March 15, 2016
Brian Kelly: Good afternoon. For many that have been waiting for spring ball to begin, tomorrow is the official day relative to our spring count, spring practice No. 1. But really, since the middle of January, our process has begun in terms of building the 2016 football team. It’s just been without football.
Certainly when you turn over the number of players that we did this past year, there’s work to be done. You know, relative to replacing players, every year you have voids, but you have players that get an opportunity now and get a chance to compete. We’re pretty excited about the players now that get a chance to step into some of those roles that have been vacated by some very, very good football players as evidenced from the reports that I’ve gotten from a number of the NFL coaches and GMs that were really impressed with the 10 players that worked out in the combine in all areas, both in the physical and the mental interviews. Our players did exceedingly well. So now it’s a chance for those players that now have waited for their opportunity to step up.
So tomorrow will be a start of that. But as I said, we’ve been working on it for the past six weeks, in the weight room, nutritionally, and certainly mentally, as well. We’ve had some pretty strenuous workouts to test this team and to find out who they are. We’re still trying to figure out who this team is really.
Tomorrow will be about skill development. We’ll get a chance to obviously do some football-related activities, which gives us a better glimpse at it, but I think everybody knows that when we talk about spring practice now, we’ll talk about competing in a football manner, and there will be a lot of competition virtually at all positions across the board. There will be some competitive battles, and I think that that’s what we’ve waited for a long time, to go into each spring now and know that there will be spirited competition at virtually all positions.
So if there is one kind of underlying fact about this spring, all eyes would be on the quarterback position. I think that’s an understatement. We’ve got really three outstanding quarterbacks, and obviously DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire are easy names to throw around, but we really like Brandon Wimbush, as well, and Brandon will get an opportunity to compete. I know I’ve talked during the year about the possibility of redshirting, but as we’ve gotten a chance to assess his situation, we want to give him a chance to compete, as well. We think he’s extremely talented so he’ll be given the opportunity to compete, as well, and have a chance to break through, as well.
That will be obviously a position that will have to be evaluated and will go along way in terms of our success in 2016.
Certainly running back with Tarean Folston back, he’ll get a chance to compete in the spring. At what level, he’ll be able to do some things, but certainly he’ll be able to get out there and compete for us.
Wide receiver, losing some key players there, but we’ve got some young players now that get a chance to step in there.
So across the board on the offensive side of the ball, offensive line, as well, it’s just going to be fun and exciting to watch.
Defensively the linebacker position will be one obviously that is going to have a number of battles as well as the defensive line and defensive backfield. So some young talent, some guys that have been here, are going to have to now count this spring as really their opportunity. But again, so I don’t repeat myself over and over and we can get to questions, probably since I’ve been here, the most competitive spring that I can imagine that we’ll have beginning tomorrow.
Just a couple of announcements. We’ve had some staff additions that I’d like to announce today. In terms of offensive and defensive GAs, we’ve hired two new graduate assistants on the defensive side of the ball. Harland Bower was at Central Arkansas as a full-time coach. He comes in, he will work with the outside linebackers. He replaces Mike Hiestand, who is now the defensive coordinator at Ave Maria College.
Clay Bignell is going to be working as a defensive GA. He was the defensive GA at Northwestern last year. He replaces Maurice Crum, who is now a full-time coach at Indiana State.
Pryce Tracy is now an offensive GA. He worked with the special teams and was a special teams analyst for us last year. He replaces Ryan Mahaffey, who is the new offensive coordinator at Northern Iowa. Matt Mitchell, who was an intern for us last year, is now the offensive analyst and replaces Jeff Quinn. Marty Biagi is the special teams analyst. He was the defensive back coach at South Dakota last year, and he replaces Pryce Tracy.
And Jeff Quinn is now the assistant strength and conditioning coach for football, and he replaces Aaron Wellman in the weight room.
So those are some of our new hires on the staff, and they’ve been cleared, and they are on the job and ready to go.
With that, we’ll open it up to any questions. I’ve got an injury status report ready to go, so fire away.
