Kelly Q&A: Midpoint

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly met with the media today to discuss his squad's progress, injuries, and development through the first half of the spring session.

QUESTION: We saw Amir Carlisle running around last week already. Can you talk about him?

"He's doing really well. He caught the ball today. We had him on the Jugs. He's anxious to get back in there. He's running around well. That injury is just simply when that calcification takes place and that bone growth, and that's four weeks. So he's probably going to be a guy that's right at that four weeks. He'll still miss spring ball, but he's involved in everything, he's doing everything but contact. So other than missing contact and scrimmage, this won't be a step back for him."

QUESTION: Regarding his injury history, is it unfair to wonder if he's going to hold up?

"Well, I think those questions are fair. Where I concern myself more relative to injuries is how you handle them, and he's bounced back right in there. So mentally, he's strong where he's a guy that is not going to be afraid to go right back in there and play. It's unfortunate that he gets another injury, and it is what it is. But I've always felt like it's mentally, are you ready to go back in there, and he was ready about five, six days after surgery. So we won't think much about it other than he wants to get right back in there and go."

QUESTION: How would you describe Will Mahone's game?

"Understanding the offense because he's used to being a downhill, 25-carry-from-the-I-back player. He's got a lot more things going on. He's lining up in the slot and he's got to catch the ball out of the backfield. I'd say that's a big learning curve for him. He runs the ball well. He'll go downhill. He'll run the ball with some physicality in terms of his style. We were looking for a bigger back, which we got with him. He continues to mature and learn the offense. But he's going to be a bigger back for us where down the road, I think we can put him between the tackles and he can get some things done for us."

QUESTION: How do you see Cam McDaniel's role?

"Yeah, I think we've got some flexibility with Amir and Cam in particular that they can do a lot of those jobs. We'll never rule out playing both of them. If we feel like they're (part of the) best 11, the offense is such that we can have a George Atkinson and an Amir Carlisle on the field at the same time. Certainly we could have done that last year with Cierre (Wood) and Theo (Riddick). If they're our best 11, we can find a way to get both of them on the field.

QUESTION: Chuck Martin said a couple of weeks ago that Malik Zaire has really picked up what you're doing offensively. What has been your perspective on how he's handled it?

"Very well. From the mental end of things, he's in the top group of guys that I've coached that really understands the nuances of the position and can understand coverages and rotations and pressures and movement keys.

"He's really at a high level there. His is simply we've got to tighten him up a little bit, quicker release, we've got to work on his footwork - the things we had to work on with Everett. But he's really got a good mind for the game."

QUESTION: When you were recruiting him, did you know that about his ability to (process things)? "Yeah, we were in a meeting last spring when he came up for spring ball. We had the quarterbacks in there and it was evident to me that he had a pretty good mind. He was able to engage in the conversation in terms of what we were talking about. So we had a good feeling about that early on."

QUESTION: With the group of tight ends, is that a similar situation as to the (depth situation) you have at running back?

"I think it's similar. I don't think it's far-fetched to see one of those guys split out and one of them attached. Again, we utilized quite a bit of two-tight end formations last year. Personnel groupings, I think we've got some pretty good depth and flexibility in those groupings. Troy (Niklas) is a guy - we're not at the level of where we can move him like we did Eifert - but he certainly can do some things as a No. 2 receiver with a tight end attached. He could be an inside guy, so we do have some flexibility at the tight end position as well."

QUESTION: Alex Welch was saying he's moving around pretty well...

"He had a lot of rust coming back, but progressively I think he's beginning to feel more comfortable. The first thing is you've got to get the thought of the knee out of there, and today with the scrimmage, he got a lot of work in the scrimmage. Getting through that and knowing that (he) can go full-go and have contact, he was pretty excited to get through today. Mentally, I think that was a little bit of a hurdle for him."

QUESTION: Jarron Jones shared his journey with us yesterday, and it was pretty difficult for him. He had a huge adjustment from high school. Can you talk about where he is now? When you recruit a guy like that, how can you be sure that he's going to be able to get over that hump?

"His mom. There was no doubt that his mom has been a central figure in his growth and development. We had a couple of stumbles with Jarron early on in terms of routine and discipline and academics. One phone call home to Rochester (N.Y.) really got some things done. So we've had a great relationship with the family.

"Coach (Mike) Elston has done a good job of mentoring him and bringing him along and I think we felt like he was assimilated to being a Notre Dame student-athlete probably in February. The reports were the way we wanted to see them, and he's pretty comfortable in where he is right now."

QUESTION: Do you feel he can be a high-end player?

"We think all these guys we recruit are going to be really good players for us. It's always about when. When will he be? He's going to be a guy you can't move out of that four-technique. We never saw him as a dynamic pass rusher. What we saw was a big, strong, physical kid with good feet and played with a really good motor.

"He's going to be a really good player when he gets his opportunity. He still is not at that point where he's going to get a lot of opportunities yet because we've got some pretty good depth there."

"But he's going to be counted on for a handful of plays. We feel confident that he's big and strong enough to help us."

QUESTION: At this juncture of the spring, what have you learned about your team?

"I've got to watch the film. It's never as good as you think and it's never as bad. But our offense is certainly progressing. We're able to move with a better tempo. Everett (Golson) is obviously a much better leader of our offense, and when your quarterback is leading out there, that's very positive.

