Oct. 5, 2010
An Interview With:
COACH Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: Pittsburgh presents obviously a very strong opponent. What they do offensively has been evolved about a running game that has featured Dion Lewis in the past, now it's Ray Graham. They've got two outstanding running backs. I know a lot about Dion Lewis from last year and of course Ray Graham this year has been the featured player. Having both those backs obviously presents a great challenge.
(Jon) Baldwin is a match up problem, also. Any time you've got a long receiver who can go up and get the football. Probably the guy that really makes it work for them is (Harry) Hynoski, the fullback, 6'2", 265. He really is the guy that they rely heavily on within their offensive structure. So offensively the run game, Baldwin, big fullback. Defensively obviously the edge pressure Sheard, Jabaal Sheard obviously is a guy that we have to pay attention to. He creates major problems for us if we just single him up. We've got to be able to do some things to slow him down a little bit. From a defensive standpoint, returners at linebacker, (Max) Gruder, (Greg) Williams, (Dom) DeCicco now playing out at Sam. So a lot of guys that I'm familiar with over the last couple years, it's a tough, physical defense, and again, they can do some very good things with their front four. Special teams is outstanding. I think they've blocked four kicks already, punts, very aggressive in their punter/kicker combination. (Dan) Hutchins is a very solid kicker. It's a very solid football team. They played on the road, lost in overtime to Utah, a top ranked team, and then obviously off with the bye week playing Miami, probably didn't play as well as they would have liked. But they've played great competition in those two games. Again, for us, respect our opponent. We know who the guys are that make it work for Pittsburgh, and now it's about obviously for us building on what we did last week.
With that I'll open it up to questions.
Q. Going back to what you said Sunday about being a work in progress, you've identified a number of areas where you needed to make progress, whether it be mental toughness or the running defense, things like that. Approaching the half point of the season here, where do you feel like you've made the most progress, and where do you feel like you've got the farthest to go yet?
COACH KELLY: Progress for us is just becoming more familiar with what is expected of them on a day to day basis. I think our guys know what the message is. They clearly know what I want from them and that I'm going to demand from them.
So I think that's progress. That's a relationship that's building on a day to day basis. But I come in through meetings, and I can look at them and I know they know what I want. So that to me is the ultimate progress.
I think we're getting better against the run each and every week. I think that's been really good for us, the progress that's been made there. And I think Dayne Crist obviously is making progress. Those are probably the things that are positive.
Consistency and taking care of the football on offense are the two things that bother me at this point. Consistency of performance and then taking care of the football, I think those are the two things I don't feel like we've made enough progress with.
Q. Three games in a row now Robert Blanton tipped the ball up in the air and it's been intercepted. Has he mastered the art of the reflection or what's going on?
COACH KELLY: Either that or we're doing a great job in our tip drill. I don't know who gets the credit for that. He's a guy that plays the ball well in the air. He's played very, very well for us at the cornerback position. In particular he's coming in at nickel. He's, again, a young man that is playing a lot more this year and has made the most of his opportunities.
Q. I noticed every week you seem to wear a tie with the opposing team's colors in it. What's with that?
COACH KELLY: You know, I have Winnie The Pooh matchables. My wife lays them out and it's just whatever matches.
Q. When you talk about the fullback and how the fullback makes their offense, how do they use them?
COACH KELLY: Well, as you know, they lost two very good tight ends, so they're using him as kind of a motion tight end. He moves to the point of attack. He becomes that extra hat, if you will, and can obviously lead you to the football. But he plays like a tight end out of the backfield position.
So you know, again, from our standpoint, he's a guy that we have to really keep our eyes on because he's going to be in a large degree at the point of attack.
Q. And with Zack Martin, his learning curve from where he was at the start of August to halfway through the season to where you want him at the end of November, what is that process or what's his development been?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think when he sees new things, obviously those are to be experienced as you've said before. There are things happening each week that he has never seen before. All the other things that he has seen, he has developed and has gotten better each and every time. So when you look at Zack Martin as a first time starter, each week he sees new things and maybe doesn't handle it like a veteran starter, but those things that he has encountered already, he's playing at a high level. He's grading out as our top lineman at this point.