You don’t have to start with injury because I know it’s anti-climactic.
Q. It is anticlimactic but I’m going to go there since we started. Looks like Doug Randolph is not on the roster?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, Doug is not cleared for competition, so his career is over here. He will be a student assistant. He has had a spondo — I guess the specific is a narrowing of the spine essentially. I don’t want to get into the specifics because I don’t want to pronounce them wrong, but he has not been cleared. He will be a student assistant for us, similar to the role that Tony Springmann had for us. He’ll assist with the defensive line.
Q. Who’s out of spring but still on your roster?
Brian Kelly: Okay, guys that won’t participate, I think in terms of — I think no load at all, probably Daelin Hayes on his shoulder. He had the shoulder surgery. But he’ll be involved in non-contact activities.
Devin Butler will be increasing his load from his surgery, his foot surgery, but you wouldn’t see him in contact activity. He’s moving around right now, change of direction, so he’s a partial.
I think Te’von Coney would be out, and Greer Martini. Those would be your only two that would be out of spring practice, pretty much all drill work. Everybody else will have some form of role in spring, we would just have to limit their contact, so Coney and Martini would be the two guys that would be out.
Q. With those two guys out, how do you work with four scholarship linebackers? Obviously you have some walk-ons and so forth, but do you move somebody to Te’von’s place, and do they have a chance to compete for Jaylon’s old spot while he’s out? How does that work?
Brian Kelly: Well, if you look at our linebacker situation, I’ll just kind of quickly go through it. I brought down our notes that we had from our meeting in terms of the position.
You know, Josh Barajas, we feel like he’s going to get a ton of work, and maybe multipositionally, so we can see him both maybe at the Sam position and the Will position. Josh is a guy that’ll get a lot of work.
Asmar Bilal, another linebacker that we think has multipositional position ability that we can see maybe play a couple of positions to answer your question.
Nyles obviously at the Mike linebacker position.
James Onwualu is going to obviously see a lot of playing time and continue to develop there, and then certainly the next group of guys are walk-ons at that position.
Daelin will be a guy that we’re going to cross-train as an outside guy that could rush the passer from the outside, and we’d like to see if we can teach him some linebacker, as well, and give him that opportunity.
So I think from what we’re going to be doing, I think we’ll be fine. It’s the 11-on-11 work where you’re a little thin, but when we’re talking about drill work, when we’re talking about 7-on-7, when we’re talking about things like that, we’ll be cross-training those linebackers, and we’ll be just fine.
Q. The five guys that came in early, obviously they haven’t practiced for you with a ball yet, but physically do you sense that some of them can help you right away?
Brian Kelly: Oh, yeah. Certainly Daelin Hayes is a very gifted athlete. His numbers were pretty impressive for us. I mean, across the board. 6’3Â½”, 257 pounds, 4.8 40, 30-inch vertical jump right there. We tested everybody for the first time in six years across the board in all areas. There’s a guy that jumps out at you right away.
If you look at the safeties, Perry, just under 6’2″, 208, 4.78 40.
Studstill, 6’1Â¼”, 195. He did not test because he had a calf strain, but a 32-inch vertical. He looks really good. Those two guys physically pass the eye test from what we’re seeing.
There’s three defensive players right there that certainly jump out at us immediately.
Q. Crawford and Tranquill are both coming back from injuries. They were kind of situational guys or they looked like they were going to be situational guys. Are they more valuable to you in their versatility, or are they more valuable — are they becoming the mix for every-down players now at a certain position?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think that they are — I think right now as we go into the spring, they get a chance to be every-down players, and then you look at where else can they help you. I’ve always felt like the spring is an opportunity to earn a starting position, not to be a jack-of-all-trades, because we know they’re smart, very instinctive players. We want to see if Shaun can nail down a starting cornerback position, so he gets a lot of work there first, and then Tranquill a lot of work at the safety position.
Q. How is Malik’s ankle? Any limitations on him?
Brian Kelly: No, none. It’s been full for him. He’s been — his numbers were really good, too. I mean, even with the ankle, he didn’t back off from any of the testing. We gave him an opportunity not to do some of the testing, and he didn’t want anything to do with that. I’ll just pull up some of his numbers.
