Kelly Q&A: Offense

Head coach Brian Kelly discusses his go-to receiver, the machinations of the offensive line, his quarterback pecking order, and an aspect of the offense that appears ahead of schedule early in August camp…

Q: You said you preferred a balanced passing game. Do you need a go-to guy?

"It's T.J. Jones. We have a go-to guy. If I led you to believe we don't want Michael Floyd or Tyler Eifert, I don't mean that. I like the balance in our offense but I still think we have a dynamic playmaker in T.J. Jones. I just think we surround T.J. with much more balance. We didn't surround Michael or Tyler with as much balance as T.J. is going to have this year."

Q: Do you prefer Christian Lombard at guard or tackle? Does it matter?

"I think it matters we put the best five on the field. As it relates to Christian, he's going to have to fit with the best five. It's not about him as much as how we get the best five on the field. What it allows us to do is find out if its Conor Hanratty, is it Ronnie (Stanley), is it Steve Elmer? Who gives us the best five. We're fortunate he gives us the flexibility to be able to have this conversation. I think it's less about 'Christian what to you prefer?' And more about what gives us the best five."

Q: Why is he able to go back between guard and tackle?

"He's not overly long where he can't go in there and play the guard position. He's not built where he's just a tackle. He's think trunked, he can get in there, move people, and he has good enough feet where he can play on the edge where required like he did last year at the tackle position. His body type allows that flexibility.

"You could probably make the case Zack Martin could play any one of the positions along the offensive line. Its probably a little harder for Elmer and Stanley to play inside -- though they could -- its a little more of a transition for those guys than say Christian Lombard because of his size."

Q: Does not having two rookies next to each other on the offensive line factor at all into where Christian Lombard (a veteran starter) plays?

"No, because Nick (Martin) has really -- his workings are with that whole five. Its not just the one guy to his side. He's scooping left, he's scooping right, calling protections, so it really wouldn't matter. That's not really in the evaluation process. It'll really just be the best five guys."

Q: What has Nick Martin done to make this a non-competition? We never even hear reference that he might not be the first-team guy every day.

"He's given us the opportunity to evaluate him against one of the best nose guards in the country in Louis Nix. He holds his own going against great competition. Even when Kona (Scwhenke) is in there, he's challenged every day. He holds up very well. Knows the offense very well. Is not a guy that makes mistakes. Extremely conscientious. Very fit, can play every play. And he plays to the echo of the whistle. Very mature kid. When you look at Nick Martin, you don't think of a guy (that's a first-time starter). When you mentioned that, I was thinking 'Who are you talking about?'

"He doesn't seem like a first-time starter, just the way he handles himself. He seems like he's been in there for a couple of years. Its really quite impressive."

Q: DaVaris Daniels was saying the other day about the 'Pistol' offense that there's more the linemen have to learn there than the receivers. Who has the biggest adjustment and what is the adjustment on the line for that?

"(Smiling) Daniels doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. I wouldn't listen to anything he says. He's having a hard enough time figuring out what the hell he's doing."

Q: Anything you can pinpoint for a unit or aspect of offense is ahead of where you thought it might be?

"I think our red zone play has been so much better. A lot of that has to do with Tommy (Rees) and his experience. He's been really good taking care of the football, giving us opportunities to score touchdowns, not kick field goals. I'd say that probably stands out."

Q: And any major concern at this early point?

"I think there are certain areas where there are always depth issues. I do, those are the most important areas for me. We have to continue to work on depth at the inside linebacker position. Continue to work at that position and evolve there. I think we can't afford to lose a tight end. There's three guys (Troy Niklas, Alex Welch, Ben Koyack), the other two freshmen (Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe) physically are not there yet. My concerns are more about depth at a position than they are if one group is way behind the other.

Q: You have a long stretch of having to rely on a second quarterback at times. How is that shaping up, specifically, is Andrew (Hendrix) closer to competing with Tommy (Rees) or is Malik (Zaire) closer to competing with Andrew?

"(Smiling) I like the way you put that. I think there's a clear pecking order here, 1-2-3. Andrew is clearly the No. 2 quarterback and ready to play. I think I've made it pretty clear that if I think Andrew can help win football games, I am not a guy that is going to be hesitant to put him in at any time to help us win.

"The evaluation is always for me, 'Can you help us win football games?' Andrew can help us win and we'll see if there is a time and place where he can help us win. Right now, Tommy is the guy."

Q: Do you see a specific role or package for (Hendrix)?

"He does things differently. We'd obviously feature some more runs like we did with Everett Golson. But he can still throw it, he can still run the offense. We're not going to change into an entirely different offense but we would feature some more quarterback-inspired runs and reads which are already in our system. But I think you've already seen that with him. He has enough of a resume and everybody here who has seen Andrew plays knows what his background is: he has a strong arm, he's athletic, he can run, and he's more comfortable in running our system of offense."

Q: Do you have a plan on how you'd work him in?

"I think you're watched me. I get a feel for the game, try to win games. I'm here to win games. If I think he can help us win, I'll put him in. I'm confident Andrew can help us win this year. If I think I can insert him at any time to give us that, I am not hesitant to do that. I'll go to the bullpen and ask him to help us."

Q: What's your expectation for Troy Niklas and what's it like having a 270-pound tight end that can run?

"Well, quite honestly, and I know what you mean. 275 and 6'5" 6'6" is one thing, but you have to be skilled in the passing game and catch the football, and you have to be really accomplished in-line blocker. I'd say in both of those areas, he was okay last year. In other words, his size and physical frame were up here and his accomplishment were (down) here.

"I want to see his accomplishments meet his size and stature and I think they're getting there. Just the other day in the red zone, he used his body and his size and he complimented it with his pass-catching. He didn't have that feel last year. He was a big-bodied guy running around there. He's getting there, he's learning, he's understanding those things, and the same thing in the run game.

"We're seeing an improvement in this big, young man at the tight end position every day and it's pretty exciting. And I will say, I'm really pleased with Ben (Koyack) and Alex (Welch) too. They both can be really important components of our offense." Top Stories