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University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference

Sept. 11, 2016

Brian Kelly

Q. Just wondering if you had any update on what injury Shaun did suffer yesterday?
Coach Kelly: Torn Achilles tendon.

Q. Do you have an update on where Nick Watkins is in his recovery?
Coach Kelly: He’ll get an x-ray next week to see what type of bone growth he has in that forearm. And then that will determine where we are relative to being able to play in this year or not.

Q. So with him, when you say, be able to play in this year or not, is there like a baseline that you need to see in this x-ray that would sort of determine that?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, you know, we’re at that point where I want to make sure that we get — with a nonunion fracture and the procedure that was done on Nick, we’re going to have to see some growth there that will allow us to believe that he can come back in the next few weeks or we’ll use this as a medical red shirt year for him.

Q. Okay. And just — is Devin Butler still, does his status still remain the same?
Coach Kelly: Yes.

Q. One other thing I wanted to ask you, when you put Malik in you gave him one series with the first team offensive line. What was your thinking to give him that one series with those guys in there?
Coach Kelly: Well, I just think — obviously he’s somebody that needs to keep sharp with the first group out there. Anytime you can give him that opportunity to continue to work with that unit I think it just keeps him sharp. If he’s called upon he obviously continues that repertoire of working with that group.

So nothing more than just early enough in the game that you can keep your first unit in there and get some work. I thought it was the right thing to do.

Q. Yesterday you addressed the progress you’ve made in the red zone. It’s now 11 appearances, eight touchdowns. And you talked about Kizer going through his progression. He talked about the extending plays. Can you speak to that and is that the next level after he goes through his progression?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, so a lot of times when you’re getting double zoned down there in bracket coverage, last year he rushed into some throws. When you’re a lot more patient and can recognize what you’re getting you’re not rushed into making that first throw. And I think a lot of that just comes with patience and understanding what you’re getting and knowing where the openings are going to be in some of those bracket coverages that he’s getting down there.

Again, I think just maturity and just some more patience, where the game is not really fast down there for him, it’s starting to slow down.

Q. I was going to say the game slows down even further for him then. What about the progress of Daniel Cage? He looks like he’s making a consistent impact now. Can you speak to his progress and how he’s better than he was as a freshman last year?
Coach Kelly: Well, I think it starts with consistency. This was the best game he’s played since he’s been at Notre Dame. Back-to-back weeks is usually the first level of finding that kind of player that is elevating and back-to-back weeks. He was really focused. Had a great week of practice. He’s been injury-free.

You know, he ran into a bit of an issue last year with sleep apnea. And we’ve got that corrected. He’s getting proper rest. He’s getting the kind of rest that he needs to be the kind of player that we thought he could be. He’s had two really good weeks, and again this week he was outstanding.

Q. After the compressed week that you had last week, have you had your fill of Sunday night games?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, that was a challenge, there’s no question that the Sunday night coming right back is certainly — especially the way the game was played, double over time and a physical game, proud of the way our guys responded.

Q. Kizer, did he have an off day yesterday? He threw a lot of deep passes, when he averaged like seven or eight yards on his throws. Was it an off day or what happened yesterday?
Coach Kelly: I had a bad day calling deep passes. I just — most of it was just poor play calling.

Q. And going up against Michigan State, one of your old rivals. What do you have to do this week with them. They seem like they’re a great team on offense and both sides of the football?
Coach Kelly: I have a lot of respect for Mark and Coach Dantonio is always going to present a very physical team in all three phases. Our games each and every year that we have played have been close, hard fought. And we expect the same again this year.

Q. I was curious what your evaluation was of Te’von Coney after watching the tape and talking to your staff about his performance yesterday?
Coach Kelly: Played very well. Had a chance to have a great game. Missed a couple of tackles. Played physical. Again, I think if we were evaluating the linebackers, James Onwualu played very well, Te’von played well. Those two guys stood out. But in his first real start we were pleased with his performance.

Q. Is this sort of a week to build on that, just based on the style of play of your opponents?
Coach Kelly: Oh, certainly, yeah. I think obviously he gained some confidence in this performance. And I think it’s really, from his standpoint, a game that he’s going to be required to do a lot more, even from this past week. So, yeah, it will definitely be a step up in what he will have to do for us, but we saw some encouraging signs against Nevada.

Q. How did you read out the way your safeties played, Devin, the most snaps he’s really received, and then Avery Sebastian and Drue rotating a little bit, I think Drue got his bell run in the first half?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, better. You know, we still have to tackle a little bit better. We were better, certainly. Tackle a little bit better.

We were much better playing the ball in the air, obviously. And that’s another facet of good safety play. But I think there was definitely improvement in all of those guys that you mentioned in terms of their play. I think probably Drue more than anything. He didn’t have a concussion nor did he have concussion-like symptoms. More of a neck injury. He was clean and felt good this morning.

