Aug. 30, 2011

COACH KELLY: Afternoon. It’s exciting to be in game week, all the preparation and all the things that you have to do to get to this point. Certainly these are the days that you enjoy as a football coach, getting ready for games.

South Florida is going to be a great challenge for us. I think it starts, when you talk about South Florida, with their head coach, Skip Holtz, who has done a very good job in a short period of time. I think everyone needs to understand that he has great experience as a head coach. When he was at UConn, starting a program that was non-BCS, bringing it up, then obviously East Carolina, always playing up to his competition, now it’s South Florida. I think a lot of publications have picked them to be a BCS team.

So a big challenge for us in our opener, playing a talented team, athletic. As it relates to players, you start with B.J. Daniels, the quarterback, who obviously I’ve gotten a chance to know when I was in the BIG EAST. We had to try to defend B.J. Daniels, and it’s a challenge to say the least. He’s extremely athletic, he can throw the football, and I think if you just look at the last game he played, he was the MVP of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, so he has confidence and momentum coming into the season.

From an offensive standpoint, you look at guys that are back. The wide receiver, A.J. Love, I’m familiar with him, who is back after a season ending injury last year. I think they’ve got some continuity now at the wide receiver position. They’ve got a transfer in Darrell Scott from Colorado who was heralded as one of the best backs in the country, so there is enough talent there obviously for them to beat anybody on their schedule, and we’re well aware of that.

Defensively, experience in the back end of their defense, Cory Grissom on the defensive line, reminds me a little bit of Louis Nix III in terms of his size and hard to move out of there, a physical player. Linebacker, Devekeyan Lattimore and Sam Barrington are guys that run the ball and have good experience there.

So, again, if you look at it, it starts with Skip Holtz and, you know, what he’s been able to do as a head coach, you know his football team is going to be ready to play, especially coming back to Notre Dame. Certainly the athleticism, in particular as I mentioned B.J. Daniels, and then defensively having experience back, especially in the back end of the defense. You always feel good about that in your opener, that you have experience in the defensive backfield. With that I will open it up for questions.

Q. We’ve asked you every imaginable personnel question in the last few weeks, but I don’t think we’ve talked a whole lot about tight end. How is (Tyler) Eifert’s progress, (Mike) Ragone’s injury and how do (Alex) Welch and (Ben) Koyack fit into the picture?

COACH KELLY: I think it’s been about Tyler Eifert being the starting tight end, and that’s been clear since day one. It’s, as you mentioned who is number two, who is number three, who is number four, because they’re all very equal. I think what put (Alex) Welch and (Ben) Koyack into the mix is that Mike (Ragone) has been slowed in camp with a quad injury. He ran yesterday well for the first time.

I think if he looks the same or better over the next couple of days, we expect him to be our number two tight end. I think you will see all four of them play, though, as the season progresses, all four will be on the field.

Q. In watching Skip Holtz as a coach, what do you think earmarks him as a head coach? What is the common thread in his teams?

COACH KELLY: They’re very similar, no matter where he’s been; they’ve played similar football. That is they’ve been stout defensively. Coach (Mark) Snyder as their coordinator, who I got a chance to know when he was at Marshall, prior to that, Ohio State, brings that personality that you’re looking for defensively, so they’ve always been solid defensively.

And then their system has been the same. What he ran at East Carolina, you’re seeing a lot of that at South Florida, so I would say consistency in the continuity within his systems he’s carried with him. As we all know, we’ve talked about it a lot, that’s very important in your football team.

Q. Early in camp you talked about how focused your players were, how focused your team was and you talked about their desire to win having a lot to do with that. Have they been able to maintain that? Are they starting to anticipate a game and getting antsy waiting for that to finally arrive?

COACH KELLY: We were locked in pretty good yesterday. I think we’ve taken breaks at the right time for our team not to be stale mentally, and I think those breaks have allowed us to have a lot of energy in our practices. I thought we had our best day yesterday, again, the other reason why, is it was our second break in five days, so they’re looking better getting in and out of their breaks, just from a physical standpoint.

So I would answer your question by saying, no, we know that it can be a grind, but once it’s game week, it changes everything.

Q. Coach, you’re going to be facing a lot of dual threat quarterbacks this year, two right out of the gate with B.J. and Denard Robinson. How does that alter practice preparations for defense? Also, what role does Everett Golson or Andrew Hendrix have in preparing the defense, because they are experienced in your offense with the running?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think, you know, when you’re dealing with a quarterback that is a dual threat and we’re talking about his ability to run, you have to go over all those things that put the ball in his hands, whether it be option, read option, sprint out, you know, break and contain, all those things have to be part of your defensive preparation.

So we’ve become accustomed to having that within our defensive game plan, because of last year, but we spent obviously a great deal of time in making sure that we have answers to defend the run portion of a quarterback.