Q. How do you keep a young guy like that from second guessing himself even in the middle of a play?
COACH KELLY: I think that's all in the development of any football player: Did your preparation during the week allow you to come into the game comfortable and confident that you can get the job done. I know our players feel very good when they go into the games that they've seen the things that we've coached during the week. There will always be a couple things, and you hope that your athletic ability can make up for that. For example, we may come down on a three technique and he knows that that was the wrong move to make. He's athletic enough to adjust to make up for that mistake. And that's what he's able to do.
Q. And one last thing, when you're going against a run game like you did last week, like you are this week, how does that impact the responsibilities of the corners in how they you used to say how you like to give them hell. Do they get less hell in a situation like this?
COACH KELLY: Well, you have to pick your spots. I mean, if they know and you know and everybody what's watching the game knows that Baldwin is one on one the whole game, that's not a good situation. We have to make (Tino) Sunseri not know whether he's getting help on his receiver, and that's really the game within the game, making sure that the quarterback is not sure when it is double zone or when that corner is getting help on a particular play.
Q. I remember after the first game, the Purdue game, seeing you walk around and actually telling your guys to celebrate and enjoy the feeling of a win. I'm guessing you didn't have to do that this week. Did they kind of appreciate what that feels like and the difficulties of making that happen a little bit more?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, but it's only two wins, so we're not we're certainly not at that point where it's habit forming. We're still trying to break bad habits to get into good habits. We didn't have to tell them to celebrate. They knew it was a road victory. Any road victory is one to celebrate. But we just have so many other moving pieces that we spent most of our time talking about it on Monday more so celebrating the victory.
Q. I guess I'm sure I couldn't say just what you saw it do for their demeanor and their psyche. It had to feel good for them after the last month.
COACH KELLY: Certainly. Any time you win you just need to win to cure a lot of things. But they're very positive things. I pointed out to the offense the third quarter drive. Those are important steps forward, when you can put together 14 plays. We were having a hard time putting together three or four plays, so when you can put together a 14 play drive, that means that some of those things are starting to carry over. And on the defensive side of the ball, when you can limit a team to a very minimal rushing, those are good signs.
So I pointed out the signs that I see that are positive towards getting this to be habit forming. But we're far from that yet.
Q. Carlo (Calabrese) seems to be more and more noticeable every week. How much of that do you think is him getting better as a football player, and how much do you think teams are now starting to focus on Manti (Te'o) and kind of free him up to make more plays?
COACH KELLY: I don't know that it's the latter. I think it's more Carlo is developing into a very solid linebacker and a consistent player for us. He's tackling well in space. He's much better in his coverage fits. That was some of our concerns.
I think really he's just tackling better and he's playing more consistent on a play to play basis.
Q. And lastly, you've talked about the concerns with the turnovers. How do you coach not turning over the football?
COACH KELLY: How do I coach it? Well, I think first and foremost, you make sure that you're doing the fundamentals right, so during practice, during individual, we're making sure that we're talking about taking care of the football and doing those kinds of things.
You just demand it. If it's something that is lack of attention, if it's lack of putting the ball away, we're going to address it. Armando Allen had a move down by the 5 yard line where he brought the ball up over his head. Those are coaching points. That can't happen again. Those are things. So we're pointing out things that we see that can put the ball on the ground. We're trying to coach it during practice, and then we're demanding it from our players.
Q. You mentioned sudden change defense on Sunday as something that was good against Boston College. Is that something you can emphasize in practice or is it just the guys came out and played well in that moment and it happened at that time, or is it something you practice?
COACH KELLY: That is a point of emphasis in the summer when we're running 350s. Coach (Paul) Longo will blow the whistle after what was supposed to be a 30 second rest in between the 350s. And so the offense is a spread offense. We're going to put points on the board, but there's a turnover. We're running right now.
So we create that mentality back in the summer of sudden change for our defense, and they've been consistent at it. So I wouldn't say that the Boston College game was a one shot deal. They did it against Stanford, they did it against Michigan State. They've been really consistent with that, and I think the reason for it is we've built that mentality going way back to our conditioning.
