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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 5, 2018
South Bend, Indiana
BRIAN KELLY: For many, spring ball is -- you know you've started when you get the pads on and you go out and practice. But we've been going at it since the middle of January and going at it in terms of our preparation for our football team.
There's a lot of things that have gone on over the past six to seven weeks that I'm very excited about the overall development of our football team in our second year in this weight training and conditioning program. We've really been able to see a big difference in the endurance conditioning-wise of our football team. We're able to do things that we couldn't do at this time last year, which, obviously is going to bode well for us as we get through the season.
The strength gains for our football team have been clear and across the board. We've seen the kind of physical development that you want as we develop our football team in this second year of our conditioning and weight training. So those are very exciting pieces, even before we get the helmets on and before we get out on the field.
Certainly our players are excited about tomorrow. The workouts have been strenuous. They have been at a different level than they were last year at this time, and we have seen clearly the gains from that.
So I know all of our coaches are excited about tomorrow as well, but it's just really going to be a snapshot of the total preparation of our football team.
So what are the goals? Going into spring here, I want to answer all the questions and have the answers to the questions before we get into the summer. Some of those questions will be question marks, right? There will some areas to work on. So a lot of the things that we'll be working on in the spring will be not necessarily how we can win a particular drill or look good in a particular red zone. We want to see where our question marks are.
So we're going to put our players in positions where they haven't succeeded quite as well or maybe as coaches we haven't been as good as we need to be, and that will be our spring.
There will be some players that will cross train in some other positions. We think we've got some talented young players that we want to make sure that we're giving them an opportunity to contribute. And I think for those, and I'll use defense, for example, we've got ten starters back. But we want to see great improvement. We want to see competition at that unit as well.
So I think if you take that and look at it from an offensive perspective, we want to see competition at all positions.
So for me, flying at 35,000 feet, I want to continue to test our football team and their endurance. I want to continue to test our football team and the gains that they've made from a physicality standpoint. Then I want to put them in positions where we can see what their skillsets are and how they can contribute, and where our issues are, and what we need to prop up as we move into the summer months and then certainly into camp.
So, that's a little bit of kind of an overall perspective of where we are. We're very excited about tomorrow we will name three captains. I will meet with the team at 6:30 tomorrow morning, announce it to them first. I've already selected them. Our team has selected them, and we will ultimately have that piece of leadership team in place.
We have a number of leaders that won't have a C on their jersey, but have done a really good job in these last seven weeks of leading. I'm really proud of a number of players that have exhibited the kind of growth and maturity to take on more so I thought I'd let you no guys know that.
You'll be out there tomorrow, you'll see them, so you'll get a chance to talk to them tomorrow. But I want to reserve that right to speak to them first and let them know before I announce them here today. Okay. I'm sure you've got some questions. Let's roll with questions.
Q. You mentioned you want to be competitive or have competition at all positions. As far as the quarterback position goes, do you go into that with a presumptive number one or is everybody even? And how do you work Avery Davis into the equation?
BRIAN KELLY: Sure, well, you've got to put somebody out there first. And by virtue of a lot of the really good things that Brandon did last year, he'll go out with the first group. But we all know Ian was integral in our last win against LSU, and he deserves an opportunity to compete as well.
I think what we'll do is we'll foster an environment where our players truly know they have an opportunity to compete for starting positions. So I wouldn't use words like he's the presumptive starter. But yet he's going to be going out with the first group. But Brandon knows that he's got to work on his skillset as well.
So I think that that's kind of what we'll try to foster in the environment relative to competition. I missed the back end of that. The other part of the question.
Q. Avery Davis.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, so, Avery, again, is a quarterback, and we want to give him a chance to really continue to develop his skills at quarterback. But when he's not playing quarterback, we want to see what else he can do for us. He's a very gifted player, and we may try to get him involved in opportunities where he touches the ball other than just in the quarterback position.
First and foremost, he's got to be given a chance to play quarterback. He didn't get that chance last year. He went right to scout team and did a great job for us. But he's got to have an opportunity to compete at quarterback. Then when he's not taking reps there, I'm sure he's going to want to get involved in anything he can do. He'll be on special teams. He's going to be a guy that definitely comes out on the field and helps us next year.
