"I think we're really good up the middle, to use a baseball term, and I mean on both sides of the line. We're going to be able to physically handle ourselves in the trenches against anybody in the country. That's a good feeling right away that you know you're going to go out there and be able to handle yourselves physically.
"We need to continue to develop on the perimeter, both on offense and defense. I think that development will go a long way in deciding how successful we are. And then certainly the quarterback position.
"If I was to leave you with one thing, I think we're really strong up front, and I think that in itself gives you a chance to win all your games."
Q. Just with a couple injuries and a few defections, does that in any way how you view freshmen helping you out this year? Do you kind of take a big picture look where these guys maybe need a year of development whether they're on special teams or the two deep or is it just basically how they perform?
"No, I think it's more than how they perform, it's how they handle taking classes from all of June, all of July. I mean, they're taking a heavy load of classes, and then if the football gets thrown right at them and then school starts-- I think there's more guys that can play than not play, it's just can they handle all of the things that go along with being here at Notre Dame.
"We expect them all to play, and I tell them that in recruiting. Look, you're coming to play, and if you want to come here, you'd better have that attitude. Whether they do or not, I think it's the other things that decide that."
Q. We've asked you about every injury but yours, I think. I don't think we've asked you about your back surgery.
"I just wish I did it 10 years ago, honestly. I'm going to be the new poster child for back surgery. If you want to know, if you've got a bad back, get it done, because I can run around a little bit too, now. It's fun."
Q. It's bothered you that long? "Yes. It was probably at its peak last year where it was difficult. But that Irish stubbornness, you've got to put it aside and take care of yourself."
Q. You mentioned that injuries are about normal, but you also said last week about 11 on 11, there's a give and take, you benefit from it but you also put yourself at risk for more injuries. Are the benefits outweighing the negatives there so far?
"Well, only because our defense has so many live snaps. They've played a lot of football. If we had not played a lot of football on defense and had not had a lot of live snaps in terms of real game experience, I'd be a little bit more concerned. But we scrimmaged yesterday, one-on-ones, live action. We still know how to tackle, so I feel pretty good about that. The 11-on-11 work has really benefitted us both when we go ones versus ones, and then we use some show work, as well, in other words we'll go ones versus twos so we can get some specific looks.
"So I think the combination of both of those together has served us well. It's kept us sharp, it's kept us safe, and it's given our quarterbacks the multitude of looks during a game that I want them to see." Q. When do you back off from that? "Tomorrow. Tomorrow we'll get into kind of a game week mode as it relates to our preparation."
Q. Talking about the 11 on 11 that you have done more often, the last couple-- the first two years here you had slow starts out of the gate there, a lot of it related to turnovers. Is that a factor in wanting to create more 11 on 11 work, or were there other things, also, that you wanted to address to perhaps aid a quicker start out of the gate?
"Well, no, I think the 11 on 11 was specifically targeted towards the quarterbacks. It wasn't about getting out of-- every year I go into camp we're preparing to win our opener, it's just I think in this instance your preparation-- I've been doing it for so long that I believe that the plan that we have in place prepares us to play well in that game, that opener that is. So there wasn't a lot of tweaking because I didn't believe that our plan was solid leading into our opener. The 11 on 11 was more for the quarterbacks than anything else. "
Q. Just addressing, though, the slow starts the past couple of years, was there anything specific you could really reevaluate that you wanted to change or anything?
"No, I just think it comes down to playing better. I mean, you can take the South Florida game, you can take-- that game in particular, that-- we just didn't play very well that game. The year before I think we opened against Purdue.
"So the last couple of years we've won one, we've lost one, in terms of the opener. But I just think in your opener, you just play smart, take care of the football, and I think if there's one thing, a message kind of started that way in the opener, and it stayed through the entire year, and that is take care of the football. So if there's one team that has any effect on what we're doing this year based upon last year was take care of the football."
Q. Any clarification on captains or any time we might know?
"Yeah, we're going to have captains, and I'll probably make that decision sometime next week as to whether it's going to be captains for the year or game day captains. Getting close to that decision, so we'll have something before very soon."