Q. I was curious when you’re evaluating your team, how much does the quality of the opponent factor into the evaluation in terms of reading out what you’ve got, what you need, and where you actually need to improve?
Coach Kelly: The opposition certainly plays a part of it. But I think that there’s enough there that as long as the team is well coached and plays hard you can still get a really good evaluation, regardless of if its a top ten team or not. Nevada plays hard. It’s coached well. They’re in good position.

So we got a lot out of it, from her perspective, we played 27 defensive players. So it’s a great opportunity for us to see a lot of players and get our first real glimpse of what they’re capable of and where we think that they can go.

So even though Nevada may not be a top ten team, they play hard, they play physical, and they’re in the right position and well coached. Although we may have some more athletic ability, it still gives us a solid evaluation.

Q. Toward the end of the game you got a lot of young defensive players in the game, not that you haven’t been playing them during the high leverage part, but some new guys like Donte Vaughn and so forth. Did you get a chance to kind of evaluate them and see if maybe some of those guys you think are going to be able to help you down the line?
Coach Kelly: Well, they’re going to have to. We played a lot of them obviously for that reason, feeling as though Donte Vaughn, now, is in the mix, with the injury to Crawford. He now becomes a guy in the rotation. We wanted to see Julian in some leverage situation, obviously more so. The list goes on. As I mentioned 27 players having been played, they all are going to have to play at some level.

Unfortunately, you know, we had an injury that is forcing our hand to play some guys. But with the kind of schedule we play and the length of the year, this was a great opportunity for us to get a better glimpse and know who we need to continue to press and push to get better at their craft.

So a real good evaluation day for us. And it’s too early for me to point out one guy over the other, other than what we saw in camp, all these guys are capable of contributing this year.

Q. Not asking you to give away trade secrets, but in terms of your defensive identity, do you ultimately want a defense that can play pace, nickel, dime, do a lot of things, defending on what kind of opponent?
Coach Kelly: First and second down we’d like to be at base. Third down we’d like to get into nickel, if the game was to be scripted. The ability to play nickle obviously gives us a lot more looks and confuses quarterbacks, and allow us to keep people off balance.

But this is still about stopping the run in early downs. And except for one run that got out I thought we did a really good job against the run. And that’s really — it’s going to still come back to basic tenets of football, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And that is tackling, being really solid against the run and keeping the ball in front of you and playing the ball in the air. If we get those four things down and we make good progress on it, that’s what we’re really looking to do at the end of the day.

Q. Torii Hunter, how close is he to being able to do everything and help you out?
Coach Kelly: He’ll have full practice on Tuesday.

Q. So he’s completely cleared?
Coach Kelly: He is in the last step of what we call our protocol, which is a controlled practice setting on Tuesday. He goes through full practice on Tuesday.

Q. You touched on it a little bit yesterday, but what did Shaun Crawford give you? And what were some of the ideas for using those other guys?
Coach Kelly: Shaun is a unique player, great ball skills. Probably had a chance to compete and we decided to be one of our starting receivers. It’s a great instincts for the game. And just, again, a guy that really has a great sense and feel for the game. And that’s hard to teach a lot of that. So to lose that is pretty significant.

Q. With Nick and your expectations you have with him and other guys to step up and replace him?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, I mean, Nick played a much better game. He used his technique and is much more disciplined, made some really good plays on the ball. The one that he stumbled on, he was in position. He’s got the athletic ability to do it. I think he gained some confidence and he’s going to need to continue to do that. And I think if he puts himself in the positions that he did on Saturday he’s going to find that he can be very successful at that cornerback position.

Q. Last week DeShone said that being a three sport athlete in high school was the best thing that ever happened to him in terms of his development as a quarterback. Your experience in recruiting quarterbacks for many years, what do you think are some of the benefits as they come from guys with a well rounded guys like that?
Coach Kelly: I’m a believer that the ability to not have to play the game all year really declutters you a little bit. And allows you to think outside the box a little bit. It keeps you sharp in competitiveness, in team sports.

So I think there’s a lot of dynamics that play on your side by being involved in more than just the game of football. And DeShone, as you know, is an outstanding baseball player as well, and played basketball.

Competing all year-round, thinking in terms of other sports, there are definitely correlations that you can bring to the game, itself, from other sports. And I just think sometimes we become a little too specialized at the position and I enjoy seeing guys that play some other sports.

Q. Did you have a serious concern about losing him to baseball at any point, or a couple of years ago?
Coach Kelly: We might have traded him for baseball the way he was practicing. He was struggling a lot. But I don’t think we ever felt like baseball was going to take him over in the sense that we had vetted that out in the recruiting process. Matter of fact his senior year he stopped pitching and went to a less arduous schedule. And so we knew that the baseball was certainly going to be second in his mind moving forward.