Malik, his 20s, his cone drills were at the top of the charts. He was at just under seven, 30-inch vertical, back to squatting. His weight was up a little bit, but all of his numbers were tracking to where he was before he was injured. So we feel really good about him being fully engaged in everything that we do.
Q. As you take a look at him and Kizer and then Wimbush, a lot of football to be played between now and your opener, but how does Kizer’s experience that he got in games last year give him an edge at this point in your opinion?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think just the knowledge of the offense and then that game-day experience, leading drives late in the game, having that sense of game-like situations that you just can’t duplicate.
But there are other things. Malik has got the great ability to run the offense, as well. He’s very smart. We saw what he can do in galvanizing the football team against Texas. We know Brandon Wimbush has arguably the best arm on the team, and he’s extremely fast.
You know, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches at that position, and we just have to really give them all a great opportunity to compete.
Q. How much football time will Torii Hunter get this spring compared to balancing with baseball, and given that you’ve lost two really good receivers, how much do you guys need him here?
Brian Kelly: Oh, we need him, and we’ll have him here. We’ve worked out I think a very good schedule. He has not been missing in action. It’s not been where’s Torii Hunter. We’ve worked out with Mick a very good schedule, and Torii is very realistic about the balance that needs to take place between football and baseball. He wants to continue to pursue both, and we’re fine with it, but he knows he’s in a very important part of this offense, as well.
You know, if there’s a conflict on one practice for a four-game series or a three-game series, we’ll make some opportunities available to him, but he’ll be here and won’t be missing in action.
Q. I’m curious what your reaction was and what the conversation was between you and Corey Robinson when he told you he was interested in being the student body president.
Brian Kelly: Well, we didn’t have a conversation specifically about that. We had a conversation about football and where it fit in the grand scheme of things. Corey has a lot on his plate, and so the conversation that I had with Corey really was where is football in this priority list for you, and how important it is to you. As we got a chance to talk more about it, it was important for him to play football.
You know, we’ve both had some give-and-take in terms of how we can make it happen, and then we had the conversation about student government, and we were certainly very supportive of it.
But it was a bigger picture kind of conversation about more than just student government. Everything that Corey is doing and how important it is to be present amongst his teammates in his senior year for football.
Q. Do you have a timetable of what you want to see from a quarterback? In other words, do you want to finish spring with a No. 1? Do you want to come out of spring saying we’re down to two, and this guy is third? What do you want to see?
Brian Kelly: I think we’re — all of us, if we had a tape recorder on our meeting, it would be a consensus that we’d love to be able to come out of the spring with a No. 1 quarterback. But we know that the nature of the guys that we have here and the guys that are competing are probably not going to let that happen. It’s going to require all of the time that we have leading up to the first game. The ideal situation for us would be, let’s obviously get this done and move this team to the No. 1 quarterback.
We don’t see it happening that way. We’ve got a feeling that this thing is going to be so closely contested that it’s going to take us some time to figure out, if we ever get to that, that we clearly have a No. 1.
Q. So you think that it could go on through the season?
Brian Kelly: I couldn’t dismiss that at hand. I mean, I just would be less than honest to sit here in front of you and tell you there’s definitely going to be a No. 1.
I would — I would love to say that there’s going to be a No. 1 quarterback and we’re going to — that’s our guy and we’re all behind him, and the No. 2 and the No. 3. I just think we have to go into this with our eyes wide open and really great communication with all three of them and really an open, competitive evaluation, and we can’t have any preconceived notions to anything.
Q. And do you think that the competition will be — the tenor will be different than last year? It wasn’t a friendly competition.
Brian Kelly: Yeah, well, I think it will be — I think it will be focused competition. Focused in the sense that these guys really want to be the starter here. It’s extremely important to them, and they won’t work against each other, but they’re not going to give any quarter, either.
