Oct. 2, 2012
COACH KELLY: We came off a bye week, really, I think achieved the objectives of our bye week, which was get back into a normal routine on Sunday and Monday for our football team. We practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday. We were able to address some errors that were made both offensively, defensively, and special teams off of the Michigan game. Then our players had Friday and Saturday off. Brought them back Sunday, and yesterday, I thought was probably the most important day of the week, secondary, obviously, to the Saturday game against Miami, in that we needed to get our guys back into the speed of the game. We had a two hour practice yesterday, full gear. And I thought we accomplished a lot of the goals that I was looking for. Number one, to refocus our guys on the task at hand, Miami, and most importantly the team that we’re playing and what they’ve accomplished over the past few weeks. That has exhibited a mental toughness and a conditioning element in winning their last three games late in the fourth quarter. It tells you a lot about a football team and the way they win games. So, briefed our football team on Miami and who they are and how they play and how they’re coached. They’re a well coached team with great leadership with Coach Golden. Then went to work on ourselves. As I mentioned, a two hour practice where we got quite a bit of ones versus ones. Again, trying to duplicate the speed that we did not have in the bye week. We’ll roll that into today’s practice. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we’ve got a number of practices in front of us leading into Miami. So that is kind of a recap of where we are from last week when we talked and then leading into today’s practice. So with that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. You mentioned one of the challenges of Notre Dame is playing the offenses. Is there a comparison to Miami, obviously not in the last two weeks, but maybe in recent years with Miami’s offense?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I just think that they’re a team that certainly would like to be balanced. They have proven to be a team that can make big plays, but I don’t think there is anything from a schematic standpoint that they haven’t seen from our offense. They’re a tempo team. They like to go fast. They’ve caught their last couple of opponents not prepared for that. So I don’t know that there’s a schematic piece that’s not there as much as there is they’ve got some big weapons on the perimeter. Two outstanding backs and a quarterback that’s playing better and better each and every week.
Q. You caught (Stephen) Morris the tail end of 2010, how has he improved since then?
COACH KELLY: He really wasn’t their starter. He was in and out of the game. Showed some signs. Looked like a young player at the time. He looks like more of a veteran quarterback. He’s made big plays for them. He’s also somebody that can be on the perimeter. He can run. They’ve run him the last couple of games. Again, he’s somebody that obviously is playing really good football.
Q. Can you talk about what you saw from Everett (Golson) during the bye week, and what you got out of him?
COACH KELLY: It’s work in progress. An analogy that I like to use is he’s still cooking. We’ve taken him out of the oven. He’s still learning all of the things that are not necessarily visible from game film. He’s still learning how to effectively communicate, and how he’s able to lead, and all of those things. So every practice day is a day of his development, and that’s how I take it when I go to the field is that we’re going to be coaching and teaching every single day with Everett.
Q. I know you weren’t here when (Robby) Toma and (Manti) Te’o got here, but can you talk about what you’ve seen of their friendship? It seems they make each other better on the field as well?
COACH KELLY: I would start with their development as football players. If you go back to when I first started here at Notre Dame, Robby was kind of a forgotten name in the sense that he hadn’t played a lot of football. And Manti was a freshman who, obviously, in our first evaluation was a physical player that didn’t know how to play the position yet. And their progress has been steady and as good as anybody in the program. Now take that with what they do off the field. They make a huge impact on our team because they’re great leaders, they’re competitors, and then their friendship is the third element and they lean on each other pretty heavily, especially this last couple of weeks. So there are so many forms to it. But the thing that stands out for me is their development as football players has been as fun to watch as anything.
Q. They had a chance, I guess, to go home to Hawaii this past week. How was Manti when he came back from that trip?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think any time you get a chance to be around family at that time, there is probably some closure to it which allows you to continue on in the grieving process. So I think it’s just another step for Manti, and Robby being there, obviously, close to the family. I think they were able to bring some closure and move on to the next challenge.
