Kelly Q&A: Offense

A look at all-things-offense from today's season-opening press conference with Irish head coach Brian Kelly.

Q.  Why did you feel it was important to name Tommy Rees as a starter in the off-season instead of letting that play out in the pre-season?

Brian Kelly: "Because he was the most experienced and gave us the best opportunity to win against Temple coming out.  I didn't name him the starter for all 13 games.  I named him the starter for Temple.  My expectation is he will take the job and continue to lead our football team.

"He was the most experienced.  He's won.  He obviously knows our offense very well.  He's a senior.  Well-respected.  He has all the things.  It was really a quite easy decision from that standpoint.

Q.  Tommy, where does he have to be better than he was in 2011?

BK: "We talked ad nauseam about turnovers, taking care of the football.  I think he's got to continue to make good decisions, as any quarterback needs to do that.  I don't think we're just taking this about Tommy Rees.  I think any quarterback has got to do a great job of taking care of the football.  We did that last year.  My expectation is we would continue to do that.

"He's stronger.  He has a great understanding of our offense.  Again, as long as I think he continues to continue where he picked up where he left off last year making good decisions, we'll be in good shape.

Q.  I know Everett is not here.  Do you have a specific plan for him?  Both you and he hope, expect to be back in January?

BK:"Yeah, we expect him back in January.  There will be a plan in place.  It's still in flux right now.  But we're in communication with Everett.  Coach Martin has talked to him.  I've talked to him a few times now.  There will be a plan that fits his needs, what's best for him in terms of the environment that he's in.

Q.  What do you think Tommy learned last year that will help him as a starter?

BK:"You know, again, we're talking about young guys that are not complete.  There's always room for improvement.  I'm learning every day.  Tommy is learning.  I think when you sit back and you watch the game with such great knowledge, and the combination of having played the game, when you get a chance to see it unfold, I think it's just another part of that developmental process.

"He took every mental rep, even though he didn't get them in the games, he was engaged in practices, he got tons of reps, got a chance to really see the games unfold. That year, although it wasn't one of a number of snaps, he was in critical times, influenced games, and helped us have an undefeated season.  He learned a lot last year.

Q.  How will your offense look different with Tommy running it?

BK:"They're a little bit different.  But the offense will still have the same components.  We're going to need to do some things better obviously.  We're going to have to throw the ball more effectively.  We think Tommy is somebody that can bring that.  He has a great knowledge of our offense.  We're excited about that end.

"Probably won't be running as much option with Tommy, but we'll do things that suit him.  Again, we really like the way he physically has developed.  He's stronger.  He's running well.  I think you're going to see the very best in Tommy Rees.

Q.  Last summer all the speculation on the outside was about the quarterback position, who would win it.  This summer more so the running back position.  Other than George Atkinson getting the first crack at things, how do you anticipate that position unfolding?

BK:"That's a great question.  I think I would agree with your assessment that we know about George.  I was talking to Coach Martin.  We were doing a video clip of some of our big plays last year.  When we put it on, we saw George quite a bit.  We know we have a big-play guy in George.  He has things he needs to continue to work on, ball security, low pads, all the things everybody in this room knows about.  But Cam McDaniel showed us he can be a very good back for us as well.

"We've got two guys that have done it and we've seen.  The rest becomes, Let's go see in practice and see how they compete.  That's where it's going to be.  It's going to be fun. We know we have really talented young men with great résumés, but we're going to have to see how they play when it comes to college football.

Q.  You can't play six of them.  How many can you play?

BK:"Again, another very good question.  I don't have the answer for that.  I do have this answer: The guys that are capable of helping us win, we will find a way to get them on the field and get them touches.

"If you look at it from strictly a realistic standpoint, no, you wouldn't be able to get six guys, but they can help us in other areas.  That's the charge we have:  get the guys that can help us win games on the field.

Q.  What's going through your mind when one of your top receivers (T.J. Jones) is jumping in a tank with a bunch of sharks?

BK:"I was excited to see that.  You figure if he is going to jump into a tank of sharks, he's going to go over the middle without any fear.  I was pretty excited it was T.J. Jones in there.

Q.  You've been successful with your scout team quarterbacks.  What are your plans with Malik?  Do you want to have him always working with the regular offense or are you going to bounce him back and forth?

BK:"We want to keep him with us.  When I say 'us,' we want to keep him with the starters.  That's important.  He needs to get that firsthand knowledge of the offense and defense, see the college game.  It's very important for us to keep him. We have to find alternatives within the program.  We're on the waiver wire.  We're looking carefully.  We made the calls to the dorms.  But we'll solve that internally.

"But to answer your question, Malik needs to see it, he needs to be with us.

Q.  Personnel stuff.  (Former basketball player) Joey Brooks, the decision for him not to be back this fall.

BK:"Heuerman as a mid-year, got a chance to see him.  We did not want to stunt his growth.  And Joey did a very good job for us, came in, worked hard, did everything we asked him to do.  This was simply about a young kid in Heuerman, obviously giving him more of the reps that Joey would have taken from him.

