Have you gotten into the Georgia Tech mode yet?One advantage in the opener for both teams, there is no new tape that is going to take place from when the season ended. That's what you have. You have all their games. You can watch all their games and watch all their schemes on tape from last year. You can follow what is going on in their spring game and all the reports coming out of there, but the bottom line is you have plenty of time to prepare for your opener, both in anticipation in what they're going to do in their system and what you are going to do in yours. I think it would definitely be the wrong thing to do if you didn't use the extra week you have in training camp to prepare for and spend two weeks training for an opponent. So we have been practicing for Georgia Tech; we started last week and practiced for them on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We practiced for them two-thirds of the scrimmage last night in the stadium. I had some of the younger guys ending up scrimmaging offense against defense. But basically it all has been Georgia Tech. Tomorrow we'll do some more Georgia Tech and Tuesday I'll start the regular Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday routine. Our goal is to fine-tune our game plan and tone it down physically where we are as fresh as we can possibly be going into the opener down there in Atlanta."
How was the scrimmage last night?"The biggest thing is we came out of there unscathed; we came out of there healthy. No one got hurt, but I thought it was a very physical practice and I thought it was a very good tune-up for how we run our operation. We did the pre-game prayer; we did everything. At the end we got into the locker room and Bob Morton led us in the fight song and this is just the way we do business. As for the scrimmage itself, there's more pros than cons, but there's plenty to work on. Like any coach, they sit there and harp on the negatives; not the positives anyway."
How did the freshmen do with the fight song?"Today the freshmen are going to have to get up again and sing the fight song in front of everybody else because they didn't do a very good job of it yesterday."
How is Ryan Harris doing? Is he rusty?"I'm pleasantly surprised at how good he looked; pleasantly surprised. Fortunately, when you lay out a plan with somebody and you say this is how you would want it to play out, fortunately, it played out the way it was laid out because there has been a month-long plan. This wasn't a week-long plan, and it was to be able to be full-go in all aspects by tomorrow and that's where we are. So we are glad to be in that position and the only issue with Ryan won't be his health, but his stamina. We'll see how that goes, but I think we're ready to play more than five if we need to in a game. I think that will be the only issue, it won't be whether he is healthy or not."
How is Derrell Hand doing?"He's out of the boot and starting to practice. But one of the things we have to be careful about is that he doesn't try to do too much too fast. Now all of a sudden when they get out of that boot, now they can start walking and now they can start jogging. First thing they think they can do is go full-go. I think we're going to need him to play this year. And I have to make sure I have him when he is ready to go rather than force him into the action too quickly."
Would you talk about Eric Olsen's progress?"This week is a week where there's a lot of movement in the defense. This isn't a ‘just line up and pound them' defense we're going up against. There's a lot of movement going on. And there's a lot of stunting and blitz zoning and it isn't just a ‘tee off and hit the guy in front of you' kind of game. This is the type of game that you have to make sure your aggressiveness doesn't end up hurting you because you end up missing the guy in front of you when you're firing out to go hit him. So he's been a guy who has handled that the best of all the young guys."
Do you have the itch to compete against other coaches and get the season going?"I look forward to getting into a normal ritual. I'm a creature of habit just like anyone else. Once you start your regular season, you do the same thing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I'm looking forward to getting into my normal schedule because, until this point, nothing is normal. I'm looking forward to getting into a week-after-week normal schedule."
Do you get more excited on game days?"No, I feel excitement on Mondays when we're game-planning because that's when I play. I don't play on Saturday, the players play on Saturday. I play when I'm developing the game plan; that's where my usefulness is. When you get together with the coaching staff and analyze the opponent and figure out what you're going to do; because I learned a long time ago that people pay their money to watch the players play. They don't pay their money to watch the coaches coach."