Q. Louis Nix was a guy that committed before you were hired and after Charlie (Weis) was let go, so kind of in the middle. Can you recall what your first impressions of him were?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I sure can. It’s probably what your first impressions were. This big, mammoth of a man who had a kid like personality. He continues to have that. He’s just added a lot of maturity to that kid like personality. So, again, he’s developing himself off the field as much as he is on the field. We’ve looked for that improvement every day from him.
Q. Last Sunday, the day after the Michigan game, you talked about your defense going from bend but don’t break maybe last year to one of a play making unit. How does that impact your play calling on the offensive side?
COACH KELLY: Oh, I think it has a lot to do with how you manage the game. Looking back on some of the teams that I had at Cincinnati, and Bob (Diaco) was my defensive coordinator, it was hold on. We’re going to try to outscore them. So, I think, you go through those times of having a football team where you manage the game accordingly. So we’re going to make sure that our defense is on a long field. Because if they’re on a long field, they’ve got a chance to take it away, give us better field position, or turn it back to us. It makes an impact in how you manage and call the game.
Q. But you want to be more aggressive offensively. You don’t want to just lean on the defense to bail your offense out. I would imagine there is a fine line there for you.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we ran it fast last year. You saw what happened. We got a lot of speeding tickets, and a bad analogy. But clearly we want to be more of an offense that can have big play capabilities. We need to score more points, no question about that. We’re not scoring enough points. But as you can see, and it’s been the theme. We’re going to be careful with the football. We’re not going to be careless with it. Until we’re ready to amp it up, so to speak, we’ll be careful with the football.
Q. You improved your running game considerably from 2010 to 2011. I wonder what the correlation was there between that and having Tommy Rees at quarterback last year and his ability to check plays, including checking plays from pass to run?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Tommy’s strength was and still continues to be getting in very good plays. His weakness was we’ve turned the football over. We were balancing that all year in terms of the net benefits. But he continues to be a guy that can always get us in the optimum looks. In particular, when you’re in the spread, the ability to get you running the football to the best looks. He does a great job with it. Everett’s still in developing those skills. He’s not where Tommy is. That’s where we want to get Everett though.
Q. I was going to ask you. Is it more difficult to get a first year player to check from a pass to a run?
COACH KELLY: First, assuming that he has that responsibility. I think we generally like to start run to run, pass to pass. When you start to go from run to pass, you’ve graduated to the next level. You’ve gone from the 101 to the 201 level. We’re not there on all circumstances, we are on some. But that is my earlier comments where he’s still cooking. He’s still learning how to get to that next level of making those checks.
Q. Have you flip flopped Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell?
COACH KELLY: On occasion. Not as a permanent, but given circumstances of the game, match ups, we believe that both of those guys can flip flop from the wide field to the short field. I thought he was going to say, have I flip flopped? And of course I’ve flip flopped on a number of things. Okay.
Q. Is part of the challenge for Everett just getting his confidence up as far as making those things that Chuck (Martin) mentioned, that sometimes he comes to the sidelines and says, yeah, I saw that, but he didn’t do what he saw? Is that one of the challenges right now?
COACH KELLY: I think that’s all part of the progression. He’s got a lot of pride. He’s not a guy that I feel lacks confidence, but certainly is quite aware that there is a learning curve that he has to continue to develop on. So when you’re taking a highly skilled player that is somebody that is a great competitor, they’re never going to be deflated relative to confidence, but they’re going to main more confidence as they understand what they’re seeing. So to answer your question, he’s a guy that has confidence, but he’ll continue to build on that as he continues to learn.
Q. Everett hasn’t been made available to media. Is part of that that you don’t need people asking why are you doing this or that or that sort of thing?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think that’s the main issue. I think he’s got a very difficult schedule this year. We’ve had a hard time managing him out of practice, getting something to eat, all of those things. He’s got a really difficult schedule. The last few weeks have been heavy because we’re getting close to midterms. So a lot of those factors. We’re not trying to hide him. But yet on the other hand, I’m not going to make him available to you every day as well because he’s got so much going on being the quarterback and a freshman at Notre Dame.