Q. And after two weeks when you look at this freshman class, who are the candidates you would consider most likely to be able to help, not just get on the bus but really be able to make an impact early on and throughout the year?
"Impact? I think any guy that can help us relative to special teams or playing a role, we're going to play him. And I think that opens up room for a lot of our players. On the back end of our defense, I think we've talked about Keivarae Russell possibly getting an opportunity to get on the bus or get in the two deep or at least get in the rotation of a two deep. At safety somebody is going to have to emerge there, whether it's-- we talked about Farley is stepping up. He's a freshman in a sense, the first season of competition.
"Offensively we need some of those receivers to give us some time, no question about that. And then Ronnie Stanley who's an offensive lineman that right now that's where we're a little short. So those were probably be where your eyes would kind of wander toward in terms of guys that might provide us some depth this year. There's not a freshman that's going to be an All-American this year. I think he's going to be a role player and help us win. I hope he is."
Q. When you came in, you're going into your third year, obviously. Is quickness maybe the biggest development when you watch the team? Just in the limited time that we get to watch them, but even last year during the season we seemed like we were getting quicker and had pretty good quickness going into the season.
"Well, we're developing it in the plan and the fashion that I've wanted to, and that is physically we needed to get stronger, we needed more team speed across the board, and we're continuing to develop that. You know, year three, you'd better be further along in all those areas, and I believe we are, but now we've got to pass the tests every Saturday, and that's the next step for this team."
Q. What is the blueprint for what is literally a foreign exercise here with all these issues you have with football and then having to go over there to debut?
"Yeah. Some morning practices. Leading up to it we'll practice in the morning just to get our guys up and understanding because we'll play at 9:00 a.m. on their clock. I think the second element is an incredible support staff that keeps all of the distractions away from them. You're moving a team and equipment through a border, and it's not easy, so I've got an incredible staff that we're able to do that here at Notre Dame.
"And then I think we have to be very smart with how we get the proper rest, because quite frankly what I'm more concerned with, it's the opener. Those guys will play it at 2:00 in the morning. What I'm worried about is sleep, loss of sleep, and a cumulative fatigue factor that bites us three, four weeks down the road. So my concerns are more in not just one game but three or four weeks. For example, we didn't get up at 6:00 in the morning for camp. We pushed the schedule back a little bit. I want to make sure our team is fresh so we don't feel the effects of it later."
Q. You mentioned about getting back to your roots and being more hands-on and so forth. Was that something that was building in your mind during last season, or was it you get to the end of the season, you look at the Bowl tape and you say, I want to think about things? When did that introspection period happen for you?
"Well, certainly finishing the way we finished, I think any coach, whether they come to the same conclusion I did or not, you're always going to take a step back and look, all right, what can we do better. There was nothing wrong with our schemes. There was nothing wrong with what we were teaching them. What was wrong was we weren't winning games that I thought we should win, and so sometimes you've got to look at yourself.
"So I think the bottom line for me is that I wanted to be more involved in that process of making sure that I could help our players win, and that means you've got to push the distractions away and focus on why you're here, and that is I want to coach my guys."
Q. Pretty quiet summer in a lot of ways, and over the years it's always been kind of a good sign that the guys are not only buying into the coaching staff and what you want and the level of performance on and off the field, but into each other, which ultimately is a good thing going into the fall.
"Yeah, you know, I like the way things are coming together. But we've still got to win football games. Yeah, I think there's-- look, we've got really good leadership, we've got guys that understand what it takes to win. They played a great schedule last year in terms of Michigan and Michigan State and Florida State. So they know how close they are. I think they brought-- I think really we didn't win as many games as we all want to win, but even in that sense last year, you could sense a confidence growing because they know how close they are to winning those games. So that kind of helped us. And it's been a really good focus.
"The guys are focused on what they need to do, and again, we've got to-- look, we can talk about it all we want. There are good signs, but we've got to go and now finish that off and win some games."