Sept. 1, 2010

An interview with: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Dayne Crist and Michael Floyd

Q. Coach (Bob) Diaco said yesterday he’d almost prefer to keep it a little more simple to make sure everybody knows how to do their job and does their job well and plays fast. Does playing a guy like (Robert) Marve, who is a run pass threat, complicate that and make it more difficult to keep it simple?

Harrison Smith: Yeah, he’s a real athletic guy. From the tapes when he was playing at Miami, he can scramble around and throw the ball down field. So you know just keeping it simple is kind of a way to lock onto your assignment instead of worrying about if he’s going to run or pass. Just do what you know you have to do and the rest will take care of itself.

Q. Starting with you, Manti. I think I talked to you about this the other day, Harrison. But just the whole idea of keeping it more simple and being on the same page. With last year’s systems, were they just that much more complicated and complex, or why is it that you guys all seem to be or you seem to be saying that you are on the same page entering the season?

Manti Te’o: Well, last year they had their scheme. This year we have a totally different scheme. And with each coach they bring their different types of play to the table. Of course, Coach Diaco just likes to keep it simple. And he just wants us to execute and make sure that we play to our best ability on each play.

Q. Do you feel that you can just play more free and easy and not be bogged down maybe by concepts and what this guy’s doing, what that guy’s doing?

Manti Te’o: Definitely when you don’t have to worry about making checks, making these calls. When you have to think about what he’s doing, what am I supposed to do, what is my teammate supposed to do, it kind of takes away from the whole meaning behind playing football. The meaning of the defense is just to make sure the offense doesn’t score.

When you’re thinking about all these things, not that it doesn’t matter, but all these things that kind of slows you down a little, it’s a little difficult.

Q. Harrison, it’s the same way for you in the secondary? You have less checks, you have less changes pre snap than you had before?

Harrison Smith: Yeah, I would say so. But also just kind of emphasis that the coaches have been putting on running full speed. Not just running to the ball to run to the ball, but running to the ball to make a big hit and getting there with a bad attitude is something that you might not think about, but it’s something that really makes a difference.

Q. A little confused as to who on the team was asked to some of you guys were asked to do some research on former Notre Dame players or legendary Notre Dame players, you were, Harrison?

Harrison Smith: Yeah, back in the spring I did. It was just kind of my position.

Q. What do you know about Todd Lyght?

Harrison Smith: Just kind of an overview of his career. He was an All American.

Q. He was a corner, not a safety.

Harrison Smith: No, he wasn’t a safety.

Q. Manti, did you have to do something?

Manti Te’o: Yeah, basically all the linebackers we had to do like Harrison did, look at the All American linebackers and learn about them and further our knowledge about the game, and how they played the game, and how we can hopefully become like them.

Q. You guys have been going up against the spread in practice all spring, does that help at all on Saturday?

Harrison Smith: I would think it will, especially with the speed of the offense that we’ve been going against. Kind of has gotten our conditioning better, gotten us better communicating pre snap. So I think being conditioned to do those things will help us when it comes game time. The intensity is already at a higher level.

Q. Manti, Lou Holtz has said that he thought last year’s offense was good enough to be in a BCS game, the defense held it back. He said he thinks the offense is good enough again this year, and the big question is can the defense be good enough too? Do you think that’s true, and how do you approach that?

Manti Te’o: I think that’s very true. The saying is defense win championships. You can have the best offense, but if you don’t have a defense that can stop the offense from scoring, you’re going to have some trouble. Look at Alabama last year.

Though they had Mark Ingram the Heisman Trophy winner, they also had the top defense in the country. And that’s what helped them. I think that’s what led them to the kind of success that they had. We all know that in order for us to be BCS considered, we have to have a great defense, and that’s what we’re working for every day.

Q. Harrison, with the lack of depth in the secondary, how does that affect the game plan and maybe some schemes that you implement?

Harrison Smith: Well, the big slogan here is “next man in.” So even though we don’t have a lot of depth, it doesn’t really change the schemes. I mean, the coaches expect everybody that they put out there to be able to go out and play and get the job done.

