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September 4, 2012

Kelly Q&A: Sept. 4

Brian Kelly broke down Purdue during his Tuesday teleconference, talked the team’s cornerback play and wanted no part of talking about Notre Dame’s homefield advantage. Read the full transcript.

Brian Kelly: We start Purdue week in earnest. Got a good football team to prepare for. Again, I think everybody has talked about how our team will bounce back from the trip to Ireland. We had a great shakeout yesterday. Our guys had good energy and today we'll have a full two‑hour practice. My own eyes, talking to our players, no excuses. We feel great. We think the plan that we have put in place over the long term has really worked out quite well, so we can focus strictly on playing the ballgame.

And as I mentioned with Purdue, a team that went to a bowl game last year, won its bowl game, is an opponent that obviously is an in‑state rival. There’s a lot of bragging rights, a lot of emotion attached to it. So we know what we are going to get. Very stealth defensive line. Obviously (Kawann) Short and (Bruce) Gaston are two very, very good defensive linemen, as good as we are going to see during the year.

I think offensively, (Robert) Marve was in there, (Caleb) TerBush led their offense late in the year. I think everybody knows he was pretty efficient with the football. He's big, he's physical. They combine that with a big offensive line. Skilled receivers, like all of their receivers, they are all quality players.

So again, as it relates to our opponent, we respect Purdue. We know them as somebody that's going to play great football against us, and our attention is on ourselves. And the attention focuses squarely on the things that we have to do better. We were pleased with the win against Navy, there's no question about that. We played the game that I wanted to play. We won it up front and we took care of the football by and large.
           
The game plan for Navy was executed by our players and there will be a new game plan this week and there will be one for Michigan State and Oklahoma and BYU, and as we move through each week, we'll get challenged in different areas. You know, that's why I respect Purdue, I respect coach (Danny) Hope and the work that they have done; a bowl team last year, a physical, Big Ten team.

But really the focus for me is the head coach at Notre Dame is on our guys this week and what we have to improve upon, and as I mentioned, there's a number of areas that we have got to do a lot of work on this week to get ready for Purdue.

Q: Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue, Ball State, all have had player suspensions the first couple of games. Are you seeing in the first 20 years of coaching anything out of the ordinary with a growing number of suspensions? And add to that, is there something that the NCAA needs to do to allow the coaches to have more direct contact with the players in the summertime that you think might prohibit so many suspensions?

BK: Well, I don't know that it’s geographically based relative to suspensions. I think what we are seeing is that we have a game that is out there in the public eye. It’s out there on TV 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Information is readily available for everybody, and the standards are higher. The stakes are higher. So it's important that all programs make certain that their players represent their programs and universities in the highest degree.

I don't know that that is an easy answer in the sense that if the NCAA gave us more time with our guys. I don't think I would be sleeping in their rooms. I think it still is incumbent upon recruiting the guys that have the character traits necessary and if they don't, to make sure that you provide them an opportunity to grow as individuals.

Q: You said there's a list of things that you've identified as areas you need to improve on. Can you elaborate specifically for us what you're targeting this week?

BK: Well, I don't know that I want to get too specific other than the fact that it is one game and we did some things very well. I think turning the ball over is unacceptable at any level.

I think defensively, we are now going to enter into a different plan. And so prepare for options for the last two or three weeks, and now you go into your entire defensive mode and fronts and different coverages, nickel, dime, all that has to be worked through this week.

I don't know if there's an alarm that I'm trying to set off relative to, ‘Hey, keep an eye on it, we are in big trouble here.’ I don't believe in that. There were a lot of things we were not able to do defensively that were part of our plan that we need to get to work on.

And then offensively, again, a lot of young players playing. A lot of great film to watch, a lot of teaching. So teaching and installation, those are the big factors this week, getting ready for Purdue.

Q: Because Navy is such a unique open, are you guys maybe a little further along in the general kind of identity of your team than you might otherwise be because you spent so much time focusing on the specifics the last couple of weeks?  Does that make sense?

BK: I think each game definitely brings to the forefront some of the things that you perceive to be your strengths. Now I think I said all along that I felt like our front seven is going to be as good as anybody and that our strength on the offense was the offensive line and I think that was validated through the Navy game and that's it. That's all that was validated. There are so many other pieces that we have to bring together for us to be 2‑0.

