Kelly Q&A: Air Force Wrap

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly concluded his team's on field preparations for Air Force with his weekly wrap-up session with the local media.

Brian Kelly

Just finished up our final practice in preparation for Air Force. As usual, our guys have always taken a very good approach to their preparation. I was pleased with the week of practice.

In particular, Tommy Rees had a great week. Having that continuity at the quarterback position Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is always good for the unit. Last year was kind of an off-and-on situation with Everett (Golson) being injured at times. It was never really a good flow for our offense, so it was good to have Tommy out there. He took all the first-team reps today and looked really good.

Defensively, obviously, from that standpoint, the biggest concern there is you're playing an option team. The discipline required there, but we practiced well and the guys are excited about playing Air Force.

Question: What kind of week did Andrew (Hendrix) have and Malik (Zaire)?

"Tuesday they got a lot of reps, both of them. Tommy probably got, I want to say about 25 percent of the reps on Tuesday. Andrew got a good amount of the reps on Tuesday, a lot with the ones. Liked what he did. A lot more confident. Malik got more reps than he's gotten all year. Wednesday, we changed that up. Malik got less reps.

"Tommy ate up more of the first team, though Andrew got probably -- I would say if you're breaking it down, he still got some first team reps which he normally doesn't get on Wednesday. Today it went back to Tommy with the first-team reps, Andrew the second-team reps and Malik didn't get any. They're all prepared. Andrew's more prepared in terms of the rep work that he got than he's ever been.

Q: Where is (senior defensive tackle) Louis Nix in his health?

"He's not going to travel. He's not prepared to play. When we're playing an option team, you really need the work. He hasn't been able to practice, so we're not going to take him with us. Q: What are your plans there? Does (senior defensive lineman Kona) Schwenke get most of the reps? "Kona will be the guy."

Q: Elijah Shumate, is he healthy?

"We're going to take him. He won't start. He's probably in an emergency situation right now. It'll be (Matthias) Farley and (Austin) Collinsworth as the 1-2 (safeties) right now.

Q: And (Eilar) Hardy and (Max) Redfield will be in there behind them?

"Yes. It'll be similar to USC, though Shumate is closer to helping us in terms of his situation.

Q: We've talked about a lot of the offensive lineman, but what is your evaluation of Chris Watt?

"Steady. Real steady play. I'm reminded sometimes of the fact that when you have somebody like a Chris Watt that is not spectacular but is so steady. Bill Tobin, longtime (general manager) in the NFL who's now (a consultant) with the (Cincinnati) Bengals walks up to you and tells you how much he loves Chris Watt, about how consistent he is on a day-to-day basis. It kind of reminds you of what a great player you have.

"Sometimes you don't realize that because sometimes he's overshadowed by (Zack) Martin on the left side. He's been such a consistent player for us.

Q: Last year, you said Martin was grading out toward the end of the year at around 92 percent and no one was close. Has Watt made up some of that ground?

"Watt has had one sub-par game under that threshold between 88 and 92 percent. He's been a high and consistent grade for us.

Q: When you're putting together your defense for these option teams or these quasi-option teams, do you look at a guy like (Isaac) Rochell who had a lot of experience against the option in high school or (Stephon) Tuitt who had a lot of experience in high school? Does that play into your personnel decisions?

"No, not really. Though both of them will play a lot. Certainly Stephon will start and Isaac Rochell will play in a rotation for us. We're going into an altitude which is going to require us to play -- now with Louis down -- we're going to have to play in a rotation, so Isaac Rochell will have to play for us.

"It doesn't hurt certainly that they've got a background there. We don't go into it saying they've got a high school background playing against the option, because we do play it a little bit differently.

Q: Corey Robinson had a good game early in the season, but it seems like there hasn't been as many opportunities. Do you still feel the same way about him as you did? Why do you think there haven't been as many opportunities?

"We get a lot of man-to-man, press coverage. He's still finding his way. Physically, he can be rerouted a little bit, but in certain parts of the field he can be a weapon for us. We have to obviously continue to have him as part of the game plan. You'll see him a little bit more this week. He'll probably get on the field a little bit more.

Q: Jarron Jones tweeted something about being in Rochester. Is he not going on the trip?

"He's going to be on the trip. He flew home for a family emergency. There was a death in the family. He'll attend the service, and then he will be put on a flight to Colorado Springs. He'll suffer the same Twitter violation that Malik Zaire suffered.

Q: A unique situation for Isaac Rochell going against his brother. Have you talked to him to make sure his mind is still focusing on the game?

