Kelly on the Irish, Day 1

Irish head coach Brian Kelly spoke with the media today following his team's first practice of the spring.

Kelly on change entering his third season

"What I really liked today was the enthusiasm that we had. You go into your third year and you try to balance continuity with change because it's important that continuity is in what you do. But change brings sometimes energy and enthusiasm. Certainly you don't want full change because that brings other issues that I don't want to get into, but the fact of the matter is going into (his third season), you want to find that your guys are excited about the opportunity to go out there and compete."

On the task at hand before April 21

"We had veterans that looked like veterans and we had young guys that looked like young guys; and that's okay. That's good. Now it's our job (the staff) over the next 14 practices and then the pre-season to let that come together, in other words, that the young guys and the old guys start to look as one and we put a team together.

"In Day One of spring, great effort, great enthusiasm, veterans looked like veterans, young guys looked like young guys and now we're off and running where now we can start to build our football team and get everybody looking the same."

On his expectations for new tight end (former OLB) Troy Niklas

"The first thing that we want him to do is be an in-line blocker for us. We want to be able to run the ball effectively. Troy has to be able to be a very good piece of that blocking for us. We didn't put him in there just because he's 6'7" and we can get a match-up. That's part of it.

"We've got an athletic tight end in Tyler Eifert. What we were looking for was a bigger body guy that can be a great in-line blocker, but can also give us that size element. The first thing for us will be getting him lined up, understanding the offense and then making sure, at the point of attack, that he's a guy that we can count on in the blocking game."

One example of helping Niklas assimilate to the offense: "I'll give you an example. I've never called out the routes; I've always been a concept guy. Let's just say the formation is trips right (three receivers to the right). We'd call ‘Trips right pizza.' Pizza meant that's the concept.

"Now we're calling ‘Trips right, Y drag' you know what I mean? We're putting in the actual verbiage quite like an NFL team would. When they get a chance to talk to the quarterback, they're saying ‘Z drive, X go, Y divot.' We're doing a little bit of that in helping move along the process for everybody."

Regarding 5th-year senior Jamoris Slaughter as a leader entering 2012

"I would say when you're taking names for guys that are leaders within your program Jamoris is at the top of the list. He's on our "Unity Council," which is a body within our program that our players look toward for leadership. It's clear that he has that. As you know, he plays with a great deal of emotion and enthusiasm. I think you can check the boxes on a guy that can come in and give us what (2011 team captain) Harrison (Smith) gave us from a leadership standpoint.

On Slaughter's newest role: father of a newborn boy (Santana)

"He's probably in for a lot of things that he has no idea, either. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. We're happy for him; happy for his girlfriend. Our players really like Jamoris. They were tweeting about it, the new baby and all that.

"But Jamoris is a very focused young man and his focus is on his degree and on Notre Dame football and his family. He's a pretty good rapper too, I'll give him that. That's his focus. That's just fine with me."

Kelly's first chance to speak with Slaughter following the birth was Wednesday afternoon, noting: "Of course I know Santana as a great guitarist, and he had no idea what I was talking about. I felt as old as I look."

Kelly's first practice impressions

"A guy that made some catches today was (DaVaris) Daniels. He showed up; it's the first day, I'm not ready to anoint him as the next Michael Floyd. He's got a long way to go. "But he's extremely athletic so we're looking for his ability to translate that. I saw that a little bit today. Now, as we get deeper into film today he'll probably have run the wrong route and made a great catch…but he stood out to me.

"I think in 1-on-1 (drills), I thought our corners came up and were pretty aggressive in man-to-man coverage because we played all Cover Zero today. We wanted to see those guys track the ball. I'll have to watch the film this afternoon because I was focused so much on the little things with the quarterbacks and we've got so much work to do there."

Describing Theo Riddick

"If we're using the definition of hybrid meaning that he's a wide receiver and a running back all in one, that's what he is. I think you saw that against Stanford (at the end of 2011). I think you saw that anytime we started to get anywhere where we wanted to go with him late in the season. He's certainly that. That's a great advantage. It really is.

"He's truly a hybrid player for us and that's a great advantage because both of those guys (Riddick and Cierre Wood) can be on the field at the same time.

On the difference between Riddick as a change of pace to Wood at running back rather than breakout 2011 senior, Jonas Gray: "We don't have the big bruising, physical guy. Those guys (Riddick and Wood) have to run between the tackles. There's no question about that. They can't be shying away from that. But Jonas Gray (was) a different animal when it comes to 600-pound squat and 500-pound bench. That's a different cat no matter where I've been. You don't find many guys like Jonas Gray.

"Both (Riddick and Wood) are tough enough to run inside and run outside, and then you've got a bigger back in George Atkinson.

More on Riddick's future: "I think the rest now becomes tactical advantages that we have in terms of where we place him on the field. We really have some great matchup opportunities. We're not going to spend all spring on him picking up the linebacker that's blitzing in the B-gap. So you can see where we're going with him. We're going to get him out (on the perimeter). It's going to create great matchups for us."

Regarding Tyler Eifert's flexibility in the offense

"I think if you look at some of the models that are out there, the New England Patriots for example, the utilization of (Rob) Gronkowski and (Aaron) Hernandez. We see Tyler as more of a Hernandez type of player. I think we know what the Patriots did: they had him in the backfield running plays. Tyler Eifert has that ability to be moved all over the field. He can be to the wide field, to the short field; it just gives up more flexibility.

"Formation-ally, now, we can really keep you off balance. We could have two tight ends on the field and line up in the power formation but run five wide because of the versatility. (Niklas) just gives us great versatility. I don't want to just say it's Troy, it's Ben and it's Alex (Welch). All those guys have a chance to give us that versatility."

Note: I'll have more on Niklas in a Thursday feature.

Commenting on Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson

"He's a very talented young man. He wasn't rated that way (#1 QB for 2012) because he was not. He's extremely talented. He has something that the other three quarterbacks don't have, that's 6'4"… When you've got that size it allows you to see some things. For him it's just understanding the language right now. That's a bit overwhelming for him, but when we can get him comfortable, he's got all the tools. Now it's going to be, how much can he learn to get him to the point where he can really be in there?

Regarding how everything is new to Kiel: "Look, he's asking, ‘What time is film study?

‘Listen, we're in a 20-hour rule so everything is voluntary.' He's, ‘Oh, I'll be there.' You can tell early on that this is a guy that's going to spend the time on watching film and doing those things necessary."

Golson: "He's got quick feet. He's got a strong arm. He's got all the tools. Now, for me it's about accuracy. Getting the ball out on time, obviously having good football intelligence. Those are the areas that he'll continue to work on because there's no question about his footwork, there's no questioning his arm strength. We've got to continue to work on those other three areas."


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