How do you feel about the kicking game?"Nate (Whitaker) has probably been our most consistent guy (both the other two guys and obviously Brandon Walker, being new to us who we are figuring out) and Ryan (Burkhart) on different days has been right there – they have been the best if not tied for the best. Nate was disappointed in his field goals because after his first kick he missed the next two and then drilled one right down the middle. So he was disappointed there. Whereas on the kickoffs, he kicked off the best today. Brandon who has been kicking off the best was the best at kicking field goals today. And Ryan was kind of behind both of those guys today. We are not ready to cut the team so far as making a decision as to who the guy is, but it was good that the fans and the media were there for these guys today, because it isn't the same as when you're in practice. When you're in practice, you sometimes can nail eight in a row because there's really not the same pressure as when eyes are on you. One of the reasons I wanted to end the practice with field goals, I wanted everyone tired and I wanted them to feel a little bit of pressure. I didn't know if there would be 50 or 5,000 fans. But whatever it was going to be, there were going to be fans and media there to put some pressure on them so we can go from there."
After the first five days, how would you evaluate the play of your quarterbacks?"We've been working on different things on different days and certain guys have thrown long one day; intermediate one day; and short one day. We've had different quarterbacks doing different things on different days. Sometimes they run nine-on-seven and sometimes they throw one-on-one. I probably won't get at it this afternoon since we're coming back for practice tonight, but we're probably right at the time where all these guys have given us the opportunity to start evaluating whether or not there is separation between them. But I'll wait until we finish this one today; then I'll come back and get a good look at it tomorrow. We'll see if anyone has started to distance themselves."
Are you pleased in general with what they have done?"They've been okay. They haven't been great, and they haven't been terrible. They've been okay. One thing you have to understand, in the first week of training camp you are not setting up your offense. You are installing your offense, and I think that's where we are and, really, through Monday before we complete the initial process. So we still have Saturday night and Sunday installation and Monday morning installation. For that matter, we also have installation on Monday afternoon. So it's going to have to be another three days before we have gotten enough in where we can start to tune it up and deciding what we are going to try to run."
What have you learned about that position and those three guys in this week?"I think we will be good enough to win. That's what I have learned. You think you have a question, try being me. That's the biggest question mark that the guy that is directly responsible for the position has to worry about. What I have learned is that we will be good enough to compete to win."
Coach, could you talk about the wide receivers?"Everyone has been saying all along that this is a weakness, but I really like the wide receiver position. I really like them. I like the development. Let's start with David (Grimes), and George (West) is healthy and he is playing well, and everyone who has been in the program is better than they were from last year; and better than the spring. We have a lot a competition from these two freshmen coming into the mix now. We have a lot of competition. I'm not surprised and just say I'm pleased with the direction at that position."
Has D.J. Hord caught the ball as well all week as he did today?"Recently, more toward the end of the week than the beginning of the week. We put some pressure on guys like D.J. and Richard (Jackson) and Barry (Gallup) and those guys who have been here before, because you have these two young guys who you haven't even seen practice yet. So if you are trying to get people reps and you are wanting to see the two young guys, you say, ‘Hey, we don't have time to wait around here; either you're in the mix or your ship is sailing.' I think we've seen that hold true for most of the receivers group that had been around because they are feeling the pressure, not from just the top down, but they are also feeling the pressure from the bottom up."
How about running backs; do you see situations where the freshmen will play?"We have a lot of running backs who can play and I'll figure it out. But right now it's too premature because we have five halfbacks that you could put on the field and win with any five of them. Now obviously, you can't play five running backs, but it's a little too early to etch in stone that Travis (Thomas) is going to get every snap or, ‘Hey, that Armando Allen is fast, let's give him every snap or everywhere in between; that Robert Hughes is 237, let's give him every snap.' I haven't even mentioned James (Aldridge) or Junior (Jabbie). I would say the running back position is the one position I'm not worrying about too much. I'll figure out what to do when it gets closer to game time."
