Aug. 19, 2014
An Interview With:
COACH Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly: Great job in the unveiling there. Outstanding. The only mannequin that’s taller than our SID. (Laughter.) I’m excited certainly about football season, first and foremost, but our partnership with Under Armour, as well. One of the things, certainly when you look for a partner, you want to make sure that they’re all in, and I got an opportunity to spend some time with Kevin Plank, and he certainly understands Notre Dame, and I think you’ll see that in the uniform. In particular I point out the Shamrock Series uniform. The helmet has the elements of the dome, the sketching on the helmet itself. They have a concept that they’re using that maybe from a distance that you don’t see much, but as you get closer, you see the mosaics on the sleeves. You’ll see it in the gloves, that are inside the dome itself, and I really like the way that they have brought together not just football but Notre Dame in the uniforms, as well.
Again, I think they’ve taken the time. That’s the point. They haven’t — in this very short time that we’ve come together, they’ve taken really the time to look at Notre Dame and our unique qualities and put them in what we’re representing in our uniforms. I really feel good about that relationship. Now our players just need to play really well in those cool uniforms. That’s the most important thing.
Let’s get into some football, in particular this 2014 football team and what we have in store for you. First of all, not a lot of seniors, as you know. One of the smallest — this is the smallest senior class that I’ve had in a number of years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have great leadership. I think we have solid leadership within our football team.
We have 17 fourth year juniors. This is the first group of players that we’ll have a large group next year of fifth year seniors, and so there is a lot of upperclassmen in this group, but there’s not a lot of seniors, so I don’t want to say that there’s not a lot of veterans in this group, but there’s not a lot of seniors.
We have a lot of inexperienced players playing for us this year, and they’ll get that opportunity playing the toughest schedule in the country. We will grow up quickly.
So this 2014 football team is devoid of a huge senior class, has a lot of juniors, a solid group of sophomores, as a matter of fact I think we’ve got about 37 juniors and sophomores that make up the core of this team, and then you’re going to see a lot of true freshmen play for us this year that will gain experience as we go through the toughest schedule in the country.
We’ll play faster on offense, we’ll play faster on defense, and we’ll all together be excited to watch this football team play and grow as the season progresses.
Key positions will be manned by familiar names as well as names that will be stepping out of that tunnel for the first time. Kind of a unique blend for a football team that I’ve coached here at Notre Dame.
Our preseason camp has been an excellent one in that we’ve been able to really get a lot of things accomplished, offensively, defensively and special teams. We’ve stayed away from major injuries. We probably won’t have everybody available for Rice, but we feel great that for the most part we’re going to have all of the players that reported to camp, other than offensively those guys that have been suspended, available to us in one way or the other during the season.
Again, I think from our standpoint, as we’ve prepared this football team, we’ve seen it really come together as a group. The quarterback position has been settled with Everett Golson being our starting quarterback, and then our defense, learning a new system, going to a new defensive coordinator, that has been obviously one that we feel really good about leading into the season.
With that, it kind of gives you a bit of my perspective on the 2014 football team, and I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Just as you’ve moved through camp, where do you feel like you guys are the most strong as you do prepare for Rice in two weeks here?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think there’s individual players, obviously, that we can point out, and then there’s unit strength, and then there’s some depth areas. Sometimes we gloss over it, but I think we’ve got one of the finest kickers in the country in Kyle Brindza, and I think games are decided at that position. I think he’s an outstanding player for us.
But I think if you start on defense, probably start with Sheldon Day and Jaylon Smith are two outstanding and proven football players for us, and then on the offensive side of the ball, I would have to say that as a unit the offensive line. Those are probably areas that I would point to right away.
Q. And I know you’ve mentioned Jhonny Williams’ name a few times. What has stuck out the most about him being a true freshman that initially looked like he was just a diamond in the rough that needed a lot more molding maybe?
