When you make decisions about players, how important are the scrimmages and the unit stuff?"We've been meeting on this stuff all morning today, in addition to meeting with the players. We've been meeting on a lot of these personnel decisions today. A home game is a little different from an away game. You have to look like you are cutting the team down to a more manageable size of players who are going to be going to the game, if you are going to an away game, and then even to a smaller size as to who the two-deep are; let's say you are going to play. At this stage you are just trying to get to who would go to an away game; to get on the bus; to get on the plane; to go to an away game; versus the core guys. These are the guys that are going to play. So there are two different sets of evaluations that you are doing. One, is to try to get that group that gets to go to an away game and (B) is just getting those guys that actually play in a game, if the game were meaningful, that's who you play in the game. So, it's really a two-tiered answer to the question."
What are the most important things that you consider in making these decisions?"At this time, we have gone ones-against-ones the whole camp. We haven't had any situations where the good guys haven't gone against anybody but the good guys the whole time. This allows you to evaluate where you are on both sides of the ball. Now, that's about ready to come to an end here because on Monday, when we start practicing against Georgia Tech, because it is still a week out - two weeks before we play. We'll use the first part of practice staying competitive, good guys against good guys, but then we'll have a break and start using show teams and start simulating the opponent's offense and defense. I think there is very little time left for people to actually play into that two-deep rotation. Hey, there are a couple of positions that aren't going to be two-deep - like at corner we are going to have the possibility of playing six; at quarterback we have three guys involved. There are a couple positions that are more than two-deep, but you have to start getting the guys ready to play the game and play with some kind of continuity so that you will know what your rotations are going to be like when you start playing the game."
Do the position coaches have input in the decisions or do you make all of them?"Every position coach has input regardless of position; the position coach has input; the coordinator has input; the whole group has input and, of course, I have input. I think we are usually fairly close to being on the same page. Every once in a while, if it's too close to call, I'll let them make the call. Or if I really feel strongly about the potential upside of one guy over another, then I'll say, ‘Hey, if it's that close, let's play the guy with the upside.'"
How involved are you in tweaking the defense as you prepare for this first game?"I'll do it every day. Sometimes I may not run the play, but sometimes as I watch something, I'll say you are very vulnerable right here if I was game-planning us. I don't game-plan the defense when we are practicing. In other words, I don't go out there and say, ‘Here's how I am going to try and beat you.' We'll actually stand there and before a play is actually happening, I'll say, ‘You are going to get killed on this play.' Because I'll see how they are lined up and see what the motion is going to be, and I know we are going to end up with an advantage at the end of the play. I may not have the play called to beat what he has at the time, but I would say, ‘If I was going against you, if you were going to do this, this would be my counter to what you are doing.' It's not so much as to say whoever has the pen last, it's just trying to expose where I think vulnerabilities would be based off of what they are doing."
Based on that process, do you feel pretty good about where the defense is right now?"Sometimes I say this too often, I'm never happy. I'm pleased where we are right now. Obviously, we'll find out September 1. Based off of the evidence we have had in practice right now, I'm pleased."
Why do you think a lot of people gravitate to Demetrius Jones?"It naturally happens with the quarterback position. I've never known a quarterback where people didn't gravitate to him though. He's got that bubbly personality and he's fun to be around and he can take it. He's one of those guys you can ride real hard and he won't go in the tank. A lot of times, there are quarterbacks whose feelings are very temperamental. If you chastise them in front of the team, they go in the tank. But he's not one of them. Usually at the quarterback position, you have to have that leadership about you or you probably don't have a chance of being a very good quarterback."
How much of the execution does he have down?"I feel pretty good about Demetrius, and I feel pretty good about the quarterbacks that we have here. Not to be evasive and make it a three-man answer to your question, but I feel the team has confidence in the three quarterbacks and I think they can believe with them in there. If Demetrius is in there, I think they could believe in him being in there just as much as the other guy."
Do you ride all three quarterbacks the same way or do you have to treat them differently?"You know different people for different lengths of time. Evan (Sharpley) has been here a year longer than Demetrius, and Demetrius has been here a half year longer than Jimmy (Clausen), so I think it's part of a learning process of their personalities, making sure you know how far you can push them before it becomes detrimental. I've dealt with some players in the past where the first time you even looked at them the wrong way, they went in the tank. I wouldn't say any of these guys fit that bill."
