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.
We have our own combine and we give our players an opportunity to test - this is the first time since I've been here that we tested our players from the 10-yard to the 20‑ to the 40‑yard dash to vertical jump to reach, all the cone drills, broad jump, just like a pro day or a combine.
So we just completed all that, so that was an exciting time for our players in that we were able to get some numbers down, which had not been part of the normal first stage that winter conditioning.So we've got that end of it complete.
Now we go into the second stage, and that is the spring preparation, which is primarily now where the coaches get to go and develop the skill of our players.Obviously here up in the Midwest you're always concerned about weather.We're blessed with great weather.We're going to be able to get outside tomorrow.
As you know, we go in the morning.Our segment is from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Our players then get to class, come back here later in the afternoon. So the routine for us is Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as a normal routine because the classes work better for our players, so we can get them to practice and to class. So again, going into that second stage, it is the hands‑on work. It's the skill development. It's for us now a new voice in a sense on offense and Chuck Martin getting an opportunity to coordinate. Bobby Elliott and Harry Hiestand, new coaches, Scott Booker.So those are exciting times for me because I get a chance to interact and see my coaches communicate and develop our players.
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.
Q. What is your ideal number for corners in camp?You want to be three deep ideally, four deep ideally?
BK:Yeah, we're certainly short, there's no question. There's no hiding the fact that we have a numbers issue there. But we'll be smart in how we manage our reps. We'll be smart in how we put those guys in positions. But clearly you know our philosophy and style of defense; we think that we can be a championship team with the five guys that we have there.
Q. The running back slot position there, which has become kind of a hybrid with coach Tony Alford, you have a lot of experience with Cierre and Theo back there and obviously the addition of Amir. Where does a George Atkinson really fit into that mix? He demonstrated explosiveness last year on returns but had only nine carries, one catch. Do you find a spot for him at receiver or how do you shift him around?
BK:Well, I think it's incumbent on us to get the playmakers on the field, so we're a little bit better position there. We have more depth. But you've got to keep some of these guys engaged, as well. You know, there's merit to the fact that, making sure that your guys are engaged in the sense that they know they're going to have an opportunity, and George is too good of a player for him to sit on the bench and not get involved in what we do.
Coach Martin and Coach Alford, myself, we're going to have to make sure that he touches the ball, and he can do it from the slot, he can do it from the running back position that we have him in right now.
Q. You mentioned last year that he's probably purely a running back.
BK:Yeah, he's not going to be … I mean, listen, we're going to be in a lot of no‑back sets, so he's got to be able to catch the football from wherever we put him. But certainly he doesn't have the same level as a Theo, who played wide receiver. He's got more depth in the position than George does. But he's capable of catching the football, and we're going to move people around. If there's one thing that we'll do, it's make sure that we move guys around to get him the football.
Q. Candidates for the punt return?Are you looking at Theo being back there again?
BK: Yeah, I think probably if you look back on it, I would take more responsibility for not having a guy like Theo ready, if you will. And again, when we leave spring, we're done with our guys, so we have to be able to instruct them how to get the proper amount of work in the summer in catching punts. So we've done that, and so we feel more confident that Theo is going to get more work with it. Obviously John Goodman is going to continue to catch punts, and then we have a number of young guys that will be in the mix, as well, that have shown a great affinity and a comfort level returning punts. Davonte Neal, CJ Prosise just to name a couple are very accomplished at that position. So I think we'll bring in some accomplished players that have success at it, and quite frankly I think we'll have Theo locked in and working very diligently with John this summer in developing that skill.
Q. Last year you thought it was necessary for Andrew Hendrix and Everett (Golson) to get contact during the spring. Will the quarterbacks have contact again?
BK: At some point they will. It won't be a full‑blown you can hit them wherever you want, but yeah, there will be times that …because we're going to clearly want you to defend the quarterbacks. There will be some controlled opportunities where those quarterbacks will be involved in contact.
Q. And one our player from the injury report, Eilar Hardy?
BK: Yeah, full, cleared, been involved in everything.
Q. This goes back to the quarterbacks loosely. When you came here with the tempo you preached and at the beginning were able to hit the ground running with a quick pace, no‑huddle offense, and then as circumstances evolved you had to go to pick and choosing your spots. Does that impact your decision on a quarterback by August or through the spring are you going to be looking for that quick tempo again?
BK: Yeah, that's part of the whole template, but what we're looking for in particular is not focused strictly on the tempo. It's got to focus on where our weaknesses were last year. So a lot of it will be attention to taking care of the football, and we'll like to work the tempo.
We're at a point now where it's in the system and they know how to run it. I think when we get comfortable with the quarterbacks making good decisions, we'll be able to get back to that quickly. So we won't have to spend a lot of time. We can get to a quick tempo at any time, and you could make the case that it might be a lot easier because we've scaled back some things that will allow them to get up there and go.
Q. You mentioned the right side of the offensive line. It's probably better once you see some pads on the guys, but are you looking to get out of the spring with two guys there or will you be happy with four competitors?
BK: Yeah, I think we've got four or five guys that can compete over there. We'll even look at Mike Golic playing some center and guard. Obviously with Braxston out he's going to have to do a lot of the center work. But I think you've got to count him in the mix.