Brian Kelly: Oh, he’s still a diamond in the rough. I just think that we can use him situationally. I think his role is going to be 3rd down. He’s an outstanding athlete that I think we can role play for him, 3rd down situations, and get after the quarterback.
Q. I’m working on a story on your assistant coaches if you could address each. What attracted you to Brian and Matt individually?
Brian Kelly: Well, both I have a relationship with. Matt was a graduate assistant for me at Central Michigan, and I coached against him. He was a player — when I was at Grand Valley State, he was a quarterback at Saginaw Valley. I loved his competitiveness. He played the position at quarterback. And then his experience in the NFL, you know, working with Kirk Cousins, I thought he did a great job with him, and Robert Griffin III, I think in particular the way he was able to work with both of those quarterbacks. I wanted som
ebody that really could spend their time with a young group of quarterbacks that we had here, and then obviously my prior relationship with him.
Same thing with Brian. Brian was my first defensive coordinator at Grand Valley State. He was my first hire. We’ve always wanted that opportunity to coach again together. We share a similar philosophy offensively and defensively, and it was just — if I was going to hire a defensive coordinator, he was the No. 1 guy on my list.
Q. As you move through camp, what influence have you seen each have on their groups?
Brian Kelly: Well, Matt is very detailed when it comes to the quarterback position, so you’re seeing things like eye progression and footwork and the details of the position, which I think is so important in the development of the quarterback. So you’re seeing those little details come out of Everett and Malik and DeShone and all of our quarterbacks, and then from Brian, his overall experience and knowledge as an NFL coordinator, college coach, you can see all that experience. He coaches the D line, he coaches the safeties, he coaches the linebackers. His hand is in everything, and it’s pretty obvious.
Q. Cam McDaniel, what kind of contributions are you expecting from him and have you seen from him?
Brian Kelly: Well, I mean, he’s our best overall running back, I mean, if you were to grade out our running backs in every facet, blocking, catching, assignments, running the football with patience. Now, is he going to break that — and get the oohs and the ahhs from the crowd and go 80 yards? Probably not. We’ve got some guys like a Greg Bryant can do that, and Folston is a really smooth operator and very productive, but Cam is so efficient in everything that he does for us. He’s invaluable from that perspective.
Q. When will you be prepared to name captains?
Brian Kelly: I think we’re going to have a conversation about that after our bench control, and then probably name them on Monday.
Q. Can you give us an update on Kyle McCarthy?
Brian Kelly: He has had four chemo treatments. I think he will now have a few days off. We’ve gotten incredible support and care from Dr. Ansari locally here to really assist. We’ve gotten an outpouring of support from this community to help get his chemo treatments done in a very quick time frame. From that standpoint, he was at practice today after four chemo treatments. He’s an incredible young man. Some people obviously don’t take very well to those treatments. He was on the field coaching the safeties like it was his first day of practice.
He’ll have a week off, and then he’ll go back into another round of treatments the following week. But he expects to be here through his treatments. We’ve made accommodations for him if he needs to be off the field. The NCAA has made an accommodation for us, as well, in that we can hire another graduate assistant if we are forced to pull him off the field in his place, so if we have to do that, we can act on it. But we’re going to hold off right now.
Q. Did you have an opportunity to talk to him today?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I was with him today, yes. He just needs to be here in his own mind is the way he’s handling his own battle right now. He needs these two hours with his guys. He feeds off of being around the football players.
Q. With regard to the red zone, when you self scouted yourself from the last couple years, and not necessarily an Xs and Os standpoint, but what do you as a group need to do? What do you need to execute better in order to be successful in that area?
Brian Kelly: You know, there’s a lot of things. We looked, we finished 70th in the country. It was interesting, one of the better offenses in the country and probably those that follow us closely thought that maybe one of the best offenses we played last year was Arizona State. They were 74th in the country last year in red zone, but you would say that’s a pretty good offense, right?
