Aug. 18, 2015
COACH KELLY: We've had our initial press conference, so I'm sure that instead of me kind of giving you an overview of where we are after 13 practices, which, for me there are a lot of layers as to where we are relative to each individual player, unit, scheme, situations, so there is a lot going on as a football team. I really don't know where to begin from that perspective.
We've got a lot going on. We're trying to prepare our football team for our opener, so we're trying to create as many situations out there for our team. So from my perspective, today was another day of creating the kind of real game like situations that we need to see all of our players in. We've got talented players, but, again, it's about how they respond to situations in the game that determine how the outcome is ultimately going to be a win or a loss.
So, with that, I'll just get right to questions and we can delve into it that way. I think it would be easier for everybody, and we'll move accordingly. So let's get rolling.
Q. (No microphone)?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of things. Holding the football in special teams is important. So when we look at our football team, I think it's the attention to detail that we're trying to make certain that everything is examined and repped and looked at, from red zone to, like I said, making sure that we've got the right holder out there, the right back up long snapper, the right back up quarterback.
So there are just so many of those things. So every one of those things is on a check list of making sure that we're more proficient. We did a lot of that in the off season and making sure that we looked at those numbers. Now in the present, it's scripting those situations and getting better at them.
Q. (No microphone)?
COACH KELLY: Well, Jaylon Smith is the mainstay of our defense. He is an essential figure in what we do. He's all over the field for us defensively, and we'll make sure that we move him around to put him in a position for him to impact what we do defensively. He's no longer somebody that just ties down one position. He can play multiple positions on our defense, and we think he's one of the best football players in the country.
Drue Tranquill is extremely versatile. He'll have a role that allows him to play multiple positions for us. He certainly has the certainly has the ability to play a number of positions. We're going to be able to see him play a role that allows him close to the ball, but he can play off the hash. He's got the size and strength to play linebacker, but he's got the physical ability to play safety, so you can imagine when you have a guy like that, that we'll find a role for him. I think a lot of that will be in down and distance and different packages.
Q. (No microphone)?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think anybody that has such a positive way of looking at an injury and the way he did, again, I think anybody that has a setback that handles it in such a positive way, you know what their mental capacity is to overcome small things that are in front of him. Like the engineering major that he's in, I mean, that's an extremely difficult major to balance and he's able to do it. This summer he was a 4.0 student.
So you know he's able to handle the rigors of the day to day academics here at Notre Dame as well as all the things that we're going to throw at him from a football standpoint because he's already handled a major injury and the way he's come back.
Q. I want to ask you about one of your assistant coaches and one of your players. I'll start with Coach Denson. How did he find your radar?
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly we're well aware, and I am, well aware of Notre Dame graduates that are in the coaching ranks. I think it's important that you know that certainly somebody like Autry who is your all time leading rusher is a coach. So I think that's the first thing that I knew of him a few years back.
I got a chance to meet him when I was down in Miami when he was at, I believe, Bethune Cookman at the time. I got a chance to meet him. I was very impressed with him way back then. And then just kept track of him. Then Chuck Martin who was here with me hired him at Miami of Ohio, so I got firsthand information on what his work ethic was like, how he handled his room. When you have that kind of firsthand information, it makes it easier, and certainly obviously being a Notre Dame grad and somebody that had such a great career that allows you to get that inside information.
Q. Could you expand a little bit and talk about why it's so important to you to have the Notre Dame ties and kind of track that and keep an eye on that?
COACH KELLY: Well, we think, obviously, we're much more accustomed to the lifestyle here at Notre Dame. It's one where you have to know the day to day lifestyle relative to living on campus, living in the dorms, the academic piece is very, very important. The year round commitment to academics and athletics, Autry was very familiar with. Also, he left the state of Florida to come to Notre Dame for a reason, so he can tell a great story about that in the recruiting process as well. So all those things come together to make it easy for us to keep an eye on a young man like that.
Q. In terms of Ronnie Stanley, could you revisit when you and Coach Hiestand went out there to re recruit him to come back? Could you revisit some of the talking points that maybe you touched on?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think primarily you're this close. You haven't had a winter workout yet. You've had two injuries that have really not allowed you to get as strong as you can be physically. You're close to finishing off your degree. Let's get your degree. Then finally, let's put you in a leadership position.