Q: What's Everett Golson done through one game and where do you feel he's at?

BK: Oh, there's so many things that he has to improve upon, but they are items that we feel really confident that he already has a good grasp on and will continue to evolve and then there are things that we have to continue to work on with him on a day‑to‑day basis.

This is a process for Everett. This will be a continuation week‑to‑week of growing as a quarterback. I guess what I like the most in the big picture sense was his comfortable place out on the field. He did not seem overwhelmed at any time. He was extremely communicative when he got to the sideline. He could tell me what was going on. Those are all big picture, good things, after game one.

Q: Can you provide an update status with Danny Spond, Tate Nichols, Amir Carlisle and how they are preparing for Purdue?

BK: I think those are the three, obviously (Austin) Collinsworth is out, probably for the season. So we don't have to go through him each week.

Tate Nichols will go through some individual work today. He will not be involved in any team. Last week he put a bar on his shoulder for the first time and he was in the weight room. So he now enters that next stage of reengaging, if you will, in football‑related activities. But he would not be available to us this weekend. Amir Carlisle has been cleared to practice today and so he will be part of our practice rotation. And Danny Spond has been cleared for everything but physical contact. We believe if things go well this week, that he'll be cleared for next week, and again, it's contingent upon how he progresses through this week.

Q: You had mentioned Ronnie Stanley the third tackle. Is that over Nick Martin?

BK: No, it's really more 3 A and 3 B. If there was an injury on the left side, Ronnie would be the first one in; if there was an injury on the right side, then Nick would be the first one in. They are both No. 3 as a sense in that they would be the next man in, depending if it was right or left.

Q: The safety position seems like a logjam, so many bodies, Matthias Farley, Jamoris Slaughter, can you talk about that?

BK: It will be a process for all of those safeties in terms of developing them. We were pleased with Matthias and his first collegiate experience, close to the ball, involved in the action every play. We were really pleased. He's a young man that's really growing as a football player. But as you know, we got a number of young, talented players that we need to continue to work.

Nicky Baratti, (Eilar) Hardy, we had a number of guys that played limited roles in special teams, but important roles. We'll continue to do that. So each and every week, you're going to see their names popping up and as they continue to grow and develop, hopefully we get a chance to see them play more and more.

Q: And just as far as the No. 2 quarterback, is it pretty much even?

BK: I mean, I think both of them have to get some work. But Tommy (Rees) probably needs the most work at this time. So you know, we'll continue ‑‑ both those guys will share reps. But it will be, for me, probably more about making sure that we get Tommy up to a level where, you know, he can be sharp if he's in a position where he had to go into the game, and I don't know if he's got enough work yet. He'll get work at 2 as well as Andrew (Hendrix) and we'll see how that progresses during the week.

Q: So if Everett got hurt, you don't have a, who is the first man in?

BK: No, not yet.

Q: Didn't face a ton of adversity; but you had to be pleased with how your team responded to its first adversity of the season after Navy scored to open the second half?

BK: I would agree with you, but it goes to your leadership, especially the guys up front when you're looking at (Zack) Martin and (Chris) Watt and (Braxston) Cave and (Mike) Golic and those guys have been there, done that. I think it says a lot about the maturity and the leadership that we have on the football team. And certainly, we have built a lot of resolve over last few years and our guys know that they are going to have to overcome. We talk about every day, you're going to have to overcome some adversity, they took the challenge and it was good to see.

Q: On the broadcast, one comment was that you had seen the way Stanford did things with their two tight ends and that you felt like with Alex Welch being out, you used a ton of two tight ends and you'll continue to do that. But what you saw from Stanford and how you felt like you could apply that to your style of offense.

BK: I don't know where that came from quite honestly. I think what I was talking about is I would love to have Andrew Luck, but he was already taken. I don't know the genesis of that was. I can tell you that, you know, the utilization of two tight ends it makes the tight ends cleaner from last year, guys that were targeted as first‑round draft picks, you have to utilize them. And so they did a great job of utilizing tight ends. We have got some depth at that position. We had better do a good job of utilizing them as well.