We have to keep it in perspective when we talk about red zone and the efficiency in red zone. Where we missed in the red zone were touchdowns. We were deficient in touchdowns, and so what we’re really looking at more than anything else is being more aggressive in play calling, getting the ball in the end zone, and really that requires us to have a plan to get the ball in the end zone.
Again, finishing 70th in the country in front of Penn State, and I know Bill O’Brien, he knows a little bit about calling plays in the red zone, I know Arizona State does, they’re all trying to do the same things, but sometimes you just have to be a little bit more aggressive in your play calls in getting the balls in the end zone. We’ve got to score, and I made it pretty clear that we need to score more touchdowns down there.
Q. With regard to Ben Councell, he’s coming off the serious knee injury. Is he completely healthy and just trailing the two young guys at the outside linebacker position?
Brian Kelly: In the way we’re going to play, if you’re going to play us physical with two tight ends and you want — Ben Councell is going to play a lot of football, so it just depends how you’re going to match up. So when you say the two young guys in Onwualu and Turner, a lot of it you’ve seen we’re spreading the ball. If we line up in two tight ends, and if it’s Stanford’s offense out there, Ben Councell is going to be on the field for a ton of football. If we’re playing Navy, if we’re playing certain teams, Ben Councell is going to play a ton of football.
Q. So there are no physical limitations for him?
Brian Kelly: No, we like the way he’s playing. He’s through all those physical limitations.
Q. Last thing for me, and I don’t know if this has been talked about a whole lot, but with the exception of the Pac 12, you’re going to eight officials for game day as opposed to seven. What are your thoughts on that?
Brian Kelly: Well, the mechanics are a little bit different. Now, the umpire will not be over the ball from a mechanics standpoint, and as you know, when you run fast, the umpire is over the ball, and then he tries to run into position, and then they’ll punch it ready to go. Sometimes that can cause a second or two delay. Actually it could speed up play a little bit. All this talk about slowing it down, it could speed up play a little bit. But one thing we have noticed is that the umpire now is a little bit deeper on some of those crossing routes. So there are some mechanics that we’re working through, but that’s essentially the deal right now.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk with any of the four suspended players over the weekend?
Brian Kelly: I talked to the four of them, yes.
Q. Any clarity in terms of when they may or may not be back?
Brian Kelly: No, no clarity.
Q. Back to football, with KeiVarae out, how is Cody? I know it’s only been a couple days, but how is Cody better in presence, been a stabilizing presence back there in the secondary?
Brian Kelly: Well, he clearly is our top guy. We’ll play right and left versus tempo teams. We’d like to keep him on the X receiver if we can because he’d be our top corner. He’s been more than advertised for us. He’s been a leader, he’s been accountable, he’s been a guy that can play multiple positions. It’s going to be difficult now to play him in multiple positions. We’ll have to see how that progresses. We’d love to be able to play him at nickel. If we do that, that’s Butler now and Cole Luke at the starting cornerback position.
So we’ll have to see how that plays out. But he’s been — I guess you could use that word stabilizing. He’s been really good. He’s a darned good corner for us.
Q. During your time here, could you talk about what makes the game against Michigan special and what it will be like going into the last game with those guys?
Brian Kelly: For me I’ve lost to them three times, so personally I don’t like losing, so I’d say that, and I don’t want to lose to Michigan. I don’t like the way the game ended last year. It’s a home game, and it’s a game you want to win. It’s early in the season. We need to get off to a good start this season. It’s important that we put our kids in a good — they have to get off to a good start, so beating Michigan is important for us early in the season.
Q. How much improvement have you seen from Jaylon Smith even just since the start of camp?
Brian Kelly: I think we’ve seen a lot of growth in his game. He was an outside player, and now he’s not just a leveraged player, he’s playing inside out, which requires so much more as a football player. Discipline, instincts, pass coverage, so many things that he’s grown into. He’s a man, and he’s exhibited that in that growth day in and day out at that position.
