Nov. 1, 2016

University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference

Brian Kelly

COACH KELLY: It’s good to go back into a week after a win. Certainly, it builds the confidence for our football team. It comes right back to reality with Navy this week.

Obviously, Ken Niumatalolo and what he’s done at Navy has been well documented. This year they’re already beating a top five team in Houston, a team that we know quite well in terms of playing them over my past six years here. A ton of respect for what they do offensively, defensively, and special teams. So it will be a great challenge for our football team.

They just keep — they keep rolling offensively. They lose their starting quarterback. Will Worth comes in and picks up where they left off. You think they lose Keenan Reynolds and there’s going to be a dropoff, but the production has been unbelievable. I think it’s 500 yards per over the last few games, and 40-something plus, and they’re throwing it even better than they’ve ever thrown it with a multiple offensive formational set. So it’s a challenge for us and one that, you know, obviously will test us.

Defensively, they’ve lost some players, but they seem to have gotten more athletic defensively. Palmore leads with five sacks. So they’re aggressive. What you know about Navy is you just look at the South Florida game, and they’re down 42-14, and the final score is 52-45. I think that tells you a little bit about what you’re going to get from a Navy football team. They’re going to do everything to play to the final whistle.

So four quarters of football. It’s an early start. So we’ll get out of here Thursday night to prepare, give our guys a chance to acclimate on Friday and play the game in Jacksonville on Saturday morning.

So, again, a great challenge in front of us, one that we’ll prepare for on the field beginning today. With that, we’ll get rolling.

Q. Coach, I don’t have anything for injuries yet.

COACH KELLY: Okay, we’ll wait on that.

Q. How did you frame the indecisiveness message that you talked about yesterday, when you met them in the meeting room and then how did it translate on the practice field?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think indecisiveness comes in different forms. You know, I think C.J. is just trusting his talents. He’s a talented football player. And he needs to trust his talents. So as it relates to him, it goes right to that. When you trust your talents, you won’t be indecisive. You’ll go up and get that football, and you won’t suffer the consequences, and our team won’t suffer the consequences.

I think in other instances, being indecisive has something to do with not trusting your technique and you wanting to do things that are not taught.

And I think in final instances, it’s sometimes not trusting your teammates. Maybe you haven’t built a strong enough rapport with a teammate to trust maybe making that throw.

So it comes in different forms, that indecisiveness, but particular to your question as it relates to the special teams and C.J., it would be just trusting his talent.

Q. How do you build on that for the whole team this week? How do you build on that message?

COACH KELLY: So we talk about that openly as really a piece that still needs to grow within our football team. Some of that is just inexperienced players that have to trust in those three areas, and we just have to continue to work on those and be pretty transparent in talking about those things on a day-to-day basis. And then pointing them out when those opportunities arise in practice, and then spending time. Maybe it’s DeShone and K.J. spending more time on a particular route to build that confidence that he can go and throw that route without any indecisiveness.

Q. Brian, I’m curious. You mentioned going four quarters against Navy, and it does seem like, even when you get leads on these teams, they do find a way back. Does it make it more difficult for you to continue to rotate so many players because preparing guys for triple option is certainly different than what you’ve been going against.

COACH KELLY: This is a game where we’ll have to play more players. It’s a different game. It’s a downhill game, and it’s a physical game, where you’re tackling, you’re running every play.

For example, we’re going to have to ask more from Nicco Fertitta this week. This is a week he’ll have to be more involved. Jalen Elliott will have to be more involved. So our safety position will be, certainly from a depth standpoint, called on to contribute more this week.

Q. Do you have like last year the certain scout team to prepare you?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, the flag team, they’re up and running. We started with them taking option about two weeks before the bye week, and they began in the first period of our practices just to get them sharp so this wouldn’t be the first time they were touching the football.

Q. Just kind of doubling back, is it tough with all these freshmen that are going to have to play in the secondary, to teach them to train their eyes differently?

COACH KELLY: Well, if this were our opener, it certainly would be. They’ve had to learn to play with discipline in other fashions, so I think that has been built in, in a sense, of playing with discipline and other forms of offenses that we have faced.

So this will be their first foray and obviously playing a very, very difficult offense. I think if it was week 1 or week 2, there would be more hesitancy, but these guys are confident that they can do the job and do it with discipline.

