Kelly Q&A: State of the Program

Irish head coach Brian Kelly discusses his team's trio of captains, the 2013 squad's identity, the importance of continuity in a coaching staff, freshmen ahead of schedule, and the unique role the 12-1 2012 Irish can play for this year's crew.

Brian Kelly Opening Comments

"Good afternoon.  You'll have plenty of time.  We'll have coaches available to you today, players available to you.  I'll start with a couple of brief comments. We're quickly moving into game week preparation for Temple.  We've had a good 2 1/2 weeks of preparation taking the 2013 football team and really getting them prepared for a long and very difficult schedule.

"So the lion's share of the work has really been preparing the depth of this football team, which we're going to have to count on this year with the kind of schedule we have. So a lot of the questions are generally about who's starting, who's going to be the starting left tackle, who's going to be the starting Z, and I would prepared to tell you that we're going to need a lot of players. 

"A lot of players are going to have to play for us this year.  There's going to be a lot of players that are going to have to play significant roles throughout the year at a lot of different positions.

"So we're going to be talking about a lot of players over the next couple of hours that will play different roles.  They may not be on the field for every snap, but they will have significant roles. Going into this preparation for 2013, it was important that we looked at the totality of the season, not one particular game, but the entire season, and getting a lot of players ready.  I think you probably saw that if you looked at our practice and moving people around to give them opportunities to play guard or tackle or stud end or drop-backer or cat-backer or Z or X receiver.  A lot of that has happened.

So that preparation has occurred, and now we have begun the preparation for Temple and have begun to focus on specific schemes and packages and personnel groupings.  So that's really what has occurred over the last few days leading into Temple.

"I'm really pleased with the way our guys have focused on this year.  There hasn't been a lot of this is what we did last year and talking about the way we did it last year.  It's been about this year.  The focus has been on the personalities of this team and the strengths of building this year's team, not what we did last year.

"I think I've talked about this publicly a couple of times.  That's what we went to work on after the Championship loss.  We went to work on 2013 and focusing on that and not talking about what happened in the past.

"Media Day today for us is about unveiling the 2013 team to you.  I think you'll see that there's a lot of players that will play significant roles that had not played for us last year that we're excited about seeing them play.  We have some veterans with a lot of experience that will continue to play big roles for us.

"But I think you'll see a team that has a different personality than last year, and we announce captains today.  We have three captains.

"The first one on-- again, he'll be the 18th captain that returns, a two-year captain, the 18th in the program's history, and that is Zack Martin on the offensive line.  He did an incredible job for us last year, leading us all year through, as you know, an incredible year. He was somebody that we can count on week in and week out.  He did that again this year during the off-season.  He's a great resource for all of our players and the coaches.

"Bennett Jackson on the defensive side of the ball.  Although I talk about the defensive side of the ball, he'll represent the entire football team.  We don't have captains that just represent one side.  He interacts extremely well with all players, and to be a captain, you can't be just seen as somebody that just sits on one side of the ball.  These are guys that interact with our entire football team. He's a young man that came in as an offensive player and now has established himself as a captain.

"And T.J. Jones will be our third captain.  Really proud of T.J.'s growth and development, and he'll be our third captain this year in 2013.  So those are your captains for 2013.

"So with that, a little preface about this team and the number of names that you'll be hearing, the depth of our football team, I think, is really going to be one that we're going to have to count on this year to have the kind of year that we all want."

Q.  Nine days away from the opener.  Is this team ready to go, as in they're sick of practicing and they just want to get out there already?  Or where are they mentally?

"They do exactly what I ask them to do.  Look, down deep, we are physically coming back from the two weeks of, you know, preparation.  So from a physical standpoint, our legs are coming back.  We're moving faster.  You know, if you came out and saw us Saturday compared to today, you'd see us moving a lot quicker on the field than we were on Saturday.

"We're mentally at that point where we want to go play someone else mentally, but we understand the importance of good work as well.  So I'm agreeing with your question that our guys mentally want to play somebody else, but they still know the importance of the work that we're getting day in and day out."

Q.  You mentioned the personality of this year's team being different.  What is this year's?  Do you have a sense of what this group will be at this point?

"Well, I think you look at people, right, make up that personality.  And it is a group of personalities that has, one, has been very workmanlike.  They come to work every day with a consistency.

"Last year we had some bold personalities.  You had a Manti Te'o that had a very bold personality.  And sometimes we took on his personality as a team. This one represents more of a group.  So every single day this is a group that comes to work every single day with a consistency.  So I think that's what I see more than anything else is that I know what I'm going to get from them every single day because it's-- it's a deeper group in the sense that there's not just one personality.  It's across the board.

"We just talked about three captains, and I didn't mention a number of other seniors-- you know, Louis Nix and Carlo Calabrese and Danny Fox, Chris Watt, just to name a few, Tommy Rees.  There's a lot of seniors that are really good leaders as well, and all those personalities move in the same direction as well.

"So a lot of seniors, a lot of leaders, but they all move together as one."

Q.  How does last season's accomplishments affect it, if at all, this team's receptiveness to being coached or their motivation level.  Has it been more difficult because of any sense settling in that they have achieved something or they've arrived?

"Well, it's been the topic of conversation from day one, and everything that we've talked about has been focused strictly on you don't just begin this climb at the top of the mountain.  We have to start all over again.