I have not been around many players that have grown so quickly in the game the way he has in a very short period of time.
Q. Other than being able to practice in the stadium, what difference has the field turf made so far?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think certainly for us, we feel we can play fast. Nobody is concerned about their footing and flipping and falling. Again, just our ability to get in there and not tear the field up. I mean, we were concerned with just running drills in there, so there’s so many factors that allow us to do things that we couldn’t do.
Just being familiar with the stadium, heck, we didn’t practice in there, and just getting our kids comfortable with the surroundings, the end zones, the sidelines, just all those things, and then being able to play full speed there, not worry about your footing and your cutting and then getting your kickers in there, knowing the wind, the direction, all those things is so, so important.
Q. Amir Carlisle has been somewhat enigmatic during his time here but he made a made catch in the scrimmage today over Cody. Talk about where you see him fitting in with this team.
Brian Kelly: Can you define that?
Q. He’s been a mystery, a riddle.
Brian Kelly: A mystery. Part of that has been moving his position. I think we’ve settled him into a particular position where I think he’s really going to thrive. We kind of had him half in and half out of running back, slot receiver. We have settled in on that position, so I would say that now that he has settled into that slot receiver position, you’re really going to see him flourish. He’s had a really good preseason, and I think he’s going to make a lot of big plays for us.
Q. Have you got your offensive line lineup settled yet? I know that you were kind of going back and forth a little bit there.
Brian Kelly: Yeah, like if you watch today, Matt Hegarty took all the snaps at center, and he hadn’t because we didn’t have a full lineup in there with Hanratty back at guard, now we could afford to get him some snaps at center, so we’re for the first time really today, we’re full strength across the offensive line that we could get some snaps there as the backup center to Nick Martin. So I think we’re close to being in that offensive line rotation that we want. You know, and it’s probably right now today subject to change over the next couple of days, but I’d say Elmer at right tackle, Lombard at right guard, Nick Martin at center, and then you’re going to probably have Hegarty at left guard and Ronnie Stanley at left tackle. McGlinchey, first man in at the tackle position, Hanratty at first guard in right now.
Q. Looked like you had some offensive guys on your coverage team. Can you talk about that a little bit, that philosophy, and what changes have you seen in your coverage units that you like?
Brian Kelly: Well, again, some of the research that we did was we wanted speed to the 30 yard line. Again, a lot of the people that we brought in and talked to, we had big thumpers on that crew, that search and destroy crew, that cover team, but we didn’t have enough speed. So we’ve added speed on that group, and the emphasis is to get a group that can get to the 30 yard line with great speed.
So we’ve added some speed on that group, and I think that’s probably the change that you’re seeing.
Q. I know you always look forward to the injury questions. Jarrett Grace, any clarity on his status, and then anybody that’s kind of in jeopardy other than Torii for Rice?
Brian Kelly: I think Jarrett probably crossed a big threshold within the last 48 hours where he’s finally now being able to strike his foot. You know, a lot of it was foot strike was controlled by big muscles. Now he’s actually getting that sensation of the foot striking, and he’s getting into a more natural gait, which I’m told that is a huge crossroads for him.
Now it’s just a matter of time for him, so we’re still holding true that he’s probably a couple of weeks into the season before he’s probably ready to go. But just a huge hurdle for him mentally that now he has that sensation of his foot hitting the ground instead of being supported by his quads and glutes that are supporting that foot hitting the ground. A couple of weeks probably for him.
As you know, Torii is — we’re shooting for probably week two, week three, and I would say that’s it. Monday we’ll have Durham Smythe back from a hamstring, should have Doug Randolph back from a bone bruise. I think those were the two guys that were out.
Brian Kelly: Yeah, he’s got a tib fib outside, nothing cartilage, no ligament damage, just some soreness there. We worked him out pretty hard today. If we had to play on the weekend, he’d play.