Q. I think we're running out of ways to ask you how good Ian Williams has been this year, but big picture what did you see with him when he got here and how far has he come as kind of that nose in your defense?
COACH KELLY: Well, two things: One was work volume, his ability to have a sustained effort, a high level, was not very good. We graded it out to be somewhere in the 30 play range last year. And then his play would taper off, physical conditioning, strength, all those things, nutrition, taking care of his body. Now he's up in that 50 play range.
So the first thing that's obviously noticeable is his work volume. He can now compete at a high level for a longer period of time. He's always had the intuitive, kinesthetic awareness, whatever you want to call it, he can get off blocks, so he's always had that. What we've really focused on is the work volume.
Q. And you mentioned on Saturday mental, physical toughness. At your other stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, how long did it take to instill that and what's kind of the sign that they've got it?
COACH KELLY: All of the places that I've coached, it's been at the core of developing a championship football team. There's that mental and physical toughness. I've always felt that the mental is to the physical as two is to one. So clearly that has been at the heart of wherever I've coached, I believe that to be a championship quality. So we're coaching that hard. And there's no other way that I know how to coach it.
So it was at Grand Valley when we broke through at Grand Valley. It was at Central Michigan and it was at Cincinnati.
Q. Is there that breakthrough moment, does it always happen at the same time? I guess at Cincinnati when did you think, okay, these guys, they have it?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think there are certain games where you say, that's how you play this game. I think there's those watershed moments. I don't think that they're always that big that we would all see it, but there are certainly signs, and I think I pointed out a couple in particular, third and fourth quarter, finishing off opponents, holding leads in the fourth quarter, not relinquishing them, so you can see signs of it, and then it's just continuously winning.
Q. I wanted to ask about Mike Elston seemed to have concluded by the beginning of last week, when was Bennett (Jackson) sort of the choice to go with the spark for the kickoff return?
COACH KELLY: I think it was when we decided to make a change at that position. We had to obviously move one of our starters out of a position there, so that didn't happen until Wednesday. I had not cleared that hurdle in my own mind that I was ready to go in that direction. Once we did, he practiced at it hard on Wednesday and Thursday and was prepared for his chance on Saturday.
It was just a matter of I think Mike had confidence, I had confidence, but you still have to make a change with personnel, and I wanted to talk to the person that we were changing before we made that move.
Q. Is there something innate to a guy that he's good at that, sort of catch it and go and quick movement? We saw him in one practice earlier in the year and he was good right off the bat.
COACH KELLY: Well, I think certainly you have to have the right mental approach to it, that you're going to catch it and go. So some of it is the mental ability of a player to just say, hey, I'm going to trust it, I'm going to hit it and I'm going to go. You can't think a lot back there. A lot of thinking is not a good thing at kickoff. You've got 11 guys running downfield real fast with equipment on, and if you're thinking about that, you're probably going to be slow out of the gates. You've got to hit it, and he's got that ability where he's a bit fearless from that standpoint. So it takes a different kind of guy to do that.
Q. And like you said before, you and the Pitt staff are probably very, very familiar with each other. Is it apples to apples when you guys are looking this week because the personnel is so changed on the Notre Dame end? Does that complicate things either way?
COACH KELLY: I don't think so. I think they know what we're going to do offensively, and we kind of know what they're going to do defensively, so I think that's a wash.
I still think this comes down to who's better prepared and who executes better on Saturday, because we know each other so well. They're like a conference opponent more than anything else, going into a conference game.
Q. You were talking about Carlo. Manti is such a serious, intense kid. Talk about Carlo and the personality that he kind of brings to the position. Are they big contrasts?
COACH KELLY: You get to know the personalities of your players in time, and games bring out a personality, practice brings out a personality, just having dinner with them. They're actually very similar. Both of those guys would rather crack a joke than tell a story, a serious story. They generally are very easy to be around. They're not high strung, if you will. And so I think that they are actually a lot similar from a head coach's perspective when I interact with them. I can have fun with both of them.
Q. And do you see Manti taking Carlo kind of under his wing, or because they're classmates it's not necessarily a mental relationship, but Manti has got the experience that Carlo didn't have last year.