Brady is going to get a lot of snaps this week, have you talked to him lately?"I've talked to him. He doesn't know how many snaps he's going to get. I think with rookies, coaches always play mind games with rookies, and you never tell them anything. If you tell them they might get a lot of snaps, they might not get any; and if you tell them, you're not getting many, he might be in there in the second quarter. He was excited last week to potentially get in there and just get his feet wet and just get a couple of snaps. He's hoping to get in there this week, and he's a lot more ready to play this week than last week because he has been getting some reps, with not just the show team, where he actually gets to run the offense."
What advice would you give him in playing in his first pro game?"I think he has answered all the questions the right way. I've kind of tracked it a little bit and he's basically said, ‘I'm a rookie and I don't know anything.' and that's the right answer. And that has been his answer pretty regularly. I just think, don't get too excited because then every ball will go 20 yards over the receiver's head. Just go run the team because you have to earn the confidence of the players when you are a new quarterback. It isn't just like everybody automatically believes in you."
What are the personalities like of the other two quarterbacks?"It's interesting. With Evan, who a lot of people think is a quiet guy, he's kind of a fiery guy; and Jimmy, who a lot of people think is flamboyant, is kind of a quiet guy. Now, they are all competitors. Because your personality comes across one way, does not mean that you are not a fierce competitor. I think because of their different upbringings from different parts of the country, a little flavor of their geographics come with them. It's a really interesting combination because they are very diverse in the threesome right there as far as their personalities."
Will you wait until the last minute to tell the quarterback that he is the starter?"I don't believe in playing mind games with the quarterbacks. What I do is get them ready to play in the game. I think all the quarterbacks need to be ready to play in the game and, because the margin between one, two, and three is relatively small, I think you have to have them all ready to play in the game. But I also don't believe in playing mind games. Let's say you have one guy who expects to be the starter, and he is not the starter. He's not going to tell you, but he's going to know. Because the last thing you want to do five seconds before the game starts is have the guy go into the tank because the guy who thought he was going to be the quarterback, is not the quarterback. I'm not that dumb, I'll make sure everyone is aware of what the situation is. I think mind games hurt the quarterback position."
Will it be the week of the Georgia Tech game when the quarterbacks find out and when will the rest of the team know?"Officially, when we are standing on the sidelines and ready to go. I have confidence they'll know."
All the assistant coaches are very involved with special teams. Who is working with the kickers?"The three guys who are most involved with the kickers are Corwin (Brown), Brian (Polian), and myself. I would say we're the three guys most involved with the kickers themselves. I've coached special teams before; Corwin has coached special teams before; and Brian has coached special teams before - and Bernie (Parmalee) has coached special teams too. For the first time since I've been here, I have had big powwows with the whole group of kickers, which I have never done before. They don't answer to me, but it's more both Corwin and Brian, because the defensive staff has the punt team and the kickoff team as far as coverage goes. Therefore, they would have the kickoff guys and the punters for them to be dealing with."
As you prepare them for September 1st, how are you going to be confident about the guys that you picked?"We've created more pressure situations for the field-goal kickers. Field goals now are a totally different thing than the kicker and the punter. Now you are talking points on the board, so that is a totally different kind of competitive situation than a kickoff guy. Because with a kickoff guy, you can talk hang time and distance, but you have to start to get the team ready to time that kicker out because you've got righty kickers and you've got lefty kickers; because there are things that are a little different when you are doing those things. So a lot of that is just a mesh of the unit working with you. With a field-goal kicker, you just have to keep putting pressure on them to see if they are going to fold under the pressure or be able to handle the pressure."