Q. The last one from me, I know that you wanted to welcome the four players to eat with the team and interact with the team. Do you feel like that’s going well for them? Do you think that’s a good thing for your team?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I mean, I want to feed them. I think they should be able to eat. I really — for me, while this is an ongoing investigation, I don’t have a problem with them being around the team. They can’t really benefit from being in meetings, so it’s a very limited exposure situation, and they’re friends of a number of players. They have long existing relationships with them, so I welcome them to be around them for that short period of time.
Q. Speaking of the four players, have you had an opportunity to kind of address the rest of the team, both in the sense of it’s probably not easy for them to have the spotlight in this way, and also just to talk about sort of what the academic side of this means to you and what your expectations are?
Brian Kelly: We do that every day. Every day.
Q. I think a lot of the extra attention results from the fact that everyone knows that Notre Dame perennially ranks at or near the top of the scholastic rankings, graduation rates and so forth. Is that something you see as a hindrance or something that’s helpful in terms of recruiting, in terms of being a competitive team?
Brian Kelly: Well, you know, if it — I’ve said this, and we see it in recruiting, it’s harder at Notre Dame. But if it was easy, then it wouldn’t be special. That’s why Notre Dame is special. It’s harder here. But the benefits that you get by coming to Notre Dame far outweigh so many other universities. But there are no shortcuts, and our guys know it. They’re held accountable for it, and that’s why there’s not a huge issue within our football team, because they know what they sign up for when they come here. They know what the expectations are. They know what to expect when they come here. They know they’re accountable on a day to day basis. And they know it’s hard. They know it’s hard here at Notre Dame.
But on the other end, they get an incredible opportunity here at Notre Dame, and it’s probably harder here, but that’s why it’s so special.
Q. Seems like from a strength standpoint, Isaac Rochell is pretty strong, but from a technique standpoint, a knowledge standpoint, where does he have to improve?
Brian Kelly: Just consistency. With the young guys, it’s cutting the gap loose and not doing the little things right every play, but he’s so physically strong. I mean, he is as strong a player as we have. He’ll be that strong side end, and he’ll be backed up by Blankenship. He’s done a really good job over there, so he’s going to make some mistakes, no question, but he’s got a little experience from last year, and he can make up some of those bits of inexperience with his strength.
Q. A guy like Corey Robinson, he talked last week about how he needs to understand the why of the routes before he can really start running them. When does he get to the point where it is almost like a muscle memory thing and he’s able to do it with the understanding of it?
Brian Kelly: He’s more at the level of conscious competence. He knows it, but it’s really hard for him. He’s got to really think about it every day. He’s not at that level of unconscious competence where it’s habit forming, and he’s still learning the game, too, and that’s probably where his biggest learning curve is. He’s still learning about the whole concepts of the game, and so that’s — I think that’s where he’s continuously learning every single day. But he’s such a quick study. He picks up stuff every single day, but there’s still a learning curve there for him.
Q. A couple personnel questions for you. James Onwualu looks like he took over that first string spot. Are you surprised how fast he’s picked up linebacker after switching from offense last year and what has he done to get that spot?
Brian Kelly: Yes and no. You know, he got a chance to learn the defense from the back end, and because he did that, you learn so much of the defense at the safety position, so he had a pretty good knowledge base back there. If it was just his first time there, probably would have been more surprised, and it’s the Sam backer position, so we’re not asking him to do everything inside out, it’s more outside in. But he’s just he cares so much. I mean, he’s got so much pride that he spends hours just mastering his craft. He will not take a minute off if he doesn’t know what to do.
So that’s what makes that kid a special player. He just wants to master what he does.
Q. Another guy that I think you guys are excited about athletically, Elijah Shumate. It looked like before today we didn’t see a ton of him in the two deep. Where does he stand and how do you hope to use him?