COACH KELLY: It's simply been developing confidence in both of them, so neither one of them really had the ability to bring up the play of other players. They're getting there. Manti is probably a little bit ahead of Carlo in his play is starting to influence in the way he goes to work every day. But I don't believe that Manti had the ability to bring up the ranks. He's starting to do that. I think Carlo developed his confidence, and that's why we've seen him emerge.
Q. And to make it odd question day, we had a listener call in wondering, you had those big headphones on when you got off the bus. What were you listening to?
COACH KELLY: I think I was listening at that time to I want to say it was either U2 or Bruce Springsteen, which is probably the only two songs that I could listen to before a game.
Q. If you say U2, they win a prize because that was their guess?
COACH KELLY: That was their guess? Then they win a prize because it was U2.
Q. Not to break up the music part of the program here
COACH KELLY: I appreciate that.
Q. Cierre Wood, with a guy that talented who may be struggling with some things, what tack do you take this week? Do you pull back with him a little bit? Do you kind of push him
COACH KELLY: Here's why I like Cierre Wood. It seems to be a big topic of conversation, my sideline demeanor. When I went to talk to him about that play, talk to him about the play, he said, "Coach, it's inexcusable what I did. I can't tell you why it happened. That's ridiculous." He immediately took accountability for his actions. I didn't say another word to him. I'm a Cierre Wood fan. We're going to keep developing that young man and he's going to be a good football player. He just needs to continue to develop, gain more confidence. He needs recognition awareness. When he sees things, he's got to go, and he's still thinking too much. When we can get that out of him, when he can just react, man, he's going to be fun to play.
I'll tell you what, he had a couple runs, real hard runs early in the game, made that mistake obviously, you can't put the ball on the ground in a competitive situation. But what I loved about the kid is immediately it wasn't, well, I didn't get the call, I didn't hear it, I was getting a little tired, we hear a lot of that around here at Notre Dame, and we hear about it too much, and I didn't hear it from Cierre Wood. And that's why I'm in his camp and we're going to keep getting him to move forward and be a really good player for us.
Q. Braxston (Cave) looked like he corrected some of the things that were bothering him in the Stanford game. Where is his evolution right now, and is the snap did the snaps kind of hold him back in other areas, thinking about the snaps before he got that down?
COACH KELLY: Quite possibly. It's a lot, you know. The recognition of the defense, making the calls, there's a lot of cerebral things that have to go on out there as well as the physical.
And so when you're Zack Martin you don't have to do much, you've just got to listen and react to movement. He's doing a lot more as a first year starter than any of those guys. There's a lot on his plate. And he's making great progress this week. You're absolutely right, he did a really good job with the snaps. We changed up, we got them to jump offsides, all the things we talked about here last week that I was concerned about he addressed through practice and did a very good job. So I would say that he's making the progress necessary for him to be a complete center.
Q. You haven't gotten out to run around yet, but does it still look kind of the same prognosis for (Taylor) Dever and (Braxston) Cave and (Chris) Stewart?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think you're always concerned with an ankle on your center, but he told me this morning he'll be fine. So we'll get him out there today and I'll have a better feel, because we've got some great flexibility. I've got a lot of confidence in (Andrew) Nuss and (Matt) Romine. They're veteran players, they've played football. So regardless of the situation, you've got Watt who played a lot, (Mike) Golic played a lot. I feel pretty good at the offensive line. If we had two or three guys missing at some other positions, I probably would be a lot more concerned.
Q. And lastly from me, things get so dissected, as you've probably found out here at Notre Dame, and people even if you're winning are concerned about the numbers for (Kyle) Rudolph and (Michael) Floyd. Does it concern you? Do you expect to see the numbers go up?
COACH KELLY: Are there numbers low comparatively? I don't know.
Q. Rudolph maybe in the last couple games and Michael I think was expected to be way up there with the leading receiver.
COACH KELLY: No, we have to utilize both of them within our offense, but we're not going to throw them the ball if they're double covered or they're not within the structure of our offense. We feel like we can score enough points if you want to put a guy over the top of Michael Floyd, we still think we can get him the football. But we're not going to be silly at it. We're going to be we've got really Armando Allen has been probably our play maker if you look at everything that he's done in terms of running and catching, and if you continue to give us Armando Allen, we're going to continue to take him.