I think all those three things were certainly in front of him, and we simply went there to reinforce that we'd provide those opportunities for him.
Q. Where is he in terms of this year compared to other years in his career at this point and what makes him so good?
COACH KELLY: Well, physically he's athletically off the charts for his size, long, athletic, the ability to move his feet now bring the strength element into it. He's so much stronger, and then has a great understanding of the game of football, all those things come naturally to him.
Now the leadership component. I love where he is from that end. I think he's grown so much maturity wise. I think the players have a great amount of respect for him and when he talks, people listen. I think just overall, just another year with Coach Hiestand on the offensive line has just developed his craft even more.
Q. I know you're blessed with a lot of talent and depth at the wide receiver position, but two players that maybe haven't been talked about as much this summer, Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr., where do you see those guys fitting in the mix?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think Torii Hunter is you're going to see a lot of him this year. He'll play a lot. He's very versatile. He could play, if he had to, he could play all the positions. He could play X, Z and W. He's probably our most versatile receiver in that he has the size and the speed, and the ability to work inside out at the slot position because of his elusiveness. We probably don't have another player that has that ability on the roster.
So a unique talent from that standpoint, so you'll hear a lot about him this year. He'll get a lot of playing time. He's had a very good camp, and I think consistency he's been as good as anybody we've had in preseason camp.
Corey Robinson, just continues to learn more about the game every day. We had a red zone period yesterday where we're really trying to get him look, he's not going to get a lot of one on one coverage. He's going to get a lot of bracket coverage, a lot of seven, eight across, zone coverage, and he's going to have to work the back end line. That's where he's going to have to live this year.
He's getting accustomed to understanding zone coverages. Though he's still developing his craft and learning more about the game every day. So what I like about Corey is he's not gone under the radar as much as he's still out there learning more about the game every single day, because he's going to be defended differently this year.
He kind of jumped on to the radar last year, and I don't think anybody's going to play him man to man. They'd be crazy if they did. So we're preparing for a lot more zone and double zone, and I think he's going through a process of how to defeat those double zones. He's making good progress and learning along the way.
Q. Being the most tenured coach here since Lou Holtz and I think fifth or sixth longest regime all the time, do you feel more comfortable, settled? Does this year feel different than from some of your earlier years here?
COACH KELLY: I don't know if you ever get comfortable in the seat at Notre Dame. Comfortable wouldn't be a word that I would use. I think what I would probably say is that the picture is a lot clearer in the sense that I really know where our strengths and weaknesses are as a program, what we need to continue to work on and develop and know the direction that we need to continue to push the group in. So I think it's just a more clearer understanding of the program and what we need every single day more than a comfort level.
Like I said, I don't think you ever feel comfortable here at Notre Dame. And I don't mean that in a negative way. I just think you've always got to be looking at how to get better every day.
Q. Having gone through the spring and half of camp with Mike Sanford as the quarterback coach, how does perception match up with reality and what he's brought to the table so far?
COACH KELLY: Every day is an affirmation of what I had hoped going into it. I'll give you an example. We had a trick play that I had been running for a number of years, so I didn't have a clip on it. It was a Cincinnati clip. We didn't keep up on the server our first year Cincinnati clips because we dumped them off the server and only kept the last two years of Cincinnati, and I hadn't run it for a couple of years. So I didn't have the clip of this trick play that I wanted to run that I had run my first year at Cincinnati. Well, sure as heck, Coach Sanford ran it at Boise State. It was virtually the same play.
So it's that kind of connection of philosophy and thinking of in this formation if they do this, I want to be able to do that and he had already had that trick play and that answered to the formation. It was just another, like I said, affirmation that we're on the same page every single day.
Q. Did he run it as a player or a coach there?
COACH KELLY: He ran it last year in a bowl game.
Q. Him being a bit of a younger guy, how does his chemistry work with the quarterbacks in the room, just relating to them on a level some other guys can't? What's that relationship like on and off the field?
COACH KELLY: I think it's really strong. I sit in there every day. I think he's got a great relationship with all of the quarterbacks. But I think that Coach Gilmore who is one of our senior coaches on the staff has a great relationship with the young I players too. So young or old, I just think each coach has a different way of reaching players.
