Q&A Part I: Offense and Shiloh

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly discusses his team's trip away from South Bend for four days and the progress of his offensive troops through five practice sessions.

Notre Dame

Q&A with Brian Kelly: Offense

Q: How difficult is it going to be to keep Corey Robinson off the field?

"I don't think it will be difficult at all. I think he'll have a role. Physically he's still growing, but I don't think it takes anybody too long to figure out he's got a great catching radius and if we put the ball in the right position he'll go up and get it. It will be a role, but he's not going to be out there playing every single snap. He'll definitely be out there.

Q: What's going to shake out the running back position for you?

"I think first and foremost the ability to run the football within our schemes and how we want them to run the football. I think if you saw how it shook out last year, Theo Riddick was the No. 1 running back because he ran the ball the way we wanted to play the game last year. So that will be the No. 1 running back.

"All the other backs will have a role within the offense, it could be pass catching, it could be protection, it could be a little bit of both, it could be all those things. It could be a third-down back, it could be a guy that gets us that tough yard. But the No. 1 thing in a clear back will be that guy that runs the ball the most effectively, that is truly the best running back. That has yet to be determined."

Q: Fair to say ball security also weighs into that? You spent some time with the running backs today.

"Yeah, the day that you guys were out there we didn't have a good day with ball security. Ball security with me is central to what we've been teaching. We put the ball of the ground, we're not going to be a very good offense. When we talk about a disciplined football team, we talk about ball security. Just coincidence that you guys were out there when I was hot about a particular topic."

Q: Can you talk about Zack Martin and Chris Watt, what they bring to the left side of the line?

"Zack is the best offensive tackle in the country in my estimation. That puts him in that category. He's the best offensive tackle because his athletic ability, his strength, his understanding of the position, what he does for his team, the way he teaches and leads. He's the best offensive tackle because he works so well with the guy next to him that he knows so well and works with him, together with Chris Watt.

"Chris is a different player. Chris is a much more straight line, physical, knock-you-in-the mouth kind of player. Zack can play that style. If you watched him against Alabama he played that way, but he can be a guy out in space and screens. They're a great complements to each other. More than anything else they're just really, really good football players. They're two of the best offensive linemen in the country."

Q: They've played a lot of football without injury too. Knock on wood.

"They take great care of themselves. They're committed to being in great shape. They take care of all of the things that they need to off the field as well. They live the right way. If they didn't they'd be more susceptible, but they take care of themselves."

Q: How do you see the right side of the offensive line playing out? Ronnie Stanley at right tackle and Christian Lombard at right guard?

"That was the first day. Conor (Hanratty) has been in there. He had a neck strain, he had the day off today, he should be back tomorrow. We're still sorting that right side out, Hanratty, Stanley. I think I mentioned in my opening press conference, that's a fluid situation. We're only four days into it. We're a work in progress over there. It's going to be one of those three guys, whatever that assortment may be. Lombard at guard and Stanley at tackle or Hanratty at guard and Lombard/Stanley at tackle."

Q: Amir Carlisle, what do you like about his versatility?

"His versatility. He catches the ball very well. He's got burst. Very smart. Knows the playbook. One of the big things is can you go out there … versatility is great if you can handle it, right? You can say I want you to be versatile and play all these positions, but if you can't handle it then you can't be versatile.

"I think what makes him the player that he is, is that he can handle those dual roles. So, I think you start with he's a very smart kid. When you first look at him you say he's not a physical kid, well, he's almost 200 pounds. He's 192. He's solid. He's running inside out. He can catch the football. Smart and has the skill set to play multiple positions."

Q: What have you seen from the younger backs?

"Really pleased. Probably more pleased with that group than any. We've got guys that can help us win right now. Greg Bryant can help us win. Will Mahone had a great off-season. He's had a great camp. He's playing a little bit more in the slot, getting the ball to him. He's got very good ball skills."

"We didn't even know how good his balls skills were until we started to put him in the slot a little bit more. He's come on. He's probably been one of those guys in the first few days that's caught our attention. You saw in the scrimmage, he had a very elusive run, runs with low pads. We've got a lot of depth there. Guys that can help us win."

Q: Can you see DaVaris Daniels breaking out like T.J. Jones did last year?

"Absolutely. Daniels will be a legitimate BCS wide receiver. He will be a guy that you'll have to pay attention to. He's doing a great job of running vertically, getting the football to him will be important, especial vertically. Him and TJ, I think I alluded to it, I think we're going to have great balance, probably the best balance in the wide receiving corps since I've been here, across the board."

Q: And the tight end battle?

"I don't want to take for granted that Troy Niklas is somebody that we just … hey, you got Troy Niklas. He's working to get better every day too because he didn't have a lot of opportunities with (Tyler) Eifert. But he's a guy that I think can only get better. Ben Koyack and Alex Welch have really shown themselves. We have a lot of weapons. We have a lot of guys that can help us win. It's just so early. It's four days into it. We've got a lot of good players. We've got depth. We just got to keep grinding away and see where it all shakes out."

Q: How do you evaluate what Tommy Rees has done to this point?

"I think a couple things that stand out. He's kept some plays alive. Not that he has not been able to do it in the past, he's turned some negative plays that he's had in the past to zero or plus five or seven. That might not sound like much to you, but if that can keep you out of third-and-long when we get into some tougher situations, that's huge for us in terms of managing games. I think that's been good for us.

"He's throwing the fade in the short field much better. That was a bit of a weakness for him. I think he's worked hard on that. But by and large, just the gradual improvement from last year to this year, we've seen it. He still has a lot of things he wants to improve on and we want to improve on, but he's definitely made improvements."

Q: Where is this team right now four days in?

"Some of the best competitive practices that I've coached in a long time. Now, we haven't played a game and I'm not saying that equals 13 wins. But I've coached a lot of football and it's been very competitive. It's fast football. It's as fast as I've seen at Notre Dame. I hope that translates into winning football. You've still got to put points on the board and stop people, but practices have been intense, competitive. There's depth. There's young players that are gonna play for us. There's veterans that are gonna play for us that have seen a lot of football. It's a good mix."

Q: What did you think the team got out of this week away from campus?

"We wanted the focus to be on themselves. I think they learned that you can in fact survive without social media and television. They did make it through four days without it and that opportunity to work on themselves and the coaches to be part of that process was a great jumpstart on 2013. Not talking about Manti Te'o and the Alabama game and what happened last year and all that other shit. 

"We were able to focus on this year and ourselves and that's a good thing. It was a good four days for us and we got really good practice. We got four really good days. I think the emphasis was on this team and the individuals and they were able to focus on themselves and their teammates and their coaches and that was the focus and I think we achieved that."


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