Q. Along those lines, you’ve had guys that are better against the options than others, and sometimes your team looks different. I remember Robert Blanton dropping down to linebacker level one year. How do you kind of test to see who’s — who are your best option guys? Is that something you do in the spring? Is that something you do in August? How does that process work?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, we kind of develop that in the off-season and have formulated some opinions as to where these guys best fit.

I will say that there are some differences, in terms of fronts and coverages, that we may play compared to what we did last year, but by and large, guys are asked to play some different roles. I think we’ve got a pretty good sense of, at this point, the kind of system of defense we want to play against Navy. I think we found a system that we feel is effective. There’s no system that is going to cover everything.

But in answering your question, I think we’ve already defined the roles of the players, and now it’s let’s go practice them, and those are going to be the guys this week that we work with.

Q. Can you talk, address what you’ve seen from Drue Tranquill this last month against conventional offenses and then also why his skill set maybe translates pretty well to option football as well.

COACH KELLY: Well, I think what we’ve seen is the transition to putting him in a position that best suits his skill set. He’s not a guy that, quite frankly, is best suited to play the number two receiver man to man. He’s better to be in a position to run support and be in a complementary position for top down coverage. I think we’ve done a good job of putting him in where we believe he can best impact our football team.

Secondly, with as much youth as we have back there, it’s required him to take on a leadership role, and I think he’s really grown into that. So where he’s been really effective for us is, I think, an increased level of leadership, and I think we’ve put him in a role where we really can count on a real good tackler close to the line of scrimmage and somebody that is not necessarily put in a lot of man-to-man situations because, quite frankly, a 220-pound safety is not built for that, and we try to stay away from those kinds of situations.

Q. How is the concussion protocol trio doing?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’ve made progress yesterday. So cardiovascular is the next piece, which we went through yesterday, and Greer Martini will go through practice today in a non-contact. So he’ll be able to go through our 11-on-11, but we’ll put a red jersey on him so he doesn’t contact. But he’ll be able to get through all of our reads and make sure he gets a full day of practice from that standpoint.

Let’s see. Colin McGovern will do the same. He’ll go through practice. He passed through his cardiovascular test yesterday, and he’ll go through a similar protocol where he’ll get into a lot of our non-contact type of drill work today.

And who was our third? Daniel Cage. He did not take his cardio yesterday because of an academic schedule. He’ll take that today. So he’s one day behind everybody.

Q. When you were out looking at Ronnie Stanley and those guys, do you remember Jamir Tillman? Is he a guy who looked really good then, or is he more a guy who’s blossomed in college?

COACH KELLY: I think he’s blossomed in college. He was a bit — you know, he’s developed more certainly, and you would expect that. But he’s been, obviously, a very, very good player for them to the point where he’s troublesome. Before, you know, you only worried if you violated your eyes on defense. Now you can be in good position, and he can make some really good plays. He’s a really good football player.

Q. Last one from me. In 2013, you played, I believe, Navy and Air Force back to back. There was a lot of leg injuries from the cut blocks with your defensive linemen, your defensive front. What have you learned maybe from that experience and since then that’s maybe helped push you away from that trend?

COACH KELLY: I don’t know that you’ll pick up anything other than, from our standpoint, we’re just playing a lot of players. I think we’re at a point there where we weren’t in a deep rotation of players. We were grinding out some of the front line guys, and they were getting all the reps. We’re going to go deep with a lot of players. I think that that will probably be the biggest thing that we do is play a lot of players up front.

Q. You talked about developing basic concepts against triple option. What was Coach Elliott’s role in formulating that plan? I think you started that a couple years ago with him.

COACH KELLY: Well, we did some studies from other programs that had success and just really wanted to see some thoughts that other programs had that had gone against Navy multiple times, not just one time, and we had seen them several times. So we kind of just wanted to visit some other schools that had gone against Navy and had a modicum of success.

So we kind of compiled all those thoughts and schemes, if you will, and then sat down and said, all right, what makes sense with what we do? And then went to work from there.

So Coach Elliott compiled all that information by sitting down firsthand with other coaches that had firsthand knowledge of what we were doing and came back here. We installed some things that have been really effective, fine tuned them a little bit, and then he’s worked directly with the graduate assistants that are running the scout teams to help them run the offenses effectively for our defense.