Q. Continuing on that theme, even back in the spring you mentioned the Z receiver being so pivotal in your offense, which is why you moved (Theo) Riddick there. Did you assume he could be a receiver after the first five weeks?
COACH KELLY: You guys know I was sure hoping. I knew the importance of that position. We moved him for a reason, feeling as though when we evaluated our players that he had a chance to be a dynamic player in that position. So it's coming to fruition from that standpoint. He's got a long way to go, but he's giving us the ability to run our offense the way we want to run it. And if he wasn't at that level, we would still have some struggles in being consistent.
Q. What is it about that position that makes it so pivotal in the overall success of the offense?
COACH KELLY: Well, it's really about how you're going to play the box for us, how many guys you're going to put in the box. If you drop that Sam backer and you want to put him in the box, Theo is out in space with nobody over him, and that's probably not a match up that teams want.
So now you take a (Mark) Herzlich out of the game against BC because he's got to stay out over Theo Riddick the whole game. I don't know if he had a couple of tackles, but he was effectively taken out of the ballgame. If we can do that, it allows Armando to run and allows some other things to occur then he's doing his job, as well.
Q. Defensively the outside linebacker position Prince Shembo became pretty conspicuous in the game. Do you see a rotation there because Filer also seemed to be a little bit more active?
COACH KELLY: They're improving, they're just allowing us to move personnel in and out of the game and feel really confident that they can be productive for us. So this is truly about the development of a Steven Filer and a Prince Shembo within this defense, as well as Neal and Smith. I mean, they're developing each and every week. Brian (Smith) has probably developed as much as any of our linebackers, maybe, save, Carlo Calabrese. But all these guys are developing before our eyes to the point where when they go in the game they can be productive.
Q. For the last several weeks one of the main topics has been running the quarterback and how it has to be important for the overall effectiveness of the offense. You have five quarterbacks on the roster who played outside of maybe Tommy Rees more of a pro style set. Do you see your recruiting changing as far as an emphasis on a dual front quarterback to run your offense?
COACH KELLY: He's got to have the ability to keep you honest. He can't just throw fast balls. He's got to have at least one breaking pitch. He can't just bring one skill set to the table. This guy is being recruited by Alabama, this guy is being recruited by it really doesn't matter who they're recruiting, what other schools are recruiting. We're looking for a guy that can run the spread. So however that wants to be phrased, the University of Notre Dame is looking for a quarterback that can run the spread, and what does that entail? He can't just be a thrower and he can't just be a runner.
So does he have to be a dual threat? No, not necessarily, but he'd better be able to at least keep you honest when you're in the spread offense.
Q. Does it help if he does run the spread offense as opposed to a pro style in high school?
COACH KELLY: Not necessarily. That's probably the least of my concerns. My biggest concerns are when we're talking about the spread is how the ball comes out of his hand. It's got to come out like that. So I'm evaluating quarterbacks based upon how the ball comes out of his hands. It's got to come out quickly.
Q. You talked about Sheard and how much attention you guys are going to have to pay to him. How different is the Pitt defense without (Greg) Romeus in there?
COACH KELLY: Well, you're obviously now focused on one guy instead of two. You can set your ability to chip and double to one side, you know. We played them both last year, and they're difficult. And in our game plan we had to have ways to move the pocket and will continue to have to do that. But clearly one is a lot better than having both of them.
Q. It's a small sample of just five games, but I'm just curious, do you see that you guys does it feel like you play better on the road or at least come out better or more focused on the road, or do you not agree with that premise?
COACH KELLY: We seem to do our best work at night, quite frankly. I don't know. I think our ability the Notre Dame student athlete has a lot on his plate, there's no question. The academic rigors, all the things that they have to do with the pageantry of Notre Dame is wonderful, but it's a lot. So when they get a chance to get to the hotel on Friday and we let them buy a movie, which is awesome I've never been able to do that at any other schools, we didn't have the budget for it, I was actually excited for them, they can really relax. And I think that they have taken to that and the ability to just get all the stress out of their life and just relax and allow them to focus on football.
So I think that has something to do with it. But I believe that we're going to be able to do that both at home and on the road.
