Nov. 9, 2011

An interview with: Tommy Rees and Harrison Smith

Q. Harrison, one of the things this program prides itself on is player development, and some of the coaches yesterday were saying you’re almost like a poster child of that philosophy. Can you talk about what that process has been like, the development process and how and when you felt you had arrived in terms of confidence and the way you’re playing right now?

Harrison Smith: There are a lot of things that go into maturing and developing as a player, physically and mentally. I would probably say halfway through last year is when I had a lot of confidence on the football field. Just knowing exactly what I’m supposed to do, where I’m supposed to be.

You know, I think this staff does a great job of making things instilling things that make sense to players and doing things that players fully understand so you can just play football and play fast. I think that’s really probably the number one thing is that they just do a great job getting across to the players exactly what they want to.

Q. Coach Diaco said yesterday it’s almost like EF Hutton, when Harrison talks, everybody listens. What kind of responsibility goes along with that kind of attention that everybody’s paying?

Harrison Smith: You just have to know exactly what you’re doing every time because when I make a call or if I speak up, then people are going to listen, so it better be right. So just spending extra time going over plays, watching film, things like that, just so you know every call to make.

Q. Harrison and Tommy, these off-site home games, what are those like? When you look back maybe on your experiences here, how cool was being able to do those things?

Tommy Rees: Well, I only had the one experience in New York. But just getting an opportunity to play on the east coast and in different venues where a lot of people don’t get to play is a pretty special thing. It’s definitely one of the perks of playing at Notre Dame.

To see the kind of following Notre Dame draws all over the country. New York last year was a huge crowd for us. We kind of expect the same this weekend. It’s exciting, and it’s a good opportunity to play somewhere else.

Harrison Smith: Yeah, I think maybe the first one I played in was Washington State in San Antonio. I think exciting for fans that don’t always get a chance to travel here because we have such a broad fan base.

Having a home game in a different stadium is just kind of different. It gives it a different feel. But every time it’s been great I think for the team and for the fans.

Q. Would you rather actually have a home game though?

Harrison Smith: I think it’s nice having a neutral site game for those fans that can’t make it out here. This year it’s on the east coast, and we have a big fan base on the east coast. So it’s nice for those people to get a chance to come to essentially a home game.

Q. Jamoris Slaughter has played in a variety of roles, what does that do for you guys defensively?

Harrison Smith: It gives us a lot of flexibility even within the game. Like this past game, he switched down and started playing closer to the line of scrimmage after halftime, and I think that really stopped some of the things that Wake was trying to do.

Just having a guy that’s an athletic player, fast and quick and he also understands where he needs to fit into the defense. So if he’s playing more of a linebacker type position, being smaller doesn’t really matter because he knows where he needs to be and he’ll get the job done.

So it’s really huge for the defense as a whole. Just having him know all those different spots and he can just fill in anywhere.

Q. Is that a difficult thing to know all those spots?

Harrison Smith: It’s easy to draw it up and say this is where a guy’s supposed to be. But actually going out there and playing against other guys on scholarship is a lot harder than you might think it would be.

Q. What is the quarterback’s perspective? Does that kind of give you pause as a quarterback to make you think twice about what you’re seeing?

Tommy Rees: That is actually one of the things that Wake did to us. They played a lot of nickel packages and tried to get an extra defensive back to help in defending the pass.

It gives you different looks just because they have a little more speed and athleticism on the perimeter, and you might not get as good of a match up as you usually do on a linebacker. But you definitely try to run the ball a little bit at them.

We play against our defense and they go into their nickel or dime packages, it presents a little bit of trouble just because we have so many good athletes out there to cover and play our guys. It gives them the replay too high with little man coverage, so it presents some challenges.

Q. I’m curious about the tempo you guys played at in the third quarter, and why you think that was so effective? Talk about the change?

Tommy Rees: I think just the halftime adjustments we made. We were trying to solidify what they did to us. You saw the touchdown in the first half where they weren’t quite lined up and we had our guys lined up down field.

Just playing fast with teams. They do a lot of check with me with the coaches on the sideline. So if we can take advantage of them as they’re trying to get set and playing at a higher tempo and wearing them out a little bit, it’s something we thought could benefit, and it worked out there in the third quarter. Q. Was that an adjustment that kind of needed to be made?

Tommy Rees: I think the biggest thing is having play calls that are universal against a lot of different teams. As we’re playing fast, there are options, whatever you get, and just understanding what the frequency what they’re giving us. Yeah, I think definitely it’s a conversation that needed to be had to make sure everyone was on the same page.

Q. I was kind of curious about Manti (Te’o). What do you do to make sure he’s not pushing himself too much and what have you seen from him this week? Harrison Smith: I actually try to give him a hard time. When he’s not practicing, I try to joke with him. But he always wants to be out there. He knows how practice affects the games because you need to see the looks that you’re going to see in the game.

But he’s still been out there. He’s still going, and taking every rep that he can take. That’s just the type of competitive guy that he is. He doesn’t want to get behind, so he’s going to force himself to do it.

Q. As a veteran player, you’ve been around here forever, what would you lose if you don’t practice a hundred percent? I’m sure that you could prepare and not take every single rep this week. But what would you lose?

Harrison Smith: Really just kind of like exactly where you’re going to place your body. You can watch a play and say this is where I need to be. This is what my key is. This is where I’m going to fit, and that’s how a lot of that’s why you watch film too, because you’re not going to be able to rep every play.

But just actually doing it with your body, putting yourself in that place, feeling what it’s actually going to feel like just gives you a little more of an edge. So really that’s one thing. But you still can prepare just with your eyes and with your mind.

