whether it be a meeting, individual time, walking through the hallways, calling him on his cell phone, text messaging them.
I think head coaches have to be able to use all of those things that are at their disposal to reach a player. I don’t think you reach them in one way. You don’t reach them by having a team meeting or getting together after practice. You’ve got to be available and accessible to reach all of your players, because they’re all different.
Some of the things that I try to do is be around so players can get to me. I want to be hands on during practice, and I think that’s what I try to use in my techniques relative to motivation.
Q. Since you got here you’ve asked for a lot of sacrifices from players, a lot of belief. Whether it be Camp Kelly, summer conditioning, training camp. How important is it for them to have success on Saturday? And as a head coach for your staff, what kind of increased credibility does that give the staff from the players when they can go out and say, okay, I did everything this guy asked. Now we’re going out and having success on Saturday.
COACH KELLY: Well, again, I think you have more or less credibility based upon the relationships you build with your players. There is no question that if you win, you gain a confidence level from your group right out of the gates.
But I’m not concerned that if we don’t win a football game that we’re going to lose our football players. I think that has to do with building relationships with your players. Them trusting you and you trusting them. We’ll continue to do that everyday.
But there is no question. You win, everybody’s feeling good about it. But I’m not concerned in the very least that if we had a loss or a hick up during the season that our players would go oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Q. I don’t think there are a lot of parallels between Southeast Missouri State and your opener this weekend in Purdue in terms of the opponent. What kind of bounce did you get from that when the players came back and you went, yeah, we came out and everything went exactly how we thought it would.
COACH KELLY: It was actually Rutgers that we opened with. And being on the road against what was considered the top team in the league and playing very well, I think that gave us a great deal of confidence.
But you’re right. There are different times in the year that you gain that momentum and confidence. I think there are other years where we had a key loss in the way we played. We got momentum from it. But clearly the opener sets the table. It’s not an end all, but certainly we’re here to win that football game, because we know what the affects will be.
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