Would you comment on the explosiveness of Armando Allen?"I think the one thing we have been trying to do in the recruiting process here in the last few years is try to get more speed in the program. And we will continue to try to get more speed in the program each year, whether it's watching Golden Tate run at the wide receiver or watching Armando run at running back or watching (Mike) Ragone run at tight end. For example, I'll use all three of those guys; they all run very, very fast for the position they play. Having more guys with the potential to score when they touch the ball rather than get a 10-yard gain, possibly taking it to the house, that's important."
Other than the freshmen you have mentioned, are there quite a few freshmen that will be helping this year?"There will be freshmen on the field in the first game, and it won't be in mop-up time; that I can tell you. And it won't be one; it will be multiples. As you know, I'm not afraid to play the best guys and if the best guys are freshmen, they are playing."
Why did the defense have to take a lap?"Because we had 10 men on the field; I prefer we have 11. It's really more than a penalty, it's a lap for emphasis because, instead of me hammering them as you noticed, I backed away and let Corwin (Brown) have them. I very easily could have done it myself, but it was more of an emphasis that as we are going in and out of personnel groups, we cannot afford to have [mistakes] – one guy was getting ready to call timeout and they wouldn't have run the play without it, but then we would have burned a timeout because we didn't have eleven on the field. So it was more a point of emphasis."
How do you feel about the depth at cornerback compared to when you first got here?"I'm not being sarcastic when I say that's almost a bit rhetorical. The first year here, I wouldn't play more than two or three guys at corner. You go into games wanting to play nickel and dime and try to get into packages where you can match up. You really in good faith couldn't do it because you actually felt you were putting lesser players out there when you were doing it. That is no longer the case. If somebody wants to go ahead and put four wide against you now, you can put four cover corners out there now and feel pretty good about your chances. We have even more than four. I'm not worrying about our depth at corner position; there are other positions that you worry more about; that doesn't happen to be one of them."
What positions are you worrying about?"What do you think; I'm just dumb (laughing)? Ask me a specific question and I'll give you a specific answer. Well here's my five things I'm concerned about (laughing). I wouldn't go there; come on (laughing). Time out!"
What players on defense have shown up now that they have pads on?"Toryan (Smith) and Joe (Brockington) at inside linebacker, and we all know Mo (Maurice) Crum can play. He has been playing forever; he had a hundred tackles last year. But you have to like Toryan and Joe and our defensive line was physical at the point. That is one of the skeptical positions that everyone is talking about. You stand where I'm standing right behind the offense; you are not worrying so much when you look at them two-gapping and controlling the line of scrimmage. I've been encouraged, especially the last two practices, when you finally put the pads on, it's no longer like patty cake like it was the first four days. Now it's okay, let's go ahead and go. I've been pleased with the aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage and a couple of guys the opposite of Asaph (Schwapp) would be those mike linebackers, and I've been pleased with what I have seen from them."
Is there any significance to Toryan and Joe being out there a lot together?"In addition to playing Scott (Smith) and Steve (Quinn) in there as well, what we are looking to do – what happens if Mo Crum is down. You have to start building some position flexibility. Let's say Toryan is in and Joe is out and Mo goes down; well if you could play both Joe and Toryan in there – if you think of them as like co-starters – if you build some position flexibility, you have an older guy who's always calling the defense. So you either have Joe or Mo Crum that's running the defense from a defensive coordinator's standpoint, it's always a refreshing thing when you have a veteran guy running the show and not putting that responsibility on a younger or more inexperienced guy."
Do you think you gave the fans their money's worth today; even though it was free?"One thing that I've learned as I have grown with you guys since I've been here is that I understand the twenty minutes that you get on a daily basis is just for stories. You watch them stretch; you get five minutes of warm-up; we're more concerned about whether the quarterbacks are throwing in the first five minutes or not. But in reality, I thought it was important for us to just run our practice and not to go hide things. You asked that question; it really pertains more to the media because more of the fans are going to react based off the media than they are off the number of people that were here today. So maybe the question is; maybe I gave you guys your money's worth."
Where are you now compared to two or three years ago?"We have a lot more players that can play - a lot more - a lot more players that can play in the game. You asked me what I know; that's what I know. We have a lot more players that can play in the game. If you asked me how well, I don't know that yet. I do know I'm not going to blink an eye about taking someone out and putting somebody else in; and there was a time here where that wasn't the case. There was a time you had to stay in because there was no one else to go. I feel a lot more confident now that there's a lot more players we can put on the field."
