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November 13, 2011

Brian Kelly

Q. I was just wondering, with Robby Thomas playing yesterday, is it going to be that much harder to keep them off the field when Riddick comes back, and how do you try to balance that position when both guys are healthy?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think Robby is somebody that we've always had high regard for, and we've tried to get him in the games, and I think we've managed to get him in early in games. I think it's incumbent on us now to continue that rotation with Robby and Theo when Theo is back.

Q. Do you expect Theo back this week, or is it too early to tell?
COACH KELLY: I really won't know. I mean, the doctors met with him today. They liked his range of motion. They liked that he was pain-free. The test really will be as we progress as move him up to full speed by probably Wednesday, I think that will really tell and see if he picks up any soreness, then that could be a setback, so we really won't know until the middle of the week.

Q. You guys are ranked in both polls for the first time since the season began. Is that something you pay attention to?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think when you get ranked you're playing better obviously. We started 0 and 2, and to be ranked this late in the season means we've played better football since that 0-and-2 start.

Q. Just wondered how you guys came out of the game physically last night.
COACH KELLY: Very well. No injuries. We were able to preserve some guys in the sense that they'll be better next week, Manti in particular. As you know, we didn't play him on any 3rd downs and he didn't play for the last quarter and a half. Ethan played, gave us some very good quality in his reps. He feels good today.
We had some minor, minor little dings and bumps and bruises but came out of it very clean.

Q. I noticed that Mike Ragone was on the travel squad, and you mentioned about his kind of dedication to the team. With it being senior week, can you just expand on what his role became after his injury, and does he have surgery scheduled yet?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Mike has already had surgery.

Q. Okay.
COACH KELLY: He has really matured and understands his role as a teammate. As a matter of fact, I asked him to represent our football team at the pep rally on Friday night in Washington, D.C., and he was honored to do so. You know, I think it's just the maturation process of all of our players, including our seniors, and understanding the primary purpose for them to be here, and that's to get a degree and play for Notre Dame.
I would tell you that Mike is representative of that philosophy that we've instilled in our football team.

Q. You just referenced it there, you did a little bit last night, in terms of guys understanding the little things and what you want and so forth. Your other stops, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, was it an ongoing process where you were late into the second year and it was still something that you needed to push for progress?
COACH KELLY: I think I've probably worn this out, but we're in the same process that I've been in at every job that I've had. We're doing the same things. I'm seeing the same kinds of results. They don't always equal wins, but we're clearly moving in the right direction with our football players and our football program, and sometimes it's, you know, disappointing and painful, but I would tell you that this is a very similar feeling that I've had before.

Q. Just curious, has Steve Filer had his surgery, or is he going to have surgery?
COACH KELLY: We're going to hold off. We're going to get him through senior day. We want him to be able to come out with his teammates and walk out onto the stadium for his last home game, and then we will then go in and begin a very lengthy process relative to his knee.

Q. I want to talk a little bit about the next-man-in thing. Obviously that's come into play big for you guys the last few weeks with the injuries. How do you guys turn that from just a mantra and a credo to sort of practical application during a week in practice? Robby talked about ones and twos kind of almost getting the same amount of reps. Practically how do you make next man in something you guys rely on?
COACH KELLY: Okay, well, I'd have to take you back where we start, and where we start in the off-season is building trust with the entire group, that when it's your time, you'd better be ready, and that means you'd better do all the things necessary. Even though you might not be getting first-team reps, you'd better be ready because that's how you build a football program, because there are going to be injuries, there are going to be times when you're called upon, and you can't let your teammates down.
So building that trust takes time, and it can't just be done during the season. Little things, we don't have depth charts, we don't post them in the locker room. In terms of the way we rep out our ones and twos, they get similar quality reps. So I think all those things lead to when you have an injury or you have somebody that can't go, that next guy knows he's prepared and knows that you have confidence in him to do his job.