So that’s not something that’s changed the schemes or anything. It’s just where, you know, you’ve got to stay healthy and you’ve got to make sure all the guys around you are staying healthy and you’re doing what you can.

Q. Keith Smith had a pretty good game last year down in West Lafayette. Talk about the match up against Keith, and how good are the other complimentary wide receivers around Keith Smith?

Harrison Smith: He’s one heck of a player. He can pretty much do anything that they ask of him. As far as the other guys, we haven’t seen all of them. But they all look like big, physical guys who are athletic and can all go up and get the ball.

So really they all look the part. They look like great athletes, great receivers. So just matching up with those guys is a challenge that we look forward to.

Q. Manti, having been through a full season now, as you get ready for the first game, how difficult is it to avoid peaking emotionally too early, because there is a lot of build up for you for this first game? Is it easy to stay relaxed and stay in the moment and not peak too soon emotionally?

Manti Te’o: Everybody’s different, but you have to stay calm. You can’t let your emotions get the best of you, because that’s when you start making mistakes. You have to stay calm, stay level headed and approach the game like a professional, and that’s what we’re doing.

We all know it’s exciting. The opener is always exciting. We’re all excited to go against somebody different. But we’re just practicing, and we’re trying to stay calm and just prepare the best we can.

Q. I know your father is somebody you look to for guidance, and both in football on and off the field. How about I mean, is there a former Notre Dame player you’ve connected with or somebody in the pros that you’ve either connected with or you’ve kind of watched them?

Manti Te’o: Do you mean like have I communicated with them or do I watch them and see how they play?

Q. Either way.

Manti Te’o: Well, I kind of have always watched Ray Lewis. I’ve always watched Ray Lewis that’s because he’s the best at what he does. And if you want to be the best at what you do, you have to be the best.

I watch Ray Lewis not because of the hits he makes or his leadership, but because he’s always where the ball is, and that’s something a linebacker has to do. You have to be where the ball is. Ray Lewis knows how to move. He knows how to motivate his players. He’s just an all around great leader and a great football player. And I look up to him.

I try to, you know base my game off of what he does. But also at the same time implement the things that I do.

Q. When you found out in this scheme you were going to be in the middle of things, what was your reaction to that did this seem to be more in line with what Ray Lewis was doing too?

Manti Te’o: Yeah, I’m more comfortable being in the middle. I’m more comfortable being in the center of things so I can see. I’m more comfortable being in the middle of the defense. So it was nothing new to me.

I was just very excited to start working on the new defense that we had, and start working with my teammates to hopefully make our defense a Top 10 defense in the country.

Q. The statistics of last year’s defense weren’t good. As you go to this year and you have confidence that things are going to be different, where’s that confidence coming from? Is it the scheme? Do you have different techniques that you buy into? Is it all the work you did in the off season? Where’s that coming from?

Manti Te’o: The thing is it’s coming from each other. Pretty much our defense is the same guys that were here last year. So we’ve been through that. We’ve been through what we had to go through last year. We’ve seen the mistakes that we’ve made and we know the corrections to those mistakes. So I think it comes from each other. Pair that up with the coaching staff that helps facilitate the energy that is needed for a Division 1 football team, it’s pretty easy.

Harrison Smith: I would say the mindset from the players and the coaches that we go through the off season, just like Manti was saying. Even though last year didn’t go out we planned, every year is a new year and a new opportunity to prove ourselves.

Q. Harrison, you seemed like the guy that bought in pretty early. I think everybody had their own timetable. What was it about this coaching staff and maybe particularly on the defense that made you say, okay, they know what they’re doing, this is a good change?

Harrison Smith: Just the way that they came in. They didn’t try to make it like them versus us, which I’ve heard happens a lot of times when there’s a coaching change. We all need to unite as fast as we can, that way we can work towards the things that we want to accomplish.

In my mind that made a lot of sense to me. We’re all here. Why wouldn’t we try to get together and be the best that we can be? That was the thing that really made me buy in.