Q. Is there a specific concept or two that you can name where you said, look, we’ve been doing this. We can’t do that. We have to do this. Can you describe that?

COACH KELLY: Well, I would say, more than anything else, when it comes to defending Navy, they strike on such a broad front. In other words, you can’t take away a particular play. I think there was some thought, take away the fullback. Well, they don’t care if you take away the fullback. That’s okay. They’ll run, toss, sweep 47 times.

So I think it was more about there’s not a specific thing that you take away as much as at times you’re going to have to fight through a block-on-block situation to make a play. It never becomes a math equation, where in a lot of the football that’s played, you can get an extra hat to a particular run play and outnumber them, you can’t do it against this offense. So don’t try. If you try to outnumber the dive or try to outnumber the quarterback in a particular defensive structure, they’ve got answers.

That’s really the answer to how you defend this is that you can’t have all the answers.

Q. I know during the bye week you went through a self-scout period, and 5 of your 8 games, you’ve had scoring lapses. Texas scored 17 straight, Michigan State 36, Duke 21 —

COACH KELLY: Those would be defensive lapses. No, I’m kidding. A little bit of both.

Q. Yeah, a little bit of both. I guess what I’m asking is — what actually I was going to say, what answer do you come up other than the offense is going through too many periods of not putting points on the board?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think that, when you look at those periods, it’s, I think, consistency in running the football, and we’re not consistent in running the football, and that lends itself to having some of those periods of not being consistent offensively. I think, if you’re consistent at running the football, we’re going to be scoring boatloads of points, and that’s why we run hot and cold at times offensively, because we haven’t established the consistency at running the football.

Q. Does that require simply having more running plays, where even if you’re not getting large chunks of ground, that you emphasize that more?

COACH KELLY: Well, yes and no because, as you know, when you’re in a spread offense, you may not have the option to run the football all the time. You have to be adept at finding ways to throw the ball that equals a run play, and we weren’t very good at that. We’re getting better at that.

So that was a concerted effort for us this past week to make certain that we could throw the ball in some short game, quick game, to make up for when the numbers just didn’t add up for us to run the ball consistently.

Q. Brian, you talked about special teams. How much do you think the problem is you’re having to use so many young players on special teams, that it’s part of the problem?

COACH KELLY: Well, I could stand up here, and we could blame everything on being inexperienced, but that’s — you know, for me, I think we knew going in that we were going to play a lot of young players. We would like to say, as coaches, that, if you can get young, excited, athletic players to play for you, you should be able to get them to play at the highest level.

But we’ve had some lapses. We’ve had a long punt return against Syracuse because we had a freshman who thought the returner gave a fair catch. We’ve had some things that you would scratch your head. Nothing systemic in terms of schemes or players as much as these are head scratchers. So, yeah, we’re taking our lumps right now, but we’ve got to keep coaching them, and we have to be — you know, I think even more clear. When we go over, for example, the onside kick situation, where we didn’t attack the football. We work on it. We didn’t work on it enough, obviously.

So I don’t blame anybody, but we didn’t work on that kind of thing enough because we’ve got some young players. That’s kind of how I look at it. Yeah, they’re inexperienced, but we knew they were going to be, and we just have to do a better job.

Q. I think before the Stanford game, you said that you had been spending more time this year on special teams. I know Navy is not an easy week, there’s not much extra time to be learning stuff. Do you spend extra time this week on it, or do you just keep going?

COACH KELLY: Well, so there’s some good and bad things here, right? Navy doesn’t punt a lot. So there’s a breather there. So there are some things that we can really be focused on in terms of where we want to get better this week. This is a probably get back to fundamentals week for us relative to special teams.

Q. On Sunday, I think you thought — you were considering what to do with C.J. Are you going to keep him at punt return, or are you going to make a change?

COACH KELLY: We’re going to let C.J. and Chris compete for it this week, and we’ll make a decision on Saturday.

Q. Jarron Jones obviously had two good games in a row here. You wouldn’t think playing the option would necessarily be a strength of his. What can you expect from him this week?

COACH KELLY: It had better be a strength of his. I mean, he’s got all the NFL teams now interested in him. So I mean, I don’t think he wants bad NFL film now. I hope he’s listening. Do you think he’s listening? Probably not.