Mike does a great job. He's a great communicator. I think if you're clear on your communication and you can reach players regardless of what the age is, and he does a very good job of communicating.
Q. What has been the biggest area of growth for the quarterbacks and the offense since Mike Sanford arrived?
COACH KELLY: I would say that there's no gray area. It's real clear as to what's expected. We're a movement key, progression read offense, and at times last year we were not clear sometimes on our movement key and our progression reads. We are 100% on our movement key progressions. Mike is a stickler for that, and I've always been a stickler for that. That's one of the things that we have connected on and one of the things that we connected on in the interviewing process.
I just think that's central to having a great communication base with your quarterbacks. If they don't see it through the same lens that you do, there is miscommunication, and that's been cleared up where it's easy communication now with the quarterbacks as to how did you get across the board on your reads if you didn't start with the right movement key, and Mike's done a great job there.
Q. You mentioned that the picture is clear and you have a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the program. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think the strengths are we develop depth within the program, and I think that's probably something that has taken time and one that we've really committed ourselves to in terms of not straying what we believe are the right fits here at Notre Dame. Those that recognize the value of a degree here at Notre Dame and are committed to what a Notre Dame education is about and playing for championships.
So that's taken some time. That's the foundation of our strength. Our weaknesses, I think we have to continue to look at ways as we continue to move the bar academically here, we have to continue to support our student athletes and continue to look for ways to make sure that our kids are solid, solidly supported academically, and I think we're making great progress there. Those would be a couple that come to mind right away.
Q. Where do you stand on naming captains?
COACH KELLY: Where do I stand?
Q. Are you ready to announce them? Have you picked them?
COACH KELLY: No. We've gotten the captain we've gotten a list of guys that I have felt were worthy of that opportunity cleared by our faculty athletic board. I think we had ten of them cleared yesterday. Then we'll present those names to our team probably on Monday, and then we'll probably be ready to name some captains.
Q. Do you feel the depth, I guess, at leadership, is this as deep as you've been in terms of leadership in your time here at Notre Dame?
COACH KELLY: It is. Yeah, we had ten names that were certified that all could be captains here. So obviously we're not going to have ten. The hesitancy is when you name a few, the other guys not necessarily feel slighted, but I don't want them to take a back seat either. But we have a strong unity council as well.
So I'm not in a hurry to name them, let's put it that way, because the group is running pretty good on their own right now. So for me not naming them is not one of indecision or that we don't have any. We have too many, more than anything else.
Q. You mentioned depth before about how things have changed a little bit, where's the athleticism? You guys played for the national title a couple years ago. Where's the athleticism of this team now? We hear about Jaylon and Ronnie and KeiVarae, compared to the group that almost won the national title?
COACH KELLY: Well, it's a faster team. It's a more athletic team. We were deeper at virtually all positions across the board, both on the offensive line and the defensive line. Maybe we don't have singularly one superstar here or there, but the depth of the group is a whole different football team than that group. That was a unique group in that they knew how to win, had great leadership, had look, winning teams have a special group of guys that find ways to win, and that group did. But this is, from an athletic standpoint and from a physical prowess standpoint, a deeper football team.
Q. With the injury to Jones, you mentioned the other day how important it was to have Jerry Tillery here early for his development. Where have you seen the most improvement in Jerry since he got here?
COACH KELLY: I think for Jerry, he's learning every day our defense. We're three down, four down team. We like to bring pressures. There is a lot there that he's learning every single day. So I think Jerry's just learning how to play defense full time. He was a part time defensive player. He was a pretty good offensive lineman.
So I don't know if there's any one specific thing that he's learning other than he's just learning how to be a defensive player in college football. So all of that coming to him on a day to day basis. Went through a spell there where he's jumping off side all the time on hard cadence, so little things like that, the discipline of lining up correctly all the time.
He's got a great motor. Plays hard, a great teammate. Got a lot of really, really great traits. I think it's just a matter of being more comfortable and learning the defense as a true freshman.
