An interview with:
Coach Brian Kelly
THE MODERATOR: We'll just start with questions.
Q. Brian, first of all, any clarity today on the five players that were held out of participation yesterday? COACH KELLY: No. No. Haven't talked to anybody regarding those five.
Q. You indicated yesterday some communication problems on the back end of the defense with the safeties. Any additional thoughts on the safety play after seeing the film? COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I think Austin had been obviously a great communicator back there. Then with Elijah and Max back there, we needed somebody to pick it up. Neither one of those guys picked up the slack. Need to be better.
So we'll get at it right away. Whatever we have to do, we'll get it better back there between those two guys, making sure that they communicate better. Even if we got to get them in film study, signaling everything during watching film, we've got to get these guys communicating better back there.
Q. I know this is a hypothetical, but if you were to get KeiVarae Russell back this week, would Cody Riggs possibly be an option at safety? COACH KELLY: No, no. He would not. He'd still play corner. It would give us a lot more flexibility in our nickel package.
Q. Is Farley too important to your nickel package to move him to safety on a full time basis? COACH KELLY: No, not necessarily. We just think with Shumate and Max, we just got to get them communicating. We like their skill set. We think they're the two best players back there.
Again, we got into a very unique situation where we had 24 hours really to get them communicating more effectively. We gave up five explosive plays, four passes, three of them directly related to poor communication.
We can get that corrected. Both those guys are the kind of skill players we want back there. We have to address that issue, which we will this week.
Q. I noticed an old football player from Notre Dame, former Yale Notre Dame player, Pat Eilers on the field. How did that come about? He's onboard and settled in? COACH KELLY: Yeah, it's great to have Pat. We were granted a special exemption from the NCAA when Kyle McCarthy was fallen ill with his battle. So Pat has reached out and has been able to take a sabbatical from his work.
He's got great knowledge of the game, obviously playing here, playing on a championship team. Played in the NFL. It's been great to have him around. He provides a lot. He'll be helping us a lot this week with those young safeties, too.
Q. So he reached out to you? Were you familiar with Pat? COACH KELLY: Oh, no, we know Pat very well. Have a good relationship with Pat. What we didn't want to do, is Kyle still wants to be on the field. As he goes through his treatments, we didn't want to pull him off the field. Pat said, Hey, you know, if we can make this work, I'd be happy to stay off the field. When Kyle can't go, I'll fill in for him.
It was just a great gesture on his part to make a situation work and allow Kyle to stay on the field when he can.
Q. Pat has no coaching background or does he? He's obviously a very bright guy and knows the game. COACH KELLY: No, I don't know that he has a long résumé in terms of coaching. But, as you know, he's bright, he's great with the kids. He's already shown himself to be pretty effective.
Q. Your interior offensive line arguably had the hardest matchup going into the game. Can you address their play yesterday? COACH KELLY: It was okay. It wasn't as consistent as we would like. I thought at times we did some pretty good things. But I think we would tell you in our first game, you know, we would like to say game two needs to be more consistent across the board. We have to protect our quarterback a little bit better at the tackle position. We have to be a little bit more consistent inside.
But all in all, again, when you have the balance that we had offensively, we did enough good things. But I know talking to Harry, and my observation, I think what we're looking for is a little bit more consistency out of the five.
Q. Flipping sides, Cole Luke made his first start and Matthias Farley started in a new position. Talk about their efforts. COACH KELLY: Yeah, I liked Cole's presence. He didn't seem to be affected by his first start. I thought he played with confidence. Really liked just his demeanor. I think that's really big at that position. That stood out to me.
Matthias is a guy that can do a lot of jobs for us. He's a valuable player for us. He continues to do that. Had the interception right before the half. It was a big picture. He's a guy that does a lot of jobs for us. He's outstanding in special teams, as well.
Q. Did he need a boost of confidence early or is that something that wasn't really relevant? COACH KELLY: Matthias or Cole?