You know, if he’s explosive and he gets off the ball, there’s really no worries about how to play this game up front. You just need to be explosive. We’re not going to get into a read-react thing with him. He’s a big fella, and he makes all his plays being explosive. So the best way not to get cut is to blow your guy up. That’s kind of what we’re talking to Jarron about, and he kind of likes that right now.

Q. Jalen Elliott looked confused as to the concept of an onside kick. What explanation did he give you?

COACH KELLY: He just got confused. We work on a — kind of like a little pooch kick over there for our front line guys, and it’s usually in the air. So it must have just confused him that it was on the ground and it wasn’t in an onside fashion. We usually do a little kind of a bunt punt over there for those guys to make sure they’re just stationary and not running out of there too quickly. Kind of like I said to Tom, we just have to do a better job of — they know where the cliff is for them in terms of not moving. It’s just a young guy that just probably needed to get more reps at seeing onside kick over there.

Q. Indecision by a freshman.

COACH KELLY: Little bit of indecision, yeah. We’re working on that.

Q. Brian, I’m just curious. What are the most difficult concepts you have to teach freshmen and some of the younger players on this defense when they have to face a team like Navy, considering some of them might not have faced the triple option before?

COACH KELLY: Navy is quite complicated formationally. You could go back 15 years, 12 to 15 years, and they’ll pull out formations and really stress you from a formation standpoint, which changes a lot of the things you’re looking at. So formationally, they stress you.

I mean, there are traditional plays, but they put you in on balance. They put you in tackle eligible plays. They put you — you know, wide receivers lined up as a tackle, and he’s eligible. They just make it very difficult because they are not traditionally looking offensive sets that these guys are trained to see. So they’re seeing something Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for the first time that they haven’t seen virtually their whole career.

So what they’re seeing is as difficult as defending the play itself.

Q. And how much can you actually prepare them through facing the scout team, during the week in film session? How much of it is just kind of living through the experience of playing?

COACH KELLY: Well, you can’t just live through the experience, or you’re going to have a bad day, a real bad day. There’s late nights, and they are watching extra film. There is extra preparation for a team like this. This is a difficult week in preparation.

But having said that, we have a system that now is in place that I think will help them as we teach it to them.

Q. Brian, how does Navy’s offense look different, or how are their tendencies different with Will Worth as the quarterback as opposed to Keenan or Tago Smith?

COACH KELLY: It’s all in how you play them. The last three teams played virtually one front. They were in bear cover one. After a while, they’re going to get you. They scored 24 points in the fourth quarter. It just took them a while, but they’ll get you.

So if you’re going to line up in one front and that’s all you do, it might be tough sledding for a little bit of the time, but they’re going to get to you. So they have answers for everything. They’ve seen everything. It’s not like you’re going to come up with a defensive structure that they haven’t seen before.

So you’ve got to show them a few looks. I mean, you’ve got to move around a little bit. You’ve got to be fundamentally sound. And you have to have a base plan. This is who we are. This is how we’re going to defend you. And then you’ve got to have a couple of wrinkles off of that.

But clearly, the last few weeks, a lot of man coverage, opportunities to throw the football, very difficult to run the ball. Didn’t see as much option. Saw a lot of toss sweep because, again, they were in some pressure fronts. But they scored enough points to beat the number five team in the country in Houston and almost came back and beat South Florida by scoring 45 points. So I don’t know if that was necessarily the answer either.

Q. How have you seen Jarron kind of just mature from freshman year to now on and off the field?

COACH KELLY: Jarron, I think, has matured quicker after he’s graduated. I think the feeling, once you’re a graduate at Notre Dame, the reality is it’s sunk in that it’s time for me to look towards what my future is going to be. Whether it’s football or being employed, I think that that kind of has helped him really prioritize things in his life.

I think the degree and achieving that was pretty big in his life. That was a milestone.

Q. Did you need to have a conversation with him or anything, kind of before the season, kind of telling him we need to have X out of you this season or just we need to have a big year out of you, especially after the injuries?

COACH KELLY: We have constant conversations, Jarron and I. Look, Jarron is an extremely affable — he’s got a big heart. After a monster game, he was trick or treating as Snow White here in the Gug. He’s a beautiful kid.

But he has to be reminded of the day-to-days, and that’s my job. So Jarron and I have constant communications, but I think he’s doing a great job. I think he clearly understands his role. I’ve been very, very pleased with the way he has matured this year into the kind of senior that you’d want on your football team.