Q. How important is Sheldon then in helping him lineup properly and kind of taking him under his wing a little bit?
COACH KELLY: Well, Sheldon's been great. There is no mistake about it. That's Sheldon's room, and really proud of Sheldon. He's come a long way in his leadership. Last year at times he was a hesitant leader in a sense that he knew he had a captain role that he wasn't sure how to fill it at times. This year there is no mistake about how he's leading. That is his room. He holds everybody accountable in that room.
He's really doing a nice job. He's helped out quite a bit. That was his group in the summer and it continues to be his group in pre season. Coach Gilmore has done a great job to mentor him as well.
But I think by and large it's been Jerry has taken a lot of that on his own. He's very cognizant of the fact that he's in a pretty important role where he's going to have to play a lot, and he takes a lot of that on himself.
Q. Finally it's nice to see the Lindsey Nelson collection has been resurrected. Is there a story behind the sport coat?
COACH KELLY: Well, I thought that I went blue last year, I thought I'd go green this year. Blue worked out pretty good. Hopefully green will have the same kind of effect. So just going to try to keep everybody guessing. Next year we'll try something different, maybe gold.
Q. Seven of your guys obviously went to South Africa. What do you hope they gained from a trip like that? Are you weary of sending players so far away?
COACH KELLY: Well, what they're able to gain is certainly the ability to study abroad and see a different culture and lifestyle. Very few student athletes get this opportunity. As a matter of fact, I don't know that many do. We wanted to be able to say that our student athletes at Notre Dame get a chance to study abroad, not like many others do.
All of those that went earned that opportunity, so I think more than anything else it's just to give them a different perspective in studying abroad. We get caught in a bit of a routine here, one that we create as coaches, and it's refreshing that we can send them abroad and give them a chance to see other things in life and academically as well.
Was I concerned? Absolutely. Anytime you put your best player, defensive player, in another country, you worry about everything. So having said that, we sent a trainer and we made sure there was a weight room. I'm sure they never saw the weight room. They tell me they did, but most of those guys came back and were in pretty good shape.
But we think it's a great opportunity. We think it speaks to the kind of education they can get at Notre Dame that's unique.
Q. Going into this you had some middle linebackers that were coming back in Joe and Jarrett, and of course Nyles as well. How is that coming right now? Do you have an idea how that's going to work out this fall?
COACH KELLY: They're all going to play some time. Joe Schmidt will be the starter there. Jarrett Grace will play, and Nyles will obviously get a chance to get in there as well. Look, they're all guys that have played for us. All have contributed. All have played meaningful minutes for us. We're going to need them all.
We played such a rugged schedule, we want to limit the snaps early in the year, especially on a group who played so many more snaps than most teams, especially early in the year with our schedule. Where most teams get a chance to pull their guys in the second quarter and third quarter, we're grinding through four quarters, and we really need to pace our group.
We think we're really deep there. We think it's an advantage, and because of that they'll all get a chance to play and play meaningful minutes for us.
Q. Nyles obviously played before he was ready last year out of need. How is he coming along so far now?
COACH KELLY: We think he's developing. But look, he's like anybody else would be. He looks at the depth chart and he's running out there with the second group and splitting reps, whereas last year he was a starter. He wants more reps, just like I'd want more reps. But as we tell him, his reps have to be quality because he's got to be ready when he gets called upon just like he was last year. He got called upon and you've got to be ready.
So how's he taking it? He wants more reps. How does he have to respond? When he gets out there, he's got to be flawless in his execution because he's going to have to play for us at some time, and he's going to have to play well.
Q. When you were looking at your defense in the off season, where did you start with how we improve from the standpoint that you had so many pieces missing at the end, you had so much inexperience on the field? What did you take from last year that's kind of helped you help that defense evolve?
COACH KELLY: Well, we started with the first couple of games. We looked at the first few games and where we were and carried that through until we started to lose some key players. So let's start before we had a rash of injuries, because I think it speaks for itself when you lose Schmidt and Jones and number of defensive linemen were out. We felt like if we could solidify the back end of our defense to start, so beginning with the back first, getting KeiVarae Russell back.
By the way, KeiVarae was fully cleared by the NCAA and reinstated, so he is back with us. Like how I dropped that one in there? Pretty cool, huh?