Q. When you hammer home all that stuff, is it mostly mind over matter, just convincing the guys that they're going to be ready, or do you just basically have to have good players who are also ready to go in there and play well?
COACH KELLY: Well, there's certainly -- you need depth in the ranks. In recruiting, we're still at that point where we have to continue to recruit and build depth within our program. So certainly that's part of it.
But the other part is when it's your chance, you're actually given it. Somebody is not moving in front of you. You're not going to change the Robby Toma and put John Goodman in there because John doesn't work at that position. So it's definitely about recruiting depth, but it's also about, hey, these guys trust me, and when it's my chance, I'd better get it done for them.

Q. I was wondering if you thought that may have been one of Tommy's or Tommy's best game for you last night.
COACH KELLY: He's really close. He has not put his best game together yet. We're still not where we want to be on the vertical throws. We're better. He threw one of his best -- I thought one of his best throws to Michael in the end zone where he actually had some air to it where Mike could go up and get the ball on the double move touchdown. But in terms of efficiency, 30 for 38 is pretty darned good. He's accurate, as we all know, and I thought he played as fast as he can play. I'd like to get him to play a little faster, but we've worked really hard in practice over the last six weeks of trying to get him to go, and I would say that this game was probably his best game as it relates to efficiency and tempo.

Q. The verticality part of it, can that be a strength of his, or how do you see that playing out in the future?
COACH KELLY: Well, we've been trying to be -- there are so many pieces that we're trying to develop with Tommy, and the last piece for him to move up to that next level is the deep ball, and he's capable of throwing it, but there's an evolution to that. We're spending more time on it. The last few weeks it's been a point of emphasis, and we'll continue to work on it. But there were so many other things that we had to work with first before we got to this. I believe this is the next step in his progression as a quarterback, and if he can continue to grow in that area -- and a lot of it is technical; it's not mental. He has to do some things with his arm slot and his arm angle to be more effective, and we're working on those things.

Q. Last night he mentioned that while winning isn't a habit yet, it's kind of getting close to that and doing the little things becoming close to being a habit. I guess I'm curious, when does it become a habit? When do you know? Or is it something you look back after you rattle off six or seven wins and you only know then that things have become a habit?
COACH KELLY: Well, just by the way we have shown over the past year and a half we can put together four wins in a row, and so we haven't -- we don't have the right to say that we have put it together yet. When we put together eight, nine, ten in a row, then we can clearly say we have moved from that constant reminder phase to habit phase. We haven't proven that that's the case yet.

Q. Just lastly, with Manti, I guess how healthy is he right now, and did you give any thought at all to maybe just holding him out entirely last night?
COACH KELLY: No, we felt like he could serve a very good -- serve in a very positive role for us in 1st and 2nd down, which he did. He didn't move well enough for him to be out there on 3rd down, and we really -- I think we gave him about a quarter and a half off. We were able to get him out of the game quickly. He came in and reported today as well as he has in the last three weeks, so I think we're back on track to getting him on the field for all the downs.
It worked out well. We felt like he would be very important to us, especially on 1st and 2nd down, and it proved out to be the case.

Q. You had said before the season started you thought this team prepared as well as any team you had ever coached, and then last night you talked about kind of only now this week were you seeing the kind of preparation you wanted. Was there a regression at some point, or is it just a matter of training camp preparation versus game week preparation?
COACH KELLY: No, I think they knew what was necessary. We didn't get it all the time. It's my job to find out why that doesn't occur. It's my job to lean on our team when it's not occurring. They understand how to do it. They've proved that they could do it. We just haven't been able to get it week in and week out. We're making really good progress in that respect.
So there was a great knowledge base in terms of what they needed to do. Sometimes -- it's like anything else; you have to stay on them. They knew what to do, but we have to continue to stay on them to get this to be habit forming.

Q. Given what you saw in training camp, are you surprised this has become an issue or something you've had to get on them about?
COACH KELLY: No, because then you have to get into the next phase, and that's the games, and school starts and classes begin; guys have other things on their plate than just football. So when you're in training camp it's 100 percent football. When other things start to come into your life, then how you balance all those things relative to your preparation now takes on a different form.

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