Kelly Q&A: December 15

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly discusses his team's quarterback competition, the early placement of young, untested offensive linemen, and what went wrong down the stretch for his youth-filled defense.

Question: Was today your third practice, Brian?

Kelly: Yes, this was our third.

Question: What have you seen from Everett Golson and Malik Zaire in those first three practices?

Kelly: A real focus and attention to some specific things that we believe will make them better quarterbacks. Footwork, communication, attention to a detail that is needed at that position. It’s been great competition and I think they’ve both benefitted greatly from the last three practices and film time that we’ve had.

Question: Did you get the response you wanted to see from Everett in terms of a guy being demoted or thrown into a competition?

Kelly: Yes. We had a conversation about what I wanted from him and he’s handled it great. He’s doing exactly what I’m asking him to do on a day-to-day basis. Look, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, I wasn’t even interested in really going down this road unless he was fully committed and engaged in working on the things that I thought he needed to work on and he’s been all of that.

We’re three days into it, three practices. We’ve got a ways to go but I like the competition at the position right now. We’re trending and working in a good manner right now at that decision.

Question: Is the right tackle position (Christian Lombard vs. Mike McGlinchey) a similar situation?

Kelly: That’s a competitive situation as well. Mike is getting a lot of reps at that position. We like the thing that he did against USC and I’d say that’s a very competitive situation right now.

Question: Is it too early with the four that asked for an NFL evaluation as far as them providing one?

Kelly: I have a lot of input prior to from a lot of general managers and coaches on their status. I’ve got a sense of where we are with the four guys. I’m pretty confident about where we are with all four of them.

Question: Are all four of those guys in line to earn their undergraduate degree at the end of this semester?

Kelly: Ronnie (Stanley) is not.

Question: Ronnie is not, the other three are?

Kelly: Yes.

Question: I assume you want to figure out who your starter is before you go down to Nashville? Or could you use them both?

Kelly: They’re both gonna play.

Question: Greg Bryant got his chance against USC. Has he continued his ascent?

Kelly: Greg’s getting a lot of work. We like what he did in the game. He still wasn’t 100 percent with that ankle. He didn’t have that burst. He’s not a 4.4 guy anyway, but he’s got a good sense of what we’re trying to accomplish at the position and getting north and south and playing physical. I think he’s definitely, you know, he’s a freshman right? It’s his first year of competition. But I like the way he’s practicing and I think he’s doing some good thing.

Question: A little bit of an uptick in his practice after getting in against USC?

Kelly: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. He’s doing well, he really is. I like what Greg is doing. He’s doing well in all facets - doing well in school and really like his attitude.

Question: You said both quarterbacks will play. Can you expand upon that a little bit? Do you want to get Malik in a game situation to really evaluate him?

Kelly: Certainly that’s part of it. We got a glimpse of what he could do against USC. But I think both of them can help us win. I want to play them both because I think both of them have different traits and we need to find a way to win the game. I think both of them can help us win.

Question: Do you have clarity on Eilar Hardy’s situation?

Kelly: Yes, he will be back next semester. He’s eligible to play.

Question: There was speculation that you could be missing some players. That there could be players suspended?

Kelly: Nobody. The only problem we would have is if there was an academic situation and we’re right in the middle of exams. We have no players that have done anything that has put them in jeopardy for suspension. That would be a notification that would go to my desk given our communication system.

Question: Sheldon Day is such a big part of your defense. When do you think you’ll have clarity on his situation?

Kelly: It’s a two-way kind of deal. The clarity will be, I don’t want to play him unless he’s healthy enough to really contribute. We’re playing a very physical offensive line and a very good running team. We’ve got to come up with a way to slow them down offensively in terms of running the ball. If he’s not 100 percent I’m not gonna put him in a position that would not help him. He’s doing really well right now, he’s confident he’s gonna be ready.

But we’ll make that decision together. We’re not near that where I feel comfortable saying he’s gonna be there. He wants to be and he says he is but I’m pumping the brakes a little bit until we get closer before we make that decision.

Question: You're saying he’s clearly not 100 percent right now?

Kelly: He’s clearly not 100 percent.

Question: As you start to look at LSU, what are some of the keys in order to beat a team like (that)?

Kelly: We have to protect our defense, right? We’re limited inside. That’s the biggest issue that we have right now. We’re limited inside in terms of defensive tackle play, so we’re gonna have to make some adjustments there. We think we’ve got some ideas and things we can do. We have to do a really good job offensively of controlling the flow of the game. A lot of it will be on our offensive game plan and keeping their offense off the field.

Question: One of the things you toyed with when Sheldon Day was first injured was Isaac Rochell inside. Are you looking at that a little bit more?

Kelly: Yes, absolutely.

Question: If you’re going to be using two quarterbacks, how does that change the dynamics of the competition and how much pressure does that put on you to manage that in a game?

Kelly: Right now we’ve got a plan in place in practice that I feel very comfortable with and we’ll continue to evaluate that as we go through our practices. I think as we get into the game there are skill sets that each one of them has that are a little bit different that we’ll utilize in the game. They both have strengths and we will call upon those strengths during the game. I’m confident that I can manage both of them during the game. It’s not gonna be pull one and put the other one in because they’re not moving the team. We’re going to be utilizing both of them to help us control the flow of the game.

Question: If one of them gets hot I assume they could stay in the game longer?

Kelly: That’s possible. I don’t know that I’ve ever gone into a game and said, 'Well, he’s only going to play this amount regardless.' I think you try to get a feel for it. But there are some things that we clearly know one quarterback does a little bit better and we’ll go to those strengths regardless of the situation.

Question: If this situation was opposite and you were defending a right-handed quarterback then a left-handed quarterback, how difficult would it be?