"That has been the consistent theme in January in talking about how do we get back up there.  If we go back and we start relying on what we did in the past-- here's what I told them, to answer the question.  If we do it like we did last year, we're going to be an 8-5 team because everybody has taken their motivation off what we did last year and have worked harder.

"We supplied motivation for the entire college football world that, if Notre Dame can do it, we can do it.  So everybody has worked exponentially that much more in their off-season because of us.  So if you do it like you did last year, you're an 8-5 football team.

"So that's been the message since January in terms of what we needed to do, and we'll find out because that's how they've worked.  There's nothing that I have seen that has shown that we have not answered that challenge each and every day."

Q.  Coach, one thing I've always wondered in preparation between-- unique to college football is at the end of the season and before the most important game of that year is an incredibly long layoff that we've come to accept in our sports over the years as normal.  There's no other place like that.  When you were leading up to the Championship game and maybe for the future for any bowl game, is there something you would see in a game of that magnitude that you or your staff would have changed in preparation, not necessarily Xs and Os, but just generally the way things go between all that time of the last game and the big game?

"More bodies.  We just needed more bodies.  We weren't deep enough yet.  We just needed more bodies, more healthy bodies, more bigger bodies.  And that's in recruiting and continuing to develop and build your program.

"The ability to go live and tackle and do the things necessary.  I think there are some programs going through that.  Miami is going through that.  Penn State is going through that during the regular season with reductions in scholarships.  Not that we were in that level, but we were low on numbers and the ability to duplicate some of the things we needed to do with that long layoff.

"We're almost through that.  We're getting closer to the numbers we need to be, and those long, long layoffs are almost behind us.  We've got to get through one more year, and then we get into the playoffs, and those layoffs start to shrink."

Q.  And on a separate note, with the rules this year regarding how you can hit somebody and personal fouls, has any official been able to clearly explain to you, so that you can clearly explain to your players, how the rule operates?

"Yeah, I think really what we're talking about here is intent, right?  Here's the deal.  It happened so quickly, right?  It happened so quickly. I think everybody in this room can tell when somebody launches, right?  And launches and is intending to harm somebody with their helmet.  What we're all worried about is that bang-bang play.  Was there intent, right, to hurt somebody? We're just informing our players of the proper way to play this game, how to properly tackle, to see what you hit, to obviously have no intent to injure or harm.  That's all we can do.  The game is so fast.

"I think we all have seen the clip of (Jadaveon) Clowney-- look, they slanted the offensive line.  Somebody cut him loose and bang.  Was there intent to-- no, there was no intent there. So we're just going to play the game, and hopefully, we've got video replay, and we'll see how it goes.  I'm sure there's going to be some tweaks to this, maybe that down the road it comes to there's no ejections and maybe it becomes like an NFL situation where there might be an ejection later if there's real, true intent that you can see on the video.

"But it is what it is.  We've informed our players, and we've talked about intent as really being the key phrase."

Q.  You've entered this season with expectations for your team.  You've been through camp now.  Any surprises about this team as you get set for game day?

"I don't know that I'm ever really surprised as much as I will say that there are some younger players now that are physically, physically able to compete at a high BCS level.

"That's a bit of a surprise because they're coming out of high school, like a guy like Steve Elmer.  I mean, here's a kid that played at Midland High School last year that physically can block a man like Stephon Tuitt.  Now, I'm not saying he can block him every down, but he can block a guy like Stefan Tuitt.  That's surprising, in a sense.

"A guy like Jaylon Smith, who is playing in high school, can throw a guy like Troy Niklas down.  He can't do it every down, but those things surprise me a little bit now and then, you know what I'm saying?

"A Corey Robinson, who's playing small high school ball in San Antonio, that can go up and impact a play.  So I think the freshmen sometimes surprise me.  They were playing high school football, and then they can come in, and they can actually impact in certain situations some college players.  Those guys surprise me now and again."

Q.  I was curious about the coaching staff.  So much continuity within the coaching staff obviously, and you've addressed it before.  What kind of advantage does that give your program?

"Well, I think you can see it in a couple of areas.  One, the ability to turn over play calling, first of all, to Chuck Martin.  If I was hiring a new offensive coordinator this year, that certainly wouldn't have occurred, right?  Which has allowed me to do a lot of other things. I spent a lot of time on special teams.  I've gotten involved in some other areas, you know, in terms of the kickers and the punters and some other areas that I've wanted to kind of delve into.  So that's helped.

"I think, when it comes to communication, I think that's probably the biggest plus.  On a day-to-day basis, we know what to expect from each other, and it allows your practices to run so effectively because everybody knows what they're looking for.

"And then the message.  Look, when something is said, it is echoed across the board with all the coaches, and that is, when there's one voice and there's one message and that goes across the board all the way down to the players, that's pretty powerful."

Q.  Do you think the prospective recruits appreciate that as well?  Do you notice it showing up on the recruiting trail?

"Well, I think it's unmistakable on a visit when a recruit can come-- and parents are perceptive.  They know when they're getting a sales pitch.  They know.  They go to other camps, and they go to other recruiting stops.  They know whether they're getting sold a bill of goods.

"They see my staff.  They see the continuity.  They see the connections in the relationships, and they see that across the board and know what they're getting when they come to Notre Dame." Top Stories