Kelly Q&A: Spring Wrap

Minutes after his team finished its 14th of 15 spring practice sessions, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke with the media for more than 20 minutes inside the Isban Auditorium.

Brian Kelly

"We wrapped up spring practice today with our full-house backfield of Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt and Tyler Stockton. We worked on the triple option out of that. I thought we had great progress, and then did a little shotgun snapping to Louis Nix. We found out that he's not very good at that. So that was most of the practice today. Hopefully, this goes across the country and Temple is able to pick up on this stuff.

"We used Monday - because we went Friday/Saturday back-to-back - as our non-padded day, and got some specific things we wanted to do game-plan wise. Today, we focused on a traditional practice. Had some contact today and focused in on some of the things that we really want to accentuate offensively and defensively, that we felt like we had picked up from our off-season study and implemented those things over the last week. Today, we wanted to get a look at some of those things that are going to be part of what we're going to do offensively and defensively.

"Good spring. We've got a few guys that won't compete (in the Blue-Gold Game). The shoulders - Dan Fox, Nicky Baratti and Bennett Jackson - and (Chase) Hounshell as well. Those guys will not compete. Amir Carlisle was in pads today, but we will not put him in a contact situation. He tried to talk himself into that, but we're not going to let him. He's only four weeks (since the injury) on Tuesday. He's looked good. He's gotten a lot of work over the last couple of days, and he's done a really good job. But he will not compete. Corey Robinson has a hyper-extended elbow. He was at practice today, but he was limited, so we probably won't ‘contact' him on Saturday. That's six. The seventh is Tyler Plantz.

"It will be offense-defense with the thrilling scoring system that you all wait for, but it will be a similar format as last year. We just don't have the numbers. Hopefully I'm standing here next year with a full stock of offensive linemen and DBs and wide receivers. That's really holding us back from splitting the squads up into a true Blue-Gold scrimmage.

"The defense will be in blue this year, which is a change, and the offense will be in white. There will not be any live ST (special teams), though we will punt it so you'll get a chance to see (Kyle) Brindza punting the football, and there won't be any live field goal/extra point.

"That's the format. We'll have everybody on the same sideline and really try to create a game-day atmosphere, especially for a lot of the young guys, I want them to go through pre-game and through the tunnel and get into a game-like atmosphere. The game will probably be stop-clocked in the first half and probably a running clock in the second. We've got a window of a couple hours that we've got to take care of, but we'll play that by ear."

Question: Is there anything you expect to see in the game that you haven't seen in the first 14 practices?
?"Absolutely. When you get into a game situation, you're looking for a flow, you're looking for, certainly from me, if you remember last year, the offense was sloppy. The ball was on the ground and there was some mistiming on handoffs. I really want to see a clean game from an offensive perspective, and there will be guys who will get a chance to compete for the first time in a longer format defensively. You're going to take a look at (Elijah) Shumate, you're going to take a look at Eilar Hardy, you're going to take a look at Jarrett Grace, Ben Councell

"So I think there's a lot to look at individually defensively. The structure will be the same. Offensively, I want to get out of it feeling that we've really made that next step from an offensive standpoint in terms of continuity and execution."

Question: With the game being televised, do you hold back differently than you would have three or four years ago??
"Look you can go on YouTube and look at anything. We're obviously not going to show a Temple game plan. But we're going to run what we run offensively and defensively. I just don't think there are a ton of secrets anymore. You're not going to see us run a lot of game plan kind of things, but we're going to run what we're going to run.

Question: What does Corey Robinson need to do to get in the rotation next year??
"He's not going to be ready at any time where we want him next year, but he's certainly somebody that can help us win football games in a role. He'll be a role player, kind of like Chris Brown was. Chris helped us win a game against Oklahoma. That's how you have to look at Corey Robinson. No, he's not a finished product yet. He's got to get stronger. But he does have a skill set. When you throw that ball near him, he comes down with it. So I think there's a place for him in our offense, but he won't be a featured guy like a (DaVaris) Daniels might be.