Q. On the Michael Birch version of the roster, he has Jafar Armstrong as a wide receiver/running back. Is that where you've added running back or do you want more guys to cross train there besides Avery Davidson?
BRIAN KELLY: I'm not sure Avery's going to play running back. He's a quarterback, but we'll see what other things he can do for us. Jafar is more towards that Theo Riddick, if you will, where Theo was a wide receiver but took reps for us at the running back. I think I'd like to kind of move in that same direction. He's going to be a guy that I think can touch the ball coming out of the back field, but also can give us some work at the running back position. Theo, CJ Procise, we kind of see him in a similar vein.
Q. Obviously you're going to start with five and kind of see how things go. But do you know where you're going with the left tackle? Do you have somebody in mind?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think Robert Hainsey will be the first guy that goes out there at the left tackle position. You know, he's proven to be one of our more effective technicians at that position. So Robert will start at that left tackle position. Then there will be a lot of cross training across the board with, obviously, Tommy Kraemer, Josh Lugg, I think you're going to see those guys cross training. I think it's going to be an extremely competitive situation, one that I'm kind of looking forward to because there's probably -- I'm just looking at my roster here, and there are probably four or five different combinations that we could run out there at the offensive line, and I think you're going to see a lot of them in the spring.
Q. Your two-sport athletes have really gotten off to a nice start.
BRIAN KELLY: They have.
Q. Pride has done well in track, and I think Cole Kmet had the second most innings and he was up there in strikeouts. They're using him a lot. How does that change as you guys get into spring practice? How do you work it so they can do both?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, so both of them were recruited with the knowledge that they wanted to, and we felt capable of handling the academics. To me, that's number one. Their ability to handle themselves academically so they don't put themselves in jeopardy. Number two, they've got to be able to contribute to that second sport, which you've already alluded to they've done great things in contributing. And the third factor, they can't lose their place in the program. Missing one practice is not going to put them in a position where they lose their place in the program.
I've been able to communicate quite well with the coaches and we feel really good that they're going to be able to do all of the things necessary to continue to grow in the football program as well. So those three things have to be in play with both those guys.
Q. With Brandon, what kind of winter has he had to come back from how his season ended? What have you been looking to see from him just around the building?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, well, he hasn't changed a lot around the building. I mean, he's still the kind of kid that we all know him to be, extremely committed, engaging. He's got leadership skills. So nothing has changed from that perspective. What I think has changed a little bit are his priorities. I think football has become very, very important to him in terms of his progress. He's in there after weight training, working on his mechanics, throwing, up watching film. I've seen a guy that clearly understands that there's more to it than just Saturdays. It's been great to see that he's taken his development to the next level.
Q. In terms of a couple guys who are older and who their junior year maybe wasn't as out there as they wanted to be, Dexter Williams, Alize Mack kind, kind of a similar question into their off seasons and what you expect to see from them over the course of the next six, sen weeks?
BRIAN KELLY: So Dexter, you know, I think we all know last year was much more about staying healthy. We couldn't really get into a great continuity with him because of injuries. It put him back in terms of his preparation.
Most people just see you on Saturday when you have your helmet on and shoulder pads, and wonder why isn't he in the game? Well, there's four other days leading up to it. And his inability to really practice and provide the kind of work necessary to get to Saturdays put him behind a little bit.
This year he's been healthy. I think he's made really positive strides in his volume of work. His ability to sustain over a longer period of time. If there was one area where I really feel good about what he's been able to do is that he's broken through some barriers as it relates to his volume and his workload. That's all on him. He's had to do it himself. So I feel confident going into spring that he's going to take on a bigger load.
As it relates to Alize Mack, I think a lot of things were areas that he had to clean up off the field, which he has. He has not been on any lists. I'm really proud of him and what he's done. But he knows he's got to go prove it now. He's got to be consistent as a ball catcher. He's got to be great in line as well as detached.
