Oct. 12, 2010
An Interview With:
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon, we are entering into the second half of the season, and we have kind of tried to put a perspective on where we are as we enter into the second half of the season. Our focus now is clearly on having a great October. It starts with Western Michigan, a team that I’m familiar with, a well coached team, Bill Cubit, outstanding football coach. One thing Bill has done is he’s always had his football teams ready for BCS opponents. I think his history shows that; at Iowa, Illinois, played a Florida State team really tough. We know that his team is going to be prepared to play its very best here at Notre Dame. Alex Carder, the quarterback is really been their offensive player. It runs through him. He’s a dual threat quarterback, and again, I think last week, was an indication of his ability to run it and throw it. They have been extremely opportunistic last week defensively with turnovers. Again, a mid America team that I’m very familiar with, can play against anybody, started with Michigan State and played them very tough at the first half and Michigan State wore them down a little bit in the second half. But again, I know Bill very well and I know his teams will be prepared and this will be, for them, an opportunity that they are not going to want to come in here and not play their very best. So, with that, I’ll open up to any questions.
Q. What’s the plan with Kyle Rudolph, or is there one yet?
COACH KELLY: Kyle is going to be out for the season. He’s going to have surgery within the next few days. There was an evulsion of both tendons on his hamstring; in other words, they came off the bone, so that’s going to require surgery. And right now, his family is putting together, really, you know, the doctor, who is going to do the surgery, the rehab, all of those things. But we just got that information here this morning, and I got a chance to meet with Kyle just a few minutes ago. So a lot of this is new information.
Q. Okay. Going off that. Obviously a pretty big loss for you guys. Can you talk about missing that kind of weapon, and where you go from here?
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly, you lose one of the best tight ends in the country. That’s a loss. But, you know, not one player is going to stop what we do. It’s a next man in philosophy for us, Tyler Eifert, Mike Ragone, Jake Golic; those guys are going to have to step up and play the position for us at a high level. We think those guys can. We have a lot of confident in them.
Q. Does it change anything you do? Do you feel those guys can do the same things, or are they just going to have to do the same things Kyle was doing?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, they will obviously have to do what Kyle was doing and hopefully we can. As you know, Kyle was struggling, and clearly, you know, it’s disappointing news, but I think in some respects, he clearly now knows what he needs to do, and I know he’s focused on that in terms of getting all this together. So we believe those guys will definitely be able to fill in and play well for us.
Q. Specifically, when did the actual hamstring off bone thing occur? Was it over the weekend or before that and he was trying to play through it?
COACH KELLY: No. It was during the game. He felt very good before the game. Exertion, you know, obviously, caused the injury. You know, he tried to play through it. As you know, we had to pull him out late in the game. You know, he’s a courageous kid and he’s tried to fight through it. Unfortunately it’s led to, you know, him being sidelined for the season.
Q. You talked about how important this game is for Western Michigan but also you mentioned how you’re trying to focus on having a great October.
COACH KELLY: Yeah.
Q. How do you get your young men to focus on Western Michigan, having come off six very challenging games?
COACH KELLY: Well, I told them yesterday, we are not that good to think about anybody else but our next opponent. We can’t roll the ball out and expect to win football games. Western Michigan, in particular, is going to play their very, very best. I’m not that concerned about the focus of our football team. They understand what’s expected of them at the University of Notre Dame. We are going to demand that their focus and attention is on Western Michigan in practice. And they are going to get it from their head coach, as well, and all of the position coaches that they had better be on top of their game.
Q. Western has shown a proclivity for forcing turnovers. What is it that they do that allows them to be so successful at taking the ball away from people?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think a few things. Their third down package is pretty good. They bring pressure. They are not afraid to bring pressure in those situations. I think their corners break very well on the ball. And you know, I think the combination of pressure and corners that can, you know, attack the football, has been really their one area that I think concerns a lot of teams that play them and it concerns us, as well.