Q. Matthias. COACH KELLY: I think everybody needs a little bit of boost. But he's a guy that has a lot of pride in his work, in his craft.
But I would say for him it's more about whatever he can do for the team more so than him needing a boost of confidence.
Q. Brian, how important was it to get Malik in at the end of the game, have him get that big play? COACH KELLY: You love getting your backup quarterback in the game. You can't duplicate that kind of situation. I mean, I don't know if you heard the ovation he got when he got in the game. We can't duplicate that in practice. That goes a long way certainly when a kid knows that he's seen as an important part of your team.
Then just getting those live reps I think is so important. His development is still going to have to be during the week and getting his reps. Anytime he can get some work in a game, it's just going to benefit him so if he has to go in, he's got a confidence level that he can do it.
Q. Joe Schmidt, I know you talked of him as an extension of the coaching staff on the field. In terms of technique, what was your evaluation of his play yesterday? COACH KELLY: Yeah, he was pretty good yesterday. He probably was our best player defensively. He's got some things that he's got to get better at. But I thought as a true first time start, he was the best player for us.
He made a lot of tackles, got us in the right fronts, was a great communicator for us. I think Joe did a lot of great things out there for us.
But we still have to evolve at that position, as well. There's a number of things that Coach VanGorder will continue to coach him on. Great thing about Joe, he's going to get better at that position.
What you saw on Saturday is for all those guys just a starting point. They're going to get better. That's the good part about it.
Q. Coach, when I was looking over the tackles and I saw Jaylon Smith only had three, it seemed impossible because I think you notice every one of them. I'm curious how he graded out in his first game inside. COACH KELLY: He played with great effort. Had some mental mistakes. I think he's still learning the position. But he plays with great effort and great enthusiasm. I think he's probably one of those guys that's just going to benefit from having more and more time learning and developing in this system.
But when it comes to Jaylon, he takes his work very seriously. I would expect that you're going to see significant improvement from Jaylon from week one to week two.
Q. I wondered if you could evaluate the offensive tempo. Was it what you wanted and did it accomplish what you wanted to accomplish? COACH KELLY: Yeah, it was close. Obviously, there will be different kinds of tempo for us. Each game will be a little bit different. I think by and large what we tried to do against Rice didn't really lend itself to play 90 plays. They were a man coverage team. You knew you were going to get some shots over the top.
When you play a team that plays a lot of soft coverage, you're going to get more plays. We didn't really think this was going to be a game that was going to end up being a 90 plus play game. We thought it was going to be probably more where it ended up being. We kind of got what we thought relative to plays.
As it relates to the tempo, we'd like to play a little bit faster, and I think we will as Everett becomes a little bit more comfortable with what we're trying to achieve.
Q. I think I counted seven freshmen on defense for you yesterday. Not trying to make you younger, but do you feel like Jhonny Williams and Jonathan Bonner will get into that group eventually here soon? Is it more beneficial for them to develop outside of games at this point? COACH KELLY: No, I think Jhonny Williams and possibly another defensive lineman could see the field as well. I don't think that we're done there. There's time for these younger defensive linemen to develop. Jay Hayes is in that group, as well. To answer your question, I would say that both of those guys, Jhonny Williams, Jay Hayes, even possibly Bonner, could play this year.
Q. Pass rush, how would you evaluate the pressure that your guys were able to bring on their quarterback? COACH KELLY: Well, it's an interesting question. Most of our calls were to take away the quarterback runs. We wanted him to be a quarterback. So we were quite okay because we were trying to take away some running lanes from the quarterback. If they were going to have any success, we were going to make them throw the football. So it really wasn't, you know, pin your ears back and speed rush up the field and let this guy kind of run.
We were okay with it. The thing we weren't okay with were the explosive passes that resulted in some miscommunication. But we were fine with the pass rush. We could have brought some pressures if we felt like we wanted to do that. But we were more interested in making that kid drop back and throw the football.