He's got some good players around him that he's got to go and beat out because he's coming off of a suspension. He's very humble. Like I said, he's done all the little things the right way for us off the field. His attention to detail has been great. Good for him. Now he's got to go put that together.
Q. A year ago you sort of changed your off-season. Coming into the workouts in the morning. Did you keep up with that? Did you change anything from the changes you made last year?
BRIAN KELLY: No, we have our swat teams, our accountability teams. Our process is still the cornerstone of what we're doing. Not having the play calling responsibilities allowed me to get into the weight room in the morning, be part of our team runs, and that just goes hand in hand with changing my responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.
Yeah, none of that has changed. I'll do an inventory and one-on-one interviews with our players after the spring, instead of when I did them in December. So I think that's probably the only change.
But, no, we're really excited about what we've been able to do over these last seven weeks.
Q. You also mentioned with Coach Bayliss and the strides made there, doing some things you couldn't do last year, could you give us some insight of some areas where, wow, that was a breakthrough, whether it be a group or a player or something of that nature?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think it's particularly in workload. We weren't able to sustain the kind of workload with our running and strength training last year that we can this year.
I think the easiest ones would be the ability for our players to bounce back after a really difficult workout and come back and run the next day at a high level. Whether it be timed runs, which we have for all of our guys because we're in competition in everything that we do. We weren't able to make some of those timed runs last year. We'd have a group of guys that couldn't make them. We're not in that position this year.
So, volume, the ability to bounce back, workload now that has been, I think, attributed to last year and this year, both of those things coming together to put our football team in a position where they can handle a workload. Now, what does that equal for me? We want to be a better football team in November. So some of our points of emphasis, we had a weight training a couple of Fridays ago that focused on playing in a hostile environment.
We didn't handle the time that we played at Miami very well. We want to get our kids used to playing in those hostile environments. We're going to have a couple this year. So working on those things that we didn't work on last year has changed the complexion of year two for us.
Q. So what did that one look like or sound like?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, it's creating distractions. We had strobe lights and things that distract you during your workout. Loud noise to simulate the atmosphere that we had at Miami. They had to watch a video and they saw the turnover chain quite a bit. It was not a pleasant experience for our guys.
So handling that kind of scenario and that situation really comes down to fear or flight in that kind of situation, and we want to fight. Our guys kind of got the message.
Q. Just lastly, the five early enrollees or six early enrollees, do you have much of a handle on them?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, first of all, they've acclimatized themselves extremely well socially and academically. Then in the weight room, have been really pleased. I think there's a couple of guys in there that -- George Takacs had a cartilage surgery, so George will be out for the spring. He had a bucket tear in the cartilage and we had to repair that so he'll be out.
Other than George, all those guys will get in there and compete. Bo Bauer has been a tiger in the weight room. He's been very impressive. Houston Griffith has got a great skill set, so I think you'll see all those guys compete very well in the spring.
Q. With the quarterbacks, you mentioned Brandon would be the one to go out there first. How do you plan on dividing maybe the reps between them? Would there be days when Ian would go out with the first team first?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I don't think we're being totally honest if we say that there's competition and you get the second-team reps the whole spring. Ian's got to have an opportunity to have weapons around him and have that opportunity as well.
How we'll split them, I'm not quite sure right now. I mean, I think it's something that we'll see from day-to-day. But Ian's going to have that opportunity as well. But it's not going to be traded off every day. They've got to gain some continuity and consistency with their unit as well.
Q. Do you think there would be separation by the end of the spring or do you think this is something that will definitely continue into August?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, I think you always hope that one guy just says I'm head and shoulders. If we have that situation, I think we're in pretty good position if we have clear separation. I think it's more important that we do a really good job of developing both of the quarterbacks. And if they both have made great strides, I think that's what I want to get out of.
What I want to know is that our quarterbacks are equally adept at running it and throwing it, and that wasn't the case this year. We have to be equally adept. And that's really going to be the goal of the spring, more so than if one guy separates themselves.
