March 17, 2015
COACH Brian Kelly
THE MODERATOR: We’ll get started with Coach Kelly with an opening statement on the opening of spring practice tomorrow, then we’ll turn it over to some questions.
With that, Coach Kelly.
COACH KELLY: We’re excited to start up practice. It’s a seven week kind of program that we’ve been on with our weight training and conditioning. That segment I thought went very well for us. We made the strides we were looking for in the weight room. Guys that needed to really address some deficiencies in the weight room did a very good job. Guys that needed to add some weight did. Guys that needed to affect some change from a physical standpoint did.
There’s not a lot of time to work on some of the things that you want relative to leadership and some of the player development things as they go to the game itself. This is that period.
Now we’re in a seven week period where we can start to create some scenarios where leadership starts to take place, bringing your position groups and units together, as the coaches become much more involved. We go from eight hours a week to 20 hours a week. You can imagine that we can create many more situations where we can see guys grow and lead. It’s an excites time for us.
These next seven weeks now we begin to do a lot more of the building of 2015’s football team. When you really look at the calendar year, you got about 26 weeks of contact time with your football team before you kick it off in your first game. So you try to break up the year and look at the developmental pieces to it.
These next seven weeks, again, if the first seven were about weight training, conditioning, composition, weight composition, these next seven weeks are about skill development. They’re about developing your football team as one, as a unit, leadership, understanding the important principles of selflessness.
You look at our men’s basketball team and how they played selflessly, it’s really part of their DNA, sharing the basketball, playing great basketball where nobody cares who gets the credit. I know that’s easy to say when you’re winning, but that’s what we’ve got to get to with our football team. We can do that over the next seven weeks.
My point is this. The next seven weeks the coaches are more involved. We get a chance to develop the players’ skills. They get a chance to be in a competitive situation. We’ve got a lot of really key matchups where we’ll get guys that want to compete and be put in a competitive situation. So it’s a pretty exciting seven weeks for us as it relates to that.
Then they get about a month off. They get that three and a half, four weeks of May off. Boom, we get into our summer program, which obviously is a very crucial program where we get a little bit of both, right? We get that weight training, conditioning element, and now with the new June OTA programs, we get some involvement with them, and that leads us right into summer camp.
Just as a bit of an overview, I thought I would give you a sense of what these next seven weeks are. You’re really starting to develop your football team in some of those more dynamic areas, the skill development part.
We’ll begin tomorrow morning. We’ll see what the weather looks like. If we can get it above freezing, we’ll try to get it outside. If not, we’ll be inside. We’ll go Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Our staff has been hard at work. We’ve got our group together. It’s been pretty exciting around here in terms of everybody now is prepared and ready to go out and teach and coach.
With that, I’ll open it up to questions that you might have about our football team as it enters into spring practice 2015.
Q. What do you want to see out of your quarterback situation? What do you hope happens?
COACH KELLY: Well, let’s say Everett, for example. We need to see him continue his development in the disciplined approach of playing the position, right? Taking care of the football. Take the last drive in the LSU game, for example, some of the plays he made there. Poised in the pocket. Checking the football down. Staying within the realm of the offense. Much of that needs to continue.
Look, he’s 5’11”, right? We’re not going to ask him to sit in the pocket and decipher things. We still need to keep him on the move and do those things that fit his skill set.
But we need to see a continuation of the discipline and the productivity that we saw in our bowl practices and leading into the game, the LSU game.
So continue to do that. Continue to compete at the position. Communication, leadership, which I’ve seen all those things. I know Mike has seen that, as well. Much of the same.
Continue to compete and continue to get better and hone his craft at that position.
Q. Do you want to see a clear one and two by the end of spring? Are we ever going to see that in terms of these two guys?
COACH KELLY: I really don’t know. I really don’t know. I think it’s going to take us some time to get a feel for how this competition is going to go.
Again, once we see how they’re going to compete, I think we’ll have a better understanding of answering that question.
