"Both teams played great defense today. It's nice to be able to talk about a Notre Dame football team that plays championship defense. Now we have to get our offense to play at that level as well. That will be the next step for our football program – getting our offense to play at the same level our defense has evolved into."
Kelly's 2012 offense did enough to finish 12-0, but it certainly wasn't at the level of the program's defense. In games vs. defenses ranked among college football's top 50, Notre Dame's offense produced the following touchdown totals: 2 (Michigan State), 1 (Michigan), 2 (Stanford/OT), 2 (BYU), 3 (Oklahoma), 3 (Pittsburgh/3 OT), 1 (USC), and 2 (Alabama).
Its relevant to note that often the offense would play smart, prudent football in order to protect a lead and play to the strength of its defense. But few that watched the Irish in 2012 believe a repeat effort offensively would land Kelly's crew back in the national championship game.
"Defensively, certainly we're a defense that has a lot of really good parts," said Kelly following his team's first practice. "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 (practice) 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."
Key to the offense's ascent will be its quarterback, and with 12 games under his belt, Everett Golson is likely to improve immensely. First, he must continue to show Kelly confidence, maturity, and attention to detail this spring.
So too will be a return, it appears, of Kelly's high-tempo attack, or at least the ability to implement it more often.
"No, that's not in my past. That would be in my future," said Kelly of the approach that propelled his upward mobility through the coaching ranks. "We would love to have the ability to dictate tempo. It takes so many things out of play. Look at the Alabama situation (defense). If you're playing fast there, you're eliminating a lot of pressures because the ball's coming out so quick; you're moving quickly.
"We were deficient in areas offensively last year," he continued. "One of them was our inability to play fast. That is definitely a part of where we want to go."
Asked if the Irish could get there this spring, Kelly offered, "Oh yeah. We will be there. Without a doubt."
Go for GolsonOne number stands out from Golson's redshirt-freshman season.
In his first season of competition, Golson threw just six interceptions, or eight fewer than Tommy Rees the previous season (Rees' sophomore campaign), and 11 fewer than Jimmy Clausen in his second year at the program.
Though Golson's relatively low number of attempts, about 26 per game, doubtless played a part, Kelly believes the team's deliberate approach actually put Golson more at risk for a pick.
"The more aggressive that you are, if you're fundamentally doing the things that you're teaching, it doesn't put you at a higher risk of throwing an interception," said Kelly of an up-tempo attack. "I think playing faster even decreases that because you're going to have guys running wide open that aren't even defended.
"So accelerating the offense, if we're really doing it the right way, we're going to get some easier throws along the way than (if) we're slowing it down, letting the defense set, being a little predictable in some of the things you're doing.
"We think we'll be much more unpredictable offensively and I think that'll help us."
Not surprisingly, Golson is on board with an offensive attack more reliant on his right arm.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can from a great group of coaches. I'm very fortunate to have them," said Golson. "Not only can they coach, but they allow a player to be player. For them to see that in me and put more on my plate, I welcome that."
They're putting more on his plate in the spring because he's proven capable of handling the weight. Most of it is mental.
Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin offered that he and Golson had worked together on signs for nonverbal checks pre-snap. The veteran coach considered holding its implementation until the late stages of spring.
Golson though took the matter into his own hands thereafter.
"It was making a (nonverbal) check and checking back to the original play," Golson explained. "Coach (Martin) and I were trying to figure out signals. I finally had something figured out, and it was at a 7-on-7 (winter workout). I relayed the message to the guys for practice, and we ended up doing it.
"He was kind of astounded by it, I guess."
It appears the Irish offense is already less predictable, as promised.