Q. Do you think it's possible you'll play two quarterbacks next season in a particular game?
BRIAN KELLY: Oh, I think you always have that opportunity. Do I wish that we have that? No, I don't wish that we have that scenario occur. It's hard, you know? It's not an easy deal. We'd like to have one guy, but we'll deal with it as we go along.
Q. Question about a couple seniors. First, Jerry Tillery, he had a good bowl game. What have you seen from him from the end of the year until now?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, it's been a focus, so Jerry came back to focus really on what does he need to do both as, you know, a leader in our program and somebody that can improve his stock, right, in terms of the NFL and help our football team all at the same time. Not one more important than the other.
So we've seen tangible signs of his ability to get stronger physically, move better. He's in better physical conditioning, and he's going to be able to play. We're going to move him up to the three technique. So it's important that he works on his pass rush. He's been diligent in that respect.
He's one of our swat team leaders. So he's been pushed out into a position of leadership which requires accountability. So it's not like we snap our fingers and he's the best captain we've ever had or the best leader. But he's working on those and he's getting better at it. So that's what I've seen from Jerry in these past seven weeks.
Q. Did you feel that was crucial to his development that he push him out there? Because he's been a big part of your lineup?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I told him he should go to the NFL if he just wants to go be a football player. But if you want to develop in all areas, if you want to be that holistic development that is part of who we are, if that's what you're looking for, you'll get that here. So that has to be an investment that you want that. He was looking forward to that. That's what he wanted. That was one of the reasons why he came back. I think he's made really good progress there.
Q. I don't think anyone could have left Orlando with more confidence than Miles Boykin. How has that carried over from the hero role at the end of that game?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think that he handles himself with a lot more confidence that he can be a playmaker for us. I think he jumped close to 40 inches. He's got incredible traits physically. We went into something a little different in this year too. We developed a speed school. One of the things I wanted to develop was our explosiveness, change of direction and speed within the program as we continue to work on getting stronger and having more endurance, as I mentioned here earlier.
In that speed school, one of the most important pieces is not continuously running 40s, but your change of direction. That burst. An outstanding 10 is sub-1.5. When we started our speed school, we had only one player that was sub-1.5, and that was Troy Pride as you can imagine. His first step and his ability to get out. We had eight already which are sub1.5, which is remarkable, and Miles Boykin is one of them.
Q. Just going back to the captain, so you're only doing three this year; is that correct?
BRIAN KELLY: Three right now. We'll see where it goes. I'm going to talk to the team about what the preferences are to whether we want a fourth. But right now I'm only going to announce three.
Q. In comparison to naming six or seven the last couple of years.
BRIAN KELLY: Sure.
Q. Then the offensive line with Mike, Quenton, Harry departing?
BRIAN KELLY: Are they coming back? Mike and Quenton? I saw Quenton here today. I asked him if he changed his mind after his workouts. He said, "No, I didn't change my mind."
Q. Just with those departures, is the offensive line, would you say, the thing that you're going to keep an eye on a little bit more than some of the other position groups this spring, even though it is early?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I don't know that I would keep an eye on it. I think there are some more moving pieces there. But, man, when you have Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, that's pretty good right there. An experience with Kraemer and Hainsey, yeah, it's not a worry of mine by any means, but I'll be involved in a lot of conversations about, you know, who is going to be on the right side, who is going to be on the left side, cross training. Ruhland's got to play some guard. He's also our center. So there are going to be a lot of moving pieces there, but it's not a worry of mine. I think we're going to put five really good players out there when we run out of that tunnel.
Q. I can imagine the chemistry they're going to have with Jeff is going to be similar to what they had with Harry despite his polished --
BRIAN KELLY: Sure. Yeah, different personality. Different personality, right, but Jeff has always treated that group in a similar fashion about their identity, the closeness of the group, the standard. So there won't be much different there in terms of the day-to-day. But they're different coaches. Our philosophy won't change. That was one of the real big pieces of maintaining some continuity here that philosophically we'll be doing the same things.