Q. Just kind of wanted to go back and revisit what you were talking about with the condensed week, playing Sunday and then Saturday. And facing the team that’s coming off a bye week, what are the challenges do you have in that? And from your standpoint I imagine you probably want some rest for some of these guys that have been so nicked up?
Coach Kelly: Yeah, it’s really a balance. The first thing that we looked for when we came back from that short week was the rest for our team. And knowing you have to prepare the right way, we really cut things back during the week and gradually worked ourselves back into our normal schedule. But we didn’t get after them right away. We gave them a chance to recuperate. And I think that that really allowed them to feel good on Saturday.

I think you have to feel good. You can’t be sore and tired going into Saturday. This is about Saturdays, really. And so we backed off on some things that we normally do, and I think it paid dividends. You have to listen to your players, too. And I think we had that in mind as we prepared.

Q. When you face a team coming off a bye is there anything different that you have to do in approaching that or especially this early in the season?
Coach Kelly: Well, I mean the only thing is that you don’t have a lot of film on them from this week, you’ve got one game. So we’ll have to look at a little more film. But generally in a bye week situation you’re just — you’re really just trying to rely on what you’ve seen and who they are and have been in the past of the.

We’ve played Michigan State enough that we have a pretty good understanding of their identity and who they want to be.

Q. Given that Crawford’s injury and the upset you had in the second areas, how would you assess the overall secondary played in the first two games?
Coach Kelly: Improvement. Cole Luke played outstanding. I thought when Nick Coleman came in, he showed great improvement. I think the safeties played much better. So I would say that it’s an improving group.

Q. Nevada in the early goaling that ended up being not three for any completions. Are you concerned that teams are going to test you a lot that way?
Coach Kelly: Well, they’re going to keep going at Nick Coleman. And Nick knows that, and we’re quite aware of that situation. But I think Nick has showed himself that he’s up to the task and he’s going to continue to work to get better at it. I think everybody knows that when you lose a player like Crawford and a new guy comes in, they’re going to pick on him. But I like the fact that Nick has made the kind of corrections necessary to go out there and compete for the football.

Q. Going back to the Mark Dantonio topic, he was there at Cincinnati three years previous to when you arrived there. What did you find in the Cincinnati program that he had built when you arrived.
The second part of this question is with was the Michigan State job opening ever offered to you or did you ever consider that?

Coach Kelly: Mark has a style of player that he loves. And he’s a tough minded kid that loves to play football, and had a lot of those guys that he recruited at Cincinnati that we got our hands on. And we’ve pointed them in the right direction and had a lot of success with them.

I can’t remember that have back for to the circumstances with the Michigan State job, I think it was open. But I think they had their eyes on Coach Dantonio, and they certainly got the right one there.

Q. This might be irrelevant because you’ve been able to get others involved in the passing game. But as far as maybe getting the tight ends and they’ve been targeted this year, is that more a product of the way you’re setting up the offense or do you want to see a little bit more from them in the way of pass production?
Coach Kelly: Well, they’re out every time. They’re part of our progression, so sometimes relative to where they are, they’re opening up other things within our offense. So it’s really — it’s really never a situation where we just leave the tight end in and he’s not part of our progression.

The tight end is part of our progression. If they don’t cover the tight end we’re going to throw it to him. If he’s open and he’s part of our progression, we’ve got to get the ball to them. We’re just not going to force it to him. It’s just one of those kinds of situations where the tight end is going to get his touches if, in fact, they’re not covering them as they should be.

Q. How would you grade them out over the first two weeks overall, their contribution? It seemed that with Torii out and so much use that the receiver position — it seemed they were fairly involved with the practices that we were at, that they would be maybe more involved?
Coach Kelly: They’ve been fine. We ask them to block. We ask them, like I said, to be involved in quite a bit of the stuff that we’re doing within our offensive structure. The ball just hasn’t come their way up to this point.

Q. As far as younger players like Stepherson, Claypool, how has their progress been as far as getting comfortable with all facets of the offense to where you can put them in and beyond just situational packages?
Coach Kelly: Stepherson is a little bit further ahead because, you know, he was here in the spring. So he got a little bit more knowledge of the offense.

Claypool is coming along. But it’s going to be a process for both of them. But they’re making pretty good progress in terms of understanding everything that we do as true freshmen.

If you had asked me whether I’m pleased or not I’d say overall I’m pleased with the progress they’re making. Can they play every play yet? No. But I think they’re going to be able to contribute because we’ve got enough depth that neither one of them is going to be asked to play 72 snaps.