Q. Talk about the importance of pressure in the pass defense overall.
COACH KELLY: Well, clearly, if you can rush foreign play zone behind it, you obviously create a win/win situation. When you have to borrow players from coverage, you know, now you put yourself in different coverage fits, whether it is man coverage or avoiding the zone. It’s very important that we get the kind of production from the cat position that gives us that four man rush, and we have. We need to continue to work on it, and you know, you see some movement in the nickel package where we are bringing in (Prince) Shembo a little bit. We think he can give some pressure, as well. And then our guys up front have done a pretty good job; Ian (Williams) and Ethan (Johnson) and Kapron (Lewis-Moore) have also give us pressure out of the three man look.
Q. How healthy is (Tyler) Eifert right now?
COACH KELLY: Well, we think he’s able to play winning football for us or we would not put him in that situation. I don’t know that anybody at six games into the season is at 100%. If you are, you’re probably not playing very much. From his standpoint, I think he’s ready to play. He’s excited about his opportunity and I know Mike (Ragone) is, too. Both of those guys, as a tandem, and again, we’ll use (Jake) Golic, as well, I think all three of those guys will give us the production we need at that position, very confident.
Q. Has Alex Welch entered into that conversation at all?
COACH KELLY: We have talked about it, but we believe that the three tight ends that we have give us the best opportunity for success.
Q. Can you talk about Harrison Smith’s play to this point? You mentioned after the game that you felt he was used pretty well; what do you feel like you’re getting out of him right now?
COACH KELLY: Leadership. He is one of our one of the brighter players that we have coached on the defensive side of the ball. He is our communicator. He makes sure that we give him the right looks. Without his leadership back there, we would not be where we are, from a defensive standpoint. He is the glue back there for us. Not only has he been more productive relative to playing the game in pass deflections and interceptions; he’s also been the leader in that back end.
Q. When he was in here a week and a half ago and he said the life and death quote, that got us good copy for us, but how indicative of his leadership was it to say something like that, just to put a real fine point on how important it is to win here?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that he would have said that last year? I don’t know that he would have used those words relative to playing the game. That’s the maturation. That’s leadership showing itself. So again, I think a lot of that comes with where we have asked him to go with our defense. He is the guy back there. And I think that that tends to put a spotlight on you, and he’s really embraced that role.
Q. Getting back to a question earlier about you’re almost not good enough to just overlook anybody, teams that probably wouldn’t get a team necessarily excited to play, you guys came out a lot of times and put the hammer down on them early. What is kind of the key during practice to get a team in the right frame of mind when the opponent isn’t somebody that they are just naturally going to get up for?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think there are two things. One, you know, playing I AA opponents is one thing. This is a MAC opponent. And so that’s a little bit different. I think their history and Bill Cubit’s history of playing up to the level; and I think, finally, I don’t know of any other way to do it, whether it’s Western Michigan or Eastern Michigan or Michigan State; we are going to demand the same thing out of our football team. And I guess it’s all in the tone that you take in the week during practice. I’m not going to let anything slide. I’m going to make sure that there is an attention to detail in everything that we do.
Q. Dayne (Crist) and Kyle (Rudolph) seem to be pretty close friends, obviously and Dayne went through a similar thing last year. Do you know if Dayne already knows about this, and has had a chance to talk to Kyle about his coming months?
COACH KELLY: I’m not kidding. This is the first time that anybody knows about this. This was not information that was shared with anybody. Our players did not know about this. They will be hearing this, you know, obviously second hand from their perspective. But I wanted to make sure that the information got to you, because clearly we have got a football game to play, too. And we want the inquiries, we want all of the questions asked and answered, and we want to be focused on Western Michigan. So you guys clearly are the first ones to know.
Q. And because
COACH KELLY: And probably hopefully the last time that you guys are the first ones to know. (Laughing) We don’t want to make a habit of this.