It could be a number of different ways, but that’s important against South Florida. Everett and Andrew certainly assist in that preparation, both of them helped us this week in preparing for B.J. Daniels, because they’re both guys that you have to defend as it relates to running the ball.

Q. But you used both of them like maybe with the scout team as opposed to, perhaps, with the first unit or just getting some reps there?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’ve gotten some good work when they’re in a demonstration kind of scenario, and then we tried to use some one’s versus one’s with both those guys at quarterback as well, so we’re making sure that our defense gets speed work.

Sometimes when you go in demonstration or scout team it slows down, and maybe you don’t have the offensive linemen knowing exactly what to do, so we tried to put them with our first unit as well to give us the best preparation.

Q. You’ve demonstrated throughout your career that time of possession is perhaps the most overrated stat perhaps in a football game. With Dayne (Crist) at quarterback and the way you played last November slowing the game down a little bit, does it take on more importance in your structure now or is it the same?

COACH KELLY: You know, what I’ve said in the past, but it’s overrated when you’re winning. If you’re winning and you don’t have time of possession it becomes overrated. If you’re not winning and you don’t have time of possession then it’s a different thing. So we go into each year looking at winning football games.

So I’ve never spent much time on the difference between having more time of possession and less with the quarterback, it’s still about scoring points so philosophically it’s about scoring points and you can do it with (Dayne) Christ or (Everett) Golson or whomever, you just may do it quicker with others.

Q. Off topic… there has been discussion about changing the game day routine where you will go from the Basilica here and take a new walk. What went into that decision?

COACH KELLY: I’m always looking at ways to manage all the demands on our players’ time during the week. As you know, it’s one of the great unique qualities that we have here at Notre Dame is that there’s such pageantry and tradition. We want to maintain that, but we want to make sure that our players get ample time to be focused on football as well.

So we tweaked the schedule to give our guys a breather before we take that walk, which we’re going to continue to do; we think that’s a great tradition. I think a lot of it was generated by giving our players a little bit more time. We wanted to do it in a comfortable environment. Instead of doing it at a hotel, which they’re at once a week, we wanted to do it here, where we have all of our training aids, our video, and a comfort level that they have being here. So we wanted to create that on game day for our players but not lose out on the great traditions of being in the Basilica and having the walk.

Q. Brian, you talked at the start of practice about establishing the run and defending the run. Are you anxious to see how that defensive line stacks up against the South Florida offensive line that has experience particularly at the guard and tackle slots?

COACH KELLY: I’m always interested in the trenches, you know, because I think we all know if you’re watching a ball game, if you can’t stop the run or you’re having difficulty, it goes a long way in deciding the outcome. So those are match ups that I’m always looking at early on, and if you get a sense and feel that you can run the football early in the game, I think it dictates how you manage the rest of the game, so yeah, those will be early things that we look at.

Q. You’ve got more interchangeable parts on your defensive line this year. How tough is it going to be to figure out the right combinations to go with them?

COACH KELLY: That’s what we’ve been working on, you know, that situational substitution, getting the right guys on the field and maximizing the talent and those are the things you do in preseason camp. We think we found the right formula and you have to be ready for injuries, a guy that needs a blow because it’s 89 degrees and high humidity, so I think we have a good feel, but you always have plan B ready to go.

Q. Speaking of plan B, one of the things that Lou Holtz talked to with openers —

COACH KELLY: Is he related to Skip?

Q. Vaguely — was chasing ghosts, because you never know if there is going to be a new wrinkle, trying to be prepared for every situation. How tough is that when you’re facing a team that you’re not as familiar with because you don’t play ’em all the time and then you face ’em on opening day?

COACH KELLY: That varies depending on who you’re playing in the opener. Purdue was different for me last year because I had not played Purdue. I would say if you’re stacking up openers, I’m a little more familiar with South Florida and Coach Holtz and his style of offense and defense so, yeah, I think anybody is smart to work on those plays that present themselves to you on film, that’s what you’re working on but we’re always going to be ready for that exotic play.

Q. Andrew Nuss is a fifth year senior that doesn’t have an extensive body of work on the field and at present seems like he is one of the more valuable players. Can you talk about his versatility, and was that one of his key points in returning?

COACH KELLY: Great guy in the locker room. He’s well respected by everybody, the coaches in particular, great leadership qualities. We want the right guys on the team, too, coupled with the fact that he has great versatility. He can play tackle, center, guard. As you stack up decisions that have to be made as a head coach as to who you’re inviting back, that was a pretty easy one.

Q. You said (Andrew) Nuss and (Chris) Watt were 50/50 and could go either way, but obviously Chris did something to earn the starting job. What did he show you to separate himself even just a little bit?

COACH KELLY: You know, I would just say that Chris (Watt) is a bit stronger at the point of attack, as a technician, he utilizes his strengths, and that is his smarts, and he gets in good positions. Chris (Watt) is more powerful at the point of attack.