Q. And if Brandon isn’t the No. 1, would the desire be there to redshirt him if he’s not the starter?
Brian Kelly: I would talk to him about it. I wouldn’t force anything on him. It would be a conversation that I would have with him and his family about that situation first because we played him when he wasn’t ready to play, so it really would be — it would be his call.
Q. You talked about it being good having three guys like this. Where do you see you have the biggest need to find more competition to fill a void? Where do you think that you really need help?
Brian Kelly: Well, we’ve got some troops coming in in June, I think, that will give us even more competition. I think we’ll get a little bit more on the offensive line. I think we’ll get a little bit more in the back end of our defense, certainly, because that’s where a lot of kids were recruited. I think that that positionally and at linebacker. I think that’s where you’ll see in June when some of those freshmen come in — they’re ready to play. Those guys are going to compete, and they expect to come in and play.
Q. Most of us for the last two months have been writing stories about this is going to be the most interesting battle, most competitive. From a head coach’s perspective, just natural football coaching curiosity, beyond the quarterback position, what spot on this team has you the most curious?
Brian Kelly: I think probably two. Well, maybe three. I think the offensive line, Tristen Hoge, Sam Mustipher, Alex Bars, and how that works out. That’s going to be an interesting dynamic, how that plays out.
Q. Does McGlinchey move to left tackle? Has that been decided?
Brian Kelly: That hasn’t. I think what would decide that more than anything else is how Hunter Bivin comes along for us. Hunter is also part of the equation here, as well, and so I think we throw Hunter in that.
So that’s going to be interesting how that kind of plays out, that battle.
And then in looking at Asmar Bilal and seeing what his capabilities are and coming in and playing at linebacker, I think that really is going to be an interesting proposition. I think he’s got a lot of ability.
And then Crawford and Watkins and Luke, those three guys. It’s wide open. Those three are interesting to me.
Q. Which linebacker positions will Bilal cross-train at?
Brian Kelly: We’ll start him at Will linebacker, but he’s going to have to go outside and play some Sam, too. The numbers are such that we’re going to have to do that. Barajas, as well. Josh has probably remade himself physically more so than any player on our team, looks really good, he’s running well. His numbers were really impressive relative to when he came in where he was injured. He’s 237 pounds, he ran 4.76. With those kind of numbers, he can play inside and outside.
Q. And the physical status of Alex Bars?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, let’s see. He’s partial right now, but I really think he’s really close to being cleared. He’s not fully cleared right now, but I think we’re going to be able to get a lot of work out of him.
Q. And tackle or guard for him?
Brian Kelly: Well, you know, I think he starts inside, but he has the ability to go outside, and that’s kind of how it ties into what we were talking about with Hoge, Mustipher, Bars and Bivin, that kind of grouping. It’ll be interesting. And then I think Kraemer coming in probably adds to the intrigue there, as well.
Q. Torii Hunter, I know he’s played Z, but he’s flexible enough to play another one of the wideout positions. Are you just looking at him at Z now?
Brian Kelly: It’ll depend on the development of our W position. You know, I think right now, we’re feeling pretty good with EQ, Equanimeous, out at X position. It’s really — we’re going to use this spring to figure out where we want Corey Holmes to play. Corey Holmes’s numbers were freakish. Corey Holmes, and we’re not making this stuff up, but he ran 4.39, he had a 41-inch vertical, and so we’ve got to figure out is he an X, is he a Z, which if he is, can we move Torii into the W position with Corey Robinson, because we really like the way Stepherson looks, as well, and of course Miles Boykin. We feel like we’ve got a lot of flexibility there. Torii is going to be on the field starting for us somewhere, but we’ve got to figure out some of these guys that don’t have a home right now that are really, really talented and then kind of go from there.
Q. Those numbers for Corey Holmes, are those out of nowhere?
Brian Kelly: No, he was a 37 and a half, and this is the first year we’ve tested in the 40 since I’ve been here. His numbers are extremely, extremely — I’ll just give you — Torii Hunter, 4.43; Holmes, 4.39; Boykin 4.7; Sanders, 4.49; St. Brown, 4.5; Stepherson, 4.5. Pretty impressive group at the wide receiver position.