Earlier in the week you said there were questions about the depth chart. When will you have these questions answered?"I would say we are going to take between 60 and 70 players to the game. I think about 60 of them have already been decided. There's up to 10 up for grabs but I don't have to take up to that, but we have it where we could take up to 70. We have 60 of them decided and most of them have fallen into place based on performance; who's playing first and who's playing second. I think we still have some issues on who's playing second versus who's playing third. Because what happens, those are the guys the more time they get are jockeying for position, but I think in most cases, what I gave you is how it will play out pretty close."
Is James Aldridge day-to-day?"I don't want to get into giving you the day-to-day that all of you guys get sick of when I say that to you. He gets better each day and that's not just a coaching phrase. He gets closer all the time, but we just don't know. But there will come a point where will he go out there and test it; or let's not. I'm not the doctor. When they tell me it's a go; it's a go. I think I do a fairly good job of not trying to play doctor. When they give me the clearance, I'll go ahead and go."
Can you talk about Derek Landri and how he seems to have bulked up since last year?"It's probably the biggest I've seen him; but also the quickest. So I think it's a combination of him being bigger but also in very good shape. And I could probably put Trevor Laws in that category too. I think both of them are in excellent, excellent shape. I think the extra size will help with the wear and tear of the season. Because when you're playing at 260 versus playing at 285 or whatever he's at now, that helps with the wear and tear but hasn't hurt his quickness. He's a fireplug type of guy. He has high energy level. I'm just taking physically and just being practical; 25 lbs is 25 lbs."
Today will you be addressing some of the concerns from last night's scrimmage?"I'm going to address a whole bunch of them today. So that's one of the things going on. This is a good day for me with the players; after that scrimmage last night. Because this is like a Sunday for them. So today they will come in at 2:00. I will talk first and then watch special teams. Then they'll watch O and D. Then they'll run and lift and that is like your typical four-hour session. In my meeting with the team, there are several things I will address. As you know, anytime there are major problems on the field, I'll be the first one to take accountability and the blame. One opportunity you have now, is when you simplify things on offense and defense and then there are mistakes, you can now harp on them because it's not a question about knowing what to do. So then if you physically don't do it, then why does that happen? That's going to be my point of emphasis with the team today because it's going to be, ‘okay, fellows we have made this as simple as we could and still be able to challenge the opponent's offense and defense; now it's time to step up and make some plays.'"
What improvement are you seeing in the secondary compared to last year?"First of all they're playing with a lot more confidence and I think that's one of the things that happens in the secondary especially with the experienced guys. See the young guys; they don't know that they don't know. You bring in these freshmen that are really good players but they really haven't done it before so they haven't had to go through and experience this yet. But for the guys that have been playing already and now feel more confident and know what they are doing and they are in good shape. Obviously, (Chinedum) Ndukwe is in the best shape since I've been here. So now you have them in good shape and they have a pretty good understanding a year into the system which has been simplified on top of that. They're playing with confidence because they at least know what to do. And when you know what you're doing in football, you play it at a much higher speed than when you have to think about what you have to do."
Can you comment on recruiting at this point?"I think it's moving along nicely. I think we're involved in a number of national kids that were in either/or category. I think there were a number of guys that committed later last year because they wanted to see if we were going to be any good. And that's just the way these kids think. If they are a top flight recruit, they don't want to go to a program they think is going to be mediocre. They want to go to a program that's going to win a whole bunch of games. Last year the jury was still out at this time and people didn't know how many games we would end up winning. Now we've won some and these guys know we at least have a chance and that gives you more of a chance with the top line guys."
What changes have you seen in David Grimes this year compared to last year?"That's a perfect example of when we talked about the freshmen before. It isn't like David Grimes is a lot quicker today than he was last year. And it's not like he got a new pair of hands from when he was here last year. But last year, he was in that category that he didn't know that he didn't know. But that's not him anymore. He's playing with confidence, speed, and quickness; in all aspects of his game he has become a dependable player. And I would like to think with these freshmen – there are 28 of them – I would like to think that some of them will come along faster than others and will go figure it out like David has figured it out. He has put himself in a position to be a very productive player for us this year. First of all, he's not a backup guy because we use multiple personnel groups. And when we put three wide receivers on the field, which is one of our personnel groups, he is a starter. After about the first 10 guys, there are four guys that are also starters. There's the second tight end; the third wide receiver; the fullback; there are a number of guys that fit into that category as semi-starters type of status. I think he knows the two guys playing ahead of him aren't too bad."
