Kelly Q&A

Irish head coach Brian Kelly wrapped up the midway point of spring ball with a 20-minute media Q&A.

QUESTION: Jarrett Grace, what's his status right now?

Brian Kelly: "He had surgery yesterday to place a rod in that leg. The complications of the surgery are such that I don't want to get into all of them, but the rod is going to stabilize the healing process for him. Remember he had four breaks there. So the surgery went very well, I just talked to (team surgeon) Brian Ratigan, he feels like there is no reason why if proper growth, which he had in the four breaks, all four of those came together very, very well.

"If he went in there and there was instability in the four breaks, I think there would have been some concern as to whether he can make it back for the fall, but the indication is he had great growth there. The rod is for stabilization. We'll know in six weeks if he heals the way he did prior to, there's great optimism that in six weeks we'll see on the x-rays and the scans that he'll be ready for the fall."

Q: If he is ready for the fall, is he going to be ready at 100 percent or will his strength gains have to carry through the season?

Kelly: I think if this was -- what I was told was if the breaks were not stable, then this would be rounding into shape later and then probably using the season to kind of get him there. I think what we're seeing is in six weeks, if we get the kind of growth that we're expecting, he will be ready for the fall. So we're hoping to get good news in six weeks is the best way to put it."

Q: Another player recovering, Nicky Baratti, we saw him in full contact in the scrimmage last week. How is he progressing?

Kelly: "He's in full-contact, fully-cleared, involved in today's scrimmage as well."

Q: How has he progressed this spring coming back from that?

Kelly: "Much of what we expected from Nicky in terms of his athleticism is what we're seeing. He's fully engaged and competing, learning the system like everybody else, a good tough kid, athletic kid who we're getting back in the swing of things."

Q: With the middle linebacker situation, you've got (senior Joe) Schmidt there now. Are you thinking more about playing (Michael) Deeb at this point, or are you going to wait six weeks to see how Grace is?

Kelly: "I think everything is on the table at that position. Joe Schmidt is a very smart player at that position. He's a scholarship player for us. He's doing the things we want him to do. Mike is learning. I really think it is really too early to tell where we are at that position. I think to use the spring to determine who the middle linebacker is with a lot of new things going in is not something that we're concerned with at this point.

"I think it'll take time to round itself out. That includes dipping into freshmen that will come in in the fall as well. I think this is a question that is not going to be answered until we move ourselves into the preseason."

Q: (Sophomore walk-on linebacker Austin) Larkin, what are your impressions of him?

Kelly: "Really pleased. I think in terms of how guys look at him is he's a guy that is going to contribute here. I don't know that he's ready right now to contribute, but he could be a special teams player for us next year. He's a good football player.

Q: Speaking of players recovering, how has the progress of Chase Hounshell been? Did you even think he'd be back after his setbacks the last several years?

Kelly: "I think initially I didn't think he would be, but his resolve and want to come back is pretty evident as we moved through the months and through the season. When he started practice with us, it was pretty clear to me that he wanted to come back. Then, through weight training and conditioning and now obviously through all this contact, he's been involved in full-contact.

"I think here's a young man who there was no question in his mind he had made a decision that -- I don't know if he knew exactly what was going to happen but he knew he was going to get himself back on the field."

Q: Do you think you can get some mileage out of him?

"Well I think when we recruit every single player, 85 scholarship players, every player comes in with the mindset that they're going to be All-Americans. They should. I think for us, it's getting the best out of each individual, and I think we're going to get everything out of Chase Hounshell, because he's going to give us everything he has.

"Yes, he's going to be a contributor to our football team in some fashion."

Q: He's still about 270 (pounds). Where would you like to see him come August?

Kelly: "I think if he can stay in that 270-280 range, I think (Strength & Conditioning) coach (Paul) Longo feels in that range he can be athletic for us and move, he can do some things for us, because he is a strong kid. That's where we think he'll be maximizing his potential. Anything bigger than that, we don't feel like he can maximize his potential."