Q. And my tenth and last question, St. Brown is physically ready to go?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, he’s good to go. He’s good to go. He’s cleared, right shoulder, fully cleared.
Q. Considering what the Ivy League did about tackling in practice, what’s your philosophy on how you’re going to handle that this spring?
Brian Kelly: Well, I’ve always felt like from a tackling standpoint, I’ve always been well below what the NCAA has put out there relative to your percentages of practice in tackling. I’ve always felt like you have to do enough circuit tackling where you don’t take the ball carrier down in your own defensive drill work to have the fundamentals down.
From a safety standpoint, we’ll continue to teach the safety of the game without having the live contact at the percentages that are recommended by the NCAA.
To answer your question, I’ve always erred on being much more cautious relative to the tackling aspects of spring practice and teaching much more of the fundamentals.
Q. When you do that, do you go full speed that you can teach the full fundamentals of it?
Brian Kelly: We have some — we have a tackling circuit, and we have some tackling apparatus that are not the same ones certainly that Buddy Teevens was using at Dartmouth but ones that we think we can move briskly and aggressively to get the kind of tackling that we’re looking for in drill work without going man against man and get the kind of work that we need to still be sharp to play the game effectively.
Q. In your quarter century as a head coach, how much tweaking have you done to the fundamentals of what’s being taught, what’s safely being taught, and —
Brian Kelly: We’ve taken the head out of it, obviously. I think when I started, it was the head leading. Now the head is definitely working off to the side. You’re taking the head out of the contact.
I think when I started, it was more of the form fit, where it was the forehead, and then it slid off. Now it’s completely not involved in any of the contact, so I think that that has really been the change over the years.
Q. You’ve mentioned a number of times that the quarterback position is going to be wide open in the spring and maybe even later. What is your philosophy, and not just at the quarterback position but maybe at any position, when your No. 1 goes down to an injury and then he gets healthy, No. 2 has come in and played quite well. What’s your philosophy there? Is it the No. 1’s job back when he’s healthy, or how does that work?
Brian Kelly: I don’t know that I’ve ever had anything that is — I think what you’re alluding to, it’s the starter’s job when he returns from an injury. I don’t know that I’ve ever prescribed to that across the board. I’ve always taken it as an individual situation. I think Malik’s one was where he just played in one game, started one game, so he really didn’t have a body of work, where we could say, well, he won the starting job but he only had one game.
I think what it’s allowed him to do is that DeShone Kizer had a very good body of work, and we’re opening up the competition.
I think it probably says a lot about Malik that we’re giving him that opportunity to compete for the starting job.
Q. Back to injuries, is Tarean Folston full go for the spring?
Brian Kelly: No, he’s not right now. He’s doing everything with us. He’s partial, but he had surgery done on 9/5. He’s healed, it’s strength and it’s really volume for him, but he’s in all of our drill work. I suspect that he’ll do quite a bit with us. I don’t know if we’ll tackle him.
Q. In light of injuries, when you have a year like you did last year and really the last couple of years where guy after guy goes down, what are the conversations like between you and the staff and the strength and conditioning staff about things you could do differently, bad luck, the nature of the situation? How do you kind of process the information?
Brian Kelly: Well, they’re quite lengthy, and they don’t just involve the strength and conditioning staff. They involve our training staff. They involve our nutritionists. They involve all aspects of our support staff to make our players more aware of what their potential limitations are, where we have to strengthen potential injury situations across the board. Some are certainly unavoidable when you jump up in the air and you land on your ACL and tear it, unavoidable in that sense, unless you just ban celebrations across the board.
We have a number of areas that we have been very in tune to looking at injury prevention, durability, and all those touch the three areas that I mentioned, and we’re doing it with science involved, as well. And science will play a part in making sure that we’re staying ahead of injuries and not coming back and saying, gee whiz, we’re just unlucky. That’s not acceptable. It’s been a priority for me to exhaustively look at all areas on how we can be on top of injury prevention for this football team.
Q. The early returns from those, are there any grand takeaways or one or two things where you thought, oh, I never looked at it that way before?