Q. It’s very early obviously, but can you run an offense at least part of the time using your playmakers four wide without a tight end and take advantage of guys like TJ (Jones) and (John) Goodman and put them all in the game at the same time?
COACH KELLY: Oh, sure. Done it. It’s something that definitely has been part of my offense over the years. I don’t prefer it. But having said that, we are going to put best guys on the field that gives us the best chance to move the football. This is still about scoring points, and if we think we need to put a fourth receiver on the field, whether it is TJ and Goodman, or Duval Kamara, we’ll certainly look at that as a possibility. I have always preferred keeping a tight end on the field, but we’ll do what we need to do.
Q. What is it going to take to get a guy like (Mike) Ragone up to speed to where he can function a lot better than he has been?
COACH KELLY: He just needs, you know, more playing time, in an offense that is obviously a bit different from what he’s used to; you know, splitting out, being in different kinds of throws and different angles. It’s a departure for him. As you know he had a heat related illness during camp and missed a lot of time. He didn’t get a ton of work. And Tyler (Eifert) really absorbed a lot of that work, so this is really just getting him more and more reps. He’ll get a lot of work this week. I think he’ll be a lot sharper with that work.
Q. When you break down your red zone defense, what goes right? What part of your red zone defense really works that has led to the seven touchdowns out of 19 tries?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think I answered the question. There are a couple of components. One of them is you certainly have to have the right mental component going into that. If you think you are going to let them score, you’re going to let them score. If you believe that you can hold them to three and start with that as your premise, and then have goals that talk about red zone entry in term of limiting your opponents; if you talk about it during preseason camp when you script those opportunities, and you talk about the mentality, those all go into the development of a solid red zone defense. Now, add personnel and play calling, and that obviously becomes even more important. So I think all of those go together. It’s developing an idea and a mentality. It’s certainly something that you have to practice and talk about relative to your goals. And then finally, you know, players got to make plays down there, and we have to have the right calls on. My advice has always been stay out of that area defensively but if you’re caught in that area, those things have to happen.
Q. Matt Romine entering the lineup last week, probably us in the media would have expected it to be Andrew (Nuss); was he nicked up or did Romine earn that job last week?
COACH KELLY: We had them both audition at the position during the week. We felt like it was going to be difficult to get Taylor (Dever) ready. So we prepared for him not playing, and really worked hard on evaluating both. I thought they both did a good job. I think it was, you know, it could have gone either way to be quite honest with you. We just felt like row mine is a natural tackle. He’s played a lot there. And you know, Nuss has been inside quite a bit, so I think if you want, he nicked them out at the finish line just because he had more experience at the tackle position.
Q. And you felt you evaluated that he played well?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he did. He played well.
Q. Did he?
COACH KELLY: Yeah.
Q. And where is (Taylor) Dever this week?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think he’s a lot better. We’ll know today how he moves around. We are going to get him moving around today a little more active. He could probably do if it was right now just about heavy run influence, he feels really good. We just want to be careful that when we put him in a pass situation, that’s where he’s using that as an anchor, and we don’t want it to be a big, big injury. So we are being a bit cautious. There are some things that he does right now that you would not even know he has an injury. Getting off the ball, firing off and that kind of had us believing last week he would be fine. And then he got into some pass sets, didn’t feel quite as comfortable and then pregame, he felt, you know, really, he was hindered a bit. That’s when we made the move. We will continue to work him this week and it will probably be a game time decision.
Q. Where do you feel Kapron Lewis Moore is in his development? He’s halfway through his second year of eligibility, so he has two and a half years remaining. Where do you feel he is in his development and how high is his ceiling?