We like (Christian) Lombard; obviously he's a guy that can play guard or tackle, he's got that flexibility; Conor Hanratty had some time with us last year, so he's certainly somebody that would be in the mix there, as well; Tate Nichols is back now, puts us in a position where he can get some work; Jordan Prestwood will be in the mix. Yeah, we kind of look it. We really have been impressed with Nick Martin. Nick is Zack's younger brother, as I like to talk to him about. I reminded him that now Zack is going to be the other way around; he'll be Nick's brother. I liked his off‑season, as well.
Yeah, we've got some guys there that we think can compete. And then I think there's some freshmen that could work their way into a two‑deep position, as well.
Q. Do you have a goal that you want to get down to two or three quarterbacks by the end of the spring going into the fall?Could all four still be competing by August?What's your timetable in that regard?
BK: Yeah, I haven't given it much thought, other than if you look at what we did last year and what we can't do this year, my focus has been more on what has to be accomplished as it relates to all of them, not in the he's one, he's two, he's three, he's four. I think that's going to come out naturally by the way we've set the offense up so they all can compete, and I think it's something that will be talked about and evaluated daily, because it's the Notre Dame … I was watching Hockey Night in Canada. This is a true story. I was watching Hockey Night in Canada. I'm a big hockey fan. I was watching the Bruins play the Leafs, and they talked about the Maple Leafs not making the playoffs and their goalie and how everybody in Canada is micromanaging the position, and he mentioned it's like the quarterback position at Notre Dame. I was like, we've arrived. We're talked about in Canadian hockey terms.
My point is everybody is going to do that anyway. Everybody is going to look at it and evaluate it so we naturally will, as well, but I haven't put a timetable on it.
Q. Once you get to September could we see multiple quarterbacks on the field like we did last year or do you want one guy to be the guy?
BK: You know, ideally, in an ideal world, you've got one guy and he stands out front and he's the leader of your team. I've managed it, as you know, so many different ways. I'd love to have one guy and he be the guy, and when he comes off the field, I embrace him every time with a big touchdown hug; you know what I mean?That's a hug. Big hugs. That's what we're looking for. That's the vision that I have. Do you guys have another vision?I don't.
Q. The fifth year process here is obviously different than most schools. Could you just talk about how difficult some of those conversations may be and how you've had to adjust to that at Notre Dame from past jobs?
BK: Yeah, you know, I think it's great, really. When you really think about the integrity of the academics and our curriculum, it makes sense. The kids know. They know whether they're coming back or not. They know their academic plan. I really think it's a great way to do it because there's integrity in the curriculum and the degree and that you're not just messing around just taking classes, and I really like that about Notre Dame.
Yeah, sometimes we complain a little bit about the process, but the kids know, they know what's going on, and it's really not a big deal, and I think it makes it special that we hold it to that kind of high level and that kind of scrutiny.
Q. You've hit a couple of things on the defense. Corner is a concern, you've got some things on the offensive line…
BK: I don't know if it's a concern. We've got some young guys, but I'm not concerned. I like our guys.
Q. But the overall situation other than the positions you've talked about already, the overall scheme of the defense.
BK: Well, it's a blend, like we mentioned, of some young guys that know the system and then some veterans. But by and large, in terms of‑‑ we've got a lot of young guys still playing for us, Aaron Lynch, Nix, Tuitt, these are first year starters from last year, Fox is a first year starter from last year, Prince Shembo is a first year starter, so by and large if you look at our defense, there's a lot of young guys that are still emerging, so that's exciting for us, that you blend that in with some guys that don't have that kind of experience, but look at what they did last year. A lot of those first‑time starters came in and really impacted positively.
And then we've got some veteran leadership in the back end with Slaughter and Zeke, Manti Te'o obviously can control our front seven. So it's really a blend of some young players and some veterans that make it exciting from a defensive standpoint. They know the system, they know the structure, they know how Coach Diaco is going to call it. There's a lot of familiarity with our defense that we can go out now and really continue to develop.
Q. Touching on the three guys from Fort Wayne, Goodman, Eifert and (Tony) Springmann, what are you looking for from them?
BK: Springmann. You're my injury update guy. How did you miss that? Springmann had a diskectomy. Did you not know that? It sounds painful but it's not that painful. He had a diskectomy. He had a bulge in a disk and a diskectomy was done there. He's feeling really good. He's going to be limited in the spring but we have big hopes for him, especially on our defensive side of the ball.
Goodman continues in his path to finish up his career and really make an impact. That's what he wants to do. He's been that kind of spot player, does a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I think he's primed to have a big year for us, and we're excited about that.
And certainly Tyler Eifert. He's a guy that last year obviously had a terrific year. Coming back to get his degree says a lot about him and getting a degree from Notre Dame. So we're really blessed to have those three kids from Fort Wayne.
Q. We didn't get much info about what happened with Tee Shepard. What happened over the course of the last few months with him that he's no longer…
BK: There are specifics about Buckley and HIPAA and things of that nature that I really can't get into. You know me; I'd love to talk for 45 minutes on it, I'm just not allowed to. You know, from our standpoint we love Tee Shepard, and it's unfortunate but he's no longer with us, and we have to move on.
Q. There was some talk that he had like a medical procedure or something with his heart. His dad mentioned it to a TV station out there.
BK:Again, if I could get into all the specifics I would. I can't get into a lot of the specifics.