So starting from the back forward, getting KeiVarae back and really feeling like if we could solidify the safety position with Max and Elijah, that we were playing a lot of young guys up front, and they were getting some valuable experience. Add Joe Schmidt back into the mix, we felt really good about where we could be defensively if we could solidify the back end first.
Spent a lot of time in the off season with Max and Elijah, and it's paying off. Those guys are communicating well. Our defense is getting lined up. We had to do some things which we kind of talked about, I think, a couple times in the spring. I think Brian's done a masterful job of really cleaning up a lot of the language defensively where we can get our calls in and get lined up quickly.
We've gone really fast for you guys that have been out there. We've been running some tempo that is as fast as you can run it, and we've done a great job of lining up and getting our calls in. So I think Brian has done a great job with the staff there. So that's really where we spent most of our time.
We felt like we didn't get lined up at times. We felt like if we could communicate well from the back end moving forward that those young guys got some playing time that we're going to be pretty good.
Q. The info on KeiVarae, what about Ishaq? Is there anything new there?
COACH KELLY: No, he had just finished getting his information. He had to write appeal. His part had appeal that he had to personally put together as well. That's been completed. That has been sent off to the NCAA, so now that goes through the process of them now looking at his appeal.
Q. From an offensive standpoint you talked about Mike Sanford and coaching the quarterbacks and so forth. In the spring it sounded like you were pretty committed to being the play caller this year and Mike kind of learning more about your offense. Are you still kind of in that mode? What does Mike bring to the offense from a coordinator standpoint?
COACH KELLY: Well, first of all, Mike Denbrock sets the table for everything. On a day to day basis, Mike Denbrock really takes the offense and kind of presents it as I have set it for him, and then he runs with it. When I say run with it, he gets it to the position coaches. So it's important that everybody understands that at the very beginning Mike Denbrock is taking the entire offense and presenting it to the assistant coaches, and then they have to execute it. They have to execute what's been given to them. That is the practice organization, the installation, that is the preparation work.
Now when we get into game day, that's a whole different animal. That's where we'll kind of see where we go from there. I think I've got two guys that I'm going to lean on heavily in Mike Sanford and Mike Denbrock on game day. I haven't really made a decision as to how we're going to call the games at this point.
Q. Back to Jaylon. Today we saw him used as an example quite a few times as a linebacker. How do you see him stepping into a leadership role now going into his junior year?
COACH KELLY: Jaylon desperately wants to be called upon at any time to be that guy out front. We have no problem doing that. I will take him side by side with me anywhere I go, and he's it's great that he holds others accountable, and he's one of our best players.
I think for Jaylon, more than anything else, I think our players emulate his work ethic, they emulate the way he plays and practices every day, and they know that he's not afraid to tell them how to do it. So where does his leadership show more than anything else?
I think that they're quite afraid of him getting in their face if they don't do it the right way. I think that's where his singular leadership comes out.
Q. A follow up on the play calling question. Is it you, Denbrock or Sanford?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think all of us will sit down and decide. I think right now we're still deciding who is in the box, who is on the sideline. We really haven't gotten to that level yet. We'll probably decide that in the next week or so and then go from there.
Q. With Sanford and Malik, what's sort of a realistic target for the off season in terms of cleaning up techniques and getting him more consistent mechanically, and then big picture with the quarterback and accuracy, how much can you really improve that in a guy or is that something that's more inherent?
COACH KELLY: Oh, no. I think it's all I think all of the things that Malik had coming into the season, into the spring in terms of mechanics and things he needed to work on were all correctible. He gets a little big, gets the ball stuck behind him a little bit. It's just repetition.
I think he's already made some really good progress. Ball placement, touch, things like that that were not really part of what he did, he was always throwing the fastball and never really changing speeds at all.
These young quarterbacks get rated by their strength of arm, and they don't get rated by you should really rate them by touch passes and ball placements and level two balls. Then you really get the sense of the full picture, and those were the things he needed to work on, and he's made great progress and those touch passes and those ball placement kind of issues, because he was just a rear it up and rip it guy. He's come so far from that. I think Mike's made really good progress with him in a short period of time.
Q. In that aspect of his game, would it be fair to call those strengths yet or is it more they're not weaknesses?
COACH KELLY: I think he throws it pretty good for a college football quarterback. He throws it pretty good. He could throw it better. He's a sophomore. He's going to be around here a few more years. I think he could be a top, elite thrower of the football because his mechanics are not far off. He's a bit of an overstrider.