Q. Miami seems to have the opposite of you guys as far as the strength being their offense and the weakness. Is it a message that the team has to take advantage where offensively you have to score some points here?
COACH KELLY: There is no question. Whether we’re playing Miami or our next opponent, we, as an offense, have to score more points. I’m more concerned about what we do and how we play the game more so. Saying, hey, we’re playing Miami. They would probably say against Kansas State their offense didn’t play very well. So I stay out of that arena, and I focus more on what we need to do as an offense and defense and special teams.
Q. Couple of players last week were talking about there is a building sense on campus with everything that’s going on, and for fans looking ahead. At the beginning of the year you had all the teams ranked Top 10 ahead of you. Now nobody’s ranked ahead of you on your schedule, everybody has lost. Do you take the time to manage that and put the team in focus and say, look, don’t look at the big picture. Look at this week?
COACH KELLY: We’d refer to that as the noise. That’s the noise out there where they need to focus on the process, and the process for them is every day, the attention to detail, how they go to practice, how they prepare. I would tell you, that is the noise. However, it’s also important that they understand the success that they’re having, because this bye week was a whole lot better than the bye week after Tulsa. They remember that, and I remember that. It’s important that there’s a balance there. You don’t just put blinders on. But what you ask them to do is focus on the task at hand, so there is a balance there as well.
Q. In the evaluation process during the off week, do you get a chance to look at special teams? You’ve had some performances where punters might have gotten the game ball or placekickers. You’ve had good performances. What is your evaluation of special teams in the off week?
COACH KELLY: We try to work on a lot of trick plays. So we’ve put in a number of trick plays in the bye week on all of our special teams. That’s a great question. Thank you for bringing it up. In terms of the development of our kickers, what we’re looking for there is to get a little more consistency from our punters. We had three very good games and then not quite as good against Michigan. So Ben (Turk) was out there working on his drop and being more consistent, and they got some good, individual time to do that. We’ve got to get (Nick) Tausch fully healthy. He’s still battling a bit of a strain, so that was a priority for us as well. Then just cleaning up some of our schemes and making sure that when we self scouted our special teams, that we weren’t giving anything away, but mostly worked on trick plays.
Q. Wanted to ask you about depth or maybe a player or two that maybe has made some impact over practice over the first four or five games where you couldn’t make a change in the lineup until you had a chance to look at that. Any new names that might be cropping up in the next couple of games?
COACH KELLY: I think you saw a little bit of Nicky Baratti against Michigan. You know, as a guy stepping into that position, of course, you’re going to continue to see Sheldon Day more and more. He’s been a solid player for us. I think those guys stand out the most in terms of being able to impact the game especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Q. In terms of DaVaris (Daniels), how much did the ankle injury impede the progress he had been making leading up to the injury?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that it impacted greatly his development as much as he just needs to play. He needs the live action, and he needs to be in there in those big games, and he was not. So it’s a loss from that standpoint. We didn’t take a step back for him, but we didn’t take the leap forward we wanted to make. He’s another young player for us. Troy Niklas and Everett Golson, those are key freshmen that we want as much playing time and experience as possible. So every lost opportunity, we wish we had more for him. But he has this week of practice to really make an impact.
Q. Can he be that deep threat type of guy? Does he have that skill set or is he a mid range type of guy?
COACH KELLY: No, no, we believe if we put the ball where it needs to be placed from the quarterback position, that we’ve got a number of guys that can get down the field. TJ Jones can get down the field. Chris Brown can get down the field. John Goodman showed he can get behind. So I think we have a number of guys. I don’t think any of them can’t win a one on one match up down the field. We’ve got to put the ball where it needs to be when we have those opportunities.
