Kelly Q&A: Game Week Approaches

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly speaks with the media for the final time before leaving for New York and the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl.

QUESTION: How about Fenway off the top?

Kelly: Isn't that awesome? That was probably the highlight of the press conference for me. Finally being able to talk about the Fenway deal. You guys were all kind of talking about my contract last year. The reason why that wasn't signed was because of the Fenway deal. It was being negotiated. They're hard negotiators in Boston. When we were finally able to get my family Green Monster seats, I was able to sign the contract.

Q: Did you start the idea or were they already working on that?

Kelly: The Shamrock Series was in effect before I got here. What was presented to me was the idea of playing at different venues, and certainly that was one that I had brought to the table. It was finding the partner there. Certainly, Boston College made sense. There was some scheduling issues -- the ACC, when it would hit on our schedule. That was really the issue. I certainly was in favor of trying to get it to Fenway Park as one of those venues.

Q: What are your thoughts on the schedules themselves and the degree of difficulty?

Kelly: There's no question it's a challenging schedule. I knew coming in we were going to have a challenging schedule, especially as an independent. We can't be left with questions about our schedule as an independent. We're going to have to play a notch above a conference-scheduling team.

It's a challenging schedule, but I think it's certainly going to be one where it's going to help us if you look at the strength of schedule index. If they're truly going to pay attention to that, I think it helps us in the long run.

Q: You mentioned earlier this year you wanted to avoid playing option teams in back-to-back weeks. Obviously it's tough to project all the way out to 2016, but Army-Navy back-to-back, is that a concern you raised?

Kelly:Couldn't avoid it. We tried. Again, a lot of these things are trade-offs that you're trading off one to get to the other. As we spent more time looking at it, it was the lesser of two evils, if you will. Felt like I was okay with going in that direction over there was another scenario where I wasn't. There was no way we were going to go another direction. It had to do playing an opponent earlier. I didn't feel like we'd be in a good position that way.

Q: Some of the guys that have had injuries, where are they in the practice schedule?

Kelly:(Junior defensive lineman Chase) Hounshell's practicing. He's with us on scout team, fully-engaged, contact. Of all the guys, relative to full engagement, Chase is in there. Feels good about where he is, feels better than he ever has.?

Because of (sophomore safety) Nicky (Baratti's) situation, he's at a safety position where he's going to be in a hit position. One-on-one striking position, we're not going to put him in contact probably through the spring. We're obviously going to put him in all of our drill work, but we're going to keep him in a red jersey if you will all the way through the spring. He's going to have to find his way throughout the spring without contact.

I think we're fine, I think he can continue to develop in the program, but with that second surgery, instead of going six months where we contacted him after six, we're going to go nine, and really air on being conservative with him.

I think (freshman linebacker Doug) Randolph, same thing. These guys are running, conditioning, football-related drill work, no contact, is where the shoulder guys are. As you know Randolph and Baratti were surgically prepared on the same day.

Q: And where is (junior defensive lineman Tony) Springmann?

Kelly:He's further behind. He picked up an infection, so that put him well behind. He's just moving around right now. He's not even close. We expect him to be ready for the fall, but he's certainly in no position to be ready.

Q: With questions around (junior defensive lineman) Stephon (Tuitt), how do you look at your defensive line moving forward?

Kelly:Well I like what I see right now. (Sophomore defensive lineman) Jarron Jones is doing a terrific job. (Sophomore) Sheldon Day, (freshman) Isaac Rochell, watching those guys play the last few days has been really enjoyable, in a sense that they're getting quality reps, first-team reps.

?(Junior linebacker) Ishaq (Williams) has been playing a lot of defensive end for us, so he's getting a lot of time in there. We're seeing a good rotation of some of those younger players. We're going to get Chase back, we're going to get Springmann back. Then we'll get a couple defensive linemen in the fall. I feel like we've got the guys there necessary for us to be a solid defensive line in the fall.

Q: How did (senior defensive tackle) Louis (Nix) missing so much late in the season impact Sheldon's development?

Kelly:Really, his injury more so, I think Jarron Jones benefited more from Louis not playing than Sheldon Day. Sheldon was shaking off that high-ankle sprain, which really set him back most of the season, started to play fairly effectively for us the last couple of weeks.

But specifically, I think the Louis Nix piece here is Jarron Jones, his improvements, his maturity, his ability to really show himself over the last month of the season. He's been a really good piece for us.

Q: Do you expect him to start in the Pinstripe? Is he the leader to replace Louis Nix next season?

Kelly:I think if you're looking at guys that have the ability to go in there and compete at a high level, I think Jarron is slowly getting to that point where we feel confident that he can go in there and compete at a high level. He still physically has to get stronger. His volume's got to continue to grow. I think you can tell by my voice I feel pretty confident that he can go in there and do some good things for us in 14.

He's not going to be Louis Nix. Louis is a unique player and great inside. I feel good about him, feel good about the development of Isaac Rochell, playing as a true freshman, that learning and experience, he's going to come back with a lot of experience and stronger physically. I think those two guys will fit in nicely with Sheldon in particular.

