Kelly Q&A: Defense

Irish head coach Brian Kelly discusses his defensive personnel with members of the press at Thursday's annual Media Day gathering.

Q.  Coach, can you talk about how, now that Danny Spond is gone, how Councell and Jaylon Smith have reacted to kind of their new place in the defense.

"You know, we lost Danny, as you know, really early in camp.  So they were thrust into that position real early, and they've handled it very well.

"I would say that, when you look at that position, there's so much going on to the wide field, formationally, adjustments, pressures.  First of all, Ben has a lot of experience there.  Jaylon has done remarkably well in such a short period of time, the picking up the defense, and certainly has the athleticism to cover space.

"You have two guys, one who's already 250-plus pounds, in Ben Councell, that can obviously play over a tight end.  If you want to play real physical and have a fullback in the game, play that kind of game, Ben suits that very well, although he can play in space.

"If you want to go three wide, if you want to play an open set, Jaylon has incredible athleticism to be able to play in space.  So we really think we've got two players there and the depth at that position that we're very, very lucky, in losing a player like Danny Spond, to have those two guys.  They've done very, very well."

Q.  Stephon Tuitt, does he follow under the discussible injuries category or not? "Yeah, we didn't see anything major there.  He just twisted his knee, nothing major.  Brian Ratigan saw him after practice.  We're not concerned at all."

Q.  Two quick ones.  Do you have an update on Tony Springmann

"Yes.  Tony Springmann is out for the season.  He'll have surgery.  He had a dislocation that also had severe ligament damage that will require surgery, one that we hadn't seen before.  We think he'll have a full recovery but really disappointed for Tony in that he'd made some great strides. You know, it alters our depth a little bit.  We're going to have to push Isaac Rochell most likely into action this year.  We were hoping we could be a little more patient with Isaac, but we're going to have to really accelerate that learning curve for Isaac this year.

Q.  Coach, a lot of the players have been talking about the-- the defensive players, that they can be as good or better than last season.  How can you lose a player like Manti and still be better?

"Well, I think you'll have to look at it in its scope of 11 players, right?  If you ask me, is Danny Fox or is Jarrett Grace better than Manti Te'o?  Well, I don't know.  They haven't played.  But you could probably begin by saying, well, probably not.

"But could Bennett Jackson and Keivarae Russell tie down and play more man, and we can pressure a little bit more, or we can play some more coverages that can compress and bring down a safety more to supplant maybe some of the things that we were not doing last year in run fronts?  Yeah, sure, we could do that maybe this year.

"So I think you have to look at it that we have some other pieces that might be a little bit stronger than they were last year.  So I think you have to look at all 11.  We lose a great player in Manti Te'o, but we gain some other pieces that, I think, are stronger across the board, and we still have a consistent, strong front seven.

"When you look at the front seven and those pieces, there's a consistency there, and then I think we do some things that might be a little bit better in other areas that can strengthen that."

Q.  To have the kind of season you want, do you have to have them be as good as they were last year or better?

"Well, certainly, we're going to have to play very good defense.  I think we know that for certain.  But we have to score more points.  We did not score enough points.  We were not effective enough in the red zone.  Those two things are pretty clear.  And we did not throw the ball effectively enough in first and second down situations.

"So a bigger piece falls on the offense this year than it does on the defense.  If the defense can stay within the same area code as it played last year defensively and we really up our offensive output, then we can have the kind of year that we're all looking forward to."

Q.  Bob Elliott, what attracted you to him? "Well, his-- his connection with our defensive staff.  He was Bob Diaco's position coach at Iowa.  So we like to keep it in the family, and all those guys have strong relationships.  He's a great teacher, a former coordinator, again, a guy that we trust and in that room is well-respected."

Q. What level of inspiration has he kind of provided in the program? "It's not talked about a lot, but everyone knows what he's kind of gone through physically.  What he did last year of self-dialysis in his office is the ultimate sacrifice to be with a football team, and our players, they really respect the heck out of him for what he did." Top Stories