Q. And I'm curious how the student pep rally went over with the players and with the coaches.
COACH KELLY: That's a good question. I thought it went over very well. Our players didn't necessarily want to be at a pep rally when they are 1 and 3, but they understood the spirit of our University and that our students wanted to have the pep rally. I thought they handled it very well.
There were some great things that happened. Brian Smith got a chance to speak, and his dad got the same opportunity when he was here to speak in the Stepan Center to the students, so there were some real neat things, Barry Gallup, a Boston College guy, got a chance to talk about the rivalry. It was interesting, you learn things about Notre Dame, and at first glance, 1 and 3 pep rally, come on, who wants to go to this. But our guys understood that, and we all were there. We were very appreciative of the students that were out there. It wasn't a huge crowd, but it was a lot of spirit there, and I think we took a positive from that experience.
Q. This might be a bit off of your radar, but you've played both Michigan and Michigan State this year. I was just curious if you could maybe evaluate both teams since they're undefeated and playing this weekend.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, they're really a contrast in styles for me. Defensively the three down and Greg Robinson's style of defense is almost a polar opposite from Coach Narduzzi. They both do a tremendous job, but they're both so stark and different relative to their philosophies from a defensive standpoint. And obviously that couldn't be more true than on the offensive side of the ball. You've got a spread running attack featuring a quarterback where you've got a power running back featuring a play action pass. I think it just shows the greatness of college football in the sense that you've got two teams that philosophically couldn't be further from each other but they're both top 20 teams. That's how I see it.
Q. One question on (Denard) Robinson, Michigan's quarterback. Are you surprised he's been able to keep up the pace that he's kept up so far this year?
COACH KELLY: Well, I believe that this is only his second Big Ten game. I think obviously as this thing kind of unfolds, you know, I think the month of October will probably be the best test to find out that. But he's shown himself to be very tough. I thought he was physically and mentally tough against us. I would expect that to continue, but there's still a lot of football out there.
Q. I was wondering if you could just talk about Darrin Walls a little bit and what he's meant to the team and how he's been playing?
COACH KELLY: He's been outstanding. He's been our best cover corner consistently. He's played through injury. He's probably been our most professional and locked in player, and I say professional from a day to day standpoint. He's very purposeful in what he does. He's somebody we can point to in our senior class and say, that's mental and physical toughness. He's displayed that each and every week.
Q. And can you talk about a match up with Baldwin when those two get hooked up?
COACH KELLY: Well, clearly we have a great deal of respect for Jonathan Baldwin, and Darrin Walls is a pretty good football player. I think you've probably got whether it's (Randy) Moss versus (Darrelle) Revis, I don't know if they've put it in that degree, but you've got two really good players out there that want to win.
Again, I think within our scheme, he's going to have to defend him one on one sometimes, and we feel good about that match up, as well.
Q. You mentioned a little bit earlier about this being kind of like a conference game. Being in the Big East the past three years, what have you seen from Pitt? You guys have had pretty good success against him offensively the past couple years.
COACH KELLY: Well, we've had hard fought games that have come down to the very end. I don't know that there's a particular thing that I would say, boy, they don't do this well or they don't do that well. They're primarily a zone defense that's going to try to keep the ball in front of them. They give great pressure on the quarterback with their front four.
It's hard for me to say there's a particular thing. We know what their personality is, and I think in both games that we've played, it's come down to the last possession. I think we beat them 28 21 and whatever that thing was last year. It was a lot of points. But just knowing that you're going to be in a fight for four quarters against Pittsburgh.
Q. When you talk about the personnel that you have now, how similar is it to last year and the year before that like you mentioned the two wins? How similar and how different is it with the quarterbacks, Tony Pike and Dayne?
COACH KELLY: Experience, and we had a dynamic guy on the perimeter in Mardy Gilyard. Those are probably the two differences between our team and the Cincinnati team, more experience at the quarterback position, although I love what Dayne is doing, and then Mardy Gilyard was a big play guy in special teams and made some big plays down the field. And I think we've got a guy in combination with Floyd.
So different players, but we're going to need the same kind of production from the quarterback and the wide receiver.
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