Q: You're just not that concerned about what the number says on the scale?

Kelly: "No. He's very, very strong, plays well with his hands. One of the things that -- he's always taken care of his body and he's always been very, very strong, so you feel like at that weight -- again, he's not a guy who's going to play 60 snaps in there, but he's going to contribute in a manner that we'll use him as an effective player."

Sophomore CB Cole Luke

Q: Staying on the defensive side, Cole Luke, what have you seen from him at the halfway point of spring practice?

Kelly: "He's still in the developmental process. KeiVarae (Russell) is ahead of all of the corners and probably by a good amount. There's a big difference there.

"We just have to get Cole to play with a little bit more urgency sometimes, but he's coming along, and he's making progress every single day. We've just got to keep working with him. He's making good progress. Really, at this point, he's doing exactly what we want him to do. We just need to continue to push him because we've set a high bar with KeiVarae. Now he sees that and that's where we've got to get him to."

Q: What do you like about him? What jumped out when he came in? Kelly: "He's got incredible feet, fast feet, his quickness, size. He's got all the physical attributes. We're working on technique, we're working on set this, we're working on tackling."

Q: How helpful is it to have (graduate assistant) Kyle McCarthy back around?

Kelly: "I think it's more than just helpful. He's really a guy that can be a full-time coach. That's hard to do. Just because you played in the NFL doesn't mean that translates to being a good coach or a good teacher, because that's what we are. We're teachers. He just has a really good way about him and his ability to communicate and teach is a trait that he just naturally has. He loves the game. He really enjoys being around the players. He carries that with him every single day.

"He can stand in front of the group and he has immediate credibility as a Notre Dame football player and captain and a guy who played in the NFL, but you need even more than that. You have to be able to do a great job of teaching, and he does a really good job of teaching."

Q: Where are you guys as a whole at this point in spring practice? Are you where you want to be?

Kelly: "I think we're making progress. Offensively we were better today. Defensively we probably have to add a couple things, a couple of looks, we've got to get into some of our 3-down stuff. We've been focusing a lot on our 4-down packages. We've got to get some work on our 3-down stuff. We'll probably start on Monday with that, our loaded fronts, short yardage stuff.

"Offensively, just clean up some of the sloppiness and be a little bit more detailed. Our quarterbacks and receivers -- (senior quarterback) Everett (Golson) doesn't know a lot of these guys. He's starting to get a better feel for them, as well as Malik (Zaire). I think it's just offensively spending more time and more repetition.

"Defensively, we've got to get more packages in."

Q: We talked to Jarron Jones yesterday, and he talked about how much more fun he's having in the 4-3, which might make sense for a defensive tackle. Have you noticed more of a spark out of him or out of those guys up front?

Kelly: "I think just naturally when there's something new, there's a little bit more there on a day-to-day basis. I can understand the nose guards being happy about anything that doesn't have to do with two-gapping. That would be exciting. I just think there's an energy there that (defensive coordinator Brian) VanGorder brings to the defense anyways. There's a lot of excitement, there's good teaching, there's good terminology.

"Look, who doesn't like to blitz? Who doesn't like to two-gap? Who doesn't like to rip through the A-gap and not have to worry about holding on, getting to the backfield? I think there's a lot of excitement in some of the schemes."

Q: Why did you feel it necessary to be a two-gap team in your early years here?

Kelly: "We needed to get a fundamental base defensively. We were gap-conscious, fundamentally-sound across the board defensively. I felt to start anywhere else would not give us the base that we needed. For me, it's always been about starting defensively at the core.

"That was the fundamentals of gap integrity, keeping the ball in front of you and playing that kind of defense. That's always been the staple. You keep developing it from there. We've reached a point where we can add on, and that's what we're doing now."

Q: I know this is speculative, but if (former defensive coordinator Bob) Diaco had stayed, you might have made this transition?