Brian Kelly: He’ll be part of it. We can’t play Austin every play; we’ll be Scotch taping him together because he plays so ferociously. Austin, he throws his body out there 100 miles an hour at everything. He doesn’t play half speed at anything. We’ve got to keep him together, so Elijah has got to take some snaps off of Austin. Clearly he’s got to play for us, and he’s coming on.
We want more consistency. He can’t blow coverages for us. He’s got to continue to get better, and I think he’s gaining more confidence every day. Kyle is doing a great job with him back there, really gaining confidence with his help, and hopefully it continues to evolve.
Q. It looked like he was next to Austin a little bit today. Is he kind of working at both spots at this point?
Brian Kelly: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Well, he’ll take some snaps away from Austin. He’ll take — when we want to get Austin off the field, we’ll bring in Elijah. Nicky Baratti will sub for Max.
Q. And then with the four guys who are out indefinitely at this point, what have you had to do to shift around, and who do you expect to step into some of those roles to fill some of the gaps that they leave? Brian Kelly: Well, I think we talked about the offense, right, so that would be Cole Luke, Devin Butler, those two guys step up, Nick Watkins, Atkinson, those guys got to step up for us. I think we talked about the defensive line, Isaac Rochell, now Blankenship, a freshman, has got to step up in that role.
Offensively we’ve got to count on — we’ve got to get Hunter back. That’s going to help us when we get Torii Hunter back. But Will Fuller has got to play a lot more for us, Corey Robinson has got to play a lot more for us, and probably Chris Brown has got to play some W for us. Those are really the key positions.
Q. When someone that was buried maybe a little bit pops up, has anyone stepped up and kind of seen an opportunity here now that maybe they didn’t see a week ago?
Brian Kelly: Greer Martini maybe, a true freshman, like Greer is in our two deep, he’ll take snaps for Jaylon because Jaylon can’t play the whole game, so right now Greer Martini would be the first one in for Jaylon, and Kendall was getting reps there, Kendall Moore, so I guess you could use that as one in particular, but he was coming on anyway. Greer has really come on in the last 10 days and has played really good football for us.
Q. I know you mentioned the offensive line you’re really happy with. Looked like the defensive line was struggling against them today, and losing Ishaq, you’ve got some depth there. How concerned are you about the play of the defensive line and the depth?
Brian Kelly: We’re just young. We love — I don’t know that there’s a better guy in the country than Sheldon Day. We think he’s as good as there is. We’re going to have to play two or three guys at the nose, one technique, Jarron Jones has got to continue to progress for us. We’ve got to play Cage, who’s a freshman. We’ve got to play Matuska. I mean, we’ve got to play some guys there. But we’ll play Trumbetti a lot, Romeo will play a lot. We like those guys. I already talked about Rochell and Blankenship. We’ve got some guys and some depth there. We just have some inexperienced guys, that’s all.
Q. On Sheldon a little bit, we’ve seen him at end, D tackle, dropping into coverage. Athletically what does he bring to that position? Is that one of the things where you have to move him around so an offense can’t key in on him and get used to where he’s lined up?
Brian Kelly: I would say that we have plans to move him around to utilize his pass rush ability. He’s not truly a speed — we don’t have a speed rush guy per se, maybe Jhonny Williams is probably a guy that can work off the edge a little bit. But he can benefit from some of our schemes to be an inside guy that can get some pressure, but we feel like he’s athletic enough that we can do a number of things with him. I don’t think you’ll see him in our 3rd down package in one position. We’ll certainly move him around.
Q. I think early in camp you mentioned his leadership and him being a lot more vocal, and I think the last couple of years he’s not a guy that maybe was perceived as being vocal. What do you think has changed with him?
Brian Kelly: Well, I don’t think — vocal to me is that he’s not afraid to say something to somebody else about not living up to the standards that they need to, in whatever they are, the way they handle themselves on or off the field. That’s vocal.
Is he going to get up in front of the team and address the team? Probably not. Cam McDaniel will do that like that. That’s his deal. He feels comfortable doing that.