Q. Going back to Marve. How have you prepared for him being that he’s been a quarterback in Division 1 before but at a different school? Have you been looking at him in Miami?

Manti Te’o: Yeah, everybody knows he didn’t play last year and had to sit out since he transferred. We’ve been watching film on him from Miami and seeing how he moves and the things he does, and the tendencies he has. So that’s what we’ve been preparing for with Marve.

Q. Is that difficult knowing he’s in a different system or different coaching staff trying to figure out what he might do two years removed from now he’s more mature?

Manti Te’o: I don’t think it’s difficult. Every athlete plays the game the way he knows how. It doesn’t matter what system he’s in, he’ll play the game the best way he knows how to. So whether he is in the spread offense, pro offense, he’ll still throw the same way. He’ll still run the same way, look the same way in certain situations.

So in that case it wasn’t really hard, but we know that he’s a dynamic player, and just on Saturday we have to just bring our A game and go for the victory.

Q. Harrison, just balancing playing in a different system versus where he might be now?

Harrison Smith: Kind of the same thing Manti said. You can just tell the things that he’s going to do the same, like running and throwing. I mean, he’s also a little older now, so he’s probably more mature and probably understands the game a little better. So it’s just something that you’ve got to take into account when you’re playing against him. But for the most part, you know kind of see what type of player he is from that film.

Q. Coach Kelly was in here talking about his motivational style. How would you describe him as a motivator? How does he get his point across? What buttons does he push as a head coach?

Manti Te’o: He’s pretty straightforward with his approach. Every now and then if he thinks we need a pick me up, he’ll make a joke or something that gets the energy of the team up. He’s just kind of a guy that can feel what the team’s feeling. If he needs to get us riled up, he’ll step in.

But he’s also wanted us to take that part where the players, if some of the players notice that the energy’s low, then we need to pick it up and get the team going. So it’s kind of something that he’s kind of shown us the way, and he wants us to take that over.

Q. Either of you guys remember a moment where he did throw in a joke or interject something on a practice that might have been dragging on or, you know, kind of a little down?

Manti Te’o: It’s just many different situations. He’ll either make a joke or he’ll kind of pick out somebody that is doing something pretty funny that kind of lightens the mood a little bit. So I can’t really pick out any

Harrison Smith: There was one day in training camp where our practices were two hours long, and we were warming up and he’s like, all right, I’m helping you out today. It’s only two hours. And in our mind it seemed like that practice was going like that. Just like the way he said it. He’s just kind of like playing a mind game with us and we were like okay, two hours isn’t that bad. It just kind of made practice easier.

Manti Te’o: Sitting in camp, and before Coach Kelly walks out the door to come down here to the team, usually the team’s talking among each other. We got into impersonations, and people started impersonating other people on the team. Started doing things about other coaches.

And Coach Kelly I saw him walk in, and everybody started to, you know, quiet down a little bit. But he kind of just you know told us keep going, keep going. Those are the kind of things he does. He doesn’t really need to crack a joke. He’ll just do something to lighten the mood a little bit.

Q. Anybody impersonate him?

Manti Te’o: No, nobody dares to impersonate Coach Kelly.

Q. Obviously you guys are excited for your game on Saturday. But can you just talk about how excited you are to see college football start again and what do you guys plan on doing?

Harrison Smith: I was talking about it with my roommate. We were looking up the schedule because we know games start tomorrow night, and we were just excited to see some of the match ups coming up. You know all the hype they created around the start of the year for college football, there is nothing else like it. So being involved with it just makes it that much more special.

Manti Te’o: Tomorrow Hawaii plays USC, so I’ll be watching that game. But I’m very excited for our season to start. I’m excited to go to the hotel, chill with the boys for a little bit, get ready for the game. Wake up, turn on the TV and watch college football and get ready for our game. So it’s a very exciting part of the year for us. We’re excited.

An interview with: Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd

Q. Could you talk about Braxston Cave, and what he brings to the table?

Dayne Crist: Braxston’s done a great job in the spring and summer and through fall camp just competing every day. Football is the most important thing in the world to him. He’s worked incredibly hard to obtain the starting spot, and he just comes to work every day.

