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October 6, 2013

Kelly Q&A: Oct. 6

QUESTION: Housekeeping, can you give us the full rundown on both (junior linebacker) Jarrett (Grace) and (senior receiver) Daniel (Smith)?

BRIAN KELLY: Jarrett had surgery this morning in Dallas. They put a rod in his leg for the fibula fracture. He'll spend the next couple of nights there, just talked to him, got off the phone. His spirits are good. That's a process that could take four to six months. Obviously, a big loss for us, but we've got a senior in Dan Fox who will step in at that position.

Danny Smith will have surgery once the swelling goes down. He's got a substantial amount of swelling in that ankle. It did suffer a fracture. Once the swelling goes down, he'll have surgery this week.

Q: At linebacker, you've got the (seniors) Carlo (Calabrese) and Dan Fox, sort of tried and true veterans. Does the depth there become a concern? How do you manage that moving forward?

BK: Certainly, you're losing somebody that we had counted on as a starter. Now your defense or your depth -- and that wasn't an area with a lot of experience -- so (senior) Kendall Moore is going to have to obviously play. (Junior Joe) Schmidt is going to have to play for us. Those two guys are going to be counted on now. We'll obviously look at (freshman) Michael Deeb. Those three guys we'll have to activate them over the bye week, start to get all three of those guys in terms of being in the depth.

Q: I'm curious, you talked a bit last night about the rapport between (seniors quarterback) Tommy (Rees) and (receiver) TJ (Jones). It seems like it would be a different rapport than between Tommy and (former tight end) Tyler (Eifert), just because Tyler's bigger, but in some ways is it kind of the same? There's not much drop-off, just exchanging a six-foot-six guy for a six-foot-one guy?

BK: I think that's a fair assessment. I think it's also a familiar guy that they've worked so much together. Time and place in the game, location, where we put him, all those things. I think really Tommy feels comfortable knowing where he's going to be, getting in and out of his breaks. Some of the younger guys at times there's not that certainty of where they're going to be sometimes in press coverage.

One thing TJ does is he gets people off him, because they respect his ability to get over the top easily. Not that the other guys can't do that, but I guess to come back to your original question, it would still be, these guys have been together for four years, and TJ's been the guy. And he sees that in terms of going to him.

Q: How do you balance how you get some people rest and healed up during the bye week versus maybe trying to tweak some things in your scheme or with your personnel?

BK: I think the first thing we have to address is those guys that we're going to be counting on in the next six weeks. They're going to have to get some work this week. I don't think we need to see anything more from (senior nose guard) Louis Nix. We don't need to get more reps from Dan Fox or Carlo Calabrese, or even TJ Jones, but (junior receiver DaVaris) Daniels has got to get more work. (Freshman running back Tarean) Folston has to get more work. (Junior offensive lineman) Nick Martin has to get more work. We'll balance it by those guys that need to continue to work their skills and get better at their positions, versus those guys that need some rest.

I'll take it as our practice we'll work those guys that need to continue to get some more work and we'll look at those guys that need some time off to really get healthy.

Q: I know you like to coach by feel during the game rather than scripting everything. As far as the complementary quarterback concept of (senior) Andrew (Hendrix), you were able to get a first down out of it. Is it something that you still picture carrying forward or do you think that that won't be necessary moving forward?

BK: I would like to. The game was a hard game to put Andrew in because of the very complex pressures coming from different locations. We didn't want to get caught in a bad situation where we could protect potentially be in a blitz position and expose Andrew. It got very complicated because there was a blitz or pressure virtually every down. Then in the second half they went three-down and mixed up a lot of pressures. It really was more of the way they game was going than it was anything Andrew Hendrix did

I want to continue pushing that and keep working him and keep him as part of the game plan each and every week.

Q: As far as Michael Deeb is concerned, can you talk about what you've seen from him in practice, and, also, do you commit to putting him in the game just to get his feet wet, or do you wait until circumstances kind of push you to do that?

BK: You know, I'm still kind of putting that together in my own mind and I'll talk to coach (Bob) Diaco about it a little bit more in detail in the next day or so. Kendall Moore is really the next man in, and then Michael.

Dan Fox has played a lot at Will, too, so now you're changing the volume of reps at the Will linebacker position for Carlo. So there's a couple of factors that we have to figure out really before I can give you a real good answer to your question.

Q: Just because he's a local kid, too, can you just comment on Daniel Smith's career? He's had a lot of bad luck, but just what he's meant to your program.