But he’s vocal to the point where he’ll hold others accountable. That’s great leadership to me. So he’s demonstrated that. He’s led his group, and he’s led the defense. Depending on how you define vocal to me, as long as he’s holding others accountable, that makes for good leadership.
Q. I guess a similar question on Jaylon, have you got a sense for what style of leader he is for you guys?
Brian Kelly: I think he’s very similar. He’s not — I think he’s feeling more comfortable that he can get out in front. Certainly only being here a year, I think he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t stepping out in front of upperclassmen, but he’s running the group now. He runs the linebacker group. He’s very influential on the defensive side of the ball, and people follow him. He’s definitely one of our leaders on defense.
Q. I was curious in terms of not having the four in meetings, was there no utility in that to sort of keep them on call or sharp if they’re not practicing? What was sort of your perspective on that?
Brian Kelly: We felt like at this point we didn’t want them — I really wanted them to focus on — when I met with them, they had just gotten the news, and there was a lot going on, and the last thing that I wanted them to do was to jump into football meetings. They weren’t going to be focused, they weren’t going to be concentrating on how to use a rip technique on a loose end. They were going to be distracted.
If as time moves on and there’s more clarity in the process, I can revisit it, but when I was presented with it, it was just too much of a distraction.
Q. To this point, KeiVarae and none of the other guys have been in any meetings then, football specific?
Brian Kelly: No, no, uh huh.
Q. A question about Coach VanGorder. I was wondering what struck you and how different his demeanor is than the first time you coached with him.
Brian Kelly: He’s no different. Same, exact same. Yeah, I don’t — I can’t give you anything other than his knowledge, obviously, is deeper and greater knowledge of the game and relationships and how to work with players, but he’s still the same guy. He hasn’t changed.
Q. And then a question about Matthias, just how has he handled it, a guy that’s sort of been in a set starting role, how has he handled some upheaval this season and moving around into different positions?
Brian Kelly: He’s a terrific teammate, terrific teammate. He’s probably — he’s so well respected by everybody on this football team and by the coaching staff. He’s a classy individual, handles himself professionally with everything that’s thrown his way. He’s just a class act.
Q. You named Everett the starter last week, and you cited his leadership as one of the reasons why he chose him. How has he changed as a leader from two years ago? Was it a matter of him just getting older in that role?
Brian Kelly: I could give you a list of reasons. I mean, he was spotty in attendance. He was at times late. He wasn’t doing the things leaders do. Now he’s first to everything. He’s the first one to speak up if things aren’t going well. To answer your own question, he’s matured, and he knows what great leadership looks like, and he’s paid attention to it and knows what it looks like, and now he’s that guy out in front, and he’s not the guy behind. That comes with maturity, and that comes with knowing what good leadership looks like.
Q. Do you think his suspension made him take that role more seriously when he came back?
Brian Kelly: I’m sure all of that did. I mean, he said it, he didn’t want the suspension to define who he was. He wanted this opportunity to show that he was much more than that, and I think he’s going to get that opportunity.
Q. You said Cam was the one that gets up in front of the team and talks. Does Everett do that at all or do you expect him to be that kind of guy?
Brian Kelly: No, he’s not afraid to talk in football environments. I haven’t seen him get up in front of the team yet and do that, but he’s not far from that. We have a couple other guys that feel more comfortable doing that.
Q. Obviously football players are used to guys going down, having to replace them, but when it’s four at one time, does that change things a little bit more the mentality of guys, having to move forward when it’s four guys at once as opposed to maybe one guy?
Brian Kelly: In terms of the players, the coaches?
Brian Kelly: You know, sometimes I think the coaches get more worked up about it than the players. Players have such resolve. They’re young guys. They get over it. They move on. Coaches get way too worked up about it sometimes.
My reaction to the question would be that the players were affected by the loss of their players as it relates to teammates, but not necessarily as it relates to playing time. Coaches are worried about the playing time element, like all right, how am I going to fill in for these snaps. So it’s an interesting dichotomy how it works.