You know as a quarterback that you can trust a guy like that. He’s doing the work away from here to make sure that he’s in the best position for that spot. He’s been playing well so far.

Q. What’s he like in the weight room that we don’t see?

Dayne Crist: He’s real tenacious. That is somewhere where he definitely shines and spends a lot of time obviously, and takes very seriously. He’s one of the strongest guys on the team, so it definitely pays off when he’s on the field.

Q. How excited are you to finally get this started? I can remember when Coach Kelly came in here and the place was packed, and we were all wondering what it’s going to be like at this time. But now as you get close, what’s it like?

Michael Floyd: It’s really exciting. I’m excited myself and getting everybody pumped up and ready to go. Just making sure we’re all able to compete on Saturday.

Dayne Crist: Yeah, it’s really kind of becoming a real thing now. We’ve done a ton of preparation work and everything like that. It just seems like it was yesterday that the new staff was coming in and everything like that. But I think everyone’s just excited to get going and start the season off on the right foot.

Q. Dayne, yesterday Coach (Kelly) was talking about how he can protect you with the play calling. What is your responsibility to avoid hits like that?

Dayne Crist: I think taking hits is part of playing football. It’s part of the game and it happens. I think talking about trying to avoid excessive hits and stuff like that, I think that falls a lot on my shoulders and making sure that we’re in the right protection.

I know where my hot throws are, and we’re just putting our team in the best play possible on any given down. But, again, I will do what’s asked of me. I’m not calling the plays. If I’m asked to run, I’m asked to run. If I’m not asked to do that, then so be it. But I’m doing whatever Coach Kelly asks of me.

Q. It’s been a while, are you looking forward to getting that first hit out of the way?

Dayne Crist: Sure. It will be nice, but it’s part of the game. It’s not something that I’m really stressing about when I go to bed at night. But it’s part of the game. It’s what football’s all about.

Q. For both of you, you’re obviously excited for your game Saturday. But how excited are you for college football in general to start back up again?

Michael Floyd: Like I said, I’m really excited. I’m really excited for this year’s team. We have a very good team, and I think we can do great things this year. It’s just going to be a very exciting year.

Dayne Crist: I’m also very excited. For as much time that we put in here, it’s also cool kind of watching your friends that play on other teams and things like that.

College football in general is a very exciting time. My favorite time of the year by far. So it will be cool to get that whole atmosphere back going again.

Q. Football players always talk about getting that first hit out of the way. But quarterbacks don’t take the kind of hits that Michael (Floyd) and everybody else does during the preseason. What’s that like? How much contact have you had in the preseason? What’s it like taking that first hit when you haven’t really had one since probably Washington State?

Dayne Crist: To answer your question, first off, in preseason I haven’t been hit at all. That was just by the decision of Coach Kelly and everyone else. But it’s kind of a similar situation to when I got my first real reps last year and not playing for basically two years before that.

So I’ve kind of done it before and I guess anticipating your first big hit, but I’ve played in a game. I’ve taken a hit before, and I don’t see anything being that much different taking my first hit as a starter.

Q. I don’t know what your personality is like exactly. What will your emotions be in the locker room prior to the game and on the field?

Dayne Crist: It will definitely be an exciting time for me. It’s a moment that I’ve waited for for a very long time. Something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid. But at the same time the quarterback position isn’t really a position that you’re getting too jacked up before games. I just try to remain pretty calm and try not to get too high with the highs and too low with the lows.

Q. For you, Michael, it’s old hat going into your third year? How will you feel before the game? Do you have nerves generally?

Michael Floyd: Not too much. You know, I’m just kind of a calm guy. But when it’s time for the team to get up, I’ll get my whole team ready to go. Just whoever wants to be talking about the game, I’m the guy that has experience to tell them just how it is out on the field.

Q. What are the tangible differences between catching passes from Dayne and catching passes from Jimmy Clausen?

Michael Floyd: Not too big of a difference. They’re both really smart guys and they make good decisions. So I’m happy with both of them. Dayne, especially, this is a big year for him. We’re just going to get it rolling.