Unintelligible Question"We have used Richard Jackson and Darrin Bragg this week because we need fresh legs. Richard is much bigger than Darrin is, but we wanted to go ahead and use fresh legs so we could challenge the defense on every play."
What emphasis will you make with the freshmen who are making their first trip and how they represent Notre Dame?"We are very good in the hotel; we are very disciplined in the hotel. It's not a very loose ship. I issue warm-ups and they wear them around the hotel. We wear coat and tie when we make the trip. Their attire back from the trip depends on whether we won or lost. If we won that game, they're in sweats. If they lost, they're in coat and tie. I think after they have played a game and are sore, there's no reason for them to be all dressed up on the flight home. I think as far as the game itself, the most important thing you have to teach freshmen is not to get caught up with the circus; not to be caught up with all of the sidebars of the game – the crowds, the band. You have to have tunnel vision because all of a sudden you have gone from playing in front of 3,000 to 60,000. It's quite a drastic change."
Do the older players talk to the younger ones about going on the road and playing in hostile territory?"I always explain the best part of going on the road is not the game itself; the best part of going on the road is when there is about three minutes left in the game and their fans start to leave and all your fans get behind your bench and they are the only ones you hear now. All those guys that were screaming at you the first three quarters are all heading for the exits. There's no better feeling in the world than that. When you try to paint that picture in their minds, whether it happens this week or some other week isn't the point, you are trying to get them thinking like the highlight of playing on the road is the only ones you hear yapping at the end of the game are the fans rooting for you; not the home fans. There's nothing worse than having to listen to those home fans after a loss."
Does Sam Young fall into that category of freshmen that don't know they don't know? If so, how will you prepare him this week for that first road trip?"Ryan Harris was assigned to Sam Young when he first got here as his mentor. When every one of our kids gets here, we assign him an upper-classman. So Sam's guy has been Ryan and Ryan has been invaluable in helping Sam mature through this process. Forget about Sam for a second, Ryan has done a great job with it too. Even when Ryan wasn't practicing, he had a coaching assignment at every practice and that was Sam Young. And that's how we have kept him mentally in the game because the tendency is let your mind wander when you're not in there. But now when you have assigned him a coaching responsibility, it's kept him sharp at the same time."
How do you match up the younger guys with the upper-classmen?"We sit there as a coaching staff and we take all the upper-classmen that we think would be the best mesh, personality-wise, leadership-wise, academically on top of it, and we try to put them together. Not everyone's personality is the same and with these freshmen we think we have a pretty good idea of their personalities having gone through the recruiting process. But the guys who are here, we know their personalities so we try to mix people for specific reasons. Sometimes, if a kid is an okay student, we will give him the best student on the team because that will push him to a higher level academically. And it causes an inner-drive for them to be better because all of these guys are competitive."
How is the kickoff return progressing?"I think schematically it's been a big improvement. And the returners have done a nice job so let's see what happens when it's for real. When it's in practice, it has looked pretty good so far. But the jury's still out until you start producing. At this point I'm encouraged and we have spent a lot of time on kick returns. Hopefully, we won't be doing a lot of kickoff returns."
You always talk about the importance of speed on the defense. Does that include the front four too?"We'll wait and see. Everybody's always telling me how bad the defense is. I guess we'll just have to wait till next Saturday night to find out. We'll see if we have any speed or not. That's what everyone's telling me. And by the way, that's what I'll be telling them about 2:00."
Do coaches make players play faster?"Ruben can make them faster; I can't make them faster. I can help make them faster. Do you want to know why? Get them to know what to do. That helps them be faster because now they're not thinking of what to do. But that's Ruben's job, not my job. I didn't do too well myself as you can tell."