Brian Kelly: Yes. Yeah. GPS, some of our GPS data is going to be able to help us. I think that some of our pretesting in the summer for some functional deficiencies, whether it be in a quad strength issue or shoulder weakness or orthotics or things of that nature. When we do full screenings, that software is going to help us a lot in identifying potential issues that a player could have, and we’ll do some augmented weight training to bring those players along.
Q. How tough is that balance of keeping kids committed to the process, specifically the quarterbacks? When you have three, kids want to play right now, and the possibility of a transfer if they don’t win that job is always there.
Brian Kelly: Sure. Well, I think each one of our players that we’re talking about are great competitors, and they want to get on the field. But they also know that Notre Dame is a pretty unique place and that given the long-term opportunities that they get here with a degree and in the short-term that even if you get one year of playing starting quarterback here at Notre Dame, it might be worth it for you. Maybe not at other schools, but Notre Dame it might just be worth it.
So I think we have some of those things working for us when it comes to delayed gratification at the quarterback position.
Q. At linebacker, you in effect lost two quarterbacks. Jaylon and Joe were so important. How important is that going to be not only to find bodies to fill the physical presence but also the mental, and what they brought to the field there?
Brian Kelly: Well, look, we’ve got good enough players to play that position. They’re good players on this roster to play Sam, Mike and Will. We’ve got to line them up and we’ve got to get them in the right position, and it’s our job as coaches to coach them to play at the level necessary. But there’s no excuse for us not to get those kids to play at a high level. You know, we struggled a little bit at the safety position last year, and I think we simplified it to the best we could. We did all we could at that position. The linebacker position requires a little bit more, but I think that we’re going to be able to get that done, and I think there’s players on this roster come time to play Texas that are going to be able to get the job done for us.
Q. Did you feel that any changes this winter had to be made in the training method or anything that had to be addressed that you did implement?
Brian Kelly: No, not in terms of weight training and conditioning. What we needed to do is — our weight training and conditioning is excellent in terms of what we’re doing. It had very little effect at all.
There are different ways to look at what you’re doing. If you’re — what we wanted to look at is how intensity and repetition through utilizing GPS monitoring, were we maximizing the performance of our players or putting them in a position where we were over-practicing them or overtraining them. We think that the GPS numbers that we’ve gotten back now are intelligible numbers for us to use moving forward as we go into practice weeks.
That had nothing to do with weight training and conditioning. That had everything to do with how you can monitor your players now during a week of practice, pulling them back, they’re doing too much in practice, they’re not doing enough in practice.
The second element is being able to see if there are some functional weaknesses in players that would lead them to be predisposed to particular injuries, and that’s something that we started that we are now on top of relative to supplementing what we do in the weight room, not our core lifts. This has nothing to do with what we do as a core lifting program. This has to do with supplementing what we do in the weight room. If there are any kind of weaknesses where you’re — I think we all know this, right, if you’ve got a bad ankle and you start compensating on the other foot, you may come up with a sore left ankle. Those are the things that we have to supplement in our weight room, and those are the things that we’ve paid closer attention to.
But as it relates to our base weight training and conditioning program, there’s nothing there that we would change. We’re a stronger football team. We don’t get pushed around. We don’t claim that we got weaker during the season at any time. It’s the injury prevention and it’s the durability that we think through science that we can better address it before the season starts and during the season with GPS.
Q. One of the most asked questions is where is the pass rush going to come from? You lost Romeo Okwara, Doug Randolph is no longer eligible at the weak side and you do have Andrew Trumbetti, and maybe with the return of Jarron Jones he can provide that push up the middle that opens up other avenues. When you look at the pass rush, who do you look at mainly as having the biggest impact?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think when you look at what we do, certainly there’s nobody that is coming out of the woodwork that goes, well, he’s got 15 sacks in him. But collectively what we have to be able to do is activate more players, right; we have to activate some more pressures from the boundary, some more pressures from the field. We’ve got to get — certainly we’re looking for Rochell to give us more. This is a big year for Jay Hayes. Tillery has got to give us more. This is a big year for Blankenship. We’re looking for something from Daelin.