It’s one thing to go out there and compete without footballs. It’s another thing to put the football in their hands, go run the offense, then we’ll have a better sense.
Based upon what we saw in our bowl preparations, based upon what we saw in the LSU game, I think they’re both going to compete. I think they’re both very much going to be part of our success in 2015.
Q. I know Matt Hagerty announced he was going somewhere else. Also Brown. Can you talk about their decisions to move on.
COACH KELLY: Each one of them is different.
For Ben, that was Ben’s decision that he wanted to move on. He chose not to continue to play. We respected that decision. He was offered an opportunity to continue to play. He’s not going to play football anymore. He’s just going to get his degree and move on to the next chapter for him. Ben’s a great young man and we wish him the best.
Jalen’s situation, he was not invited back. He did not have a spot on the roster. That one’s a little bit different.
Matt’s situation, here is a guy that had a lot of starts for us. We’re in a situation certainly where we had a spot for him on our roster. We thought he would be competing for a starting position. He chose to take another option that is available to him because he’s going to graduate.
He’s decided to look at other options as it relates to his final season of competition.
Q. Does Nick Martin then move back to center?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Nick will be the center. He’s excited about that. We think that’s a great natural fit for him.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH KELLY: I’m more comfortable talking about those that I’ve communicated with effectively, and that’s with KeiVarae. I haven’t had much conversation with Isha. It’s been through third party. I know what KeiVarae’s situation is and have had a lot of contact with him. Academically he’s making the progress necessary to be back here.
I can confidently say standing in front of you today he’s making all the steps necessary to be back here, be part of our football team this summer.
Q. Is there anybody, freshmen or young players, that really grabbed your attention during this last segment of winter workouts?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think a guy like Jerry Tillery keeps popping up. He’s an incredibly gifted physical young man. Sometimes when you get a guy that’s that big, has that kind of movement, you worry about his toughness at times.
But when we put him in competitive drills, tire war, things of that nature, sumo, he shows up big there, too. He shows a toughness to him. I would say that Jerry has shown himself to be someone we’re excited about.
I’d also say we really are excited, again, these are guys that haven’t strapped on a helmet or pads yet, but Te’von Coney, real excited about seeing what he can bring, as well.
Those two guys stand out early on. Again, those are midyear enrollees. I mean, those guys in particular are going to be fun to watch.
Q. The fifth years, are they officials at this point? You’re a little bit over scholarship limits.
COACH KELLY: No, we’re not official until our athletic academic board stamps them official. We’re still working under the wink and nod kind of deal.
Q. Does that go past spring semester?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, certainly would. We’re getting close. I think as we continue to have these conferences, you guys can start scratching them off on the list. Reeling them in as we go.
Q. Two other guys, Max Redfield and Greg Bryant.
COACH KELLY: Max Redfield, obviously as you know he had a terrific bowl game. It all came together for him in that game where we saw the realization of athletic ability with football knowledge. There was a bit of a disconnect there. There was this real field safety, range safety, athletic ability, but not getting that football piece put together.
We really saw that with the physicality. So we would be disappointed, and I know he would be disappointed, if we didn’t see that. We want to see that same kind of trend we saw with Everett, we want to see that with him.
The spring is to build on the kind of success he had with LSU. It’s really setting that bar, and continuing to see that practice after practice, so it becomes confidence.
Q. And Greg?
COACH KELLY: I think Greg is trust, comfortable level of seeing it, doing it. I think Autry is excited about working with him and building that relationship with him, where trust what you see. That’s always been the thing with Greg is that sometimes he just wants to do a little bit too much. I think that’s the next step for him, in just trusting it and going with it.
I think Autry feels like this is going to be a big spring for him.
Q. Talk a little bit about what you’re expecting from Everett. What are you expecting from Malik?
COACH KELLY: I think Malik has to continue to lead. He has to continue to show that he has not only game day skills, but the practice skills necessary to lead our football team.