Question: With the success he had last year, what's the next step for Prince Shembo??
"Probably third down is big for him in the sense that he was our nickel rusher for us. Continually getting after the quarterback is what we need from Prince, and then in our base defense, probably pass coverage. There's some work there left for him. What he brought last year consistently was a readiness. He was ready to play each and every week. But I think there's another level for him in our third down nickel package as a pass rusher, and there's definitely room for improvement in his coverage skills at the Cat position.

Question: Early in the spring, you talked about playing in tempo with this offense. Where does that stand now? Is that something you want to do Cincinnati-esque, or do you want to be able to downshift out of that?
?"What I want to be able to do is go into the Temple game and if we have to play fast the whole game, then we can. I believe that we're really close to doing that. I'll let the game dictate how we play in terms of what we need in that game. But I want to get into it. I want that to be part of the toolbox. It wasn't part of the toolbox last year. I want that as an offensive tool that we can go into a game at any time and change how we play the game. We couldn't do that last year. I believe we're close to being able to do that this year.

Question: Zack Martin said he thought there was more hitting this spring. Was there and if so, what was the reason behind that?
?"There were more positions that we needed to evaluate through contact, in particular tackling on the back end at the safety positions, linebacker…And then we had a battle at center and guard where we really needed to see contact at those positions. We couldn't avoid it. I think this team required it more than maybe last year's team. We had some real established players in terms of the Manti Te'os and the Tyler Eiferts. That group was much more established, so the contact was out of 1) putting those guys in individual, live battles, and then 2) I think this is a different team than last year's that in my opinion needed more of those contact situations.

Question: Among the reserves, in terms of the last few practices, are there guys who have moved from maybe a question mark in your mind to a functional depth guy now?
?"I would say guys like Eilar Hardy really stepped up this spring and showed that he's ready to take on more. I think Tyler Stockton has showed that he can probably take some reps for us. Tony Springmann, Conor Hanratty can definitely step in and take some plays for us. Alex Welch. Those guys stand out to me in the sense that they can go in there and take some reps for us.

Question: In terms of the size Steve Elmer brings as an early enrollee, what have you seen from him??
"Physically, you mentioned those gifts. He plays 11-on-11 pretty good. Generally, the guys who are big, physical, young kids, they look really good but they don't play the game as well. He plays 11-on-11 pretty well. He's got good instincts. He understands front-side/back-side combinations. He's still a work in progress as a pass setter. But in the run game, he's pretty accomplished. I think he's surprised us a little bit in that he's shown a pretty good sense and awareness of how to play the game at that position outside of his physical abilities.

Question: Where do you feel you are in terms of guys along the offensive line who can play winning football for you, and is (Matt) Hegarty in that mix?
?"Hegarty is in that mix. You're talking about (Ronnie) Stanley, you're talking about Hegarty, you're talking about Hanratty, and right on the fringe of talking about Elmer there, too. He's going to need some more work. But he's made some really good progress. Plus your (starting) five.

Question: Have you had a chance to look at Ronnie Stanley at right tackle, or are you satisfied with what you have had on the right side?
?"We were able to do that, and there will be more there because we didn't turn up the contact for Stanley until the last 10 days. We were really cautious with him and he went in there and looked really good. I think what you're going to see is Ronnie and Christian and Conor, and we're going to have to let that thing continue to develop for us.

Question: How has Tommy Rees handled his role this spring?
?"Really well. Continues to do the right things in throwing the football down the field, making good decisions. Just solid. Good leader. Good demeanor. What you would hope for from a fourth year guy in your program who has totally bought in to what his role is.

Question: The last time you talked, you said that Chuck Martin would call the plays and that would continue in the fall. How does that make you a better team and how does that change your role on game day?
?"It will keep me involved in the offense in a sense of how I want the game to unfold. So I'll still manage the game in a similar fashion. That won't change. That helps us in that I can focus on winning the game and not being caught up in play calling. Sometimes the emotions of play calling take you away from the bigger picture, which is how we're going to win the football game. I'm very confident that that's going to be a positive in helping us win, and then there's just such a similar sense in how the game is going to be called because Chuck really was doing a lot of that last year anyway. I'm able to focus on some other areas other than just play calling. That will be ultimately the area where we can improve and help us win.