Kelly: The calls are a little bit different. Now if we were playing, say, an Arizona State, which is virtually all pressures, changes a little bit. This is not a big pressure team. It’s line up, this is what we do and we go play. It’s not as much for a team like LSU where they just put their hand in the dirt, they just go play. I don’t think it’s gonna cause them much. There are other teams that this would cause a little bit more an issue. Not this group.

Question: Going into finals this week, what’s the practice schedule and are you satisfied with the amount of contact you’re able to get?

Kelly: We went for an hour today. So, when there’s exams we’re going for an hour. When weren’t exams and it was study days we went for an hour and a half. And then when we conclude exams we’ll go two hours and when we conclude exams we’re gonna tackle. That’s kind of the format relative to the practice schedules. We’ll go up until the 22nd, so once exams end we’ll have contact within the practice that brings the backs down and keeps our guys sharp in terms of tackling technique.

Question: Have you practice for an hour each day this week?

Kelly: Not every day. Tomorrow will be weight training and meetings. Then we’ll come back and alternate that through the week.

Question: During this time, you’re often evaluating younger personnel?

Kelly: It’s a little bit different in terms of years past. We’ve evaluated a ton of defensive personnel. This is more about utilizing some offensive personnel, evaluating, a lot of offensive linemen. We’ve got (Quenton Nelson) at guard. Alex Bars is left tackle. Sam Mustipher has taken some center reps. John Montelus at guard. I think that young group, Nelson playing left guard right now. I think we like him. He’s got some versatility. We like him at guard right now.

Question: Is Hunter Bivin going to remain at tackle?

Kelly: Yeah, we think he’s a tackle.

Question: You had Colin McGovern practicing during the spring at tackle but you said his future was at guard?

Kelly: Yeah, we think so. Colin is probably gonna end up inside and Hunter will probably end up outside.

Question: What makes LSU such a great pass defense? The fact they’re an elite pass defense, does that factor into how you evaluate Malik and Everett going into this game?

Kelly: Well, they’re an aggressive, press-man team. Gets right up on you. Dares you to throw the football. They have a lot of similarities to Michigan State, the way they play their corners. They’re just gonna go out there and lock you down and dare you to throw the football in one-on-one situations. That, coupled with a very athletic front, they’re very big and athletic up front and they’re gonna get pressure with four- and five-man rushes and force you to beat them with some one-on-one throws. They’re not giving you multiple looks and multiple coverages, they’re gonna beat you with very aggressive style of coverage and you’ve gotta win some one-on-one matchups.

Question: You were talking about being fully committed with Everett, what did you mean there?

Kelly: First of all, you have to understand where you are. Committed to the journey of getting better. He’s committed to that journey. He’s fully committed to being the best player that he can be through my lens.

Question: If he hadn’t been, there wouldn’t have been a competition?

Kelly: There wouldn’t have been a competition.

Question: You'd have gone straight to Zaire?

Kelly: Yeah. Which would have been the case at any position. That’s pretty standard though. Anybody that’s not interested in getting better in the areas a coach feels he needs to get better at, he generally usually transfers.

Question: You said both quarterbacks have strengths. What are they? What are those strengths? ??

Kelly: First, Everett’s got a lot of experience. He threw for a lot of yards, over 3,000 yards. He’s capable of obviously some big plays and throwing the football. Malik’s not as experienced, but Malik’s shown himself to be very good at running some of our read option stuff. At first glance, that would be some of the things early on. We think there’s more than that. We think that they can both complement themselves in other areas. But I think at first glance, those would be the things immediately that they can add to the position.

Question: Where is the team mentally? What’s the mood?

Kelly: They want to win. I think defensively, they know they’re a little short-handed and they’ve gotta find ways to come up with some plays. Look, they clearly know that from their standpoint that they’ve got to find a way to slow down LSU. I think our offense knows that they’ve have to play better. And probably understand how important it is to control the flow of the game. They’ve practiced well.

I told them this. They’ve practiced well all year. We haven’t translated that consistently. That’s through a number of different things. Primarily, they’ve got to trust their technique, they’ve got to trust themselves. If they do that, they’ll find a way to win.

Question: Could you carry the quarterback competition beyond the bowl if it works well? Or is this just 'let's try to beat LSU?'

Kelly: I’m open really to anything at this point. We want to put the best football team, the best offense that we can put on the field. Ideally, you’d like to have one, but if we’ve got two, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll see how this plays out and then evaluate it as we move forward. I haven’t closed to door to any kind of scenario.

Question: How has Torii Hunter Jr., done. Extra practice time?

Kelly: He’s been good, he’s been good. I expect him to get some more playing time and make a contribution in this game. He’s gonna have to.

Question: What, in your eyes, were the main issues and failures down the stretch defensively?

Kelly: Well, there are a number of different things that occurred. We probably underestimated the presence of Joe Schmidt’s absence on the field. I think that clearly we were affected by not being able to get our guys in position against hurry-up offenses. That’s an area that we’ve worked really hard these last couple of days on running against going fast. It’s an area that we’ve worked hard at. Those things definitely were factors.

And then we lost a lot of depth at the start of the year. Losing Ishaq (Williams) and losing Kendall Moore, those guys probably impacted us probably a little bit more than we thought. When we had to turn to a lot of freshmen, we kind of kept it together and then when the injuries kind of got to us, we didn’t have that kind of leadership on the field. It exposed us.

Having said that, I think if we were able to do some more things on offensively we would have been fine. But I think those things kind of snow balled on us defensively.

Question: You talked about simplifying things offensively. Can you do that with the defense? Can you simplify it for the freshmen ?

Kelly: I think we feel we need to be in a position where we can line up and be in good fits and be fundamental and have our guys to be in good positions to come up. We’ve got to be able to tackle effectively, obviously. Those are definitely musts for us going into the game.

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