Sometimes that works to a great advantage, but other times he’ll swing and miss a couple times and Andrew (Nuss) would not. So you can see that their styles are a little bit different from that standpoint but if you’re asking me straight up, Chris (Watt) is a guy that’s going to bang it in there pretty good.

Q. This week looking at the call sheet you’re going to have to start versus the call sheet you had against Purdue last year, what’s the difference? Can you do more?

COACH KELLY: I think it’s knowledge of what you’re capable of doing more so than having more plays available to you. Knowing that these are plays that Dayne (Crist) has executed very well over the past year, we can go back and look at the successes that he’s had in reading out a particular play or getting us in the right play, so I think it’s more knowledge of what your guys can do rather than we have more plays available to us.

Q. When you were looking at Dayne (Crist) coming back from this second injury, did you look at Jason White? Was there somebody else out there that you knew who had done this before?

COACH KELLY: No, not really. I didn’t spend much time on anything else other than evaluating, you know, what Dayne (Crist) was going to be able to do for us. There wasn’t any, hey, let’s get ahold of somebody who has been through this before because the circumstances are so much different as it relates to the individuals.

We were just looking at his confidence level, his “want to,” which he showed early on, and then he really needed this summer. So we didn’t know until we got back working with the guys as to whether he would have that escapability that’s necessary in any offense, whether it’s a pro style offense or spread offense; we didn’t know until we got back to camp. So there were questions as to whether he could do it. He answered those questions in my mind this summer.

Q. Since he’s been named the number one guy, have you seen acceleration with him? What have his practices looked like?

COACH KELLY: I’ve seen him continue to build on where we left off relative to that decision making process. He has not all of the sudden made some mistakes and gotten sloppy with the football or feels like he’s arrived. He’s exactly what he has, I think, articulated to you guys. This is only the start for him; you know what I mean?

He’s only gotten a chance to start against South Florida. He’s got to produce to be the starting quarterback each and every week, so I think he carries that with him in the way he practices.

Q. He made a comment last week, “This is my last first day of school” or something. Is that a matter of him being focused on this year and not looking beyond?

COACH KELLY: You know, I don’t ask him about that kind of stuff. I live in the present. I really don’t even concern myself I’m worried about having a great practice on Tuesday, and that’s not just coach speak, I really don’t get into that stuff.

If they’ve got other plans, they’ll Tweet about it, they’ll put it on Facebook; you guys will know about it way before I will, so I try to stay in the present. I can’t keep up with these guys.

Q. Nick Martin and Connor Hanratty, can you talk about the camps they have had?

COACH KELLY: I’ve been pleased. You always hope in the recruiting process that you get what you think you’re going to get. We knew (Connor) Hanratty was a tough kid, we knew he had to physically develop. What we liked on film was his toughness. He will hit you. He’s done that. He’s taken second team reps as a true freshman, which is he’s swimming right now, he’s not ready to go in the game, but we got what we thought we were going to get there.

As it relates to Nick (Martin), when I saw him play basketball, that’s what did it for me. When I saw him move his feet I said, this is a guy that would be a great fit for us. He’s not only done that, but he’s shown that he can play the game of football. He has a natural awareness of his position, even though he’s protypically we would like him longer at the tackle position. He moves his feet really well and has a great feel for the position that he’s playing, which is backing up his brother. There is a great synergy there, as you can imagine, because I’m not afraid to speak my mind on the practice field if you’re not doing well, and Zach (Martin) does not want Nick (Martin) to get yelled at at all, so he’s coaching him as hard as (Ed) Warinner is coaching him.

Q. With Theo’s (Riddick) return in the run game, how do you weigh a guy that’s important to your offense and putting in so many different roles? How do you weigh the risk and the reward?

COACH KELLY: Good question. What I’ve said to Theo (Riddick) is he’ll take his blows on offense. If he needs a play or two because he’s playing special teams, he’ll take it on offense. We have great confidence in Robby Toma to go in there and play a series. Theo, in his mind set, he has to be a huge impact for us in special teams. So if he needs a blow, we are comfortable with Robbie being in the game, and that’s the way we have approached it with Theo and the way his thought process should be.

Q. Louis Nix III, he came into camp on fire. Has he kept that pace up?

COACH KELLY: He’s been very consistent in his approach. We’ve gotten to know Louis (Nix III) a lot better as a staff. We know when to push him, we know when to back off, and I think what he’s brought to our attention is that he can be that consistent guy day in and day out.

Q. We had a chance to talk to Theo (Riddick) and Coach (Tony) Alford the other day, and they seem to have a special relationship. Is that a unique duo between those two?

