Kelly Q&A: Defense

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

Q.  In spring you were on the kind of search for defensive leadership, weren't sure where that voice was going to come from.  Did you get much of an indication from Coach Longo, talking to players here or there, about where that voice was defensively, who was that voice?

Brian Kelly: "Yeah, I think we have a combination there.  I don't know that we have one guy.  Like Zack Martin stands out on offense.  I don't know there's that kind of personality on defense.  There's a number of them.  I look at Bennett Jackson.  I look at (Carlo) Calabrese and (Dan) Fox are seniors.  Even when you talk about Prince Shembo, Danny Spond.  On the back end of our defense, Keivarae Russell is very vocal as a sophomore.

"It takes on a different form.  I know there's a number of different players there that will get their opportunity to step out.  We'll make a decision when camp completes on captains, but we will name captains this year as we did last year.

Q.  It's probably fair to say that Louis Nix was a little bit under the radar as far as national appreciation last year.  He'd probably be the first one to point that out.  Everyone is in love with Louis Nix this year.  Some people in that position take their foot off the gas.  It doesn't appear that he has done that.  If that is so, how has he been able to do that?

BK: " I think when we gave him the opportunity to play quarterback in the spring game, I think it changed him. Here is a young man, again, that knows in his last season of competition, it's his chance to make his mark.  It's his opportunity to help lead a football team back to a championship.  He knows it can be done.

"So then it becomes on him to be that guy on the field every snap.  I know one of his goals, and Coach Longo worked closely with him in getting his volume so he could be on the field.  When your best player is on the field every snap, you're a better football team.  He committed to that.  That's him making that conscious decision that he wanted to be that guy. So, again, maturity, right?  That senior year does something to you when it's your last year.  All those things came together.  He wanted that to happen.

Q.  How hard is it to find a zero-technique guy like that that is a big dude that can really move when you're out recruiting?

BK: "I think you have to really look and project in some instances.  You're not going to get that kind of guy every year where he's got that frame, that first-step quickness that can dominate at the line of scrimmage.  It's a hard position to find. But you can project to that.  You can find somebody that is maybe 260, 265 that can work into that kind of position if he has some of the other intangibles.

"It's hard to find that guy that's ready-made.  A lot of times you have to develop them.  We developed Louis in a sense, as well.  He was big.  He had some of those prototypical nose guard characteristic.  We expect to do that with the next guy.

Q.  Distorted view of Kyle as a punter in the spring.  You were inside so much, he didn't get to cut it loose.  In the spring game, that kind of showed up.  What do you anticipate from him this fall?  Do you feel like he can still handle all the jobs?

BK:"Yeah, it will come down to the discipline of the punting game.  The discipline for him is his drop and his consistency. He's a hard worker.  He's extremely conscientious.  He's a very good competitor.  He's got the skill set.  This is really going to be something that we'll continue to look at each and every day. 

"But our expectations are that he's got the makeup to do it. Now, we brought in a couple other young men that will vie for the punting position.  Our expectations are that Kyle can do it.  But we're prepared if we run into any problems, you know, to look in another direction.  But our expectations are that Kyle is going to be able to do the job for us.

Q.  We all noticed Jesse Bon Govi on the roster.  What was the evolution of that relationship that landed him here?

BK: "Well, recruiting Poly Prep is very important for us, recruiting in that area put us in touch with him.  He's had a relationship with Notre Dame.  It goes back to Coach Weis. Jesse has earned his spot on the 105.  He's a tough kid.  The kids really like him.  They respect him.  They don't look at him as a rock star's son.  They look at him as a kid that loves Notre Dame and wants to play football and help this team. He's had a good summer.  Coach Longo liked his work ethic and the way he competed.

Q.  You talked about the running backs a little bit.  Are there other position battles you're eager to see play out in the next month?

BK: "There's a ton of them.  What's going to happen at linebacker?  We got some really good players.  We're really deep at linebacker.  Inside and outside, Fox, Calabrese, Grace, Moore.  You look on the outside with Ishaq, Shembo, Okwara, Spond, Councell.  It's going to be exciting.

"At safety we have a number of really good safeties with Collinsworth back, Shumate.  Farley has proven himself to be a BCS safety for us.  Hardy had a great spring.  Bringing Max Redfield.  Corner, interesting to see.  Lo Wood is back, Jalen Brown, Atkinson.  I could go on and on.

"We have six, seven defensive linemen.  Tony Springman gets a chance now to step up a little bit.  Jarron Jones.  What can Isaac Rochell do for us?

"It's going to be fun.  We have a lot of veterans coming back, but there's going to be a lot of things that we're going to have to evaluate.  We're going to have a lot of players that will get that opportunity.

Q.  What is your take on the new targeting rule that is going to be enforced this fall?  Are you at all concerned about losing a starting safety late in the game or is it better?

BK: "The rule has been in effect.  We're all talking about a new rule.  It's not a new rule.  Targeting has been in effect.

"I think what has concerned many is the interpretation of targeting more than anything else.  We're not going to change anything in the way we coach.  We're going to continue to coach safe tackling techniques, playing penalty-free, making sure we're a disciplined football team.

"When you put it into the hands of somebody else to make that decision, that's where it becomes a bit of an issue.  We're going to have to work through it.  We're hopeful that with the inclusion of instant replay that that can solve a lot of problems. Last year in talking to a number of people, there were less than 20 incidents last year that were targeting, that 'targeting' was the call.

From our standpoint, we'll continue to coach the same way, talk about safe tackling techniques, make sure our kids understand they're not going to lead with the helmet, let it go from there.

Q.  You talked about the depth at safety and cornerback.  Now there's no leeway for the official to call it if there is helmet-to-helmet?

BK: "Yeah, I will tell you we're not really thinking in those terms.  Those scenarios are not at the forefront of conversations within our defensive staff meeting rooms. But we would have to treat it like an injury and have the next man ready.  I think having depth certainly helps you in those situations, as it would if there was an injury.

"Again, I don't believe those are conversations that are taking place in Coach Diaco's staff room.  He's talking about safe tackling techniques, being smart.

Q.  Stephon Tuitt, what do you see as his strengths or weaknesses?  How do you keep him grounded?

BK: "I think we take the same approach with all of our players.  It's not my job to get guys ready for the NFL.  It's my job to develop them here at Notre Dame, to win football games, get their degree.

"We really don't spend a lot of time talking about their draft status.  We talk to them more about how they can be a better football player and teammate here at Notre Dame.  All that other stuff is conjecture and opinions.  But we really don't spend much time on it.

"Our focus with Stephon Tuitt this summer was conditioning, making sure he can be on the field for as many plays, and for him to continue to make progress academically towards his degree. 

"We didn't have a conversation about anything as it relates to the National Football League.

Q.  What do you like best in his game?  Can you see him being the leader of the unit this year?

BK: "Yeah, I think everybody on that defensive unit can take a leadership role - some in different forms.  If Stephon Tuitt is out there doing his job, doing what he's asked to do on a day-to-day basis, he de facto becomes a leader for us.  That's how we go into developing our players on a day-to-day basis.  It doesn't mean they have to have a C on their jersey to be a leader.

"Our expectations are, absolutely, yes, we expect him to be a leader for us on defense.


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