Q. Is Manti Te’o a Heisman Trophy candidate?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, and I’ve said this from day one. What is the definition of a Heisman Trophy candidate? If you go with he has to be a quarterback or an offensive player, well, I don’t think he plays on offense. But if you’re looking for one of the best, if not the best college football players that impacts your program look, if you said it was the MVP, does it have to be an offensive player MVP? Sure. He’s got to have some offensive numbers or statistics. But you’re also judged by how you impact your team and what you do on the defensive side of the ball. So Heisman Trophy, MVP, top collegiate player, we think he fits those categories.
Q. Would you be in favor of changing the award to the Mant Heisman if he won?
COACH KELLY: I think we’ve already done that. We’ve gone with our promotional campaign. You’ll have to ask Brian on that. But I think we spent close to $3.5 million already on that promotion, haven’t we? You should want that SID job at Notre Dame. It pays big bucks, apparently.
Q. Miami has shown a penchant for throwing the ball deep. How does that affect your team offensively this week?
COACH KELLY: No, it just means that we’re not going to be facing a one dimensional team. Obviously they’re going to want to stretch the field. They’re looking for one on one match ups. They’re trying to stretch the football down the field. Look, a good defensive team has got to be able to play both the run and the pass. So this will be a challenge for us. But it’s not just for our four guys in the back end. It’s linebackers being in the right place. It’s getting pressure on the quarterback. It’s just another really good challenge for our defense as we move forward.
Q. And those young guys on the back end, who you expressed confidence in early on have backed up that confidence with the way they’ve played. Even though you expressed so much confidence in them, are you at all surprised at how quickly they’ve been able to develop?
COACH KELLY: We’ve got a pretty good front seven which helps that we can now predict down and distance tendencies and put you behind the chains. All those factors play into the overall defensive schemes. We don’t play a lot of man to man coverage, quite frankly. We don’t ask our guys to be alone by themselves. There are times we have to make one on one plays. Even in zone coverage with the ball down the field, we saw safeties out of position or corners not in position. One thing we know about them is they’re a good, disciplined group and that goes a long way.
Q. Building on that, Bennett (Jackson) is a guy you had a lot of praise for even before he played this season. Going back to spring or what you saw from him last fall, what were some of the things that jumped out to you that, yeah, I have confidence enough in this kid that I can promote him or praise him before he’s gone out and done anything?
COACH KELLY: He’s got a competitive edge to him. He loves to play. He loves to compete. He’s passionate about what he does. He at times wears it on his sleeves. But I love to be around guys that are competitive. That compete in practice and love to play the game. So when you start with that premise I think the rest is through your own want and desire and through coaching. So he had a lot of those things whether he was an offensive player, defensive player or special teams, he played with that edge that I really liked. And that was probably the reason why I vocally had a lot of confidence in him.
Q. You mentioned Miami’s tempo is a defense that likes to rotate play to play with personnel. What kind of challenge does that present to Bob and how he’s shuffling personnel in and out?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, that certainly, they don’t play the whole game that way, but certainly they’re going to use tempo to try to keep personnel groupings but it works both ways. That means they can’t change personnel either. It changes things for our personnel groupings going in. But it definitely limits them as well. So we’re prepared to play no matter which way it happens.
Q. I was curious with a game like Michigan where Everett is mentally not engaged with you. How much time as a head coach do you spend trying to figure out how that happened, or do you forget about it? How do you deal with that moving forward?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, that is player development at its core. So if you’re not having conversations with them about those kinds of games or preceding the lead up to those games, you’re not doing your job as a coach. If you’re just going to let him sit by himself and figure it out on his own, I could just do something else. So there are constant conversations about those things. 18 to 21 year olds sometimes don’t have answers of the questions that you may ask and I may ask. So it’s important that you’re communicating and working through any of those rough spots that every young player, whether he’s the quarterback or he’s the defensive back at Notre Dame, and that falls on the coaching staff.
Q. Are there any things that you’ve seen in the last eight, nine, ten days that gives you some confidence to say that’s not going to happen again? That’s going to be a one time thing for him?