"We've seen growth from the guys who were on offense last year who played central roles. It starts with Golson. We've seen Zack Martin continue to get better at his position. T.J. Jones has been outstanding, and Troy Niklas has really picked up his play. For me, I wanted to see the guys who were returning to really continue to up their game. I feel good about that."

"On the defensive side of the ball, the things that stand out to me are guys that are getting more of an opportunity. Jarrett Grace is one of them. Ben Councell has really stepped up and shown that football is really important to him. So from the defensive standpoint, new players coming in and really showing their game, and then the offense, the guys who are returning have really stepped it up.

"I don't have all 22 yet, but we're moving in the right direction in terms of what I want to see."

QUESTION: We saw Danny Spond was limited the other day...

"He's doing fine. He's day-to-day. But he's out there engaged, and Ben's gotten some work there. Councell's got a lot of physical ability, and now that he's put on the weight and has gotten stronger, he's long, almost 6-foot-4…that's a pretty big kid out there. It's been good that he's gotten work."

QUESTION: We talked to Coach Hiestand and he mentioned that Conor Hanratty has gotten a lot of reps with the both the first and second-team. How has that helped his progress at right guard?

"It's given him a great opportunity to be in there. One of the things that is so important with that group is to build continuity. With the new center and the right guard position, we're trying to gain some continuity, and he's been the beneficiary of that. We're going to start to activate Ronnie Stanley more, and if we can continue to move in the right direction, we may be able to scrimmage him in the spring game.

"We'll get Ronnie in there on the right side and give him an opportunity to start competing. But it's been a good situation. Conor has been able to get in there and get a lot of work."

QUESTION: Was DaVaris (Daniels) able to practice today? "No, we kept him out today. He has a bruised knee. He was coming off the line and he just kind of jammed it. So he's been a little sore. I would say probably Wednesday he'll start running routes and back into everything. Pretty minor."

QUESTION: What is Spond's injury? "He had a shoulder, neck, upper-body injury. I don't want to just call it a neck because it's been part of his shoulder. He's just been sore and tight and we've kept him out of contact. He was fully engaged today. Did everything but contact drills."

QUESTION: How has the experiment with Ishaq Williams at defensive end? "I think that's going to continue to play itself out. I think you'll see him in nickel situations. Obviously we like his ability to fill in if we need another defensive end. I think he'll have the ability to add more plays to his game because he can do both for us. That will continue to unfold."

QUESTION: What about the development of Romeo Okwara?

"He's at Cat. He's just a freshman and he's almost 250, so he's just going to continue to grow. He'll stay at Cat because he has the ability to stand up and move around in coverage situations. He's also big enough that he can put his hand on the ground."

QUESTION: Will he cross-train like Williams (at DE)? "Both of those guys, if you look at the Cat position and the way it's transformed itself, it's 53 percent and 47, so cross training is the nature of that position."

QUESTION: We spoke with Louis Nix yesterday. He was able to regale us with more musings… "How special was that?"

QUESTION: He said he's not a rah-rah guy, but says what's on his mind.

"Louis is his own personality. He's a fierce competitor, but we're not going to ask him to give any Knute Rockne speeches, either before the game or during the game, and I think he knows that about himself.

"What you're hearing from Louis is he's trying to articulate himself as to the kind of player that he is. Here's what I will tell you: He does his job, he comes to practice to get better, and he's respected by his teammates because he's a ferocious competitor. That's what his teammates know about him, so they're not looking to him for motivation.

"If you brought in Zack Martin right now, he would say, 'I can count on that guy on Saturday.' All the other stuff that goes on during the week and the chatter, let Louis be Louis. But they know on Saturday, he's a ferocious competitor."

QUESTION: The spring roster has Stephon Tuitt at 322. Is that a (target weight)?

"A little north of that. We're going to get him back down. With the surgery, he wasn't working out and he put on a little weight. Coach Longo will get him down to what we believe is a better number, and he knows that too. He's practiced really well, and I'm pleased with the way he's moving. He's been able to cut loose and really do the things that kind of encumbered him last year with that hernia. Good progress for Stephon and he'll compete in the spring game."

QUESTION: Is Low 300s good for him? "I think he's going to be a natural 315. He's just a big fella. He's a little heavy right now, but we'll get him down."

QUESTION: If Louis isn't the voice of the defense, who could it be?

"Well, that's a good question. That's evolving. I think Bennett Jackson is going to be a more vocal voice for us. He hasn't been in a lot of action, but he's very vocal. He's probably one of the most vocal guys we have out there. We have Calabrese and Fox with a lot of experience that will speak. We've got two guys that really have a great work ethic and lead by the way they practice. Prince Shembo is an incredibly determined practice guy. Every single day, he's out there, and Jarrett Grace.

"So we've got a blend back there. Matthias (Farley) has been a great communicator out there for us on the field. He's really a kid that acts like a junior or a senior. So we have different pieces that are still coming together. We're not a finished product there yet."

QUESTION: How's the linebacker corps coming along without Manti Te'o?

"We've got Fox and Calabrese that can play inside at the same time. We've got Jarrett Grace and Kendall Moore, guys that we feel confident that they can give us some pretty good depth at that position. Joey Schmidt, a walk-on, has had a very good spring. He's gotten Coach Diaco's attention by the way he's practiced. He's very smart.

"When it comes to the physical end of things, we'd like him a little bigger and a little stronger, but he is such a technician. He's very smart. He's gotten our attention. We feel like we've got some really nice depth and that we can do some different things as well with the inside backers that we have. I'd say that's a strength of our team."


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