Now, look, we may have gotten to Malik a little bit sooner if we had seen some of the natural leadership abilities that he showed on the sideline during the LSU games, if we had seen those things during practice. You saw what I saw. He was up and down the bench. He was inspirational to his teammates. We want to see that in practice. We want to see that consistently.
Leading his group, being vocal, being consistent, all those things need to be built on a day to day basis in the spring.
He’s capable of doing it. He showed he has that in him. Now it has to be on display both in practice and not just in games.
Q. Any chance that Kizer gets in the mix there, that he could compete for a starting spot?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s going to be difficult for him. But I don’t think you ever close the door at that position. I really like what he’s doing right now. I love his leadership skills. He has one of our groups in our drill set. Boy, he’s got great leadership skills. Leading his group, it’s fun to watch him. Really think his future is bright.
He’s going to have to do some really big things because he’s got guys in front of him that are really good players. But I would not count him out because he’s really starting to become consistent with his footwork and his mechanics.
That was some of the things, when you don’t get a lot of work, and he’s a little bit longer, he’s a long kid, when you’re not in a repetitive mode, in other words, if you’re not getting a lot of reps, it’s easier to get out of sync with those bigger, longer kids.
Mike Sanford likes where he is right now. He’s a lot more consistent with his footwork. The reports I got back from Mike today is he’s excited to be working with him.
We have a really good sense of where he is. He’s got some good players in there that he’s got to beat out.
Q. Seems like you have a good problem that you have a lot of talent at middle linebacker. Is Grace capable of competing for a starts spot?
COACH KELLY: That’s a good question. Look, one of the things, you all saw it, too, we lost some vocal leadership when we lost Joe Schmidt. One of the things we know we’re going to have this year is that we’re going to have Jarrett Grace and we’re going to Joe Schmidt. Both of those guys are going to provide a vocal leadership capability on the field, regardless of what happens.
Let’s say they share the position. I’m sure neither one of them wants to hear that. I’m not suggesting that’s going to happen. But we’ve got a very good situation where we have both of these guys that can help us lead there. And we’ve got a very athletic young player in Nyles.
We think it’s a good problem to have. We’ll take those kind of problems. Last year during the season we didn’t have that kind of luxury.
I think it’s all going to work itself out. And Joe, he has some flexibility. Joe can play Mike and some Will, too. Not that he’s going to supplant Jaylon at the Will position. I’m not suggesting that either. I’m not trying to give you a bunch of hypotheticals.
The answer to the question is let’s get Jarrett Grace back into the fold, into the spring, repping out, healthy and back to where he was, and, boy, we got a good situation there.
Q. Back to Malik and Everett for just a moment. It appeared in the bowl game, I’m not sure the right word is ‘labeled’ or not, when Everett came in, it was going to be a passing situation, and when Malik came in, he was the running quarterback. If they’re both going to play, is that the way you see it or what you hope you don’t see so the defense doesn’t know what’s coming?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think we would want to be considered that way. I think what we did is we went to their skill set as it related to Malik’s inexperience in game situations. As you know, the body of work that Everett had outweighed Malik’s at that point. We were going to lean more heavily on the situations that Everett had in those late game situations that Malik didn’t have.
We won’t be in that situation going into the fall. So it will be much more balanced, much more blended.
That does not mean we’ll still not go to what we believe to be their strengths, but it won’t be predictable strengths.
Q. With Nick Martin moving back to center, who are your top candidates at the left guard position?
COACH KELLY: Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars. We’ll let those guys battle at the left guard position. That’s going to be fun to watch those two guys battling out at the left guard position.
Q. Is Alex going to cross train because you’re a little short on tackles?
COACH KELLY: We don’t feel like we’re short on tackles in the sense that we’ve got Hunter Bivin that can go over to the left tackle position. We’re going to move Mark Harrell out to tackle. We think he’s got a lot of experience that he can go out there and do some things. McGovern can play some tackle for us, as well. We feel pretty good out there.
Only one guy can play guard. We think later, if we have to do some cross training with Bars, we could do that, but we want to give him a chance to start. So our focus will be, in fairness to him, that he gets a fair shot to be a starter at left guard.