Q. The dreaded injury question. Anybody new get dinged up in the game that you're concerned about going into this week? COACH KELLY: No. For the first time, we got some good medical news. Nobody that would be out of Saturday's game against Michigan.
Q. Looked like Jaylon may have hurt his hand yesterday during the game. Was that just a minor thing? COACH KELLY: It was a dislocated finger, which was reset in a matter of probably five minutes, and then went back in the game.
Q. You talked yesterday about avoiding the (indiscernible). I've heard people asking players about it before the season even began. This game seems to be even bigger than a normal rivalry week. How do you avoid it this week? COACH KELLY: Similar to what I've done in past years. We really keep our focus on what our technique and our own individual work needs to get better at.
For example, Shumate and Max Redfield, they can't be thinking about Michigan because they have to learn how to communicate better, really focus on that. Chris Brown has to do a better job of getting in and out of his breaks. We're really, really focusing on the individual and what they have to get better at this week.
If we really focus on those things and really drill hard on those, it keeps their mind at what they need to get better at instead of thinking about big picture items. That's kind of how we go about it. It keeps the guys so much more focused on what will help them win.
Q. Any thoughts on them playing the chicken dance song after last season's victory? COACH KELLY: My thoughts? Yeah, I mean, that's their prerogative. They won the game. They can play whatever they want. We're going to play the alma mater.
Q. Two teams from the Midwest this week. You had some success recruiting in the South. Midwestern teams seem to have a notorious history of keeping all the recruiting to the Midwest. I was thinking if you think it's more important for Midwest teams to recruit around the country than it used to be? COACH KELLY: Since I've come to Notre Dame, I don't know that our Midwestern roots have really shown themselves here. We've got players that, just in last year's class, I think we were 18 states. I think we signed 23 players. That representation went from New Jersey to California to Texas. Certainly Florida and Texas, California, are three big states for us.
If there's a great player in the Midwest, we're certainly not going to miss out on him. But here at Notre Dame, we're going to recruit the entire country. There's some great football in those areas that I just mentioned to you. They're playing spring football, as well.
I don't know that I've ever thought, since I've been at Notre Dame, that we've been a Midwest recruiting focus. We've been a national focus.
Q. Do you think in general there are fewer kids in the Midwest to recruit from than there have been in past years? COACH KELLY: I think the demographics have shown a move to the certain areas in the country now that are hotter recruiting. The Carolinas are stronger just because of the shift in demographics. Because of that, we're stronger in that area. Virginia, North Carolina on the East Coast. I think Texas is definitely an area, and Florida, that the demographics have pointed us towards more potential Division I players in that area.
Yeah, I would say there's definitely, because of that change in demographics, it has pointed us in that direction.
Q. In what way, change in demographics? Is there a reason for that? COACH KELLY: Well, I think people are moving out of the Midwestern towns that were industrial based. I think it's more about economics. People are moving into areas where they can find a better lifestyle.
I mean, you just take a look at Pennsylvania, the great high school teams that used to be in that area. Now, because of the steel town, the exodus of so many jobs in that area, that high school football is not what it once was. I think that's happened in a lot of these industrial cities throughout the Midwest, as well.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about a rotation along the defensive front. The freshmen in the second half, especially Cage seemed to take a lot of reps. What was your idea on snaps that Jarron and others took, and is that a rotation you'd like to continue? COACH KELLY: 30 something snaps for Jarron I think is about right. I think Sheldon started off really well. I thought he got a little tired. We're going to have to continue to round ourselves into a rotation that keeps us playing at the highest level.
We're still kind of trying to find what that number is exactly. But it's somewhere in that 30 something range. So all those guys will continue to be part of that rotation.
Q. That includes Isaac Rochell also? COACH KELLY: Yeah. Isaac did some really good things, too, and some things he has to improve on. I would say when we evaluate the defensive line, some good things. We have to continue to get better.
But, look, it's easier to get better after a win. There's a lot of things that we've got to clean up. But we feel like we've got some depth there that we can keep rotating players in and they can keep learning and getting better at that position.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.