Q: (Junior tight end) Troy (Niklas's) numbers have been a little bit down the last half of the season. Is this an instance of a guy learning to deal with the rigors of bowl season?

Kelly:I don't think so. I don't know that I would characterize it that way as much as within our offense, it's progression. Who's the guy that's open on a particular play? He does so much for us. He's a guy that, we gave up eight sacks this year, he's a big reason why.

If you look at all the jobs that he does, if he's not necessarily effective for us during the game catching the ball, he's extremely effective for us in other areas. I wouldn't necessarily point it toward him not catching balls and being less effective as I would say we're just not getting him the ball maybe as much as we should.

Q: (Freshman running back) Greg Bryant, have you been able to see him? Is he on the scout team?

Kelly:He's moving along very well after the procedure that he had, which is very similar to Louis's procedure, a little bit more involved. He's running around, took some carries in our scrimmage. He's really good, really excited about where he can be next year. I think we did the right thing with him not playing this year, because I can see where his development and how he's going to help our football team next year. He's a dynamic player.

Q: What did you want him to get out of the season? Just understanding what it takes to be a college football player?

Kelly:I think that's it. Handling the academics, handling just being here at Notre Dame, that with the rigors of college football and everybody's a really good player. His experience here is going to be not just on the field but off the field as well. He's done a really good job.

Grades aren't out yet but we always get a good indication, and we feel like he's handled himself pretty well the first semester.

Q: Did you ever get the sense that he was not happy here?

Kelly:It wasn't that he wasn't happy. Every freshman goes through that period of time. First, that hey, I'm a great player. I should be playing. Then how do I communicate that back to my friends that I'm not playing. What's wrong with you? You're not a good player? That communication. I think his dad helped him a lot with that. Usually you find a parent to help get involved in that. So you're having a conversation with the parent. That usually helps a lot. It starts there.

Then I think it's just the realization that as time goes on, there's so much more than just stepping out on the football field. It's handling the day-to-day academics and handling the day-to-day scheduling, weight-training, all those things. I think at times, we've had that conversation with a number of players here. They're just going through the growing pains of being a freshman.

Q: Can you give us an idea of what the second unit offensive line would look like for Rutgers, in case someone were to go down?

Kelly:I think the first and second units are as one. Pretty much. I think at center right now, we would kick over, we'd probably kick over (junior Conor) Hanratty at center, and (sophomore Mark) Harrell would go in at guard. Umm, that's about it.

I don't want to play (freshman Mike) McGlinchey. Big red is going to maybe have to play, (senior walk-on Kevin) Carr. We're a little thin there right now. We've got one guy we could probably plug in there right now. That's about it right now. We've got one guy.

Q: Has it been determined who's going to call the plays for Rutgers?

Kelly:I'm going to call the good play. (Interim offensive coordinator) Mike Denbrock's going to call the bad plays. We'll stick with that story.

Q: Speaking of McGlinchey, the four guys that have had to play on the offensive line, how have you seen them progress?

Kelly:They're getting first team reps today, because I'm not keeping (senior tackle) Zack Martin out there all the time. McGlinchey's running with the first group. Everyone's done a nice job. I was pleased again the other day in our live scrimmage, did some pretty good things. He's coming  along. He's definitely getting stronger. He's really limited physically with the knee. He's coming along nicely.

(Freshman) John Montelus is doing a lot of work but we've kept him out of live contact. Those guys are coming along nicely. Q: That's his shoulder with Montelus? :Yes. Shoulder. No need to really get him, I want him 100 percent for the spring."

Q: Is he eventually going to be a guard or a center for you?

Kelly: I don't know. We're going to take a look at him. He's got the ability to do both. That center position requires a real good understanding of fronts and you've got to be a really good communicator. You really don't know until you put them out there, how offensive linemen handle that center position. They have to get out there, if they have a natural feel for it.

Q: What about (freshman offensive lineman) Hunter Bivin?"He's doing a nice job for us."

Q: Is he a guard or tackle?

Kelly:Again, I think it's going to play itself out with this next group of guys we have coming in, the freshman coming in. Let those guys fall into the slots. McGlinchey could play tight end. He's that athletic. He throws the ball better than half our quarterbacks, he's that kind of athlete. When all the freshmen come in, we can figure out where all those slots kind of settle in.

Q: What has being an every-down player developed Hanratty?

Kelly:I think it's helped him just understanding a lot more of the movements up front. He can block the guys in front of him. Some of the things he's struggled with is movement up front and some games. I think he's definitely doing a better job of clicking off some of the inside games and some of the movements that I think he struggled with a little bit.

I think he's definitely improved in those areas, because (offensive line coach) Harry (Hiestand's) worked really strictly on movement stuff with those young guys. You've got a young offensive line, you want to work a lot of the games and movements up front.

Q: Is there a lot of movement required of those guys?

Kelly:They're going to get a lot of movement from Rutgers. That front is going to move a lot. They'll have to be able to pick-up games and things up front, so that's where we're spending more time with those guys.

