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April 16, 2016

Brian Kelly

South Bend, Indiana

Notre Dame Blue - 17, Notre Dame Gold - 7

COACH KELLY: Well, it was a great day out there. You know, couldn't ask for better weather. Great crowd, great atmosphere. I was really happy with the game in itself. You know, any time you break up a squad and you feel like there's some areas where you're a little bit thin in terms of personnel, you always are concerned about how you're going to get through the game, but I thought it went extremely smooth.

Just checked with our trainers, nothing serious, no injuries that are going to cause any concerns. A couple of ankles, maybe a hamstring here or there, but nothing from an injury standpoint, so that's always great in the spring game.

But I think what stood out for me, other than we gave the game ball to Tyler Newsome, our punter, who punted the heck out of the football today. I guess that's a good thing in the spring game; your punter won the MVP of the game. That says a lot about a spring game.

But I thought it was clean in the sense of, no turnovers. It wasn't sloppy. We had a couple of penalties here and there, but I thought it was disciplined. It was organized. I thought the team knew what they were doing, both on offense and defense and that was pleasing from a head coach's perspective, but that's what I would expect at this time in the development of our football team.

Quarterbacks, both of them did some good things. I thought Kizer managed the game pretty darn good. I thought Malik did some pretty good things, as well. You know, I think Brandon Wimbush continues to do some really good things. You could see his physical ability out there continues to show itself, and those were, indeed, designed runs to get VanGorder in the end zone against his dad. We wanted somebody to have bragging rights tonight and we were going to make sure that Montgomery had them.

I think, you know, a number of kids stand out for me. I thought Dexter ran extremely hard, Dexter Williams. I was pleased with Justin Brent. I don't know that we have a player on our team in KJ Stepherson that can catch the ball at full speed as he cuts across the field; a very unique trait of his. He still has to work on catching the ball vertically down the field. But he catches the ball out of his break at full speed, and it is a unique trait that he has that I have not seen since I've been here at Notre Dame, and we'll continue to work with him.

Defensively, I thought Cole Luke played very, very well. Played well at the nickel. Forced the ball extremely well. Devin Studstill tackled exceedingly well. I thought Max played well. So there was a number of really good things. Great communication, organization of our fronts, with Nyles, a lot of good things.

So I'll open it up to questions.

Q. You said yesterday you wanted to give the quarterback an opportunity to lead their own offense. With Malik, did he pick up right where he left off in the Virginia game?
COACH KELLY: I thought he did some really good things. We'll have to spend a little bit more time on some calls that were made, you know, were the protections flipped in the right side; did he fan the right direction; should we have gotten out of a particular play. We'll have to look at that in a little bit more beat.

But what we didn't have today were some communication errors that we had earlier in spring. I thought he really accelerated that end of his game; where I thought he was a little rusty earlier in the spring. Really did a nice job today and clear communication with his offensive line.

And again, you have some guys that haven't been working together all spring, now trying to work in unison. I thought he did a really nice job with that.

Q. When he planted to his left and cut back to his right, you've known he can do that, but just to see it in this atmosphere, was that good?
COACH KELLY: I think it puts him over the hurdle mentally. He felt really good coming back; that he got that run in and through traffic. And again, being live in that situation, obviously it puts him now in a position where that injury now is in the rear-view mirror. He can move forward and now continue to grow and develop.

Q. What does it mean to have Tranquill back out there? What does that do for the team?
COACH KELLY: Strong leadership, strong presence on the field. He's a physical player, but he also has the ability to play a couple of different positions for us, as well, and we didn't use some of our different defensive looks.

But he's a guy that we can count on. He's very smart, hard worker, and he's got some great tone and a great leadership tone for us back there, as well.

Q. Can you talk about the depth at linebacker and what some of the new faces of the defense, how they did, some of the red shirts and walk-ons, since this is their first opportunity to be out on the field?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, so today was, really the concern was the linebacker position because two guys that have played quite a bit for us are out with injuries. You know, Te'von, Tony and Greer Martini were out.

So Devyn Spruell who is a walk-on, did a really nice job today. Played quite a bit. Getting him in there and doing some pretty good things helped us out a lot. It was either that or play nickel and we didn't want to play too much nickel with Shaun Crawford because he was playing with a green jersey. Didn't seem like he played with a green jersey. Played pretty much live the whole.

Had a lot of pressure on him today. Played a lot of football. I thought he did a nice job as a freshman. And again, I think we continue to look for more guys to step up at that position, but it's not going to be until the fall where we bring in some linebackers and then Greer and Te'von get healthy.

Q. Was Stepherson showing the traits that he does, is there a chance that you would look at him at either at W or the slot just to get him on the field?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think it's wide open. I think we're really going to have to sort out the position for where it's easier to keep him on the field more so than what's best for the other players. It's going to be what's best for him.

So we're going to take it slow with him, and find what's best for him. You know, it's harder inside, because there's so many more variables in terms of what he has to do and adjust his routes. He's probably better suited to be on the outside.