Q. What can you do to help him out as he begins his starting career?

Michael Floyd: First of all, I can run at the right depths of routes and just basically catch the ball for him. I think when quarterbacks see the ball is being caught, it just lets him keep his composure and makes him feel better in the pocket.

Q. Would you guys be in favor of playing a preseason scrimmage against another school? If they allowed something like that, or does that just put you in another game of being at risk?

Dayne Crist: I don’t think so. I think we get a competitive look every day in practice with the guys that we have. We still go ones versus ones, and we maintain that game like speed. I think it runs the risk of injury and things, especially like we’re talking about with the scrimmage where the game’s not that meaningful.

Again, I think we’re just excited for the ones that do mean something and that starts Saturday.

Q. How do you feel about that, Michael?

Michael Floyd: I feel the same way as Dayne. No reason for an extra game. I’m just ready for Purdue.

Q. Building on the pregame and the emotions. What do you expect to hear from Coach Kelly on Saturday in the locker room before the game, and do pregame speeches really matter a whole lot? Does that carry a whole lot of weight once you go out on the field?

Dayne Crist: I don’t think anyone really knows what Coach Kelly’s approach will be before the game. The closest we had to that was the spring game, but obviously that’s a much more relaxed environment. I think it definitely affects some players more than others and definitely gets your guys going and your juices flowing a little bit.

But it will be as much an emotional time for him and the rest of the coaching staff as it is for us being their first game in Notre Dame stadium and everything like that. But coaches always know the message that they want to relate to their team, and Coach Kelly is good at communicating a clear message. I don’t think Saturday will be any different.

Q. Michael, in your career, has the pregame speech meant a lot to you once you get out there? Michael Floyd: Just every coach has their own thing to say to the players or the team. You know, I’m just kind of there listening and taking things in that will motivate us and the team. It doesn’t really matter to me. Just keeps me kind of focused if something’s said.

Q. Dayne, I want to ask you about Tyler (Eifert). He’s getting a lot of reps with Kyle (Rudolph) banged up during camp. What do you see from him and what kind of weapon does he give this offense?

Dayne Crist: Tyler’s done a great job for us, especially when Kyle was banged up through camp. For the system that we have in place, I think he’s a great fit. He does a great job in receiving and is also a really tough kid and will put his hat in there and definitely block somebody as well.

He’s continuing to learn and get better and progress each day. You can honestly see that in him. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. If he’s asked to be out there, I don’t think we really miss a beat.

Q. How is he specifically different from maybe the guy you’re working with in March and April?

Dayne Crist: I think that everyone just kind of has a different style to them. He does certain things different than Kyle (Rudolph). He does some things, you know that he’s asked to do that maybe Kyle’s not. But he’s doing a great job of really just learning the system and making sure he’s in the right place at the right time.

Q. Talk about staying calm on Saturday and everything? Coach Kelly brought up yesterday how last Friday when you were at the stadium he felt the tightness within the group. Did you guys sense that? How have you tried to get your teammates more relaxed here this week as they get ready for obviously a very hyped game and big game?

Michael Floyd: I don’t know if we’re really tight, it was a practice, so it’s totally different from the game. I know coaches don’t like to hear that, but it’s totally different.

Everybody about being calm during the game — has their own rituals of what they do before the game. So just staying calm for me. Personally, I just go through the routine, school and then just get my mind focused for the game.

Dayne Crist: I don’t think there is too much worry about guys being ready to go on Saturday. That will not be an issue. I think guys, like Michael said, have their own style of getting ready. Some guys like music. Some guys don’t. Some guys are really loud and jacked up. Some guys don’t say a word.

But, again, as a team and collectively, there is not a guy that won’t be ready to go come kickoff on Saturday.

Q. Can you talk a little about the Purdue defense and maybe some of the challenges they can pose?

Dayne Crist: They’re a very good defense now. They’ve got guys at every spot on the field really. That was really the one team that I got to study a lot last year in game preparation.