Q: Only a week away from the game, are the guys chomping at the bit?

Kelly:Their spirit is pretty good. I think today, they're ready to go now. They'll have tomorrow off. I told them Monday is really a bonus day for us. We've got to have a great practice. They just got the exams behind them, so I think we've got their full attention and focus now, 100 percent on football.

It isn't been 100 percent on football and Rutgers. It's been kind of one eye toward Rutgers and the rest on their academics and finishing up their exams. We should have all their attention and focus on Rutgers from this point forward.

Q: Who's caught your attention from Rutgers?

Kelly: I think the inside ‘backer is very active. He's all over the field, he makes a lot of tackles defensively.

Offensively, the wide receiver, he's a good-looking kid, protects the football. I think the running back. They want to be a physical offense with big-play capabilities with the wide receiver. The tight end is a nice player. They're similar to Pittsburgh, they've got some similarities to Pittsburgh if you're trying to compare them to some of our opponents.

Q: Any health concerns with the group that you expect to play Rutgers?

Kelly:No. We have no injuries from when we started practicing back 10 days ago. Nobody's been injured.

Q: A hypothetical question -- This time of year, there's a lot of number crunching, how many recruits can still sign and what are the fifth-year possibilities. Would you be willing to go past the 85 limit knowing that usually there's some form of attrition?

Kelly: Well we can take 27. We're capable of taking 27. Whether we get to 27, I don't think we're going to get to that number. So, to answer your question, we could institutionally if we wanted to.

I would have to feel there's a compelling reason within the program there were players that were going to be either medically not able to play or had, in my opinion, decided that they were going to be leaving the program one way or another.

By their actions, academically, how they have handled themselves in the program. I'm usually going to look at all those things and make the decisions based on how I see those numbers shaping up moving forward, utilizing all of those criteria to go to those numbers.

Q: Do you have that decided before National Signing Day?

Kelly:No. I'm assessing all of those. I'll meet with our trainer, Rob Hunt, talk to him about where are we. Do we have any players that would need a medical?

I'll meet with the fifth-years and talk to them about their roles. I define all of our fifth-year players' roles, and clearly define where I see them in the program. Then they decide whether they accept their role or not. People have this misunderstanding that we kick these guys out of the program. We don't kick them out of the program. We define what their role is. Here's your role. You either except the role or you don't except the role.

That's all done to get to that number.

Q: Is it almost impossible to avoid transfers?

Kelly:You're never going to be able to -- you had the (Eddie) Vanderdoes situation. You're not counting on that situation. You don't have that planned. That's why I think I've always felt that you're going to get right up to the number, but you better have a plan if you're over. You always have to have a plan B. You can't come into the season and run somebody out of the program just because they're not a good player. We're not going to do that.

Q: A lot of fans have written off Rutgers as not a good opponent. How have you kept your guys focused on them?

Kelly:We're 8-4, so I don't know how good we are. If we were 12-0, we could probably listen to that. We have to play well or we're going to get beat. I told our guys, listen, they're from New Jersey, this is a big game for them.

We have to play well. If we go out there and don't play well, we're not good enough to beat Rutgers. I don't listen to what other people say, and I know our players understand. They know who they are. Our players clearly know that they have to go play. They've gone through the season. They know the opponent. They've played Temple. They've played teams that have played Rutgers. They know what they have to do.

Q: You guys are going to be practicing in the Giants facility. I imagine Tim McDonnell had some help with that?

Kelly:He had nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact, we had to overcome Tim in a large degree. We were able to get to some people that had a better feeling about Notre Dame and that gave us the opportunity to get to that Giants facility. It worked out pretty good. We're going to use the Jets facility as well, just to be equal. We don't want to be seen as just Giants fans. I know Tim's really excited about us using the Jets facility.

Q: Speaking of the NFL, how many evaluations do you send out for guys?

Kelly:I sent one out for Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and (junior running back) George Atkinson.

Q: Do you handle those as teaching tools for guys who might already know they want to come back or -- "Both."

Q: Have some fun with this one, what are you asking Santa for for Christmas?

Kelly:I would say first and foremost, just health and happiness. I'd like to see certainly a win for Notre Dame football. Maybe lighten up on that schedule in the future. If you guys keep chatting about it, I think maybe we could do something about it.

There was a big uproar you guys made. I thought that was pretty good. Did you know it was going to be hard? Of course it was going to be a difficult schedule. I was surprised to see how everybody responded to it. It's Notre Dame. It's going to be a difficult schedule. That's the way it goes.

Q: Once you get on the ground in New York, how will the mood shift for the team?

Kelly:We want to balance it. The kids need to be able to enjoy Christmas in New York. It'll be a great atmosphere for them. But we have to balance it. We want to win the game. Notre Dame in New York at Christmastime, subway alums, it's an important game to win.

We want them to enjoy themselves, but we have to do a really good job of balancing it, giving them an opportunity to have some time, but also our practices have to be on par with what we've done during the year.


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