But then if he's on the outside what do you do with Torii. I think Torii has more experience where we can flop Corey around more so with not swapping KJ around. I don't want to move him all over the place.

So we've got to really figure out what we want to do with him and stick with that and say, this is where you're going to play next year.

Q. You have the defense, there were some impressive individual pieces. When you put this whole defense together, which we didn't see today, collectively, do you think this has a chance to be a better defense than last year?
COACH KELLY: I think every year you go into it and believe that last year, I thought if we stayed healthy, we're going to play for a National Championship. Certainly a couple plays here or there.

I think that this defense is going to play the kind of defense necessary for us to get into that playoff hunt again and there are good enough players out there for us to do that once again.

Now, the other area where I'm very pleased is the progress of some of the young players in the back end of our defense. I thought our corner play was better. I thought our safety play was much improved and those are the areas, as you know, we need better play at, and I thought that those young players out there today made significant progress.

Q. What did you need to see from DeShone from March 16 to today; what is sort of the next step for him?
COACH KELLY: You know, he managed the game very well: Confidence, consistency.

I just think that he continues to show the things that you want a starting quarterback to show. I'm not giving him the starting nod by any means, but I think when you talk about DeShone, where are the areas that we struggled last year. I think it was the red zone, we still need to work there.

There's a lot of work. We just had that conversation yesterday at great length; that we'll have to spend a lot of time in the red zone. There were a couple situations today where the ball was in the middle of the field and he decided to roll left and throw, where he could have easily rolled to the right and thrown.

Just little things like that, we've got to continue to grow in the red zone with him and come up with some touchdowns instead of field goals. So there are areas of growth that are still out there.

Q. Big picture, just from a program perspective, do you get into the more nitty-gritty of what you need guys to do May, June, July, so when August comes around, you're not trying to play catch-up in finding who your leaders are?
COACH KELLY: Those are the times when the coaches aren't around. So they have to be driven by those units, and those units then start to take over. It's the classic time when Sheldon Day took over. He took over his group. Nick Martin took over his group. Those guys begin to take over their units when the coaches aren't around.

We need to get the heck out of the way, in a sense, and allow those guys to step up and be leaders within their units. And that naturally happens when the coaches get out of the way. Especially in May. They go home, they recharge, they kind of assess where they are and they hear it from us and they come back in June and they are focused on physical development and then the leadership element and they go to work on it.

Q. You said at the beginning of spring that you felt the quarterback battle is going to go maybe even into the season; in the spring, did you see any separation or did it reaffirm your belief that this is a competition for the long haul?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I thought what I saw was Malik develop more of an understanding of what we did offensively last year. He kind of had that, you know -- look, the offense developed under Kizer during the year, not Malik. So he was at a bit of a disadvantage coming into the spring, and I thought he caught up.

So I think now that he has a better understanding of everything that we're doing, I think now you've got the race and that will obviously be decided through camp.

Q. And then can you remember a time in your coaching tenure that you had a race that maybe was this tight?
COACH KELLY: No. The only time I had that kind of scenario was when I had two quarterbacks at Cincinnati that were both proven winners. But they were so different. These two guys are so very similar in their skill-set.

But I've never had in my entire career two quarterbacks that you could run the same system of offense with. Like I said, at Cincinnati, I had two different quarterbacks. I had a 6-6 quarterback that was a pocket passer and then I had a 5-10 quarterback who was more of a perimeter-run player. These two guys can do the same kind of things and run the same offense.

Q. And you said yesterday, both guys want this badly, as we would all expect. How do you manage those personalities, which obviously will be a very difficult task considering how much they both want to be the guy?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, well, I can't keep them both happy. Somebody's going to be unhappy. I love them both. They both are committed. They are both great competitors. But somebody's going to be unhappy.

Q. You talk about getting an identity -- do you have an idea what you expect the identity to be on the offense?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, you know, little things happened along the way. And it's a pretty sound group. They are not a group that gets too far outside of the blueprint, if you will. In other words, we ask them to do things and they do them. They are not wanderers. They kind of stay where we point them. They are hunting dogs.

We probably would like a little bit more personality in some senses, but we tell them where to go and they go. The only thing is, we've got to tell them where to go, every day. And so we've got to continue to work on that element with this group.

But if you tell them what you want, and you demand it, you're going to get it from this group.

Q. You indicated certain players, Nyles Morgan, the left side of the line, have pretty much won the starting job. Anyone else out there through the spring that isn't a returning starter that you think would want a starting job?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think Rochell obviously is a guy that will be a starter for us.

Yeah, I think everybody else becomes -- if you look at the safety position, Redfield, Tranquill are going on on the field; whether they are starting, they are going to play significant roles obviously. Cole Luke is going to play a significant role in some fashion. I think you can pencil those guys in in significant roles. Whether we classify them as starters or guys playing other positions as well as the ones they are playing, those guys are going to play significant roles, as well.

