Brian Kelly"What's evident to me is our guys know how to practice and what our expectations are about going out there and competing in the right way and respecting the way the game should be played. I saw that today. I saw our veterans really take a step up, especially the offensive guys, T.J. Jones, George Atkinson, Troy Niklas, Zack Martin, a lot of those guys, you could just see a higher level of confidence in their part in the way they go out there and do their job.
"Defensively, certainly we're a defense that has a lot of really good parts, but last year at this time the defense was so far ahead of the offense, this year it's a balance. If you're on defense you better come ready to play every day. There's some pretty good pieces on the offensive side of the ball. I think the teams complement themselves quite well on the first day and we got a lot of good work.
You seemed to float around in practice this morning and were quietly observing. Was that a change? Is that being in the fourth year?
"It's probably both. What I wanted to do is get around an observe some of our injured players and see what they looked like coming back for the first time. I wanted to see some of our younger players. For the first two, three days, probably until we get into next week, I want to be able to float around and have a really good sense and feel for some of our players that we're counting on to be in key roles for us."
No Steve Elmer today? "Elmer was sick. I got a text this morning at three, he had a lower, digestive … he had diarrhea…you guys won't print it anyway. He was not feeling well. I got a text this morning around three o'clock from Rob (Hunt).
We didn't see Kona Schwenke either… "Kona was flying standby from Hawaii, he missed class on Monday, he had some makeup work to do. He got in after you guys had left, he came back in. He flew standby, his mom works for American Airlines, he missed a day. I needed him to do some makeup work.
Stephon Tuitt was out today. What's his status? "He had a procedure done. He had a sports hernia. So we went in there and they did some work on him. He feels great. We'll probably get him the latter end of spring ball. The last half of the season he really struggled with it. He fought through it but it was something that needed to be repaired. That was done before spring break. Again, it's usually a four-week process. We're going to be in week two. We think we're going to get him back for the last couple of weeks.
"He's already moving really well. He feels so much better. He had some restriction in that groin, hip flexor area where he was really restricted in really running out. We said you know what? Let's get it done. Let's not wait on it. It's something that we may have managed, but we want to get him 100 percent."
What did you see from the injured guys? "I liked the way Lo Wood looked. Obviously competition at the cornerback position is always good for your team I liked the way he looked. I thought (Austin) Collinsworth moved around very well. He's a smart player. It's good to have a veteran player with a lot of smarts who could play a number of positions or us. I was looking at those guys in particular.
"Offensive line, there's nobody (injured) other than Ronnie (Stanley) is moving very well. He's not doing much because of his elbow. And then the young guys, C.J. (Prosise), really liked his explosiveness. I think the guy out of all the injured guys that stands out to me was Amir Carlisle. He's got a gear. He's got a high level where he's really going to be able to help us."
So is Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and Elmer at right tackle for now? "Yeah, I think that's probably the way it would play out. I think we would obviously give those guys a chance to play right and left and find out who can be a potential starter, who can be a backup, where that ends up. I wouldn't peg them, but that's where they would start."
Tony Springmann looks trimmer and lost weight from last year, does that make him more of a defensive end than a rotation guy at the nose as well? "He's still a guy that we could move inside if we need to, but certainly we wanted him to be able to play that four-technique. We think he's perfect for it. He's got great reach and size. Believe he could do a really nice job for us."
Romeo Okwara was working at the Cat linebacker today, is that a move to get him into a more natural position for the future ? "You've got to remember with the Cat position you're going to put your hand down 47-48 percent of the time. It just depends on how you look at it. When you're looking at him, maybe he's standing up all the time, but he'll put his hand down too."
How much special teams do you think you'll be able to do this spring and how much will the guys getting here in June help that?
"Well, I think we'll definitely get some depth out of it. Here's what I know. Standing on the sideline for the national championship game, we're ready to kick off and Alabama has 11 starters on kickoff return. Kickoff return...nobody wants to be on kickoff return.
"So the emphasis for us in this spring is to really embrace their roles. I want starters to be part of our special teams units. The spring is really for us to integrate frontline guys in ST. And that kind of decision has to come from me. So I ‘ve made that and we're going about it in the spring to really put our best players on ST."
Is that for returners? Coverage? Everyone? "It would go for all of those things. Every single position is going to have the best players that we can get out there. We're going to make them compete for those positions."
What prevented that before? "Depth, injuries. You have running guys down there that are so central and critical. Now that we've been able to build some depth on both sides of the ball, I believe we can move more toward getting our front line guys out there."
Does that mean you'll have to give guys breaks on offense or defense? "Yeah, you'll need some depth. I think we're starting to accumulate some depth at those positions that we're not afraid to put a number of different guys out there if they need a blow on defense or they need a blow on offense. As I told them, they're not going to take a blow on special teams. If you want to sit out a series or a few plays on defense, that's up to you. But we're going to get our personnel on the field as well in special teams."
Have you talked to the team about the new rules?
"We talked Monday about some of the rule changes. One of them, which we can talk about a lot, is the 10-second runoff. But that's something that we'll have to create (a practice situation for) in (August) camp. Certainly the blocking below the waist and targeting with the helmet are really going to be the two that I think you're going to see a focus on. The other ones are specialty situations.
"We've talked to our players about, look, you cannot lead with the helmet. We all know which way it's going. The NFL is already talking about offensive players not being able to use their helmet at the running back position. It's a conversation that we've had already and we'll have to continue to build on."
Ideally, what kind of rotation would you like at cornerback where you haven't rotated much in the past?
"I think that you want to be able to play nickel and dime. We couldn't even get into dime last year. We couldn't put four potential corners on the field. It just opens up your defensive playbook a little bit more to match up, so if you're going to go four-wide -- Oklahoma would be a great example -- where we had to keep Danny Spond on the field. He did a great job, but we would have liked to play more nickel and dime. It just gives us more flexibility I knowing that those guys will get a chance to play more because we've got guys that we trust that can play for us every single down."
Daniel Smith played slot today. Is that a new role for him? "No. As you know we like Danny with his size, but we also like his ability to block. Moving him around closer to the ball gives us a bigger body if we're having a hard time. Let's say matching up against a bigger guy like a Danny Spond. If you put a slot that's not as big, he could get overwhelmed. Danny (Smith) gives us the flexibility to move him inside and he can really do a nice job playing a will linebacker or a dog backer in that sense."
Do you see Amir in Theo (Riddick's) role and do you see him playing on the field with another running back? "I can definitely see us playing both Amir and another back at the same time. He's got the ability to play, he's a very good pass catcher, he's got good ball skills, I could see us getting him the football in a number of a different ways with another running back on the field."