COACH KELLY: See the gray hair? It’s one of those things that if we were certain about any of those items we’d have this thing licked. I think it’s a constant process of learning, developing, and pointing out times and trying to come to a balance of where we’re at. Him understanding what we want for him, and then clearly him understanding what we need from him. So I don’t want to get too philosophical, but it’s constant conversations on a day to day basis that in a year we’ll look back on it and go, well, he came through this and did okay.
Q. You mentioned the process, and Coach Diaco talked about that last week, and the returns are starting to show. Is that the team buying in more to the processor does it take a while for those returns to show up on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: No, our guys have been committed to the process. It’s painstakingly slow, sometimes it’s quicker. But they’ve been committed to the process. It’s taking that and translating it to Saturdays. And this group is translating it to Saturdays, at least for the first four weeks. We’ll see what happens in week five. But they’ve done a nice job of preparing and doing the things we’ve asked them to do. We think we’re close to being consistent in that approach. We’re not ready to say that we’ve arrived. We’re still a group that has to show more consistency.
Q. What allows them to translate better? Is it a couple more years of hearing of it?
COACH KELLY: Certainly, yeah, absolutely. I think a consistent message on a day to day basis, knowing what to expect, and setting a bar. I think senior leadership has a lot to do with it as well. If you look at any dynamic organization, they’re going to have an executive group that really sets the tone, and our seniors have done a great job of not only relaying the message, but living the message and holding others accountable. I think as we move along in this process, if you will, we’ve got players that are holding other players to high standards. And that is really good leadership.
Q. “Sports Illustrated” had a feature at the start of the season on Nick Saban talking about the process and the same sort of thing. How long has this been part of your coaching philosophy and where did it come from or start?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s just being committed to winning. You know, you can’t win unless you eradicate all the things that go against it, and that is the process. It’s looking at all of the things that go into winning. If I asked you the question, what do you know about winning? Well, you score more points. Well, obviously you don’t know that there are so many factors that you have to concentrate on and the details on a day to day basis that goes to winning. That’s what I think people mean when they talk about the process. Making sure you have your hand those things that go directly to win it. Most of the time it’s eradicating those things that go to not winning more than anything else. So I think that’s the process.
Q. Along the lines of Louis (Nix), what was your first impression of KeiVarae Russell when you met him?
COACH KELLY: Engaging. He carried on a conversation with me that was extremely mature in his home in Washington. It wasn’t about, hey, Coach, what number am I wearing? It was about his want and desire to impact our football team when he arrived on campus. It was all about will you give me a chance? Will you give me an opportunity to compete? So it was engaging and mature of a conversation that I had with maybe any of the players in that freshman class. Then he was able to concentrate that by showing us in a very short period of time that he was able to concentrate that maturity on to the football field. Then we knew we had a pretty special kid.
Q. How much does the maturity play into trusting him to be the guy to be your starting cornerback as much as his ability or whatever you saw from him?
COACH KELLY: Well, if we had a senior with three more years experience, you know, I think you would go with a veteran. We didn’t have much choice there when we lost Lo Wood. So a lot of that was that we had to pile on that trust in him. Then he earned it. So it started with we were left with no other alternatives at the position, then he earned that by going out and preparing and practicing and having a skillset that could translate at that position which we weren’t sure of. I don’t know if he was listed as a back up as much as we’ve got a few players that are, you know, and it was talked with earlier, we rotate a lot of guys in there. So I wouldn’t give much thought to Louis being a back up. He was an important player on our defensive line. He’s just continued to grow as a player. He gives us more and more preparation, a more purposeful approach every single day. He’s on the trend, if you will. He’s trending, that’s a Twitter kind of deal, right? Trending. He’s definitely doing all of those things to get better every day.
Q. How do you prepare for a multi dimensional threat like Duke Johnson?
COACH KELLY: Well, we’ve had a few of them. Last week’s kid was pretty multi dimensional, Denard Robinson. He’s a pretty good football player too. So we’ve had those players that we’ve had to prepare for. He’s a very good football player, and a number of player that’s we’re going to see over the next eight weeks that have similar skill sets.