Q: The comment, that Everett came to you at one point last year and said what do I have to do to get better, and you gave him a copy, must have been the spring, and you gave him a copy of Robert Griffin's Heisman Trophy speech. Can you speak to that?
           
BK: What I talked about was that playing the quarterback position at Notre Dame is more than just what you do on the field. And I used Robert Griffin as a great example as an ambassador of college football, and I said, listen, all you have to do is take a look at his Heisman acceptance speech and how he was able to articulate his experience and how it was more than just playing the game. And so that was kind of the genesis of the conversation. We didn't come in here and throw on the Heisman acceptance speech and sit down with popcorn.

Q: Davonte' Neal, your impression of how he handled his first duty as the punt returner.

BK: Like we thought, a little apprehensive, at first. Settled down as the game wore on, and he's going to get better and better. He's a very gifted athlete. So it's just a matter of time. He'll settle in the role. He has a great deal of confidence in his ability. He will not be shaken at all, but he's a freshman and it's going to take him a couple of games.

Q: The one punt that bounced and ran real hard by, do you want him to stick his nose in there and try to make that?

BK: Well, it's a good question … there was a directional wind and that ball, in our opinion, should have been caught at first. And as we watched it, it really was affected. It came down quickly. We would like to field that football in most instances. There are going somebody some times where it's going to take a different track, and just be smart, make sure we don't turn the ball over.

Q: What was on Stephon Tuiit's off‑season checklist to go from freshman to every day guy?

BK: The only word I remember him using was dominate; dominate in the classroom, which he did in the summer, over 3.5. Everything he did, he wanted to be the very defendant. When we ran 350’s, which is some of our summer workouts, each group works individually by their position group and each one has a time, and as you can imagine, the O‑line are a higher time than maybe the DBs.

He was running with the DBs. He's been on this mission of, whatever it is, and it's not just football, it's everything in his life. It's film study, last night, he's in there film studying, taking notes, and I think just a very, very driven young man right now.

Q: He came in, what was his strength when he came in, how much was sort of natural to him and how much did you guys amplify?

BK: Very raw, obviously. Not knowing what he was capable of. We thought we knew what he was capable of. So I think a lot of that has to do with confidence in being here for a year and seeing how he could excel, not only on the football field but at Notre Dame and in the classroom.

And then once you see that, and sense it and feel it, then that fire is lit. And the fire is lit with him to dominate and be the best at everything he does.

Q: The media schedule, less days of player access what was the thinking behind that set up?

BK: Not much thinking. There wasn't a grand scheme to protect anybody as much as, I wanted to make sure that our players were focused. Their schedule is so long in terms of their academics and study table and all those things. We wanted to streamline it the best we could.

Q: Assistants?

BK: Same thing. They are 90 hours a week here, and I really felt like, for me, I could take a lot of that off their plate so they could focus strictly on at the end of the day, our preparation.

Q: Looked like Cam McDaniel got nicked up in the fourth quarter. Is he back to full health?

BK: No, not yet. But he will be. We expect him to play on Saturday. I think any Tuesday, any back that's run the ball up inside is not going to feel his best, but he'll be able to answer the bell when it's time.

Q: It looked like Cam had a pretty solid game; that what you expected?

BK: Yeah, we knew what we had with Cam, very solid player, that can play on either side of the ball, you know that you have a good football player there, smart, tough, runs hard as you saw. Really important player on our football team. Can do a little bit of everything.

Q: Wanted to also ask about Ishaq Williams, looked like he had a pretty good breakout game. Is he the type of guy that can replace the sort of speed that you lose with Aaron Lynch?

BK: We don't spend much time thinking about who we don't have, but I will say that his development has been such that it's already put him in a position to be on the field and pass rush in situations but we saw that this spring. The Navy game did not bring that to our attention.

I just think, again, you have a similar situation that you have with Stephon, too. Here is a young man now who is very comfortable with Notre Dame and knows what to expect on a day‑to‑day basis and now can really cut it loose on the football field, as will some of those other freshmen who are a little apprehensive now, they are going to get comfortable here. And when they do and when they can let their athletic ability speak, I think you'll see a rise in their play.

Q: We talked in the spring about Ishaq getting more comfortable. When is he ready to get past being at Notre Dame and be ready?