BK: I'll tell you, we talked about it after the game. It was pretty emotional at half‑time. We mentioned Danny at halftime, and there was a lot of emotion in the locker room.

Usually don't use a "win one for the Gipper" talk, and I don't want to equate it in those terms, but generally speaking, we talked about losing Danny and in particular that he probably wasn't going to play again. There was a lot of emotion in the locker room, because they love Danny Smith and what he's done for our program as a dedicated player for NotreDame. He loves NotreDame, and we've seen him grow as a person and as a player and he's going to be sorely missed.

So I would say that his impact is a local player that was on a 12‑0, undefeated regular season team, and he's left an impact on our younger receivers as to how to work every single day and how to handle himself both on and off the field.

Q: You mentioned last night about how you're feeling about already about the defense. How much better do you feel about it after seeing how they played last night?

BK: I wasn't doing jumping jacks. I guess all I was saying was that I felt our defense was playing well enough for us to win, and I still feel that way.

There are things that we have to continue to improve on. Nobody was happy with the last drive. Coach Diaco was not happy. Our players were not happy. But we think there are things that we can take from it. It's the first time we saw a team that actually wanted to get back there and try to throw a comprehensive passing game and we were able to get some pressure.

We were opportunistic in turnovers and I thought we did a very good job in‑‑ again, obviously they couldn't run the football against us. So those are all basic, important tenets of playing good defense.

So I think those continue to show themselves week‑in and week‑out and if you do that, you've got a chance to win each game that you play. I'm not saying that, you know, we've got a spectacular defense, but we have a solid defense that is getting better week‑in and week‑out.

Q: (Junior defensive lineman) Stephon Tuitt, is he one of the guys that you rest this week or is he somebody that you get more work from?

BK: He needs rest. I've said this before: The surgery that he had has affected his back, it's affected his hip flexors. He's really struggled with‑‑ some people dismiss it and say, well, you know, you just had minor surgery. Well, it's affected a lot of things. This is a big man, and you know, he's really struggled all week with back tightness. He missed a day of practice because his back locked up.

You know, we've got to be careful with Stephon. This week we'll work on technique, but we are going to make sure that he's healthy for us going into USC.

Q: In college football, obviously every week is important, but it seems like it's a pretty big swing between being 4‑2 and 3‑3. What's the mood of the team do you think, and how important is it to go into a bye week with a victory?

BK: For our guys, winning‑‑ they know how difficult it is to win, and when you're on a stretch of games that they were on, and they knew a bye week was coming up, it was a very important game for them, and they understood the significance of winning, and they clearly knew the difference between 4‑2 and 3‑3 going into a bye week.

They are feeling pretty good. You know, again, I think the most important thing for them is they now look at it as a six‑game schedule and they have got to be perfect for six weeks.

Q: I know you said that getting better every week is what the goal is, but I imagine it's important to‑‑ you can't ‑‑ winning the National Championship is probably a tough chore now, but the BCS bowl is still alive. I'm sure that helps keep the team focused.

BK: Yeah, I guess. I really‑‑ I've got to tell you, I don't know that we even really have that in our mind‑set as much as the guys want to win football games on Saturday. And we just don't get too far ahead of ourselves, because we are staying in the present. And if we think about anything else but the next day of practice, we just would be putting ourselves in peril.

So they have done a great job since I've been here of just really trying to stay focused day‑to‑day, and if they get ahead of themselves and start thinking about anything else, we'll find ourselves looking at it on the other end.

Again, I think if they just focus on‑‑ they are going to get some time this week to focus on their studies and academics, and get ready for USC.

Q: Wanted to ask you about (freshman linebacker) Jaylon Smith's performance last night. Was there something you saw him do that you had not seen in the first couple of games? What have his biggest improvements been after the first six weeks?

BK: I just think football recognition. That position is being constantly probed and attacked on a game‑to‑game basis. If you've watched the games, teams are in three- and four-open against us because they can't get‑‑ they can't run the ball inside, primarily because we have got the best nose guard in the country.

So they are attacking Jaylon Smith, so it's been his recognition and awareness week‑in and week‑out. He's learning. He learned a lot this week. They ran some play-action boots to his side that we had not seen before, and he's got to learn how to level-off on flooding his zones.

I think the biggest improvement is that he's learning football and how he's being attacked at his position week‑in and week‑out.

Q: With Grace, what are the logistics? When a guy stays overnight for observation, and even a few more nights, does somebody from staff? Who performed the surgery? is it a Dallas surgeon or someone more familiar with the team?