Q. How has Mike Golic Jr. been so far this week? Has there been much of an adjustment there?

Tommy Rees: No, he’s done a great job. Throughout the year we worked with the quarterbacks, rotate usually between the top two centers just to get some familiarity. I’ve worked with him a bunch in the past, and he’s done a great job. There is really not that much of a transition period.

Q. Coach Warinner mentioned yesterday that Golic and Braxston (Cave) got almost 50 50 snaps and that’s an important relationship to develop. How important is it for you to have that chemistry with your center? Tommy Rees: A lot. It’s a lot more than just making the snaps and making sure there is chemistry there. There is a lot of communication going on with the quarterback and the center. I’ve worked with Mike a lot in the past. I don’t anticipate there to be much of an issue there.

Q. Coach said second quarter after Braxston went down, you just said no, we’re good to go. Don’t worry about it. What is the reaction there?

Tommy Rees: We have that whole next man in philosophy. I think he came in and stepped right in, did a great job. Obviously, you don’t want to see a guy go down, but the way Mike came in and played really helped our team win.

You feel really happy for a kid like that because he’s worked hard and put himself in a position to play well.

Q. Did Mike say anything in the huddle?

Tommy Rees: I talked to him after the first drive he was in, and said we believe in you. We don’t have any doubts. Just to make sure that he was kind of it calm and he was playing. He really didn’t have to think too much. It was just to rally behind all the guys.

Q. In accordance with that, you’ve worked with Mike for a couple of years now. Are there maybe some nuances and non verbal things because you’ve played with Braxston so long?

Tommy Rees: I think because we do so much stuff from the gun, just getting him familiar with the snapping styles and just knowing the timing on when certain cadences come into play.

But to be honest, there is not that big of a difference. It doesn’t really take much to adjust to. Like I said, I don’t think it will be much of a problem.

Q. Harrison, how does Manti take your kidding when he’s not practicing?

Harrison Smith: Sometimes he gets a little upset about it. But you’ve got to have fun when you’re going out there. So when he’s taking a rep off or taking something off, I’ll tell him he’s being Mr. Big Time or something like that.

Q. Is he easy to get riled up? Is that his nature?

Harrison Smith: No. He take it’s pretty lightly too.

Q. Talking about the neutral-site game again. Is there anything that makes it feel like a true home game)?

Tommy Rees: Not really. You’re traveling, and playing at night and flying over to the east coast. I guess the feel you get from the fans is probably the most home game like atmosphere. But we treat it as kind of a business trip and go out there to get the job done and come back home.

But there is really not much when you’re traveling like that to make it feel like a home game.

Harrison Smith: Yeah, I mean, this one might be different too because we’re so close to Maryland. We’ll see how the fan turnout is. It might be more of a home game for them except for the uniforms.

Q. Whenever there is a two quarterback situation we always ask if there is a change in your preparation, and you tell us no, but is it different this week with two quarterbacks so different?

Harrison Smith: They definitely are different this week. One of them likes to throw more and one of them likes to run more. So there are some tendencies there. There is a little bit of a difference in the preparation.

If you want to be successful, you’ve got to stop the run in, stop the pass depending on who is in. So, yeah, that is definitely something that we’ve been conscious of.

Q. Hard to prepare for than normal?

Harrison Smith: Yeah, I would say so.

Q. Tommy, I wanted to ask you. How exactly do you pronounce your name?

Tommy Rees: Reese. It’s not Reez, no.

Q. Obviously, you’ve been through a ton of tragedy around here following what’s happening at Penn State. Can you guys just imagine what those players have gone through in the last couple of days?

Tommy Rees: That’s something we don’t really want to get into. Obviously, it’s a tough situation for Penn State, and we’ll kind of leave it at that.

Q. I just want to piggyback on what Tim was asking you about your last name. Have you gotten that question before whether or not which way it is?

Tommy Rees: I’ve had people say it the wrong way, and I usually correct them. Or (Andrew) Hendrix does it for me all the time just to make me upset. But it’s Rees, and it’s spelled a little differently than most Reeses.

But there’s no Z, no Z sound. So however you want to call it, works.

Q. And Harrison, joking about calling you the old guy, how much does Manti maybe come back at you or other guys come back at you with the jokes about your age and your tenure here?

Harrison Smith: I get that a lot. It’s pretty much daily. I’m not the oldest guy on the team, but I’m definitely one of them. So they like to call me grandpa and stuff like that.

Q. Tommy, how much do you maybe sometimes join in on that? Tommy Rees: Harrison and I have kind of a different relationship. I don’t really call him grandpa too much, but we’ve got our own thing going. I’m a lot younger than him, so I look up to him for some good guidance and stuff. He’s a good guy to go to if you ever need anything. But he’s a pretty quiet guy.

Q. Tommy, can you talk about the last two weeks and has winning sort of quieted things down in terms of all the things that were going on prior to the Navy game?

Tommy Rees: I think internally it started with the fact we did some things to make sure we were on the right path. The whole staff and the players kind of rallied together. I think winning is a product of the previous steps that we took.

Q. Do you think the team, obviously you’re in a situation now playing a Maryland team that is struggling. So your success should continue. Do you think the team is fragile in any way or do you think it’s really been strengthened just by the wins, but by the things that have gone on behind the scenes?

Tommy Rees: I definitely think we’ve come together and strengthened all the way from the top down to all the guys on the team. I think we’ve built a chemistry here that everyone’s playing for each other. I think success, like I said, is kind of a product of that.