BK: I don't know if there's a particular day. It's when is your son mature enough to make sure he doesn't wreck the car? It's just one of those times that's sometimes never I guess. And maybe that is for players, as well. But there's a maturity that just comes with being here and getting older and growing up and hearing the same message. I will say this, the expectations have been high and he is starting to meet those. He is nowhere near he needs to be. It has to be a consistent thing for him but he's making good progress.

Q: A lot of freshmen in the game this week but a lot more freshmen got action this weekend. Are guys more prepared than they used to be coming in to play as 18‑year‑olds?

BK: I really don't know if that's the case, meaning that they are more prepared now. There's certainly more training. There's attention to the physical end of things relative to being prepared. I just think that certain classes have needs; that freshmen need to come in and help you with. We had some needs at those particular skill positions.

Q: Just in a broader area with pass rush, you were not going against a conventional offense and there was some passing. Can you evaluate the pass rush from the front seven and moving forward the potential of this group.

BK: It's so difficult. You saw, (Navy quarterback Trey) Miller was scrambling for every throw. He never was comfortable taking a three‑step drop except for maybe one or two passes. Hard to evaluate. I think we saw this things that we liked in terms of the push that we got from Stephon and Ishaq and (Prince) Shembo, kinds of what we expected. It will be a totally different evaluation when you go against Purdue and Michigan and Michigan State. That's going to give us a clear indication of that pass rush.

Q: With Tommy just having been in the individual periods, do you even have a sense of where he is in terms of improvement from the spring?

BK: I do. I do. I have a sense; we are pleased with it, or we wouldn't move him into a position where he could get some reps as a backup. We saw some of the things that we wanted in terms of ball security and good decision making, and we'll continue to work on that. But Tommy is a very valuable player to our program. He's got a lot of experience, and we are happy to have him.

Q: Everett and Andrew both talked about his value to them in helping them with their development, and he even went so far to say, not sure if this is the same thing or situation but was just effusive in his praise, can you talk about what you saw?

BK: Young man who really handled himself very well in a very tough set of circumstances. I think we all know that. You know, he was a great teammate, that's all I would tell you. He was a great teammate. He handled himself the right way.

Q: You've been invested in trying to change the home atmosphere; what would you still like to see …

BK: No way. No way. I went to a Catholic school with the nuns that had the rulers, okay. I'm not going to get hit with a ruler again. (Laughter). I think it's up to me to provide a better atmosphere in that stadium. We win games, it will be nice and loud. Thank you, nice try.

Q: Jumping to 22 in the poll this week, is that something you pay attention to, or is it white noise?

BK: White noise. White noise, yeah.

Q: Taking nothing away from your offense, but do you see any difference with what Harry Hiestand was able to do with them in terms of their performance this past week?

BK: Yeah, I would never go as far as say it's an offensive line coach, we have got a collective group of guys. Now, Harry is an outstanding offensive line coach and I am so pleased to have him with us. Players love playing for him. This is a collective group of guys that are physically stronger, they are more seasoned and they play very well together as a unit. It's as good as I've seen, in a very short, you know, boom what we've done, this is one game; we have a long way to go. I like the way the group plays together. They are not a group that one guy is not on the same page with the others. I think that's, for me, after week one, well coached, they have got a great room in terms of that offensive line dynamic, it's outstanding with players and coaches. And then I think you've really got some veterans and a very good unit working together.

Q: Did you sense that your running backs maybe appreciated that with being able to hit the hole a little more aggressively knowing that that hole was going to be where it was designed to be?

BK: Well, we were obviously in more direct snap, more downhill runs; if you're in the shotgun, you're more east and west. I think our backs responded. I thought Theo Riddick ran extremely hard, physical. I think George is getting there and we know his ability to hit daylight. So I would say, it starts with, we are in a lot more direct snaps, and those kids ran really, really hard and physical. And we'll continue to mix that in. Doesn't mean we are not going to run the shotgun, we are. We'll be able to feature both of those. But it's nice to have the ability to be able to say we have backs that will run downhill and we'll run physical.

Q: Is that a comfort thing for Theo that he was running that the whole off‑season camp?

