Laura Thomas (@NDSportsBlogger)
Tuesday was Brian Kelly's first game week press conference of the season. He answered some questions that you might have had going into Texas weekend.
Who will replace Jarron Jones?
While many people figured true freshman Jerry Tillery would replace Jarron Jones at starting nose guard after a strong camp performance, sophomore Daniel Cage will get the nod instead. When asked if there was a hesitation to start Tillery because of his inexperience as a freshman, Kelly said that was not a factor. Rather, he emphasized that Cage has shown, based on an improved physical condition and his understanding of the defense, that he deserves the starting spot.
Despite what the depth chart says, though, expect to see both Cage and Tillery rotating in and out of the position.
"You will not know as you watch the game," said Kelly. "You won't be able to count up, 'Well, Cage played more than Tillery.' It's going to be pretty seamless."
What can we expect from Malik?
Kelly described today's Malik as a "totally different Malik" than the one who started against LSU at the end of last season.
"[We] saw that he was capable of excellence but, now, he is much more developed in all phases of the game," said Kelly.
Coach added that throughout last spring and the entirety of camp, Malik has become a lot more confident and 'in tune' with both the receivers and the offensive line.
"We know that he's going to come in there and be poised," said Kelly.
How many tight ends did you say?
As camp has progressed, there really doesn't seem to be a definitive frontrunner at the tight end position. Of course, junior Durham Smythe is the veteran and has earned the starting spot. But, when asked if the tight end position is a job to be won on the field on Saturdays, Kelly answered simply, "Yes, it is.
There's a lot of depth at tight end and Kelly says we will see them all play. While some, of course, may play more than others, Kelly emphasizes that they will all get a chance to be in the rotation and earn reps.
So, yes, we should be seeing more of this:
Who's calling the plays?
It seems like this is one of those questions media members like to ask Kelly A LOT. And Kelly answers the same way each time: It's all about collaboration.
Coach Kelly, Coach Sanford, and Coach Denbrock will all be working together to call the plays. Sanford will be upstairs in the box, focusing on the overall structure of the Texas defense, while Denbrock will be on the field where, Kelly says, he can "zero in" on more specific elements of the Irish offense. At the end of the day, it's all about working together.
"We're all in unison as to how we want the game to unfold," said Kelly.
Though, when asked, Kelly said he does have the final veto, not surprisingly.
Can special teams step up this year?
Matthias Farley, Avery Sebastian, and Jarrett Grace are just a few of the names that should make you hopeful for a successful special teams this season.
Throw in rookie kicker Justin Yoon and it looks like we've got a package deal. Kelly said that Yoon is kicking in the high 70 percent range from the 40-49 yard distance.
"I was thinking that as camp wore on, with a tired leg, we'd see a drop in that area," said Kelly. "But, he's been solid. He is so focused on just doing his job. There's not a lot of things that distract him."
With these veterans and a promising kicker, Kelly says, there's "no reason why we can't dictate terms in special teams."
How will the atmosphere be on Saturday?