Polian - Head Special Teams Coach/Linebackers Assistant
John Latina - Assistant Head Coach (Offense)/Offensive Line
When you go into spring ball with some returners already in some spots, do you do anything differently because you have reduced numbers or you don't have a game prep week?
"Just focus a lot on fundamentals. We want to focus a lot on fundamentals, getting the older guys better fundamentally, but also bring the younger guys along fundamentally. You work on toughness, since spring ball is a good time to work on your toughness and your physicalness. But really, the main thing for me has always been fundamentals."
Can a job be won in the spring, or do you have to go through spring and fall camp?
"When you lose a couple of starters, jobs are going to be won. You're going to come out of the spring with at least a tentative depth chart and a tentative group of guys that you would think of as your starters. So, jobs will be won and that's the way it should be."
When you break down the season, and I know you guys go play by play, downs, situations, etc., what pleased you the most and what did you learn that needs to be improved on that maybe you didn't know already?
"We have a lot of improvement to do. I thought our kids handled the schemes really well, for the most part, especially for the first year. We have to improve upon that -- the physicalness of our offensive line and just being efficient more than we were and more consistent."
How concerned are you about the low numbers (on the offensive line)?
"You're concerned about depth, but what we have is what we have. We've got a great group of kids. We'd like to have more than what we have, but the other side of that is you get to focus more on the ones you have because you have more time to spend on individuals, as opposed to a group of 20 kids. You just take it as what it is and make the best out of that situation."
How wide open is that right tackle spot?
"I think it's always wide open. We lost a starter there, we lost a starter inside, but we played four guys inside, so obviously, the tackle position will be one of the big things for our offensive line to come out with an answer. I expect heavy competition there and nobody is off limits. Whoever is the best guy, we'll put over there."
It's the second time around for you now. Do you do anything differently coaching-wise?
"Last year, we had to coach so much in terms of assignments because it was all brand new. Now, there should be a sense of understanding. Now, we can even take it another notch in terms of the physical play, the effort levels, and make great strides in fundamentals and things like that. You don't have to teach the actual schemes as much because they lived it for a year."
How much of an advantage is that for you?
"It's a big advantage, but everybody else has the same advantage, so it's not an advantage over anybody else. It's just an advantage that we have over last year where we were."
Bill Lewis - Assistant Head Coach (Defense)/Defensive Backs
How does the experience that some guys got last year impact them this year?
"I think it gives them a chance to hopefully move to the next level. For everyone last spring, it was a total new learning experience. We basically had five guys who had a considerable amount of playing time, our starting four and then Leo Ferrine, who went in during our nickel situation. For them, hopefully they can speed through things a little bit faster and hopefully take their game to the next level."
What did you see in reviewing tape during the off-season that you didn't see during the season?
"I don't know if you see anything that you didn't see when the season was going on because we break down film in a game-to-game situation. On Sundays following games, we carefully look at every play from the game. We only have 65 or 75 plays to do on a particular day. What we do in the off-season is that you remove the emotion and the intensity and grade this tape and then get ready for the next game. So what you can do is set back and take it all in."
Mike Haywood - Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs
Last year, you as coaches had the philosophy of throwing everything at the players and seeing what sticks. How do you approach this spring now that you have an idea what has stuck with them?
"We did a self-evaluation of ourselves (as coaches) and the plays in which we've run. We've narrowed down the selection and we're going to concentrate on the things that we did well and a few items that we didn't do well. We may have moved those items to a different category, but the package should be a little bit smaller and a little bit more detailed."
Then it doesn't sounds like you'll put a whole lot of new stuff in, but rather a case of perfecting what you already have in?
"We're going to have some new things going in on the first day that we get out there. We'll have some new passing schemes going in and a few new runs going in, but nothing significant."
What are some of the goals offensively this spring?
"When we go back and evaluate the offense, we realize we weren't as good as we should have been. We need to become more efficient on certain runs, we need to become more efficient in the play-action passes, and that's why we've narrowed those things down and you have more of a condensed package and try to be successful at the things at which we can do."
Where weren't you as good as you wanted to be last season?
"In the play-action passing and in the screen game."
How do you try to drill to improve there?
"One thing's for sure is that we're going to work on screens every day of spring practice. That's one of Coach Weis' biggest deals is that we have to get better at those things. The only way you can get better is by individual technique, fundamentals, and at the same time, drilling the players to have success. In the play-action pass, there are certain things, certain schemes in which we've taken out that didn't coincide with timing and may have put them in drop-back passes, so we've condensed that package and added on to a few of the drop-back passes."