Kelly: "We were going to be transforming our defense into more of a third-down, sub-package defense. We were creating those looks as we moved along."

Q: I know we've asked you earlier, but there was more Northwestern and the union stuff this weekend. Now that it's a little more official, have you had further talks with (Director of Athletics) Jack (Swarbrick) about that? What would your reaction be if a Notre Dame player or players decided to try to start a union?

Kelly: "I think we would respect anything that our players would want to do relative to their creativity, their ability to want to talk about things of that nature. I think that's one of the great things about being in the university setting -- you're never going to squash or hold students back from that kind of dialogue.

"As it relates to me personally, I'm a teacher, I'm an educator. I'm more interested in relationships based upon player-coach rather than employee. As much as we want to be an atmosphere where we create a creative learning environment, I also want to be individually in a place where I'm an educator and a teacher. Wherever that meets is kind of where I stand on it. I think there's a long way before we have to get to that point where a decision has to be made. I'm not at a point where I'm going to meet with our football team to discuss the pluses and minuses of putting a union together."

Q: Do you think it is potentially a good thing or a bad thing for college football?

Kelly: "I think I looked at more of a bigger picture thought process. I haven't really thought about it in its real terms as whether it's a positive for college football or detrimental. I think I've looked at it more as a microcosm. Do they tax your scholarship? I've kind of looked at it that way. I haven't looked at it in a big picture sense."

Q: In the past springs, you did a lot of movement or auditioning along the offensive line. How do you feel right now? Is it stabilized?

Kelly: "We've got eight guys, nine guys. We had a couple injuries there. (Conor) Hanratty was sick the other day, I think we had eight guys, so there's not a lot of movement going on with (Christian) Lombard out and (senior) Nick Martin out. We're really where we are with limited numbers.

"We've got some reinforcements coming in the fall, but until then, there really isn't a chance to move a lot of the guys around. It's been pretty static."

Q: Do you feel the left side has stabilized with junior Ronnie Stanley and sophomore Steve Elmer?

Kelly: "I think so. That's the way it's kind of unfolded throughout the entire spring. It's been pretty consistent other than trying to get guys a blow here or there because of not having the depth there across the board."

Q: Ideally is that where you'd like to have Elmer?

Kelly: "I don't know if that's necessarily so much the issue as, and I think I've talked about this, I think (Mike) McGlinchey over the next guard. Is it Hanratty, McGlinchey? That's kind of the issue more than who's the right guard or right tackle?

"I think I was asked earlier. I'm not a big believer in the left tackle-right tackle theory as much as getting the five best guys on the field. To a finer point, is it McGlinchey or is it Hanratty?"

Q: I was referring specifically to Elmer because he came in with a reputation as a tackle but most of his time has been at the guard position. Kelly: "I think if we felt like Hanratty could do the job at the guard position, that could possibly change what we did."

Q: What do you want to see from (sophomore running back) Tarean (Folston) this spring as he goes from a freshman, seeing some time, to kind of an every down, reliable starter?

"What we're looking for from him is probably a little bit more and we've asked him to do a little bit more. We're asking our backs to do a little bit more pass protection this year. We've challenged those guys in pass protection. Just recall. We don't want to have to go through this teaching progression again with them. I think we've seen that, some pretty good recall from him.

"We told him, here's a chance for you to separate yourself. You've got a chance to play, so if we have to treat you like a freshman, then you're taking a step back. I've asked him to really be that guy who we don't have to go over it with again and again. I think he's done a pretty good job."

Q: You mentioned you wanted to get into the return game this week. What have you seen in that?

Kelly: "All we did was work off the jugs. We can't get much work because we can't get outside. We're going to try to get out Monday morning, and hopefully we'll get some more work in. We've been limited to just the drill work and catching the ball. It's hard to tell on the jugs.

"We're still just a collection of guys right now. Hopefully Monday, we want to get into the competitiveness within the return game." Top Stories