COACH KELLY: Well, he’s clearly a young man that has had to develop physically. Came on campus, 215, 220 pounds in that range; he’s up there upwards of 280 pounds. He’s getting used to his body, he really is. He’s carrying a lot of cargo, if you will, and he’s really becoming a lot more comfortable with that. So that growth and development is really changing a physique from what it was to where it is today, because he possesses a lot of athletic ability, and we are seeing that each and every week. I think for Kap, it’s anchoring in there, and being consistent in his techniques each and every week. He has a tendency to want to do too much sometimes, because he is really gifted as an athlete. So I would say that we are rating his progress as moving in a very good direction. He provides a lot of athletic ability, but I still think he’s getting used to the size that he’s playing at right now.
Q. Question about a play in last week’s game, just trying to understand responsibilities. The keeper by Sunseri where he faked the line and ran for the touchdown, Robert Blanton is on the edge, in that situation, is the man on the edge always responsible for contain?
COACH KELLY: Not necessarily. In that instance, he was. It’s a very simple principle. You stay at the depth of the quarterback. He chose to chase, and when you chase on boot, you’re not at the depth of the quarterback. So as long as he did his job and stayed at the depth of the quarterback, that’s a dead play. It should have been a dead play. And you know, probably he’s the first one to admit it. He got over anxious. And that’s the thing about college football. If I can point out one thing, when enthusiasm in motion takes over, sometimes you lose your technique, and this is all about maintaining technique in front of 81,000 people in the heat of the moment. In developing a championship football team you have to maintain that discipline and technique in the heat of the moment. It’s not anything else but that. And in the heat of the moment, he lost his technique and the ball got outside him.
Q. Can you talk a little about David Ruffer’s personality? He seems to have a good sense of humor and how does that help him as a kicker?
COACH KELLY: You know, he is a pretty flat line guy. He doesn’t get too high. He doesn’t get too low. I think that really lends itself to doing the things that he’s doing. I’ve had kickers in the past that have been high strung. Some that really affects their play, and it affects the next kick. I think his personality is such that he’s a pretty even keeled guy. He’s not influenced by emotion very much. And I think that that has proved to be probably you know a very solid characteristic for him.
Q. He’s talked about the relationship between himself and (Ryan) Kavanagh; how important is it to have the relationship between a kicker and a holder?
COACH KELLY: It keeps your streak alive, because he’s kept that streak alive by doing his last one on the 50 yarder was I haven’t seen anybody get the ball off the ground the way he did and put it in a position where the kick could be made. It was pretty good stuff.
Q. What are the specifics of (Tyler) Eifert’s shoulder injury?
COACH KELLY: I couldn’t tell you specifically other than he had a sprain, a ligament sprain. It is a sprain that I think is different from what we see as, you know, the joint, the AC joint sprain. This is more of a ligament sprain, which is very painful. It’s a painful injury. More so than, man, I can’t move my arm or I have no strength. He has good strength. He has all of the things. This has been a management of the pain more than anything else.
Q. When did he injure it?
COACH KELLY: Two weeks ago in practice.
Q. In practice?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, diving for a ball.
Q. He’s been limited in practice since then?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’s practically done very little. We took him off all the special teams, as well.
Q. But you anticipate him this weekend being able to go?
COACH KELLY: He’s going to have to tape an aspirin onto that shoulder. He’s got to play.
Q. So Saturday will he be the first tight end on the depth chart?
COACH KELLY: Yes. We’ll list him as No. 1.
Q. But you’ll evaluate him in practice as you go on?
COACH KELLY: Sure. But our expectation talking to Tyler last night and Coach Denbrock got a chance to spend some time with him this morning, we feel pretty good. He’s excited and he’s looking forward to the opportunity, and Mike (Ragone) is, too.
Q. We have talked about Dayne Crist’s progression so much, but aside from that, what has slowed the tempo you’re looking for? Some touchdown drives have seemed very quick and sometimes it seems to bog down a bit.
COACH KELLY: Dropped passes.