Q. Then on the opposite side of the ball, the 10 returning guys on that defense, I guess mindset-wise, how is it coming into this spring as compared to after 2016 where it was really like we really need to make a change here, but you have all these guys coming back on who had that experience of the improvement from this past season?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think some confidence was gained, certainly. I think that's first and foremost. There is a belief in the system which we're running. That's a positive. Now there's a leader and new voice in Clark Lee. So now Clark's going to have to get himself firmly put in that position through the spring.
I was in a number of the defensive staff meetings where it's going to be so much similar to what we're doing but you'll have a different voice. So I think that's probably the only thing that will take a little time for them to get used to a new voice.
But having experience, with confidence, guys that know the system and know the scheme, that makes this spring a little bit different than last year.
Q. To build on that point a little bit, you talked about changes last year. You had actually four new coordinators, offense, defense, special teams, strength program. Kind of talk about changes in year two of the strength program. But do you approach spring differently in a year like this even when your D-coordinator is new. It's still the same system and terminology. Do you approach practice, preparation, anything different when you have more experience in the system?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, so you're drilling a little bit deeper. You're looking at specific match-ups in a particular practice. You're looking to highlight a particular player because you know your system is in place. You know that confidence is not the issue that you're dealing with more so than making sure that you have the right players for that particular drill on that day.
So I think you're just, you know, from a bigger picture, which was last year, we were making sure we cupped the ball properly. These guys know how to cup the ball and run support properly. Now let's make sure we have the right people and right drills to get them on film and evaluate them properly.
Q. When you look at the receiving core, you lost Equanimeous, and it was a year that the production wasn't what it had been because of the nature of your offense. What is sort of the expectations for that group this spring? What are some of the things you're hoping to develop with that group this spring?
BRIAN KELLY: I think some young guys are going to get a chance now. Michael Young gets a more prominent role within the offense. Chris Finke is going to be seen. Miles Boykin who didn't play much until midway through the season. I think those guys get called upon to really show themselves.
I think, you know, utilizing our running backs in the passing game as well and giving them an opportunity, because we need some reinforcements in the fall. We've got some receivers coming that I think are going to be able to be counted on in the depth. So we've got to be smart in the way we run our offense this spring. We're not blessed with a lot of depth right now. We're going to get some help at that position, so that's why we're cross training some players and seeing what maybe they can do as well at that wide receiver position. Continue to work on the skills of a Chase Claypool, refining his skills. So I think there's a lot of work to be done.
I'm less interested in maybe what the entire unit looks like. I'm more interested in what goes back to the original question, which is the individual development and knowing what I have going into August.
Q. Do you feel it's important to develop an alpha at the position, or do you feel like in today's spread offenses with the way you run things and move things around, that you can be successful and potent week to week?
BRIAN KELLY: That's a trick question, right? I would think you'd want an alpha at every position in the sense that would be that guy that speaks up and says give me the football. I think I want to get to where we clearly know at the wide receiver position that production has got to go up. That's twofold, right? It's got to come from the quarterback. It's got to come from our wide receivers and catching the football. So I'm less focused on that.
That kind of happens when you gain some confidence out there. I'm more interested in more production from those guys.
Q. Last spring I thought one of the standouts in fall camp was Tony Jones Jr. at running back. What are the steps you can do this spring to be able to translate that excellence in practice that we've seen in the few times we've been at practice into obviously production on Saturdays?
BRIAN KELLY: I think there's a couple things there. One, room at the top. There is no guy in front of him in that's a workhorse in Josh Adams, so he sees that. That's a huge motivator. I think his strength in work volume is better than it was last year. That's going to prove itself to be probably equally as important because he's going to stay healthy. He wasn't healthy most of the season as well. Stronger, he's got a coat of armor on him. His work volume is better. And finally we recognize how important he is and we have to make sure he gets the proper touches within this offense.
Q. On the other side of the ball, last year on the D-line, you had an interesting make-up of your rotation. You've had some older players at the top and a lot of younger guys at the bottom. Those younger guys, the sophomore and freshmen, what's their off-season development been like now that they're in year two of the school and rising juniors?