Q. In the same vain as leadership over the summer and whatnot, what do you think DeShone and Malik need to do behind the scenes the next couple months to gain whatever kind of advantage they can?
COACH KELLY: Well, we'll sit down with each one of them. We've got a list of things that they have to work on in particular.

Some of it now, as we move forward, is physical. It's not all mental. There are some physical things that we want to make sure that they attend to and continue to work on. So that will be part of it. What size we want them, what weight we want them; how they are moving in that direction is very, very important in terms of their durability. These are guys that are going to run the football, as well.

And then we'll work on some of the things -- I think we need to continue to work on the management end of things with Malik, continue to manage the offense, clear communication.

And DeShone, scoring opportunities. We talked a little bit about the red zone, things of that nature. So there are some specifics we'll continue to work on with each one of them.

Q. What did Brandon show you in the spring -- and whether you're going to red-shirt him?
COACH KELLY: He's an exciting player. I just haven't -- I haven't figured out how really to get him involved to be quite honest with you.

Q. Do you mean you as a coach or him --
COACH KELLY: Me. I haven't figured out how I can get him involved in this race for starting quarterback. Somebody would have to give up reps, and I'm not prepared to do that right now. I'm not prepared to give up reps on Kizer or Zaire to fit Brandon in. And so I would have to make that decision on my own to give up reps on those two guys to give more to Brandon to actually give him a fair chance.

So this is on me more than anything else. Brandon's doing everything that he's been asked to do. He just doesn't get enough work. And when he gets in there, he shows -- you can see it from the physical talents what they are. Just doesn't get enough work.

So I have to make that decision as the head coach at Notre Dame; do I get him the opportunity to compete for the starting job, because he's really not getting that chance.

Q. Can you assess the spring that Torii Hunter, Junior had when you guys had him, and to what sense do you think he's ready to fill the void that's there for you guys?
COACH KELLY: I think he's had a terrific spring. His player load has been as high as anybody on our team. Matter of fact, I think it's been as high as any receiver that we've had here in a couple years. In other words, the work volume that he's put in while he's going to school, while he's playing baseball, has been an incredible commitment.

Look, he could have taken the easy way out here, right. He could have said, hey, I'm playing baseball, I can't make it this weekend. I've got a doubleheader. But no, he would go to practice and then he would go into a phone booth and throw on his Superman cape and head on over to the baseball field.

It's amazing what he does in terms of the intensity in which he practices and how hard he goes, and then he does the same thing for Mick. He's a unique young man in that he can focus and give that kind of intensity to both sports.

Q. With the quarterback race being as close as you say it is at this point, how realistic is it that one guy is going to be able to grab that in the fall, or do you think you're going to have to make a judgment call?
COACH KELLY: I think I'm going to have to make a judgment call.

Q. How early in the fall would you want to do that?
COACH KELLY: Oh, I don't know when I'll make it. But there will be a time when I'm going to have to say, that's our quarterback, let's go with him, we're all in, and let's move forward. They are both that good; I already know that.

But there will be a day, and we're going to have to say: It's time to go, he's our quarterback, everybody's behind him and we need to go, and that's who the quarterback is.

Q. If both quarterbacks can run the same system, how does that change the evaluation process if both guys do the same thing?
COACH KELLY: So then what you're looking for is the efficiency of the entire unit working behind that individual. So it's efficiency of operation versus system of operation. So that's really the difference between the two. So look at -- we were able to look at it today and so where was there better efficiency with the operation.

Now, I thought one defense was a little stronger than the other defense. That's my own opinion. I'll come to my own conclusions on those kinds of things. But efficiency of the operation is what I was looking for.

Q. Can you talk about how you feel about where you are right now, are you comfortable with Sam over two, Mike on the left side and where do things stand on the right side with the line?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Sam will be the center. Tristen is doing a great job. He's learning every day.

Look, you've got to understand, with Brian's defense, he's drinking through a firehose with the defensive fronts that he sees. He's got three-down, four-down, fire zones, he's got bear defense. He's got all kinds of things. So Tristen is a little bit hesitant right now, because that kid wants to be assignment correct in everything he does, so he's a little hesitant.

So Sam has really solidified himself, but we can play with Tristen and win with Tristen if we have to. It's just there's a lot for him there.

On the right side, it's competitive with Bivin and Bars. Bars is a little bit more athletic, so he provides us with the footwork and the makeup on a miss with his ability to kind of get back into play with his footwork at the right tackle position instead of the right guard position. That's why we like him out there.

You know, I will tell you right now, and Harry could disagree with me and that would be fine. I think Kramer is going to come in and compete over there. I think Parker Boudreaux is going to come in and compete. I think there's going to be some competition from some young guys stepping in there, as well and we'll see how that plays out.

Maybe I'm ahead of myself but I think those guys are going to get in there and compete with those guys as well.

Q. How did Quenton and Mike develop this spring?
COACH KELLY: Much better than I thought. Now, we knew we had really two solid football players there. I was extremely impressed with how seamless it seemed in that sense; that they worked so well together, and their game is at a very, very high level.

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