But he's so strong. He's got such a strong base, and he doesn't have a lot of dropping of the football and big wind up, things that worry you a lot. We've just got to cut down on his base a little bit. So he's on track to being better and better each and every week.
COACH KELLY: They've been invaluable, both of them. More oversight, you know, oversight on things that I'm looking for in particular. Coach Elliott is oversight right now, I've got him focused a lot on situations, specific situations that we want. So he's looking at situations, game situations, and then we're putting those in our 11 on 11s, and ones that we want to rep and work out as well as his oversight is triple option right now.
Coach Quinn's oversight right now is making sure that we develop all of our tight ends, because we're going to be using a lot of tight ends. He's also doing a lot of our self scout work, doing a lot of number crunching for us so we know where to go with some of our formations. So he's doing a lot of analytical work for us.
They'll be moved around, so lot of oversight work in areas where they can oversee coaches, players, situations, and both of them have been invaluable. Their experience is really invaluable.
Q. You mentioned KeiVarae and Russell and Will Fuller. You have two of the better players in the country at their position. Just curious what you've got them going at each other in camp for these two weeks?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think KeiVarae was rusty coming in. He really needed to be here, and it's great that he's gotten to work. Todd Lyght's done a terrific job with all of those guys. I love the way our one on ones have gone. It's been the best since I've been coaching, no matter where I've been. Our one on ones have been better than anywhere because there is constant teaching and coaching going on.
So KeiVarae has gotten so much better. There was a little too much clutching and grabbing, and I think a lot of that was when you're out of pads for a year, you can't duplicate by jumping on boxes. It looks good on video, but you've got to play the game. You've got to put pads on and you've got to get out there. And he is a different player than he was when he got in here because he wasn't that good. Now he's back to where, okay, that's KeiVarae, you know? That's the guy that we remember.
So he still needs that work. So the first couple of weeks, it wasn't much. We were running past him, and he was holding us and grabbing us. Now you can start to see him, his technique is coming back, his discipline is coming back, and it's nice to see. The battles that were really fun to watch were some of those young guys, Coleman, Crawford, those were fun to watch. Cole Luke has cleaned up, and I would say that Nick Watkins has made great progress.
So some of those young guys have made great progress, and I think KeiVarae's starting to get there right now. So those battles are just starting. Yesterday, we saw the classic Fuller Russell for the first time yesterday.
Q. Notre Dame is known for producing Heisman Trophy winners. In your five years you had one player vie for it, but you haven't had anyone on offense. Do you think the reason why is your offense doesn't really lend itself to featuring somebody?
COACH KELLY: Well, we haven't who has won the Heisman? It's been quarterbacks, right, pretty much. So you need that quarterback that has Heisman like numbers. I think that most of the attention is going to be to somebody that has those kinds of numbers across the board. We'll certainly have the opportunity to have a quarterback here at Notre Dame that can have those numbers, but Everett was having a great year last year and then we stumbled. He's been talked to as a candidate, but he wasn't able to finish strong, and we weren't able to finish strong as a team.
So you've got to play well as a team. You've got to win all of them or nearly all of your games. Heck, we've won all our games and we've got a linebacker in hunt for a Heisman. So you win all your games and you've got a really good quarterback. I'm not worried about Notre Dame not having the Heisman Trophy candidate. That's the least of my concerns.
Q. Who do you think would be who on the team do you think could be a Heisman?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we have a lot of candidates. I mean, Will Fuller had 12, 13 touchdowns last year. He's a dynamic receiver. It's always going to come back to the quarterback. I mean, here's a guy that can throw it and run it, but you've got to win football games. You've got to lead. You've got to do it right both on and off the field.
So naturally it always goes back to the quarterback. Heck, he's a first time starter. I just hope he keeps the job, right? He's hoping for Heisman. If he answers the question about Heisman, I'll absolutely kill him today, so we'll see how he handles that test today when you hit him up with the Heisman.
Hit him hard with the Heisman stuff. Let's see how he handles that one, because that will tell me whether he's going to win the Heisman or not.