You mentioned a lot about depth and flexibility. Where does this come from?"It's the mentality of the coaching tree that I came out of and Corwin came out of; that's how we were trained to create position flexibility. You do it with the offensive linemen; you do it with your tight ends; you do it with your wide receivers. Sometimes you don't do it with your running backs unless you have a rare guy like Robert (Hughes) who is big enough to play fullback but is a halfback. Let's take a guy like Scott Smith; he's become much more valuable because he has played solid for us both inside and out. He doesn't need to be spectacular - just so in a game you are not afraid to put a guy on the field because you know when he goes in there, you know he will be able to do his job and will know what to do. Corwin and I are so much on the same page as far as our upbringing that when we talk, it's like we have been talking for two decades."
What have you been seeing from Brian Smith so far?"Not to lump two guys, but let's talk about Brian and Kerry Neal while we're at it. When we brought those guys in there and put them at outside linebacker, we saw guys that were 240ish, strong as oxes, with a lot of athleticism. In this defense you need those guys who can stand up at the point when they're running right at you; rush the passer and still have the athletic ability to get involved in coverage. Both of those guys have the athleticism to do it. Now the difference between the two guys is that Kerry was always with his hand on the ground when he was in high school and Brian was inside and outside as a linebacker when he was in high school - so both of those guys are definitely on the depth chart."
There was a lot of focus on the quarterbacks today and the only one who didn't throw deep was (Jimmy) Clausen. Was there a reason for that?"I can't tell you how many deep passes we threw today. I'm running all the team plays and I only called one go and I called one trick play, so I don't remember more than two plays that I designed to be a go. If you're asking during one-on-one, when he was running nine-on-seven, he wasn't down there during that because he was running nine-on-seven. Can he throw the ball deep? I think we'll have to wait until September 1 to find that out. They have all run the running game. They have all run one-on-ones. I have coached only one guy at a time. Ron (Powlus) has the group. You noticed during one-on-one, I'm not watching, I'm thinking. I'm not watching the one-on-one at the time, but I imagine when the nine-on-seven was going on, I had Clausen and he had everybody else. Now I wouldn't image everybody else was throwing. Were they all throwing? I couldn't tell you. They probably all didn't throw a lot. I would imagine that Evan (Sharpley) and Demetrius (Jones) threw the most. That's just the way we do practice so I can coach one guy because I coach the guy who's playing; so most of my coaching with the quarterbacks takes place when they are running the offense where I am. So I can give them the coaching points on fronts and coverages and nuances because it's easier for me to do because I'm a very hands-on guy when it comes to that."
Did the freshmen get a passing grade on the alma mater?"It was marginal; it was terrible yesterday morning. They had to come in at 7:30 yesterday morning and it was awful; just absolutely awful. But after watching that one game last year when half the guys didn't know the alma mater, that's been a pet peeve of mine ever since. Even though I didn't watch it, I heard about it. So they practiced it and I made the captains and them come in early last night and I made the captains and leadership committee get it straight last night and they practiced in front of the team last night. I think they know the words; you couldn't hear them, but it was awful (laughing). It was just absolutely awful. There was one of the games, at the end of the game we were singing the alma mater and some of the guys were standing there not singing or not paying attention, and I just felt that's not what Notre Dame's all about. I think little things like this, you need to practice. We even practice celebrating scoring a touchdown. We actually practice that because some guys just don't get it. We practice chasing an interception on offense because those linemen, they think, oh well, it's an interception. We actually practice those guys chasing after an interception to go make a tackle. The alma mater may not seem like something big to a lot of you guys, but it's important to me and it's important that the players know the words to the alma mater and fight song, and I think they all got it. I think they all know the words."
Did you play your tape of Take Me Out to the Ballgame for them? (lots of laughter)"Here's the analysis of that and this will be the last question (laughing). I'm sitting in the box with Chicago and America; the bands Chicago and America are there; and they decided to pick me. They had the singers from Chicago sitting to my right and they had the singers from America sitting to my left - and they pick me. And since they picked me, I thought I would just take one for the team and do it. And on that note, take care."