Q.  You talked about Malik being with the quarterbacks.  How much work does Tommy get versus Andrew and Malik as you go through the next month? BK:"Well, you know my philosophy has been our number two gets much more work than most twos in the country.  It's proven that way because I have a tendency to play more than one quarterback.

"But I would say that Andrew is going to get a lot of reps.  Tommy needs a lot of work, too, because he didn't get many last year.  You'll see a break there, whether it's 6-4 or 7-3 in terms of numbers between one and two.  We will definitely get Malik in the mix as well.

"We have a number of freshmen that we're going to have to get some reps.  Our practice is going to have to be such that we give them opportunities, even in it's freshmen going against freshmen, we have to get them in, get a camera and some eyes on them so we can evaluate them.

Q.  How soon do you want to nail down a starting five on the offensive line rather than a mix and match?

BK:"I don't know that that is as important as maybe having the quarterback ready and locked in.  That group works so well together.  Boy, they do everything together.  They hang out together.  There's a continuity in that group that exists in their DNA as offensive linemen.  You know what I mean?  They can come in and out of the game.

"There will be some battles, right side, right guard.  Nick Martin has had a great spring.  Hegarty is healthy.  He'll get a chance to charge at that position. That's probably one of the units that I'm less concerned about that group playing together because they do it as a way of life.

Q.  Tommy, last time he started, he had two big targets in Floyd and Eifert to throw to.  Do you need to see a wide receiver on tight end emerge to be a 70, 100 catch target or can Tommy get by with a wider distribution?

BK:"I would prefer wider distribution.  Tommy is capable of going across from sideline to sideline and distributing the football to where it needs to go. But when you have a Michael Floyd and a Tyler Eifert, get them the ball, it's that simple.  We don't have those two guys.  But we do have a T.J. Jones, who I think is one of the best route runners in the game.  Wouldn't surprise me if he's a first-round draft pick, he's that good.  Sometimes he doesn't get enough of the accolades.  I think he's a great receiver.

"I think you're going to see Daniels emerge, Chris Brown.  I think our tight ends can all catch the football.  Our running backs have proven to be very good. He has a number of weapons.  He doesn't have an Eifert or a Floyd, but I think we're more balanced at that position than any time since we've been here at Notre Dame.

Q.  You talked in the past about when you have four quarterbacks, to have more than that, dividing the reps up, is very difficult.  When you have six running backs, finite amount of time to make decisions and evaluations, how do you divide up the reps to make a fair assessment?

BK: "You can't.  But each one of them will have a role.  They'll have to accept what their role is.  Maybe one role will be an expansive special teams role.  He'll have to accept that role.  Maybe another role is that if somebody goes down, he now gets more reps. "But when you have six, everybody has to accept what that role is.  We don't know what it's going to be yet.  It's still yet to be determined because we think we have six guys that are fighting for playing time.

"As you know, within our offense, we can play a couple of running backs at one time because of the versatility of the slot position.  You could see one of those running backs playing in the slot.  So we have some versatility if we find that our best play-makers come from that position, at least we're in a good position offensively that the structure of the offense allows those guys to get on the field.

"And then where can you help us?  Are you a red zone player for us?  Are you a short yardage? 

"Are you a third-down back?  Are you going to catch punts or kickoffs?  Are you going to help us on special teams? If they're all ready to play and help us, we'll find roles, then it's up to them to accept the roles we give them.

Q.  Do you have a preference there with a Floyd or an Eifert, just that one single guy you can rely on for 15 or 20 carries a game, or you have no problem divvying it up?

BK:"We have a great system of allowing a number of players to get involved in the game through our system of communication.  So, yeah, we don't have a preconceived notion other than what I talked about earlier.  We put a highlight film together and we saw George Atkinson a lot.  He's fast, can do some big things.  Other than that, we're going to have to find out where we are at that position.

Q.  On the right side of the line, who would you be more apt to move to that position?  Can Elmer move to guard?

BK:"That's a possibility.  We'll get into camp and see how that position solidifies itself.  They're certainly capable of playing guard and tackle.  We'll evaluate that as we go. We know that Christian Lombard can handle himself at the right tackle position.  If he goes down, I think we've got great answers.  If we want to get the best players on the field, we can include those guys in the mix if we think that they are capable of doing that.

"Great flexibility would be my answer, but we can do a number of things on that right side.

Q.  Two years ago 29 turnovers.  Last year cut it into half, only 15.  Big difference.  The defense, again, is projected to be the strength of the team.  Maybe that leads you to play a certain way on offense.  You operated very well with that offensive scheme last year.  Do you try to maybe take more chances if that's the right way to look at it and maybe risk more turnovers?  Do you limit the turnovers, let the defense do its job, does that work for you again?

BK:"We expect to score more points offensively.  When you get down to it, you want to take care of the football, as we mentioned.  That's absolutely crucial.  We need to score more points.  Internally putting more points on the board is crucial.  We think we'll be able to do that with a veteran quarterback with Tommy Rees, continue dominating defensive play.  Improve our special teams.  Those are things we'll be looking at short-term as we get ready for Temple. 

"Obviously we need to score more points. Top Stories