BK: Yeah, and if you look at it, and a lot of carries for a guy that really, that was his real first, competitive four quarters of football, I guess three quarters of football. And so he was obviously excited about the opportunity. I just think that we all can see that he's very comfortable at the position.

Q: You touched on the quarterbacks earlier; can you compare can contrast TerBush and Marve a little bit?

BK: They will run the quarterback more with TerBush than Marve. They will move the pocket more. Marve is a very good football player, (Rob) Henry, as well was a starter there before he hurt his knee. So you've got three very capable quarterbacks, and they do some things different. We'll attack the game plan knowing that we'll have to defend all, but TerBush will definitely be more involved in the running game than Marve was.

Q: And on the other side, their cornerbacks, very good experience, just talk about the experience they pose.

BK: Yeah, I think you put it right. These are two guys that have a lot of snaps, a lot of experience. They are extremely athletic and we're going to have to do a very good job of competing for the football and blocking them as well, because we are going to be involved in that process. So yeah, if you look at their defense, certainly like their front four ‑‑ and I think the two corners have a lot of experience.

Q: With Manti Te’o, surprising that it was his first pick, his first fumble recovery. Is that the next step of his game or have you guys just not really asked him to make those kind of plays in the past?

BK: No, he's been in positions to make those plays. I think you're seeing a guy that's going to make those plays now. We were doing some things in coverage and he helped the run with the No. 3 vertically later in the game, and did a great job. He's always been very good in pass coverage. And I think he just got his opportunity. Sometimes you're just not in the right place at the right time. We were very confident for him to be on the field this third down situations. We never take him off the field. Yeah, I just think he got his and he's going to get more.

Q: With Ishaq, going back to high school, very reserved and quiet; he seemed like a different kid on Saturday. Can you coach on body language, or is that just how a kid is wired?

BK: I would go back to my original response. Just he's grown up. He's a kid; Brooklyn, New York, he's in a very dynamic atmosphere where on a day‑to‑day basis, he's got to bring his A Game, in the classroom, in the dorms, in the football program. And I think it just happens naturally that you're going to mature because you see that those standards are set for you. And I think coach (Bob) Diaco has done a great job of mentoring him, as well. I think there's a great relationship there of trust, and I think coach has done a great job of bringing him up along the way. It's what you expect from young guys. You want to see them take that next step. I think we are seeing him take that next step.

Q: You probably will have a better read on your secondary after Purdue, but what did you see from Bennett Jackson after a second look?

BK: Solid tackler. It's so hard, because you're defending man‑to‑man, essentially, on double and triple moves. So you look like a center fielder that's had to back up looking for a baseball,  it's hard because you're not on your back pedal, it's not as structured. What we liked about them is the discipline. There are fundamental and technical areas we have to improve on. Very disciplined. Didn't cut guys loose. We slipped on the line of scrimmage on the long play against KeiVarae Russell, all of the technical things. From a big picture standpoint we leave the game knowing that those guys are going to be able to play our system.

Q: The turnover margin, how do you coach it?

BK: Oh, man, every day, you're talking about it. Every day, it's in your individual drills. You're trying to strip the ball loose. You're talking about taking the ball away. Our opening drill, and you've all been there (at practice last month), for our defense, we are trying to rip the ball loose. So you've got to coach it, you've got to talk about it, and then you've got to hope that your players, when presented with the situation, carry that coaching and teaching on. And then, get a couple good breaks.

Well, we had three fumble recoveries on the Navy game. We had six all of last year, so it starts off pretty good.

Q: Week one to week two, coaching cliché there, but what are you looking for?

BK: It's all about our development this week as a football team going into week two. There's so many things that we have to do defensively relative to getting back to traditional offensive sets and coverages and nickel and dime and all those things, and from an offensive standpoint, we are playing now a team that matches up more physically with us. There's so many other things that we have to bring to the table from an offensive standpoint. So we'll work on all of those things this week.

Q: Preparing for Navy, does that help or hurt preparing for a more traditional passing team this week?

BK: No, we did a lot of work before we transitioned over to Navy. So full installation, two weeks, plus spring ball, is all based upon, you know, working against us offensively, and obviously we have an offense that can move the ball around the field from an offensive passing. And then we'll work on that, you know, more this week. But no, they are well prepared to make the transition.





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