How does Brady (Quinn) improve this spring? What are the biggest goals for him in the next four weeks?
"The way Brady improves, mostly, is by challenging him. It may be through the `check-with-me' system, maybe through the various coverages in which he sees, maybe through a `run-to-run' or `run-to-pass' check, and just giving him a variety of different things which he hasn't seen."
You've got three guys in James (Aldridge), Chris (Stewart) and George (West) that are in kind of new territory for Notre Dame with early enrollment. How do you coach them through the spring? Do you have to be conscious of the fact that these guys are, in some ways, high school seniors right now?
"As was mentioned previously, you need to throw a lot at them and see what sticks. One of the opportunities we have is that we have a veteran offense. We're able to input a lot of things on the first day. These guys have to pick up on it as we go. You have to understand what they can do and what they can't do, understand their limitations and put them in positions to have success and build their confidence as they go through spring practice."
How is this spring different from last spring in terms of the confidence level now that you've been able to experience success?
"What some people may call success, we don't necessarily believe is the best football we could have played. We're setting our goals a little bit higher and expectations a little bit higher. During the off-season, it started with ourselves. We go through and do a self-evaluation of each individual coach on offense -- the things we did well, the things we didn't do well -- and how can we improve. From there, you do an evaluation of the players. What runs did certain running backs do well and what runs didn't they do well? This is where you have to improve. And then, you go through schemes and that's where we're going to work on each individual player and each individual scheme to get better as a team."
How busy has it been for you guys from the time the bowl game ended until now?
"We're extremely fortunate in that after recruiting, Coach (Weis) gave us a week off -- most coaches don't get that. We were fortunate enough to have some time off, gather your thoughts and ideas. But, once we come back, we're working just as hard as we did during the regular season. Recruiting is 365 days a year and if you don't recruit 365 days a year, somebody else is beating you. The way we recruit nationally, we have to get the best players across the country."
How critical will it be to have the guys back on the practice field again?
"It will be really important for us. We've been having morning workouts, usually starting anywhere between 5:45 and 6:00 in the morning, and our guys are getting in better condition and developing better fundamentals and techniques."
You talked about the coaches' evaluation process. What types of things are you looking for in those evaluations?
"When you're watching tape, and using running backs as an example, you run a certain run and realize that it's the running back that is one of the main reasons that the play isn't working. You realize it may have been some things that you didn't teach well. It may have been a read, it may have been a press of a hole, it may have been a shoulder movement to get the linebackers to flow, and you have to catch those little things to get better. It may be in the spring game where the running back may have been in different positions every time and not giving the quarterback an opportunity to have success, or getting out in front of the offensive linemen, or timing may have been off. That's coaching and it's your responsibility as a coach to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
How important is spring practice to the big picture of things?
"It's really important because guys can develop so much in 15 practices. They can get better if they're not catching the ball very well. If they have poor route technique, they can get better at route technique. If a quarterback is having problems with his reads, he can understand reads against various coverages. It's really important that you take advantage of these practices and get guys better at what they're not doing very well."
How much more comfortable are you the second time around?
"Extremely comfortable. Last spring, we're going out there and putting in a whole new offense. There's always something new that you're learning throughout the offense because the offense is extremely extensive. However, you get better each and every day as you go out to coach."
Talk a little bit about the right tackle position. That's one of the spots where there's not a returning starter. Who are some of the candidates that come to mind there that you're looking at? What do you know now and what do you need to learn about the guys there?
"There are going to be a lot of young guys that are going to be at that position and competing for a starting position. We're going to give everybody an opportunity to get on the field. We're awfully slim in numbers on the offensive line. We have to be cognizant of that and make sure that, when we're putting these guys out there that they all have an equal opportunity to have success to win that position."
Brian Mattes is a guy who played a little guard, a little tackle last year. Is he a guy that would get a right tackle look in that group?
"There are four guys last year which we shuffled in and out at those positions, and we'll shuffle guys in and out throughout the spring to see which guy is the best suited for that position. I'm sure he'll get an opportunity at some point in time."
After having the nation's most improved offense last year, in terms of human nature, how do you fight a sense of complacency? How do you keep the players from feeling satisfied with where they are?
"First of all, I don't read any of those articles about that. I go through and look at the printout to see what each individual play is running. We go into a team meeting, and while we're in the team meeting, we address each individual play, the success of the play and what we have to do to get better at that play. We'll do the runs, we'll do the play-action passes, and when you pinpoint a certain thing to players and give them a challenge, it eliminates everything that the outside world is saying. They're more focused and concentrating on the specific points that you've given them to concentrate on."