BRIAN KELLY: I think you would start with probably the guys that we felt needed to be stronger physically, gain weight, get bigger and stronger. It starts with Daelin Hayes, a guy that's up in the 252 range. That's a bigger guy we wanted to present to our defense.
I think a guy like Khalid Kareem who is maintaining his weight at the big end in that 275, 280 range. You know, getting Kurt and Myron to continue to develop as young players and be stronger and more physical so they can hold that nose so we can move Jerry. Jonathan Bonner now can kick out and play some big end for us, getting weight on him. So I think the development of the defensive line as they continue this spring into fundamentals has been the strength portion of this, and the volume which they can play more snaps. And I think we've made some pretty good strides there.
Q. Speaking of strides and conditioning standpoint. Obviously, Darnell Ewell making that transition from Norfolk to Notre Dame was a tough one for him. What have you seen from him this off-season? Is there a chance that maybe he could kind of make (Indiscernible)?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we're starting to see, first of all, he can lift every weight that's in the weight room, but that doesn't necessarily trance lite into what we need. And some of the things that we need just in front of me, you know, his ten now is becoming competitive for his size. It was non-competitive. So we're starting to see that lower body explosiveness translate into football-related movements. And that's really what's going on here, is that transformation to this big, strong, physical kid into football movements.
I think you're going to see a little bit more of that as we go through the spring. So it's been an encouraging seven weeks for him.
Q. Lastly for me, Coach, you had two young linebackers last year, Jamir and Jonathan Jones, did a lot of work on special teams. What have you seen from them as far as them being pushed as veteran players into different roles?
BRIAN KELLY: Their number is being called. So we've decided to move Jamir out to the drop position. We feel like he'll be best suited at the end position, which now puts Jonathan in a position where we have to leave this spring knowing can he be our number two there? Can he back-up Te'von Coney.
So we believe he can. He's got to go now do it. So he knows what his role's going to be. He's got to be a great special teams player for us as well. And we need a lot from him this year.
Q. You mentioned Jonathan Bonner potentially moving to a strong side end. How about nose tackle? Is he going to work there too?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I'm talking more in third down situations, but, yeah, he's going to be playing the nose as his primary position. That's where he wanted to play. But he gives us great flexibility now in third-down situations that we can utilize him on the edge as well.
Q. You referred to George Tackas as one of the players who will be unable to participate this spring?
BRIAN KELLY: Yes.
Q. Anybody else? I mean the progress of a Javon McKinley, Chase Claypool?
BRIAN KELLY: McKinley's totally cleared. Guys that we had on my list, Weishar will be limited with his shoulder. He'll be in a red jersey. He's working really hard. Claypool will be in a red jersey. He'll be in a noncontact situation. Bonner had the wrist, so he'll be limited and Brock Wright will be limited. But they'll be actively involved in virtually everything we're doing whether we take them down to the ground, but probably not this spring.
Q. It seems the one position on defense that you also need to fill would be the rover, if Drew is indeed moving inside to the buck?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, Drew's moving inside. So you can write that down and get used to it.
Q. Would he be somebody who can still cross train at rover?
BRIAN KELLY: We need to go through the spring and in terms of answering questions. Bilal will run out as the rover and start there. We knew he was a big rover, right? If we get into a 10 game with 10 personnel on the game. He's got to be able to play linebacker. That's just the reality of it. So who is the next guy in? Is it Owusu? Do we move Richardson down there? Is it Morgan?
There are going to be a number of guys that have the opportunity to be that next guy. Or we go to nickel. We run a nickel out there.
But here's what I can tell you Drew's got to play the bucket, he's got to play it well, and we've got to settle it on him and that's where his reps are going to be this spring.
Asmar's has to do some cross training, and Jonathan's got to do a great job of being a guy there that can give Te'von a blow when he needs one.
Q. Just the running back situation you're using and cross training others, is there a path back either for CJ Holmes or Deon McIntosh at the end of spring?
BRIAN KELLY: I'm only really dealing with the guys that are on the roster at this point. So I haven't had any conversations with any paths, I'm just focusing on the 90 guys I've got right now.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports