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March 20, 2012
Brian Kelly: This is the spring football preview, and you know, as the head coach, you go through different segments in the preparation of your football team. We've just concluded this morning our winter workouts, and those are primarily your strength training and agility and speed development. We get an opportunity to work with our team in very limited fashion, though we do get an opportunity to spend some time with them, it is more about building a strength and conditioning base, improving on where our players were last year.
As it relates to the specific players, there's some very exciting and interesting battles, as you all know. It always starts and always ends at the quarterback position. So that will be an exciting thing for us to take a look at this spring. You've got some great depth at that position. Unlike some of our other areas where we don't have quite the numbers that we'd like yet. But the offensive line, the right side of the line should be an interesting battle for us, the cornerback position.
We have a 10‑coach emphasis now as it relates to our special teams. We have nine assistants and a head coach involved in special teams, so working through that and shoring up some deficiencies that we had last year, we will do that in the spring. So a number of things going on that make it exciting.
Year One it's the typical learn the names of the players, begin to implement your schemes; Year Two, try to develop that depth in the units; and I think for me in Year Three it's a comfortable feeling that I know my football team very well going into year three. Building those relationships with your players, understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a team, and now having by and large put in the schemes offensively and defensively and special teams, this should be, for me, very exciting, and I know it will be exciting for our coaches and our staff, and I know all of our players in Year Three.
And again, some great, exciting competition, as well. So for the next month, our players get an opportunity to go out and play the game of football, and it'll be competitive. There will be contact. They'll be spirited, and again, from my perspective, should be a very, very exciting spring.
It always ends up the right way, too, with a Blue-Gold Game that is going to be played on television this year on the NBC Sports Network, and that's always exciting, as well, and we know how that game is going to end up, so that makes it even more fun.
Oh, one other announcement. The fifth‑year players have been granted their eligibility, and those six players are‑‑ do you guys know them? I'll go through them then. We start with (John) Goodman and then we have (Mike) Golic and we have (Braxston) Cave, then we're going to go to Kap (Lewis-Moore), and we've got (Danny) McCarthy. That's five. And we've got one more. Jamoris Slaughter. So there's the six guys right there, and we're good to go. Those are all the public service announcements I had for today.
Q: How is the quarterback competition going to set up, be arranged and all that this spring?
BK: Well, you know, I think it's important that if they're all going to get an equal opportunity to compete for the position that they all have to start with a very similar knowledge base. We've kind of taken a step back and really looked at our offensive structure, and we're going to make it so all four of the guys that are here can compete at a fair level, because Tommy (Rees) has got the best knowledge base. But if we started the spring with page 50 of the playbook, Tommy would be ahead of everybody. So not to put him at a disadvantage but to give it an equal footing for all, we've kind of scaled it back, so the spring, it's going to give all the quarterbacks, including a midyear in Gunner (Kiel) and of course the two young guys, an opportunity to truly compete for the position.
I don't have a timetable or a timeline, other than it's important that all four of them get an opportunity to, No. 1, understand the offense and run it effectively instead of just defaulting back on a knowledge base; and then No. 2, to have that opportunity to get first‑team reps. So I think that that's important. That allows them a fair opportunity to compete.
Q. Is it your standard open competition? Do you kind of not go into it saying this is our starter?
BK: Yeah, that's why I did that, in terms of making the offense such that any one of the guys can run it, because if I came in two years into it and started to at that level, Tommy would be ahead of everybody by the knowledge base, and so we wanted to make sure that everybody, without taking away what Tommy has learned, Tommy has also had an opportunity to develop in the program physically and get stronger and all of those things. So we feel like it'll be open and fair competition for all the quarterbacks.
Q. Can you talk about where you are injury wise going into spring practice?
BK: Our shoulder guys have been cleared, and that's (Anthony) Rabasa was one of our shoulder guys, and Tate Nichols, those guys are cleared. As you know, Chase Hounshell had surgery later, so he is not cleared to go yet, though he is way ahead of schedule, and he'll be involved in some form of spring practice, certainly not at the level of those two that have been cleared. So I start with the shoulder injuries.
You know, in terms of other surgeries, I think Cam Roberson is still progressing. He'll play a little bit in the spring. He'll get to do some things. He's still not at 100 percent, but he'll be involved in the spring drills.
Kap is cleared to go. He has no restrictions, and he'll be able to compete in all the drills. And again, we'll be careful with him. We're not going to put him in there for, grind him out. We'll be very smart with Kap. And Braxston Cave is doing very well, to the point where, what we want to be careful with him is that we don't put him in a position where he really has to stress that foot early on, but he's moving well. He'll be out there doing a lot of non‑contact drills with the hope and the possibility that maybe he even plays in the spring game. But he's made really good progress, as well.
Q. Is Amir Carlisle okay?
BK: Amir suffered a broken ankle in a non‑contact drill last week. Actually it was in our voluntary seven on seven, so he'll be out for the spring. But nothing structurally major to the point where we're concerned about him. He'll be ready to go for June when we come back for our summer conditioning program.
Q. At the quarterback spot, what's going to constitute a good spring, a productive spring for you as a coach in terms of evaluating that position? I'm assuming that the competition is going to go well into August.
Q. What do you want to get out of it in the next four weeks?
BK: You know, I think a couple of things. One, the ball comes out of the quarterback's hand and good decisions are made. As you know, we threw way too many interceptions last year for me to be comfortable with. I'm not used to seeing that kind of turnover rate, and it certainly affected our win‑loss record. The ball coming out in a timely fashion, coming out accurately, and then good decisions being made with the football.
And you know that as well as I do that those decisions were magnified in the red zone. So it'll be safe to say that we'll be active down in the short field areas, as well, and we'll be looking at good decisions but aggressive decisions, as well. I don't want them to have to tuck it and run every time because they're afraid to make a mistake.
I'll be looking for those kinds of things with the quarterbacks, getting the ball out timely, accurately, making good decisions, and I think the only way we could do it really was to kind of scale it back a little bit. So we went back to some real basic tenets of the position and how I want it played, and we're going to see that in the spring. I think it'll give us a good, clear indicator.
I think the other thing is the ability to make plays outside the traditional call of the play. Making a play here or there that is not the initial read. We were - an incredible statistic we looked at is that when we did not have a negative play within our drive, we scored at an incredible rate. It was in the 90s. When we had a negative play within our offense, whether it be a minus play relative to a penalty, sack, we know about turnovers, then obviously our effectiveness was decreased to a level that I couldn't even give you the numbers, they're so bad.
So we'll be looking at the quarterback in terms of his ability to look at zero being a good play at times.
Q. Is that kind of a way to say mobility, you're trying to find a more mobile option?
BK: I don't think so. I didn't intend for it to sound that way. Tony Pike, for example, in Cincinnati was not the most mobile of quarterbacks. He was long, he was lanky, but he was a good decision maker. He made good decisions. He kept plays alive, kept his eyes downfield.
So if you look at the quarterbacks, we don't think that any one of them necessarily has to be electric, but they have to be able to keep plays alive with their feet at times, and I call that escapability. You mentioned mobility. Maybe they're the same word, but they've got to be able to keep plays alive.
Q. A position switch, Troy Niklas to tight end, what does that say about the tight end position and what does that say about outside linebacker?
BK: I think it says more about what we're looking for in terms of the depth of the positions. We feel like we're pretty good at the outside linebacker position that we had the ability to make that move. We certainly couldn't make it unless we felt comfortable with our outside backer position. And as you know, we increased that depth by playing another safety at that position, as well.
So if you're looking at the depth chart, you're including outside linebacker, maybe some safety into that, where we increase the numbers dramatically. We felt like he's a young man we want to get on the field, and it gives us a lot more flexibility with Tyler Eifert. Now you could possibly see him moving to a number of different positions.
So I think it increases our flexibility on offense in terms of what we can do, and we felt pretty good about our depth, so I'm sure that coach (Bob) Diaco would stand in front of you right now and bang on the table that he did not want to lose Troy Niklas, but I felt as the head coach that was in the best interest of our term.
Q. I know DaVaris Daniels is a guy that's got a pretty big opportunity this spring. Talk about the off‑season he's had and what you want to see from him over the next month.
BK: I think of our top testing numbers, he probably tested out at tops in the skill position, ahead of guys like Cierre Wood, ahead of guys like Theo Riddick. His numbers are off the charts in terms of vertical jump. He tested comparable to a number of the wide receivers at the NFL combine. He's got great numbers. Now, those are numbers. He hasn't done anything. He hasn't caught a pass in a game, hasn't caught a touchdown pass. So we know he's got the physical ability, now we've got to be able to see that translate, and it's time for him to do it.
We were able to move him slowly last year, it's time for him to go, and this spring will be that opportunity, and we all feel very confident in his ability to come in and impact our offense.
Q. As you're going through the quarterback competition, how do you keep the offense evolving and growing while you're doing that?
BK: Yeah, I think that's a very good question. We clearly believe that we've got enough plays, that we've got enough answers. Growing and evolving for us will clearly be about taking care of the football from an offensive standpoint. We believe we have the ability to run it and throw it. It was clearly centered around the negative plays on the offensive side of the ball. I don't think anybody, when they saw our offense running effectively, looked at it and go, ‘Wow, this is an offense that needs more work.’ It is certainly an offense that can be effective at the BCS level and help us win a championship. It can't be, from what we saw in terms of turning the ball over.
So in answer to your question specifically, the growth of our offense is going to be in managing it and taking care of the football, not turning it over, and that will be a big focus for the spring.
Q. Matthias Farley looks like he moved over to defense.
BK: He's playing safety.
Q. What's your thought with that?
BK: Well, we thought initially that he was going to be at the safety position, but our numbers were so low at wide receiver last year that we had to take a load, and we had an idea that we were going to red shirt him - excuse me, that he was not going to play this year, that we weren't going to get him on the field this year. So we needed some help at the wide receiver position, just to keep the reps off of some of the front line guys.
Q. How do you feel about the new special teams rules, the kickoffs and the touchbacks and all that? How is that going to affect you?
BK: Well, it's been something that we've given great thought, and we're actually going to have to look at it. Some of the things that I think early on jump out at us is you may think moving it up to the 35 (yard line) might be the first indicator, and certainly it is, but it's that five‑yard rule. We were at 11 yards with our deepest players running to time up the kickoffs. So we've got to see from a static position at five yards what that looks like. And of course we'll experiment. We'll have a guy at 11 yards and one at five, and we'll see where that wall now takes us in terms of the separation.
It might be that we look to get more hang time on our kickoffs than per se kicking it out, because now you start on the 25. Though that's not a big deal. We looked at the numbers. The starting possession from the 20 to the 25 did not signal for us a big upturn in scoring opportunity. So the 20 to 25 not a big deal for us right now. What we're looking at more than anything else is that change in terms of timing up the kickoff.
Q. Prince Shembo, does he flip over to the cat or does he stay a drop linebacker for you?
BK: Well, that's a good question. I think he gives us a lot of flexibility at both because he's got a lot of reps in him at the drop position. But certainly he's somebody that we want to be able to get on the field, and I think we're going to take a look at him at both positions and see where he fits in and settles in. I think you'll see we're going to try to move him and get him into the best position, and that's really what spring is about for us.
Q. You said that if you started on page 50 of the playbook with the quarterbacks, Tommy would have a huge edge. What page do you start on in the secondary with your two corners gone and your leader in Harrison Smith?
BK: Yeah, well, I think there's a feeling of comfort with Jamoris and Zeke (Motta). We've got guys that have got a lot of reps back there, add (Austin) Collinsworth who played a lot of nickel and dime for us, we feel pretty good back there. Certainly going to be a cornerback position, and we're not going to put them in very tough positions. We're going to ask them to defend the post, and we'll rally to some plays on the perimeter.
But I think you're absolutely right; when you're bringing in two new corners, I think it's safe to say that we're going to obviously let them ease into it. And like anything else, we'll give them more as they show that we're confident in their ability to do it. But Bennett (Jackson) and Lo (Wood) have some experience, but certainly come in as the starting two corners. We've moved Cam McDaniel over there at the cornerback position, so Cam will be in there with Jalen and Josh Atkinson. That's really your five‑man rotation. There's nobody coming in on a white horse. Those are the five guys. We can't trade for anybody, and so those five guys are going to be what we rely on at the cornerback position.
Q. So there's no plan for any incoming freshman to be positioned at corner?
BK: No, not at this time. Not at this time. We moved Cam McDaniel over there to feel more comfortable with somebody that we'd get a chance to work with in the spring, then have somebody come in from camp. Now, could we move somebody in camp, certainly, but if we have an eye towards the fall, it'll be the guys that were in this room last night at our team meeting that are going to impact that position more so than maybe a freshman.
But I wouldn't rule out that we couldn't move somebody there, but I feel more comfortable as the head coach that we get a chance to work with somebody in the spring than throw somebody in there in camp.
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