BK: Brian Ratigan, our team surgeon, stayed in Dallas and he teamed up with the Dallas Cowboys team surgeon this morning. They finished the surgery about 10 a.m. this morning Central Standard Time. Ernest Jones, my director of player services, stayed with them, as well, until the family arrived, sometime around noon-time.

He'll stay there until he is out of the woods relative to developing any blood clots after surgery. Once he's out of the woods relative to that because of flying and obviously the altitude, he'll be able to fly back home.

So that's generally the procedure on any time there's an injury and somebody has to stay overnight.

Q: Earlier in the week, you said Sheldon Day would definitely play‑‑ was there a setbackwith him?

BK: He definitely played one play.

Q: Three times in the last two weeks, Nick Martin has had a snap infraction. Is that because he's a young center or is that something you'll need to take a look at?

BK: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. You know, we spent some time this morning looking at that closely. We think there's some things that we can help him with. There's a lot going on out there in this ballgame that we just played on Saturday.

How things are moving out there, with a lot of checks, I think we can take some of the pressure off. A lot of teams have gone to alternate ways of snapping the ball. For example, guards now are looking back and tapping the center, because there's so much going on with the center. He's looking for a linebacker alignments, there's movement. And a couple of times, it was just moving the ball in his hand as he was making some checks.

So I think a lot of the things we can clean up, and some of it is just being a little bit more disciplined during the game.

Q: Yesterday seemed like Arizona State blitzed about 85 percent of the time and the offensive line does an unbelievable job picking up blitzes in almost every situation. Can you expand on that?

BK: Yeah, I think one of the strengths of our offensive line has been their ability to sort out and pick up incredibly exotic pressures, different looks. We saw 3‑3. We saw 5‑up. We saw so many different looks that we have been able to manage and (offensive line coach) Harry Hiestand does a great job and our offensive line in particular does a great job of picking those up.

Again, I would say that, with the left side in particular with Martin and Watt, they have done a great job of communicating and helping the right side pick those things up, as well.

I think the area that we want to continue to get better at is that there's also a lot of run stunts that we want to get better at picking up. I think that's the area of improvement that we want to see with this group, because in the past, stunts and blitzes, they have been very good.

Q: We saw (freshman offensive lineman) Steve Elmer a little bit yesterday at right guard. Was that more of a matter of maybe (senior Christian) Lombard not doing his job at times or was it planned going into the game?

BK: We just felt like at times we wanted to get a bigger body in there. You know, (Arizona State defensive tackle Will) Sutton is a handful in there at over 310-315 pounds. Christian was battling, but we felt like it would be a good opportunity to get a bigger body on Sutton because he's such a tough guy to handle play-in, play-out.

So we had a little bit of rotation. We got Christian a blow, he came back in, and it worked out really well for us because Christian did a very good job on that last long drive where we took about five and a half minutes off the clock.

Q: How significant was it that you got some complementary play‑‑ defense gives up a quick touchdown, offense comes back and get one; offense stalls out at midfield, defense scores a touchdown. Is that something that's big, is that something that's significant moving forward?

BK: I think that's significant in that everybody on the team feels the entire team complementing each other, and we haven't had much of that. We haven't had units complementing each other, and I mean all three units.

The long field goal, and then certainly the punt return, the punt on the one‑yard line. The defense coming up with the big interception and the offense driving the ball. We had not had that kind of complementary offense-defense-special teams this year. It wasn't a complete game, but it was a move in the right direction that all units were starting to complement each other and it's something for us to build on.

Q: Among the younger guys that you want to see during this week, how does (freshman safety) Max Redfield fit into that group? What are you hoping to see from him and learn about him over the next two weeks?

BK: We just want to keep working with him, keep getting him more reps. He's getting a ton of reps right now. He's getting closer and closer. There's so many calls, so many things going on out there.

It's a quarterback position when you're out there at that safety position. It's not just dropping into cover two. We had to show so many different looks last night in the secondary, so we are hoping to get him some work this week, as well as some of our younger corners that are playing a little bit, and some guys on offense. We want to see Folston and (freshman receiver Will) Fuller, certainly Elmer, we want to get those guys some work this week, too, because we are going to have to count on them in the second half of the season, too.

Q: Jaylon probably has enough on his plate already, but do you give any thought moving forward of having that dime set where Grace played and he's the one linebacker on the field just based on the speed that he has?

BK: There are so many different packages that we can discuss in terms of where we can move him. But you know, one of the things we won't do is we will not change his eyes in terms of where he's going to play. He's going to play on the perimeter of our defense, so how he looks at the football game will be outside‑in, not inside‑out.


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