I don’t want to pull him out. Harry and I talked about it, we do not want to short change his reps at the left guard position and give Quenton an advantage at that position.
Going to have a chance start, then we’ll figure it out from there. But those two guys are going to battle it out at the left guard position.
Q. One fifth year senior we didn’t expect to be back, Chase Hounshell, you have him now at tight end.
COACH KELLY: Correct.
Q. What went into that thinking for that move?
COACH KELLY: Well, Chase knocked down my door, wouldn’t leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, Coach, I want to be part of this team. I have something to offer.
That hasn’t been the case over the past couple years. I’ve had fifth year seniors that didn’t want to be part of the team. So when we had guys that had opportunities to compete and be part of our football team, they chose to want to be one year starters somewhere else.
When Chase said, Coach, I’ll do anything, I’ll play any position you want me to play, I just want to be part of this football team.
We said, We don’t really have a role for you on the defensive line, but we could use a big, physical, blocking tight end. Would you be interested in that role?
He said, Coach, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.
We’re going to give him a shot at the tight end position. Nothing has been decided. He’s willing to go through spring and give it a shot and we’ll see where it goes from there. He’s been a great teammate, great in the locker room. The guys really enjoy having him. We like his team first mentality, so we’re going to give him a chance to earn a roster spot playing tight end.
Q. There seems to be some popular perception that Everett has to buy into sharing time with Malik at quarterback. Do you feel that way? Do you feel you have to do a sales job with him to come back for his fifth year?
COACH KELLY: Well, first of all, if I’m Everett, I don’t think that he has to accept that he has to share time with anybody. I don’t think that notion has ever been floated to him. I’ve never floated that.
The only thing that I’ve ever said to Everett is that, You have to come in here and compete for the starting quarterback position. I never once said to him, You have to come here and share playing time with anybody. You need to come in here and be committed to competing for the quarterback position. That’s all I’ve ever asked him to do.
So he is committed. He has bought in 100% to competing for the quarterback position here at Notre Dame. Now, whatever that ends up being, if that end result is, as he competes for it, it means he’s the backup or that he’s the sole starter or that he’s sharing time, he has no control over that. What he has control over is that he’s committed to competing for the job.
His actions, what he’s communicated to me, verbally communicated to me, he’s 100% committed to competing for the quarterback job here at Notre Dame.
Q. Most asked question we all get here, since the LSU game, such an outstanding performance, why can’t Notre Dame commit to that style? What is your response?
COACH KELLY: My response is that every game takes on a different shape and form. If it was just easy to say that we could play that game and we were going to be defended that way each and every week, you guys could come up here and do this yourself.
But it’s a lot more than that. Each and every week is a different game plan. If it was a cookie cutter approach where it was just as easy to say, If we ran that game plan every single week, we would be successful, this would be a lot easier.
But take the basic tenets of football. Yeah, we want to be more physical, there’s no question. Yes, we want to establish a running game. There’s no question about that. We want to keep the points down defensively.
If you take the way the LSU game went, we want to take a lot of those things with us. But game plans change from week to week. We have to look at each week and attack each week based upon what we believe is going to get us a W at the end of the day.
Q. With a new staff, how much of the spring is about coaching the coaches for you?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s always been about that for me. Some of it is more overt. In other words, you’re out in front of it sometimes a little bit more when you have a veteran staff where you’re reminding them, whereas when you have a staff that you’ve got some new coaches, you’re doing more behind the scenes. Hey, this is how we do things here. This is what I expect. Maybe a little bit more meeting time with them.
Coaching the coaches for me, it just depends on the level that you have.
Keith Gilmore has been with me a lot. I’m not doing a lot of back room meetings with him. He knows what to expect. I’m spending a little bit more time with Autry and Todd in my office. When you’re confronted with this situation, this is how I like it handled.
A lot of that happens, but it happens differently with different staff members on a day to day basis.