Is there anything you learned last year from dealing with (Jeff) Samardzija as a two-sport athlete in the spring that you're going to incorporate this year with (Evan) Sharpley as well?
"Sharpley is going to spend most of the time with football. Samardzija is more of a veteran guy, and he's going to spend most of his time with baseball, and give him more of an opportunity to have success in that sport also."
Rick Minter - Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
What have you done since the end of the season to try and make improvements?
"Like anybody after you've come off of any season, good or bad, you park it in the garage and you tear it apart. We've just finished going through every play of our season and critiqued it and analyzed it with video cutups. You can break it down into all sorts of variations and plays from yardage gained to field zones and how or why you called what you called. We are analyzing what we are doing and who we are doing it with and what we can do to get those two aspects to be better coming into this season."
What do you feel is the strength of the defense?
"I think overall the fact that we have a good number of players returning doesn't make it a start-over program like it was a year ago. Our experience factor and our continuity are going to be a plus for us both in our coaching staff and in our returning players. We are going to miss the leadership and production from our two senior linebackers (Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays). With all eyes forward, we have at least nine other positions that return players from last year's unit with key backups and guys that have gotten their feet wet a little bit in our first year here."
Will this spring be dramatically different from last spring with it being the second year?
"It'll be very similar except for the fact you have to feel the learning curve won't be as straight up and down. Now what we hope to do since we've dissected everything from a coaching standpoint is to be able to take our players, particularly those returning, to a different level. We always start over in the spring but the learning curve has leveled out a lot. A year ago, you put things in and you look back on it and see if you used them or didn't use them. So you delete your scheme of things that were meaningless or didn't use as much. You refine things and just take our techniques and fundamentals, which is what broke down many times when things went astray, and take that whole aspect to another level."
Do you take the performance against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and put it behind you?
"It was embarrassing for us to play the way that we played. It was a game of big plays and the biggest difference in that game, let alone there were four huge plays, is that they all went for touchdowns. We gave up big plays throughout the year, which was a constant problem, but they didn't all go for touchdowns. We could rally, we could pursue, we could drag somebody down and invariably, the luck of the Irish or good players or good coaching, something fortunate would happen to us. We dodged bullets a lot of times just by giving us ground to stand on and making them play another play. Then something reversed and happened good for us. It didn't happen in that game because all the major plays went for scores and that's 28 points on the board right there."
Is it important to come out of spring with a starting lineup?
"Yes. I think you always come out of spring with who you feel would be your starting lineup if you played a game on May 1st. I do think it's important for the state of your defense to believe that the guys you end the spring with are going to be the guys that you are ready to begin the fall with and then they have to be displaced or beat down or overcome. We'll take a break here on April 22nd with who we think, barring injury, is our best 11 and who might be our next five or six role guys who can fit into situation defenses and then maybe a second unit if possible."
Rob Ianello - Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator
How does that third receiver slot look?
"We have a number of candidates. All we are trying to do is get all of the receivers to compete and elevate their game, someone will emerge. Someone will earn real valuable playing time and have an opportunity to be a really valuable contributor, who that will be we are not sure. We have a lot of candidates out there and we are going to have a bunch of guys competing.
"The good thing about spring practice is that you are not preparing for an opponent and because you are not preparing for an opponent all the preparation goes toward improvement it doesn't go towards scheming for an opponent. It doesn't go toward `Are you going to play this coverage or in this slot?', it goes toward, `This is how we are going to run this play and this is what we can do to make it better, here is what we did really well and here is what we need to improve on.' On a daily basis these guys can get a guage and get some feedback on what they can do better and what they should do better. That in itself can help us to improve. I know you say that you build your depth from your bottom up and we have to do that with all of our guys, there are plenty of repetitions to go around at spring practice and someone will emerge and these guys will be real contributors."
How is Rhema (McKnight) right now, is he back to 100%?
"Yes, he will be back to practice tomorrow and ready to go."
"There is room for improvement and Jeff knows exactly what those areas are and he will address them and attack them. As a player you either get better or you get worse you never stay the same. Everyday is about challenging yourself, you have to go ahead as a group and compete with each other first before you compete with the defensive backs or the defense itself and when you do that on a daily basis you have a chance for improvement, you have a chance for the bar to be raised. Whether someone played a year ago or didn't play a year ago is irrelevant when you start practice. The spring is about preparation now and getting better now. As a group we all have specific things we need to get better at, we need to develop and be consistent players we have got to be competitors and we have to be guys that the players can count on as a group and that is what we are looking for."