COACH KELLY: Well, they both have great personalities, as you know, and they both are great competitors. I don’t see jokin’ around on the field when they get out to practice; Coach (Tony) Alford is a serious guy as well as Theo (Riddick), but they do have a great relationship off the field. Tony (Alford) is a mentor to a lot of our players and he’s got great relationships I think he has specifically a great one with Theo.

Q. Coach, going back a little bit talking about the quarterbacks and the mobile quarterbacks that you’re going to be seeing, how does that impact what Darius Fleming does best in terms of his aggressiveness? How does that impact his game?

COACH KELLY: Having an athletic quarterback, how does it impact Darius’ (Fleming) game?

Q. Yeah, what he has to do in terms of he is a great pass rusher, but how does that change because of the containment?

COACH KELLY: Well, as you know, he is the cat, so if 80% of the game is played on the hash, he’s only defending a short field, so it doesn’t impact Darius (Fleming) as much as it impacts the field and what happens to the field. He’s, as you know, very rarely to the field, that will fall on Prince Shembo and Danny Spond. So what we like about Darius (Fleming) is he can chase you. He’s going to be able to chase you down, and he brings another athlete to the field to defend against a very good athlete. What he would see more is read option back to him, and he’s good at it, because he can close and still be athletic enough to pop out and tackle a guy like B.J. Daniels.

Q. Following up on the call sheet and how much more you’re comfortable with. Is there a way you could quantify how many plays you felt good about at this time last year going to Purdue versus how many plays you feel good about going into South Florida?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think I feel so much better about it because I know what we can do. I’m going to call the plays that I feel like we have a history of success with, or that I’ve seen us execute after a year of being in this offense.

So I don’t want to be evasive on the question as much as it’s still going to be based upon what I believe these guys can execute, where I didn’t know what they were good at, really; we were throwing it out there and saying, all right, let’s start here and go from there.

That’s how our offense kind of came together. We had to decide what we were good at, after Dayne (Crist) went down. While Dayne (Srist) was in there we were still kinda all over the map and figuring out what our strengths were, and now going into this game we have a good understanding of what our strengths are.

Q. I asked you last week about your second line receivers, (Robby) Toma has done a good job, DaVaris (Daniels), did you get what you wanted?

COACH KELLY: The last week I got what I wanted out of John Goodman, and he will be a valuable guy when we need him; same thing with Robby Toma, I think what you will see, Pete, is those two guys and, you know, we’re not going to put (DaVaris) Daniels in a position where the light is on him. We’re going to sneak him in there when it’s a time and place where he doesn’t have to be counted on to make a big play as he continues to grow.

He’s going to play this year. You may see if the “X” receiver goes down, you may see (John) Goodman go over there, and he’s an X and W, and he’s going to be a swing guy. So we’re working off a five man rotation, and six and seven would be Daniel Smith and DaVaris Daniels.

Q. Building on the concept of rotation and dividing up reps, some of that is feel during the game, but how much time do you spend during the week on series where, we’re going to go with this guy and this guy and make it more concrete than just grabbing things on Saturday?

COACH KELLY: We have a coach who is watching our players on offense. Generally it’s the perimeter players when they need a blow, so we have one coach that’s assigned to, hey, Mike (Floyd) just ran three “go” routes so he needs a blow. We have somebody keeping an eye on it, and I try to do that because play calling to me is getting the ball to a specific player, and if I see he’s jogging back and not ready, that impacts that so I’m looking at that, and we have a coach specifically assigned to that rotation.

Q. Lastly, first “go live” for the new rule on celebrations. How much time have you spent with that, and what’s your thought on that rule overall?

COACH KELLY: We spent time on it. It’s obviously a significant rule, whether it’s at the 1 yard line or the 1 and a half yard line. How that’s going to be legislated, I think, it’s up to each crew, but we’ve gone over it with our players, how significant it is to have a touchdown called back and add 15 yards in penalties. So we’ve added it to our script as well as the 10 second rule, the run off rule, which affects the offense and the defense. So a couple of those rules we have to be on our toes relative to game management and specifically the 10 second rule.

Q. Do you like these rule changes?

COACH KELLY: You know, I know what they’re trying to do, with the rules. I don’t know if I was a voting member how I would come out on that, but I don’t have much say in it so I roll with it.

Q. Coach, a lot of coaches will script plays and other guys go by “feel” and what’s happening on game day. What’s the balance you try to keep there as far as play calling and what you want to accomplish?

COACH KELLY: I’ve got experience in all of those scenarios. I think I’m more of a “feel” guy, try to get a “feel” for how the game is unfolding, because I’m thinking not only as an offensive coordinator but the head coach and how we’re playing defensively, because that would impact my play calling on offense. So I think it’s more of a “feel” for me. I have scripted plays if I wanted to get into a scripted situation.

So to answer your question, I’ve utilized all of those techniques, but if I was to default to what my personality is about, it’s probably more getting a feel for the game.