Q. Are you waiting to see those play out in spring or trying to preempt some of those things, educate them how you want it done?
COACH KELLY: You’re absolutely right. You want to preempt as many of those situations with giving them examples of how these kinds of things occur. We get some of those examples in our morning workouts. I’m observing them in their interactions with their players even right now. But there’s some things you just can’t foresee.
But having said that, when you go into the hiring process, you kind of have some set parameters that you lay down in your coaching philosophy. If they stay within those white lines, you’re never going to get into some major issues with your coaches relative to how to work with your players.
Q. This roster, you have your quarterback, tight end, left guard semi open or open. Is this one of the spring rosters where you’re more interested in developing the depth than maybe figuring out who your frontline guy is?
COACH KELLY: This is the first time since I’ve been here where I feel like I can go into practice and I can bang around. I can have an Oklahoma drill. I can have tackling drills.
It feels like for me that we’ve got the depth necessary to go and play football. I always felt like I’m tiptoeing around this roster in the spring because we’re afraid over here or afraid over here.
We can go play, really target some of the younger players in certain areas, let them get in there and get after it. We have so many young defensive linemen, we need to see contact. We don’t need to see them run the hoop, go over an agile bag. We have a lot of guys that can come and do that at a practice. I know I’m excited about that.
When I’m scripting our practice, I’m able to put nine on seven, rodeo drills, things like that, three on threes. That’s pretty exciting. I haven’t been able to do that. That makes for an exciting observation relative to the development of the depth of your football team.
Q. Health wise, anybody limited that’s new?
COACH KELLY: Not really. I mean, we have Will Fuller playing with a cast. He has a hairline fracture of his third metacarpal. It’s not really going to affect him. He’s not going to be able to block effectively, but he’s not a great blocker anyways. He’s kind of happy about that.
But other than that, James Onwualu is still wearing a cast from the LSU game, but it’s a light cast. We’re doing well. Everybody’s made great progress across the board.
Q. When you do an Oklahoma drill, is he ready to do that?
COACH KELLY: He’s clear. He’s in. He’s going. I couldn’t keep him out if I wanted to at this point.
Q. Some who played on the offensive line last year, some that didn’t, what are you hoping to see from those guys?
COACH KELLY: Bonner is going to play our big end position. He’s put on a lot of weight. He’s up to 272, 273. He’s going to be over there with Rochell. He’s in a very important position for us. We really like what we see from him right now. So a lot of eyes on him. We like Isaac obviously a lot.
Going to a past question, you know, maybe Rochell gets one rep and Jonathan gets three in terms of seeing some of those guys really develop.
Jhonny Williams, he’s put on a lot of weight. I think we weighed him in this morning at 256. He’s probably a little heavy right now. He’s put on a lot of weight. We got to probably sculpt him up a little bit. This is like a first run through for him. We need to see how he handles that weight through the process.
So those guys in particular we want to see how they handle the volume and the work. They’re going to be banging now with all that weight on them.
Q. In terms of Matt Hagerty, he played all last year on the offensive line. You have talented offensive linemen. Is that something that played into the decision?
COACH KELLY: You know, I couldn’t really begin to get into what his decision is. He came out with a statement, I think you all saw his statement. I gave him the opportunity to be the starting left guard. He chose another path. That’s all I can really say about it.
Q. With Ishaq Williams, if he takes care of everything he needs to, is there a guaranteed spot for him on the 85?
COACH KELLY: I can’t guarantee him a spot, no. There are other factors involved.
Q. Have you found it odd that maybe you two haven’t talked a lot, that it has been more of a third party that you talked to?
COACH KELLY: No, I wouldn’t read anything into it. He’s working right now. He’s trying to make some money. Right now he’s got to get re enrolled into school. He’s got to re apply, go through that process. There’s some uncertainties there. He’s trying to do the things necessary to have a Plan B if he needs one. He’s trying to make some money.
Q. With two scholarship runningbacks on the roster, will anyone like Amir cross train?
COACH KELLY: C.J. Prosise is. He’s been in the runningback meetings. He’ll get a lot of work at runningback.