They’re really talented. They’ve got a great D line. Their linebackers have all played and have some experience. Their secondary’s good every year, so you really can’t sit there and take an opponent lightly. We’ve got a lot of respect for them. We’re just going to continue to prepare all week and figure out what we can do.

Q. You’ve got a left tackle who hasn’t played a game and he’s got a tough assignment this week. What have you seen out of Zack (Martin) that gives you confidence going in?

Dayne Crist: He’s consistent. Zack’s incredibly consistent. He’s been that way since he’s been in the starting role. All spring he was consistent, in camp he was consistent. When you have that in your left tackle, it makes you feel pretty good.

Q. Coach Kelly talks about how athletic he is. Have you seen him make a play or do something off the field that just shows you what a good athlete he is?

Dayne Crist: Well, at that position it’s almost better the plays that you don’t see being made. Knowing that he’s doing his job, you know, you don’t have a lot of time to peak in during a play. But not knowing about him I guess means that he’s doing well.

Q. When you think about Theo (Riddick) going from running back to wide receiver and his development. How impressed are you with how quickly Theo has made the transition? And what do you believe he can add to the wide receiving corps?

Michael Floyd: I think he can just add speed. That’s what we need in the slot position is speed. I think he picked up a lot coming from running back to wide receiver but he’s just an athlete. So you expect that out of guys that are athletes. Just to be able to switch positions and get the job done.

Q. Did he click right away? Did it take him long to get comfortable?

Michael Floyd: As a wide receiver in this system it’s pretty hard to change from a different offense. So we all, you know, try to get the whole offense together. I think he picked up on it pretty well.

Q. Outside of the blue gold game, Cierre Wood is a guy we have not seen. From your standpoint, what do you think are his strengths? And does he have a different element maybe than the other three?

Dayne Crist: I think all of the running backs we have in our system offer something different. They’ve got their own style. I guess, speaking specifically to Cierre, he’s really good about making one cut and going. He’s not a guy that’s going to dance around. He reads his blocks really well and reads his keys real well.

But, again, he’s an explosive player. He can score on any given play. Again, it’s a guy that you like having out there.

Q. You mentioned Purdue and studying them. You’ve played against them. Does that help that your first career start goes against a team that you saw action against?

Dayne Crist: Maybe. I won’t know until Saturday. But I think it will be somewhat of a level of familiarity. But, again, their secondary’s different than last year. Upfront they lost a guy or two, but I think that you just need to continue to study the most recent film and stuff like that. And we had them pretty early in the season, so they did some things differently toward the end of the season.

So film study will continue to be a pretty big point of emphasis for me this week. I’m just excited to see how it translates in the game on Saturday.

Q. I want to ask you about T.J. Jones. You did the same kind of thing he’s doing. Stepped into a big role as a freshman. How difficult or what can you speak to about getting the chance to do that? And what have you seen out of him that reminds you of what you went through or you were able to do?

Michael Floyd: I don’t know. I think he’s just a whole different type of receiver than me. You know, being kind of bigger and he’s a little smaller, quicker.

But I mean I’m just trying to give him all the advice I can. Me being a junior now, I have a lot of experience playing and making sure he knows what he’s doing out there. If he makes a mistake, it’s on to the next play. So just making sure he stays focused.

Q. What are the biggest challenges he will see or face as a freshman playing this season?

Michael Floyd: I think going against, you know, when I was a freshman just upperclassmen’s strength. How the defense rolls, and maybe looking at the defense and trying to read it. That was one of the hard things when I was a freshman.

Q. I know Coach Kelly said it on media day, that he thought you were overrated and overhyped when they first met you and then you changed their opinion. Were you aware of that? Did he make you aware of that? And what did you do to try to change his mind on that?

Michael Floyd: I think every coach has their own kind of feeling about every single player. You know, him telling me that he thought I was overrated kind of made me work harder, and that’s what I did. I’m a guy that competes every single day. So him putting that in my mind motivates me more to want to play harder and get better.

Q. In what ways do you think you’re better this year than you were last year?

Michael Floyd: They put a really big emphasis on me running routes, different routes. Making sure I could get all the routes and get in the right depths.