Q. Is a string of incomplete passes one of the worst things to keep tempo going for your offense?
COACH KELLY: As I tell them all the time: Three and out, doesn’t matter how fast you go if you’re three and out. And understanding that completions must be made to affect the no huddle tempo, if you’re three and out, they didn’t get tired. They just run three plays, so they went a little faster. So it’s maintaining that tempo, and obviously that’s very, very important. It’s recognition during that time, as well, in terms of who needs to get the football. And that’s really where we are. This is simply about recognition, getting the ball out, and I think it’s more about recognition than it is dropping the football. The recognition has to continue to develop, and it is. It’s getting better at it each and every day.
Q. And I know you wouldn’t enter a game with this thought process, but when you start getting strained at one position with Kyle (Rudolph) hurting, you cognizant of protecting him, because you have two or three tight ends you want to play, or is it something where he’s ready to go in the game, he’s going all game until the very end?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’ll play him and (Mike) Ragone. We think we need to play them both, because I don’t think either one of them can sustain 75 to 80 plays. So this is really going to be both of those guys are going to have to play and share those reps.
Q. Couple other things with (Kyle) Rudolph. How long of a obviously out for the season, but will he be able to do summer workouts?
COACH KELLY: The rehab protocol on this is about six months. So, you know, six months could put him somewhere in April in terms of being able to be involved in some kind of work.
Q. And have you had any there was talk about him possibly going into the draft; have you had any conversation about whether he will be back next year?
COACH KELLY: I have not. This is strictly about getting the announcement out. And then our conversation was solely about the surgery and the immediacy. This is something that needs to take place within the next few days. And that’s the requirement based upon this kind of surgery. So I don’t think that it’s surgery that is something that you have to go to Sweden for though Sweden sounds pretty good. (Laughter). My point is, I think that they are very capable surgeons within our family to do the surgery. This is really about the rehab protocol moving forward. So those are the things he’s really concerned with his family, and then they will make a decision.
Q. With (David) Ruffer, you talked on Saturday about how he is even exceeding your own expectations. When somebody tells you one of the kickers you are getting with Notre Dame when taking over this program is a former inner hall walk on, what are your expectations out of a kid like that?
COACH KELLY: Very low. When you hear that, your expectations are not that he is going to do what he’s doing. I think my expectations were only set because it was such an unknown, and obviously (Brandon) Walker has been injured most of the year. So we really didn’t know, I guess, is the best way to put it, and now to see what he’s doing, obviously he’s exceeding all of the thoughts that we had.
Q. And with a match up on Saturday, you guys so heavily favored, you talked by bunch of times about how you win is very important and playing clean. Is this just kind of case in point, how you win is pretty much just as important as winning this one?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. You know, we hope after six weeks, we are who we are; that we are not going to go out there and do some things. We know who we are. We are far from a perfect team. We struggle with consistency. But we play hard and we play to win for four quarters, and we believe that we can win. So as long as we continue to do those things, we know we are moving in the right direction from that standpoint.
Q. Your defense, where do you feel like in the second half of the season that this defense can get better?
COACH KELLY: Well, there’s no question from my end that first and foremost, we are going to continue to build on the run defense. I think that can even get better from where we are. I know it sounds crazy, but we have done very well the last three weeks against very good rushing opponents. I think we can continue to get better there, and we are gaining more experience on the back end. So the more that Zeke (Motta) can play, the more that (Jamoris) Slaughter can play back there, the more that (Robert) Blanton can play, (Gary) Gray is getting obviously more and more confidence, and we are getting (Darrin) Walls healthier. So I believe when you look at our defense, we are getting healthier up front but I think we can get better in the back end. But I don’t think we have reached the point where we have said; this is as well as we can play.
COACH KELLY: He’s a different type of tight end for us. He would be more of a wing fullback hybrid position. I think we are pretty convinced that Alex is going to stay on scout team. You know, that’s the direction we are going. We are looking at a couple other guys that we may activate, but he’s not one of the guys in that discussion right now.
Q. Last thing from me is a lot of you guys coached in the MAC, you and a lot of your assistants, what was it like for you in one of these games from the other side? What did you try to take advantage, the underdog in these games?