Q. You change the way you approach the kickoff?
COACH KELLY: Well, I will tell you, we know where he is. We’re going to have to be quite aware as to where he is, and make sure that we do a great job in our cover teams.
Q. And the game means a lot to the alumni and students. What’s it mean to the players?
COACH KELLY: I think they’re very much aware of Miami, and the tradition, and the rivalry dating back to 1985 where obviously, Notre Dame was beaten handily in that game. Then of course coming back and having a great victory against them. So they know a little bit about the history and tradition of the Miami game because everybody talks about the history and tradition, and these guys weren’t born. So it’s always important to impart a little bit of the tradition to our players. But they’re focused on what this football team is at 4 , 1. The kind of schedule they play, the teams they’ve beaten. I think that’s our focus, and I know it is for our players that they’re focused on this team more than the tradition and the history. Because if they’re not, they’re going to get beat.
Q. Not trying to jinx anything, but you have the only football team in the country that has not trailed in a game yet this year. If I remember correctly I think you stated before the Michigan State game you said you were still a little curious how they respond to adversity on the field. Are you satisfied through what you’ve seen through the four games of how they’ve handled?
COACH KELLY: I think so. I think the Purdue game, squandering the lead and then coming back at the end I thought showed a lot. I think the way we’ve responded offensively when we needed to get into a four minute offense and find a way to close out games, we’ve responded. So, no, we haven’t had the full blown, down three scores late in the game and come through that way. But I don’t know that you have to. I think our guys have enough battle scars over the last few years, especially our seniors, and they’ve bounced back quite well. So I think we’ve got a good group in that respect.
Q. Speaking of the battle scars. Last year’s team was subjected so popularly for BCS caliber, preseason Top 10 and all. Has that helped with the veterans to keep this team mentally grounded from the noise that you speak about?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think look, we’ve got a number of seniors that have been here and listened to that for the last three or four years. I don’t think last year was anything different. They’ve heard that every year. I know that when I came before our team on Monday, and I talked about listen, for the last couple of days you’ve been getting patted on the back, and told how great you are. And they’re talking about games down the road that you haven’t played yet. The response that I got to my front row, my front row are my seniors. The response that I got catching their eye was, coach, we tune that out. I was about to finish saying, and that’s warranted, okay, as long as you keep it in perspective. So to answer your question, I’m pretty confident that our veteran players, in particular, they have been through this enough to know that the focus needs to be on the next practice.
Q. And speaking to the process that you have spoken about much, there seems to be a correlation. Your third year at Central Michigan you win the MAC title. Your third year at Cincinnati you go 12 0, and win the Big East title. I mean, is it just right on schedule, really as you see it as far as injecting the day to day things that you need to win into the program?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that I really have a schedule as much as I know when our football team as a whole has made the strides and developed towards a championship mentality. Sometimes a bad bounce goes against you. Some things that are out of your control occur within your program that could set you off stride a bit. But I could tell you that I don’t know that the third year is a magical year as much as where we are right now. We’ve made significant progress each and every year with our entire football program that we’re not shocked that we’re being more consistent. Now, again, we haven’t put five wins together yet in my tenure here. We’ve won four in a row. So we’re still not at that level of consistency that we’re all looking for, and that is more than four wins.
Q. You got into the bye week pretty good health wise. Anything noteworthy to update right now?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I would just say that both defensive linemen are almost back to full health. That would be Kapron Lewis-Moore and Sheldon Day. They played a little dinged up. The last few weeks of the bye week really helped them a lot. I would say that Everett had a little bit of a shoulder, and that’s cleared up nicely. Moving forward, so, yeah, I would say the bye week came at a pretty good time for those guys that were nicked up.
Q. Just curious about two guys specifically, Chase (Hounshell) and (Austin) Collinsworth where they are right now?
COACH KELLY: Chase is going to get surgery this week. We’re going to shut him down for the year, And Collinsworth will not play this year.