I see it, obviously, the loss of four kids that I care about. Our players moved on quickly from it, and we just immediately treat it as next man in. Get the next guy ready, and that’s how we’ve always operated here.
Q. On the football side of things, how worked up have you been over the last several days as it’s set in, thinking about moving forward without those guys if that ultimately ends up being the case?
Brian Kelly: Well, you never want to lose any of your players, so that’s always difficult. To lose any of your players, especially given the circumstances, that’s always difficult.
But I’m responsible for not just four players, 105 plus, over 30 support staff. I’ve got to get going. I’ve got to move immediately to getting better as a program and as a football team. I don’t spend much time on the past, don’t mortgage the future. I try to stay in the present.
Q. What’s the expectations for this team this year, and has that changed at all based on what’s happened?
Brian Kelly: Expectations haven’t changed. They can’t change. I mean, we go into every season — we don’t have a conference championship to play for, so we only have one goal in mind, and that is to get in the playoffs, and that’s our only focus, to be one of those four teams to get in the playoffs. That’s the only way you can think. There’s only one way to put it together that way.
Q. Kyle Brindza, will he be handling all three phases again this year, and where does Tyler Newsome fit in, and anything concrete as far as return units and who’s —
Brian Kelly: Right now Kyle will probably handle all three, yeah. I think we can pick our spots with kickoffs. Tyler has done a nice job. He’s probably minus two, minus three in the end zone, two, three yards deep. Brindza is kicking them about seven yards deep in the end zone. We can see how that goes. They’re both really good.
But he’ll handle punting and field goals right now for sure.
Return, we have 1 A and 1 A, Greg Bryant and Cody Riggs, as our two punt returners. We’re going to go another couple of days. They’re both doing a great job back there.
And Amir Carlisle will be our kickoff return man.
Q. There’s no separate pooch punter or anything?
Brian Kelly: No, we’ve instituted a new technique. We’re working a new technique for that, so both of them are able to do it.
Q. You had talked earlier about some of the freshmen helping on the defensive line like Williams and Bonner among others. Are you rotating them as far as different positions or trying to get them settled in as one, and how did Blankenship emerge more so besides the loss of Ishaq?
Brian Kelly: His physical play. He’s able to handle it more in terms of the physical play in and play out. Jhonny is more of a 3rd down guy for us, pass rusher. Blankenship is a physical player. He can mix it up and play in there down in and down out. He can give us that kind of play.
Bonner is not in the two deep right now. He got nudged out of the two deep. Really what we’re talking about is Cage, Jhonny Williams, Trumbetti as the three freshmen, and Blankenship.
Q. And who’s emerged in place of Bonner?
Brian Kelly: Well, it’s probably — we’re talking about at the 3 technique, Utupo. Utupo right now would back up at the 3 technique.
Q. You’re a little tight on tight ends, Utupo and Smythe. I think I saw a goal line package there with Colin McGovern and also —
Brian Kelly: Yeah, we were drawing it up in the dirt right there. We were just trying to give our defense a goal line. They were installing their goal line defense, and it reminded me why I hate to go two tight ends down on the goal line. You can’t run the ball against that stuff. That’s crazy. You guys see that goal line? You guys weren’t paying attention? 10 guys in there. I mean, it’s crazy.
So we had to put something together for them because we didn’t have enough tight ends. But it would be Luatua, right, it would be Luatua, and then Koyack would be in the backfield or Luatua, and then Durham Smythe. Those would be the three. But Nic Weishar did a great job. He’s going to be a good tight end.
Q. So no McGlinchey or McGovern at the tight end?
Brian Kelly: We would use McGlinchey, we would, but we had to plan a tackle because Ronnie was not full contact, so it was kind of a hodgepodge, put it together at the last kind of second to get the goal line in. You guys weren’t paying attention. Terrible reporting.