So those guys have to do something as well as we’ve got to be able to activate some linebackers, as well, and they’ve got to be involved in the pass rush.
It’s not going to be from one guy. It’s got to be collectively from four or five different guys.
Q. We talked so much about offensive line. You want to just find the five best players and then find the position for them. I think some would say that among the best 11 players on offense, both DeShone and Malik might qualify. Would you have any problem using them in a rotational system or certain packages, goal-line or anything, short yardage, or do you want to stay with one?
Brian Kelly: No, I mean, I don’t disagree with the premise that you get your 11 best players on the field. But are your 11 best players two quarterbacks on the field? If we feel like we can do something offensively with both those guys on the field, the 11 best, we’ll figure something out. But I think I said this earlier. I don’t think that we’re predisposed to anything at this point. We’re going to kind of go out there and we’re going to kind of see how it goes, and if we have to play them both, we’ll play them both. I played Golson and I played Zaire against LSU, and we beat them. So we could do that. If we think that that’s the best team that we have, with two quarterbacks — we subbed a minute out in the last drive of the game, so it’s not like we just do it in the first quarter; we did it in the fourth quarter the last drive of the game. So if that’s what it is, that’s what it is. But we’ll figure it out, and I just don’t know right now, and that’s the honest answer.
Q. In addition to Corey Holmes, was there anyone else this winter that kind of jumped off the charts at you with the testing?
Brian Kelly: Well, I mean, I mentioned all of those guys in terms of their testing numbers. All the wide receivers were extremely impressive.
You know, I would say Dexter, 205 pounds ran 4.51. I thought that was very impressive numbers for Dexter. I think he’s going to be — he’s going to be a force to be dealt with, and his workouts have been extraordinary. He’s a man right now that does not want to get overlooked, and so he’s caught everybody’s attention.
Q. You’ve talked in the past how leadership is sort of a continual process with your football team, the first step obviously being the winter conditioning. Can you kind of talk about how that’s evolved early on and kind of what you’re looking for from some of your veteran players this spring?
Brian Kelly: Yeah. So we try to put them right now in positions where they, in fact, can lead, and we do a lot of drill work which requires groups to have leaders, and within those groups they have to communicate with the groups to get the drills accomplished correctly. I’ll give you an example. Four cones, and they are different patterns of cone drills that they have to execute, maybe run laterally to a cone, then backpedal, and then flip inside, and then run back out. Well, they have to run those patterns precisely or the whole group has got to go all over again. Well, we’ve got some new guys in those groups, so communicating those patterns, making sure that they’re doing them correctly, and if one fails, all fails. So we put leaders in those groups to facilitate those groups to get them done right, to communicate, to make sure that they’re out front leading.
First of all, holding that group accountable as well as making sure that they’re out there verbally showing them how to do the drills right. So trying to build those kinds of leadership drills as well as competitive drills, as well. That’s really what we try to do as we begin to build this thing.
Q. Specifically at linebacker, kind of along those lines, you lost two captains at linebacker, Nyles went from sort of being the young guy that was learning under older guys, now he’s the veteran of the two inside spots. What have you seen from him as far as kind of taking on that mantle of this is kind of his job to lose, so to speak?
Brian Kelly: Yeah. Nyles is extremely committed. I mean, he loves to play. It’s clear that he’ll get a ton of work this spring to continue to develop and get to the point — this is his time. He knows it. He’s got the athletic ability.
I think really for Nyles, for him, I think it’s going to be a great spring. He’s got nobody in front of him, and I think that’s going to help him dramatically. There’s no Joe Schmidt in front of him, and as much as we loved having Joe Schmidt here and as much as we’ll miss him, it’s going to help Nyles not to have Joe Schmidt here because now he can just go and play and not have a wall in front of him.