"He's a pretty mature kid. He's pretty excited about playing the game. He may even be matched up against his brother. I wouldn't say he's looking forward to it, but he's excited about playing. I think more than anything else, he's excited about playing. Regardless of whether he's playing against his brother or not, he knows he's going to get into the game. He's really excited about that.

"We've really talked about being prepared for the game more so than that. He's aware of it. He's aware his brother could line up against him. His brother is in a rotation at left tackle. We've had conversations about it. He smiles about it. But I think his focus is, in terms of what he's said to me, is that he's really excited about playing.

Q: With Malik, through the course of the season since he's been back from mono, how many first-team reps does he get? "Not many."

Q: Any?"This week he got a handful of first-team reps."

Q: Have you spent a whole lot of time trying to get an evaluation on him?

"We had the whole spring, and we had about four weeks in preseason camps. He's going to be a really good player.

Q: A couple games ago, you mentioned playing Steve Elmer because he gave you a little bit more size. You've continued to play him. Besides that additional size, what are you seeing from him?

"He's got a great motor. He is a better game-player than he is a practice-player. He has a unique sense of the game for a young kid. Things have occurred in the game that you just react to, and he has a knack of sensing and feeling things in the game that you really can't teach. Practice sometimes, the best way I could put it is he knows enough to be dangerous. In the game, he belies that fact by doing some things that he looks like a 10-year veteran. He's a really unique kid in that sense.

"Now we're counting on him because Christian (Lombard) is out for the year. Lombard had back surgery the other day. So he's got to be in there full-time. You like how I dropped that in there (to the media)? I threw that in there without missing a beat.

"He's had a back issue, a disc, and that disc herniated in conditioning, and we had to go in yesterday immediately and he had discectomy. They took out about a four-centimeter herniation of his disc, so he'll be lost for the season.

Q: Is that the same operation you had? "It was very similar. I was back a lot quicker than he'll be back."

Q: Is (Conor) Hanratty the next option on the offensive line?

"Yes. Just to finish your question, what does (Elmer) bring, as we were going along with both the kids -- Elmer and Lombard -- during practice, you'd say he's a young kid and then you'd get in the game and he'd do some things and you go, wow.

Q: When they do that in a game, then you expect more from him in practice, don't you?

"You're always saying he only knows so much, he only has so much experience. He was balancing it out.

Q: He's got good game instincts?

"Really good game instincts, absolutely.

Q: Do you think Louis will be ready for next week?

"We're hopeful. He's moving around pretty good. He just wasn't able to take any reps, and we're running against an option team. To throw him in there without really being able to engage in the way you need those guys to be engaged, it doesn't make any sense to play him.

Q: I should have asked this Tuesday as a follow-up. One of the most popular question we get is about the shotgun formation near the goal line. The average fan, and even me, has a perception that if you're so close to the goal line, does that not give an advantage to the defense when the snap is taken from the quarterback in the shot gun. As a coach, what's your response?

"There's versatility in the shotgun that allows you to do a number of different things. The ball can get on the perimeter quickly. Transition from catch to throw quickly. I think when you get down there, you do what you do. You commit yourself to what it is. For us, we needed to cover up an edge where we let an overhang get in on fourth down. We ran power, which is what we do down there. We needed to cover up an edge.

"That was more about execution as to the play more so than if we were in the shotgun or pistol in my estimation, in terms of answering your question. I have no problem running an offense from the goal line. I think there's pluses and minuses to being in direct snap, pistol or shotgun. More than anything else, you got to do what you do when you get there. You have to rep it, and you have to be good at what you do down there.

Q: What gives you confidence to go back to (junior running back) Cam (McDaniel) after he had the fumble last week? "Did we go back to him?"

Q: The next series you did.

"Just trust the kid. I think his body of work, the way he comes to work every day, his relationships with us in terms of what we see from him. We trust him. I think a lot of it is he's a guy that does the things the right way. When you have that, sometimes things just happen. Helmet gets on the ball the right way, you just can't control it.

"If he carried the ball sloppily in practice and was known as a guy that put the ball on the ground, we probably wouldn't have gone back to him, but he doesn't have a history of it. He doesn't carry himself that way as a guy who doesn't pay attention to detail. We trust him, so that's why we went right back to him.

Q: Confirm, Lou had a shoulder last week. Is this more a shoulder or leg?

"It's more his knee. He's got tendinitis, just soreness, hasn't really been able to get in there. Top Stories