Are you in some sort of comfort zone know that Rhema will be back next year?
"Anytime you have veteran players back you are at a good place to start, but they have to improve remarkably just like everybody else. We take nothing for granted, whether a guy has been out there five years or been out there five days, everybody needs to work to improve."
Jeff just kind of exploded last year, is this something in anyway that you all anticipated?
"I just think that is something you hope will happen with anyone that you are coaching. You want to find a way to get your players to just play to their potential and maybe above their potential. As guys gain confidence, as guys are in the system more, and as they get a feel for exactly what we are trying to do and what we are trying to get them to do and guys have room to improve. There was no bar set for anyone, there is no bar set right now, whatever the bar is we are trying to go above that with every player we have."
How much can Jeff's sudden success become a teaching tool for the younger players?
"I think it is a great teaching tool for all of our players, it shows that nothing is given to you and that everything is earned. You have to take advantage of your opportunities, when you get one repetition in practice take advantage of it, the first repetition in spring practice tomorrow for a receiver is an opportunity. Everyday you are trying to build upon your opportunities and become a player that can be counted on as part of the team on a consistent daily basis play after play that is what they are trying to do. As a receiver you are trying to build your resume you are looking at what you need to improve on first, what you do well what you don't do as well and how we can attack that. Take advantage of every opportunity, every period of practice has an opportunity to improve and to compete, some of them are to compete with ourselves, some are competing against the defense in one on one situations and in larger team situations. It is all about competition, thriving on it and wanting to improve and not being satisfied, always playing like you have something to prove, that is what we try to do with the receivers."
Jappy Oliver- Defensive Line
Will this year's defensive line look to take more of a leadership role?
"I surely hope so. I'm a guy that tries to push leadership no matter what class you are in. The fact that I do have some veterans coming back, not the most vocal guys in the world but as long as they lead by example I think it should come from our group."
Did you see any strides from young guys like Patrick Kuntz and Derrell Hand during their first off-season of lifting?
"Derrell for sure. He's a young kid who really didn't know what he was getting into and had a total body transformation. He might have lost 30 to 40 pounds. A lot of that was baby fat and I think he's really reshaping his body. He's also just seeing now what it's all about to play at this level. Patrick is a kid who came in and was kind of thrown into the mix and he's still trying to figure it out. He showed a lot of potential early."
What's the one area you'd like to see the most improvement out of your group?
"I think just consistency. I think at times my guys might have gotten too frustrated and tried to do more than what the defense allowed them to do. When that happens, they over compensate and they may lose contain. If they would have been a little more patient and rely on the defense doing what it's supposed to do, from a cover standpoint as well as a lane standpoint, it'll come to you. They saw that and they are going to continue to see that this spring and hopefully when we're in those some positions this year, we'll make those plays."
Peter Vaas - Quarterbacks
When it comes to those guys playing behind (Brady Quinn), how much work do they get in the spring? Is that when you have more time with a back-up quarterback?
"All of our quarterbacks are going to get a fair amount of time so we can make a good evaluation. Not only that, I think it's going to be an important time for a quarterback to step forward and show what he can do. Generally, positions on a depth chart aren't determined by coaches -- it's determined by performance of players and for that to happen, our players are going to need to perform."
Are there any particular areas that you want to work on with Brady that he needs to get better on? Or is it just overall improvement in everything?
"I think it's an overall thing. I don't want to sound redundant, but I think it's a consistency thing. A consistency in, no matter how you looked at it, what phase you picked out, you'd want to be more consistent in that particular phase. Whether it's the mental, whether it's the physical, whether it's a deep throw, a short throw, whether it's game management, he did an awful lot of those things extremely well during the course of the year. But, we can always become more consistent and I think that's the one thing that we're looking for out of that position is to improve our consistency."
Last year, Brady had a taste of what it's like to be a Heisman candidate, but it came more at the end of the season. This year, starting with today, every time someone writes a story about him, it's going to mention him as a Heisman candidate. Have you talked to him about that? Do you do anything as far as trying to keep the pressure off him for that?
"No, because it will be what it will be. It's just a question of where are we as a position in the sense of handling all of that. The way you handle it is forget about yesterday and you concentrate on today and you concentrate on getting better on a consistent basis. Again, and I know I'm sounding redundant, but consistent improvement includes handling the mental aspects of the things that are expected of you. Obviously, the quarterback position at the University of Notre Dame is an extremely high profile position. Whether it's a positive or a negative, it is what it is, and to be able to handle that on a daily basis is what's important. Handling it on a daily basis means you go out and you do your job with the expectation that you're going to get better."