Question: You went outside today. Are you able to accomplish things you're not able to do when you're inside?
?"You've got much more space to get some drill work done. Pushing the football down the field and not worrying about running into people. I think there's a little bit more of a sense of freedom to go do what you want to do. I just like the quarterbacks and the offense being out in the elements. It's harder to hear and they really have to be locked in. I like that atmosphere. I think it's more about communication and doing a better job on both sides of the ball when you're outside.

Question: How many practices were outside? ?"I think this was our third. Four with the game, so not much.

Question: Earlier in the spring, you said you wanted to get your front line players more involved in the special teams. Do you feel confident that the depth you'll have will allow you to pursue that in the fall??
"I do. I think all those guys will have a significant role, and we made that part of our spring practice. We're also going to bring in a number of freshmen that I'm certain are going to be involved in special teams, especially some of those bigger-bodied guys. You've got (Michael) Deeb and (Doug) Randolph and Jaylon Smith, Max Redfield, just to name a few. We've got some guys coming in, some DBs, in (Devin) Butler and (Rashad) Kinlaw. There is going to be an influx of talented guys that can help us in that area.

Question: With Jaylon Smith coming in and Dan Fox still out, is the whole linebacker corps sort of TBA right now??
"No, I think the four guys that we know…Calabrese and Fox for certain, and then you add Jarrett Grace into that. Kendall Moore is your fourth guy. He's got to find his reps along the way. That's pretty established, and then you have Michael Deeb coming in. Joey Schmidt has done a great job. We're really confident in his ability to give us some quality. He's not as big as we'd like, but he's very smart, he's on task, he knows his assignments, he's assignment correct to everything he does. So there are five, six guys right there.

Question: What is it about Bob Diaco that makes the players respond as well as they do to him??
"He's a very good communicator, so the kids know exactly where they stand on a day-to-day basis. There are no mixed messages. There's a clarity in the voice in terms of what's expected of you, how to do your job, and he does a great job in terms of getting all the players engaged. We're playing a lot of guys. If we tell you you're going in on the seventh play of the game, you're going in on the seventh play of the game. All those things lend themselves. He's got a personality that the players see it's about them. It's not about him; it's about the players. All those things together make him a terrific football coach.

Question: Ernest Jones has been here for about a year. What impact has he had?
?"Strong impact in our program, especially with the relationships with our players and our community service work. We really work hard at getting our players into being other-centered and not just think about themselves. Think about how they can help others. I think the relationships he's built with our football players is just another step in the building of our program as it relates to we're here to help you.

'We had a career day boot camp where we had our entire football team working on interviewing. You might think, ‘You're a football team; why aren't you working on (the) NFL?' Well, the NFL takes care of itself. We want to make sure we provide other things. Ernest leads that, and it was a piece that we needed. It's a piece that he has provided for us, and it really provides great morale for our football team.

Question: Who did you see emerging as leaders during these 14 practices?
?"I think we've had some pretty consistent leadership on the offensive line. That group is led by Zack Martin. But o-linemen lead in a pack. There's a consistency in their work ethic, the way they show up. They're a no-nonsense group. So if you ask who's your best leader, as a group, it's that offensive line, and the way they come to practice every day wears off on everybody else. They're a no-nonsense group. They get in there, they get their work done, they expect to do well, and that kind of trickles down to some of the other guys.

"I really like the way Everett has upped his leadership. Defensively, I don't know that there's been one guy, but by action, Prince Shembo has been great. I would tell you that when you talk about guys, Matthias Farley has been a guy that has upped his leadership, and those are young guys.

Question: Any personal connections to Boston that were involved Monday?
?"No. We were obviously devastated with the news as everybody else was. After a few hours of making calls and making sure all family and friends were safe, our next thought was to the victims. Terrible day, especially being from Boston and growing up with Patriots Day being kind of our holiday if you will as a Bostonian. So not only the tragedy of the loss of life and the injured, but it shakes you when that kind of private holiday that is so much Boston is shattered. It's going to be hard. A lot of people are going to need some time to get over this. Top Stories