Q. One thing your staff seems to have done, as an outsider looking in, is sort of built around what your strengths are at receiver. You didn’t ask TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels to do what you asked Michael Floyd to do and Will Fuller what TJ did. The last couple years it seems you’ve been locked in; guys are Xs, guys are Cs, guys are Zs. That hasn’t always been the case. When you have the depth that you’ve talked about and also the lack of experience, is there some thought to maybe as you go into this, hey, let’s match based on personnel or based on what we’re seeing or kind of mixing things around and moving guys around a little bit at that position?
Brian Kelly: Well, we have some guys that have that ability. One guy that has definitely more of a boundary player is Corey Robinson, and he’s a guy that you want to match up to the short field because you’re generally going to get the short — you’re going to get more of the rolled up corner there. That’s a match-up that we like. He’s more of your W kind of player, as well as Miles Boykin.
We like those bigger, longer guys into the short field. So you can kind of plan on those.
To the field is where it gets interesting. C.J. Sanders, you know, he can play slot. We’d like him a little bit bigger to play X because we like to throw the ball to the wide field, contested throws, you’d like somebody a little bit — so he’s more of an inside guy. After that, I think those other guys are interchangeable. We really think that Holmes, Stepherson, EQ, and certainly Torii Hunter, those guys could play X, Z or W.
Q. And last year you kind of thrust in, when Durham went down, you were kind of forced to put Nic and AlizÃƒÆ’Â© into some situations maybe they weren’t quite ready for. Should pay off this year. How does their experience and the reps they got and their maturity help you mold the receivers around —
Brian Kelly: Yeah, that should be an advantage for us having to play them as much as we did last year. They should be in a better position. I think where they have to help us is they’ve got to be better in-line blockers for us. Got to do a better job.
Some of you guys were talking about the numbers that really surprised. One of the numbers that really surprised me was Matuska. We moved him over to tight end, 6’4Â½, 271, and he ran 4.9. So there’s a big in-line guy for us that ran a whole lot better at 4.9. AlizÃƒÆ’Â© ran 4.69, so we knew he could run, but to throw a 4.9 on the board, now we’ve got that big in-line guy that we’ve been looking for, and those other guys can certainly help us now that they got the experience last year.
Q. You’ve got two centers, Tristen Hoge, Sam Mustipher kind of competing. You played them both at different spots. I know Tristen played some tackle and guard last year. Sam I believe played some guard his freshman year. Is there some thought to if one of those guys, if those guys are just both playing well, is there some thought to possibly moving one of them around or are you going to give those guys a shot to really battle at center this spring?
Brian Kelly: No, we’d like Sam to be the center. I think the guy that’s making this hard is Hoge. He’s got to get a really good look. He’s looked really, really good.
Tristen is 300 pounds and 24 times 225, 30-inch vertical. I don’t think I’ve had a 30-inch vertical since I’ve been coaching with an offensive lineman, since maybe Joe Staley.
So he just looks really good, and we’ve just got to figure out where he fits. We’d like to have Sam in there, but I think with Tristen now, that’s kind of changed the dynamic. That’s why we’ve just got to put him out there and see where it ends up.
Q. Last year in the off-season, winter workouts, that was a time when some leaders started to emerge. Who are some of the guys that you’ve seen this year, individuals who have stepped up into that role?
Brian Kelly: Mike McGlinchey, James Onwualu, I think Isaac Rochell is starting to become a little bit more assertive, Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer. Those guys have done a nice job in particular when asked to take on a leadership role.
Q. Obviously injuries have hampered the defense the last couple years. How much of the off-season did you spend or I guess the past few months did you spend kind of reevaluating scheme at all
Brian Kelly: Scheme has not been an issue. Certainly we felt like — we did some things in the off-season that opened up our self-scouting to another school that we played, and we met with that staff, and we were pretty transparent. Both staffs got together. We shared some information back and forth, watched film together. We don’t have any scheme issues. Maybe we had some tendencies, but there aren’t any scheme issues that we’re concerned with. There are some things that we want to balance up and be better at across the board on both sides of the ball, but that’s what you do. You look at what you’re doing and you want to see how other teams perceive you and how other teams are looking at you and how other teams are attacking you, and then it gives you a great perspective on how you move forward.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
— ND —