How would you judge how he's handled that?
"I don't know if I'm one to judge, to be perfectly honest with you. I know the relationship we have in that quarterback meeting room, as a group of players right now, is an extremely positive one with everybody involved. I just hope that that continues to improve, too."
Would you ever think of using the Heisman hype as a motivational tool for Quinn, or does he not need that kind of motivation in order to improve?
"One of the things that's nice about Brady is that he is an extremely self-motivated individual. I wouldn't think he'd use it as a motivational tool, not at this point in time. I can't envision doing that. I just see the motivation that Brady needs is, to be redundant, consistent improvement, because that's him. He just works at it every single day. He's a pleasure to be around. It's that simple -- he's a pleasure to be around."
Bernie Parmalee - Tight Ends/Special Team Assistant
On losing one of the designated starters and the position depth situation...
"You have got to look at the guys who can handle the situation and who can go out there and perform you have got to go out there each day in practice and make them give you reason that they deserve to be the number one guy. These guys are going to have the opportunity to go out there and contribute, we have some real smart guys that have been in the system and who know the system and we have a young guy coming in and other guys underneath, they will all have an opportunity."
Talking to (John) Carlson and (Marcus) Freeman, did you get wide eyed at the type of year Anthony (Fasano) had last year as a big part of the offense are they kind of excited to step up their roles?
"I know one thing if I was a tight end I would be happy to be a part of this offense. As a tight end you have a lot of opportunities to make plays which happened a lot last year."
What are you going to differently this year than you did last year?
"We are just going to work on the same things, make sure we pay attention to detail, fundamentals and techniques and learn from what we did last year and some things that didn't work, we are just going to go out there and work hard."
How would you rate the winter conditioning of the players?
"They are coming along they have been doing a great job and they are farther than they were last year and they know what needs to be done conditioning wise to give us the best opportunity to be successful."
Are the returning players more comfortable in the season this year than they were last year?
"I believe so, they should, last year was new and they have a whole year under their belt and they have been successful in the system, hopefully the guys can build on that."
What do you look for as far as competition at tight end?
"A guy who is going to go out there and make plays and do the things that need to be done and who can step it up at the tight end position. I think we have guys who we feel can do it and who we have confidence in, I know they are going to go out there and get the job done."
How big will the spring be for guys to step up?
"It is a good opportunity for a lot of the young guys to get out there and step on the field each spring. It is a good opportunity for them to show what they can do and hopefully they can catch the eye of the coaches."
Brian Polian - Head Special Teams Coach/Linebackers Assistant
On moving from defensive backs assistant to linebackers assistant this season...
"I think certainly there is a comfort level for the two of us, in the long term the more you can do and the more you know. Certainly having a year in Coach Minters' package, it is not going to be that dramatic of a change because even though you are not involved it a lot of the front stuff you still understand how you can assist when you are working in the back end of things. I don't think it is going to be that big of a deal to be honest with you, what it is going to enable me to do is have more one on one time with the linebackers, a lot of those guys are big contributors to special teams, so now I will have more time with those guys. I already have a relationship developed with a lot of the guys which is going to be a positive thing. Some of the young guys are going to have to step up and hustle. Being able to be hands on with them all the time is going to be beneficial for me."
Is there a comfort zone for you having played at that position?
"Yes, you know you are used to seeing things from that perspective, whereas having spent a year with Coach Lewis was unbelievable because in my opinion he is one of the best I have ever been with but you have to train yourself to see things from that perspective and that took a little while to get used to. I am now kind of going back home where I know how things move."
Obviously you and Coach Minter have to develop some of these guys at a rapid pace, what is that going to be like there?
"There is going to be a lot of competition. It is fine, that is what spring is all about, you have to put everyone out there and have them get as many repetitions as possible and see how it all clears itself out and I believe that it will. It is going to be fun this year, it is back to basics, lets throw them all in a pile and lets see who emerges and I think that is what is going to happen. I am anxious to follow Rick's lead and be a part of that."
Last year you had veteran linebackers, this year you have a lot of inexperience do you think last year will help you in dealing with what is to come for this year?
"Yes I think so, although we had such a good group of veterans we had Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays who were such good guys that it was never a problem. It wasn't like they were set in there ways and we had to learn how to deal with that. It is fun to have the relationships with the kids that you coach day in and day out. I really enjoy being back there with all of those defensive backs and now to develop another group of relationships. I like that fact that they are young, there is no doubt, it will be fun I am looking forward to it."