Amir will not cross train. He’ll stay at the slot receiver. C.J. will get quite a bit of work at runningback.
Q. You talked when we met on signing day that you were going to approach guys about possibly moving positions. You talked about the shifting you’ve done. Anywhere else where guys are going to cross train or move positions?
COACH KELLY: John Turner is going to play safety for us. He’s excited about getting back there. Obviously giving him an opportunity there to see what he can do. We’re not deep at the safety position. We’ll see what he can do.
Nick is going to get back into action this spring. We’ll limit his contact, but he’ll get a lot of work, seven on seven, non contact stuff.
Putting John back there, I think that’s going to help us.
Doug Randolph is going to play the rush position for us. We think he might have a trait that can get after the quarterback for us. We’re going to take a look at him at that rush position, see what he can do over there.
Those two guys on defense would be new moves for us.
Q. At linebacker, you’ve talked in the past about you’re going to do whatever you need to do to get the best 11 on the field. You’re in a situation where you’re going to have five or six guys that have started games for you at linebacker. Is there a chance if certain guys present themselves, you may have to switch those guys around, or are you set?
COACH KELLY: Let’s be clear, right? James is a nickel playing Sam. We’re matching up 11 personnel with James. If he gets big, Greer Martini is playing out there. Greer is playing Sam. If you guys are taking score at home, look at your roster as your Sam linebackers are James and Greer. You have three Mikes. Your Will linebackers right now are Jaylon and Te’von.
There’s a little bit of a backup there at the Mike. But, as I said, there’s a little bit of flexibility there with Joe. So you got two deep in a swing. That’s probably where you want to be at linebacker, expecting that maybe somebody gets banged up.
Q. You’ve also done that a little bit up front. You talked about Jay Hayes could move outside. Sheldon Day has done some things. Are you the same way there?
COACH KELLY: Jerry is going to play the one and the three, Tillery. He’s the guy that has that ability to play with his size both the one and the three. We’ll move those guys around and really try to find out what their best fit is.
At the linebacker position, if you get big on us, we’ll go to Greer. We’ll match size with a 21 package. If you want to stay 11, we can go with James for cover down purposes. We feel pretty good there.
If you want to get big inside, we feel like we can match up now with a Jarrett Grace as a big Mike.
I think we offer more opportunities and a lot more flexibility in terms of whether we’re three down, four down, whether we’re nickeling out at the Sam.
One of them is not going off the field, and that is Jaylon Smith. That’s a certainty. The rest of the guys are competing, and I think it’s a pretty good situation.
Q. Tranquill, is he limited at all this spring?
COACH KELLY: If we didn’t have a training staff, he’d be full go tackle. He’s a nut. We had a guy when I was at Cincinnati who came back and played in our bowl game in four and a half months after an ACL. He would have beat this kid to it. He could play. That’s the kind of physical ability that he had and the way he’s rehabbed and trained. He could be cleared to play. That’s just unheard of.
We’re not going to do that. We don’t have to win a football game in the spring we already won. He’s straight ahead. We’re starting to move him side to side. He’s doing everything right now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a lot of drill work, doing a lot of stuff. He’s just been incredible.
Q. Yesterday it was announced you guys were going to play one game against Ball State.
COACH KELLY: Yes.
Q. Can you talk about why you were going to do that or was it Brian Hardin and Bill Scholl harass you into it? COACH KELLY: Do I have to be truthful (laughter)?
I would say that I like Brian Hardin and have a lot of respect for Bill Scholl. But we were looking for a game in Indiana. Look, we’re playing UMass. We’re playing other Mid American Conference teams. I said, Look, let’s play somebody else from the state of Indiana. Ball State made sense. Let’s keep the game in state.
We certainly have a great deal of respect for Brian and Bill. At the end of the day we wanted to stay in the state of Indiana. That’s why we pushed for the Ball State matchup.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Drive safely. Get a designated driver if you drink green beer.