Have there been some guys that have jumped out at you on special teams?"Travis Thomas, I think will be on a lot of special teams. A lot of times, people misconstrue because a guy, i.e., a starting running back type is not going to play on special teams. I think Travis will be on all four cover units. One of the reasons Travis came back here is because he would like an opportunity to play in the NFL. The easiest way for him to play in the NFL is to walk in the door as a backup running back who can play on special teams. So you can bet he wants to go out there and perform on a very high level, which I believe he is very capable of doing. There are very few players who are starters on our team that are not involved in a starting role on special teams. You name them; if they are a skilled guy, they are probably involved on a special team somewhere. If there is not much separation, for example, John Carlson starting on the punt team, if there is not much separation between John Carlson and the next guy, then you would put the next guy in there. But the one thing we're not going to do is get beat because we want to rest John Carlson, and all of a sudden a punt gets blocked. We're going to make sure we take care of the special teams."
Have some of the younger guys turned your head on special teams?"There are a whole bunch of guys who are involved in special teams right now. In the next couple of days, which will culminate Sunday night, in the next couple of days, we have a couple of heavy special team situations where we can start settling in. Just like offense and defense, you have to start settling in two-deep in those too. You might be running three or four deep on kickoff coverage right now. But in a game, you're probably going to play a couple guys at a spot at the most. By the time we finish Sunday night's practice, we have to start cutting down on the number of guys who are getting meaningful reps on those units as well."
Do you think Tommy Zbikowski is being too hard on himself about the way he played last year?"First of all, Zibby is not a guy to make excuses. He'd rather point his finger at himself rather than someone else. There were two things that really came into play with Zibby last year. Number one, he went through that boxing match in June and he gained weight. I think he fought at 215. I don't remember what exactly it was but it was more than 210. I think he came into camp 210 or 212, somewhere like there. If you look at him compared to last year, he's a lot more sleek this year than he was last year. You can see his body is definitely toned down where he looks a lot faster on the field. That was always one of his mainstays that he could run well for a safety. The second thing is, he's our starting punt returner and, although he loves to do that, he took a good shot in the Purdue game and to be honest with you, I don't know how long it was before he was really the same. He's going to hold himself accountable and say that was last year. And I think he is one of those players that has come in here with a chip on his shoulder for this year because he believes he has a lot to prove. From a coach's standpoint, that's a good thing; you have a guy in here that he's trying to prove he's a top-notch player; which I believe he is."
Is this typical of him?"Absolutely, he is one of the first guys on our team who will make himself accountable for things that didn't go well. The flipside of that is that the upside this year should be tremendous."
Do you regret at all letting him box last year?"No, the kid made $100,000 for ten minutes. I wish I'd have done it myself (laughing)."
As you begin your third year, has the demand for your time outside of football increased or decreased and how do you handle that?"The question is a tough one. I love my job as the head coach of Notre Dame, and I understand that there is a certain notoriety that comes with that position. But you really have to try as best you can to see if whatever time you have available between being the head coach of Notre Dame, and doing stuff with your family, and obviously in my case charity work and try to peacefully try to get them to coexist. The problem with that is you have to say no to an awful lot of things that the people think the reason why you are saying no is the wrong reason. In reality, there are only so many windows of opportunity for you to do something and, when you are trying to spread them between being the head coach at Notre Dame and your family and our own charity, you spread yourself a little thin. My wife has done a lot better job this year of making my charity responsibilities fewer than we have done in the past; bigger ones, but fewer ones, so that you don't spread yourself too thin."
Are you where you want to be in this phase of training camp?"I'm caught up to Sunday night. I finished that this morning. Now those practices have to play out first. We have practice today; we have a couple tomorrow; and we have one on Saturday; and we have one on Sunday. Personally, I'm done with scripts and what I have to do to that point. Usually, I'm one or two days ahead of the coaches because I need to do my work before they do their work. Tomorrow will be the first time that I can sit down after I watch today's practice again and start watching Georgia Tech which I really haven't spent a whole heck of a lot of time on in the last couple weeks because it has been more about us than about them."
Are you crystallizing in your mind who the starters are going to be?"I'm pretty close; I've met with the offensive staff and defensive staff, and I'm pretty close. But things can change in a couple of practices. Somebody could come on like gangbusters or someone who is playing could have a couple of real bad days and you could have some reservations. The answer to your question is yes, I'm pretty close in most cases."
Earlier you said you were pleased with the defense. Can you say the same about the progress of the offense?"I can't say that I'm surprised. Let's just say I'm pleased where we are right now. I wouldn't say in either case I'm doing cartwheels. I am pleased where we are right now. That's the best I can say."