COACH KELLY: It’s a free shot. Doesn’t cost anything and you pick up the check at the end of the game no matter what happens. This is an opportunity to go to Notre Dame, and obviously, get a great victory. So, you know, we had our football team, we had every trick play in the book, we had every fake and punt and kickoff and we just told our kids to go after it and play hard and enjoy themselves.
Q. Each of the last two weeks you have taken a monkey off the team’s back at Boston College, broke a three game road losing streak against Pitt, the close game you won after losing six straight by seven points or less, and you said that this team is starting to believe. Where have you seen that evolution, really, coming, where they are starting to believe?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think if you look at, just going all the way back to the Michigan State game, we get that into overtime and take the lead on the road. Even though we didn’t win that football game, and the way that we didn’t win it, it almost fortified in their own mind that they could win football games, because that one play can be obviously eradicated in their mind. It started there. And I think going on the road against BC, again, helped, that they can go on the road in a hostile environment and win football games, and then finishing strong defensively against Pittsburgh. I think all of those things are little signs that they can see tangibly that start to put in their mind that, you know, we are going to be able to close out games.
Q. You said it started at Michigan State, but when Stanford comes in here and wins the way it did, did that kind of create a seed of doubt again?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think so. I think they felt like in that situation offensively, we didn’t handle ourselves as well as we could have. I thought defensively we played well enough, if our offense complemented our defense in any way in that game, they had a chance to win and we pointed that out. Some of that was we needed to do a better job with our preparation, too, and game planning. So, no, I think we took that one off the books for them. And they were able to look at it clearly as a game that they didn’t win, but if they had done a better job, we probably would have been right there.
Q. I think you said about Kyle Rudolph that you can’t keep them off the field, I don’t know how literally you meant that, but how much leeway did he have in his playing each week, and when you look back, is there anything that you feel like you should you could have done or should have been, I don’t know, more vigilant about his injury and how much he played?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think we did the things necessary to know our players. Kyle was, you know, I thought he was in great hands with our training staff, with our doctors. It was a Sunday conversation, literally with our training staff and doctors. It was a daily interaction we had with Kyle. Just one of those unfortunate things that occurs in a sport like this, and this is an injury that’s unfortunately is becoming a lot more common because of the explosiveness of these young men. Again, I think we have covered all of the things that we needed to do relative to this injury and just one of those unfortunate things.
Q. One thing in general about the season, after six games, you’re 3 3. Looking ahead, can you define when you consider the rebuilding season you’re trying to avoid and the quote unquote winning season? Is there a particular record, a Bowl? Can you define what success means?
COACH KELLY: Success for us is winning football games. There’s no two ways about it. As I see it through my eyes, that’s success. And winning games is how we are going to talk about success as a football team. There are also other things that I’m looking for which I said from the very beginning is that I want to be a better football team in November than I was in September. So those will be pretty clear to you, to everybody in this room and to myself, because they are going to keep track of the wins and you are going to keep watching our football team. I think we are all going to be able to say, this is a successful year based upon, this is a better football team in November, and, they have won some football games.
Q. So it’s not necessarily true that if you don’t go to a Bowl game, this will be considered the rebuilding year that you were trying to avoid?
COACH KELLY: If that means that we didn’t win enough games, which would be disappointing, absolutely.
Q. I was hoping you could evaluate the play of Dayne Crist at the halfway point, what you see in his progress and where he needs to go still in the second half of the season?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think the best way to describe it is that he’s learning a new language. He started with French and we are teaching him Spanish. That development of understanding the nuances is ongoing. I like where he’s going with it. He’s developing a sense of the quarterback position as seen through the eyes of a spread quarterback. And those are some different there are some clear differences there. I like his progress. He’s made steady progress each and every week, and we are working on the nuances that go along with being consistent from week to week to week. And that’s the development of Dayne Crist up to this point. Thank you.