What are your impressions of the two practices so far without pads?"I was more pleased than I was Wednesday because what happens the first day out is that everyone's a little rusty. They ran around real well and the execution was okay, but I would have been concerned on the second day if the natural progression wasn't better the second day than they were the first day, which they were. In matter of fact, about halfway through practice when we stopped the smaller group segments, like seven-on-seven and nine-on-seven and special teams, I made sure before we got to the team segments at the end, which we had a couple of them, I wanted to make sure that we didn't go downward because on Wednesday at the tail end of practice, I would say the execution started to wane a little bit. Today that didn't happen, and that was one of the things I was looking for."
In terms of Jimmy Clausen, what did you learn about him last year?"The two main things besides the off-the-field things, the two main things are, he knows how to read coverages and he's tough. He got beat up pretty good but he knows how to read coverages and you could see that as a quarterback's coach. When you can see that a guy really understands that, ‘Hey, that was cover two; it was weak-side rotation; it was strong-side rotation.' He already knows how to read coverage which gives him a big advantage over a lot of young, more inexperienced quarterbacks. So that on top of that he obviously showed some will power and stamina because he took a whole bunch of hits, those are the things I would say are the knowns, not the unknowns."
How much bigger is the playbook this year for him?"I don't think the playbook is bigger for him. Put it like this, I can now take a play in my mentality and philosophy of offense and dealing with the offensive staff and quarterback; I like to take a play and run it from multiple looks but run the same play. If the quarterback can't handle the multiple looks, then you really have gained no advantage yourself by doing it. Because then all you're doing is confusing your own guy. So now we are at the stage where last year you would take that play and you might run it from one formation and then you're on to the next play. You never got a repetition of plays over and over because you didn't have a form of disguise. Now, because he has a better understanding, he understands that it is just a different way of running the same play. It makes it a lot more simplistic."
Is this spring sort of odd for him because he's the only scholarship quarterback around?"He wanted some reps and he's getting them (laughing). He's a tired puppy today. When he walks in here, you'll see that he got a pretty good workout today. In the middle of practice, I called Ron (Powlus) and Michael (Haywood) with Jimmy, the four of us, and I said, ‘Lookit, your job is to manage the maximum amount of throws that we can take but without a deterioration of wearing you out, especially when we have back-to-back practice days. And the only situation that occurs is when you have Friday-Saturday back-to-backers. Other than that, you practice Monday, and you get a day off on Tuesday, then you practice Wednesday, then you get a day off on Thursday. It really doesn't become a big issue on those days."
He's coming in here tonight to meet with the media and he'll be doing a lot of that again next year. Does this help develop his leadership?"It's good and bad. I think there is good in that too because you have to learn the two positions of Notre Dame football that are most under scrutiny is the head coach and the quarterback. That's just the way it is and I think the more he can handle pressure, the more it will help him develop. You can definitely take it as a pro, and I'm looking forward to his responses this evening (laughing)."
Coach Haywood is coming in here tonight too. How much of cutting the umbilical cord is happening this spring?"These guys have been with me for three years now; we are on the same page. This is a pretty smooth sailing here now. Tomorrow morning I'm making myself available to the offensive staff to go in and I have no agenda. I'm going to go in after our early-morning meeting and say, ‘Okay, do you guys have any questions or thoughts?' And just give my insight on what I feel problem-solving situations are."
Does he have more independence this spring other than just play-calling?"Oh, absolutely, if I didn't have confidence in Michael and the offensive staff, I wouldn't be doing this."
How different is it for you this spring?"It gives me a chance to coach a lot more players instead of just having to worry about the quarterback and the offense. I probably stopped practice more times today to give a coaching point, and I probably gave as many to the defense as the offense. I'm not talking about the scheme of the defense, but there are things that I notice. Even today, I sat in the defensive backs' meeting room. It's funny, Corwin (Brown) is coaching and I'm in the back of the room and he's making fun of his guys because they have a guest visitor in the classroom. It's actually been kind of fun to tell you the truth (laughing). I get to see more. When you don't have to zone in on just one aspect, you can see a bigger picture."
Has it been easier on you than you anticipated?"Actually, it's been kind of fun to tell you the truth; it really has been. It isn't like I don't say anything to the offense. I'll say something to Jimmy; I'll say something to Ron; and I'll say something to the receivers; to the running backs. I'll say something to the offensive line and the tight ends, but I am also getting the opportunity to say something to the defensive line; the linebackers, the DB's; or say something to Corwin; or say something to Jappy (Oliver); or John (Tenuta) about, ‘Hey, this is what a good offense is going to do against you.' It's two days in and early, but it's actually been kind of fun to tell you the truth."
Is that the role you feel you need to play?"I want it to be that way. I want it to work out this way."
Has Jimmy's quarterback IQ been coming along faster than you anticipated?"That I had already recognized last year. Now, there are a lot of other things that he has to catch up on. That was one thing that he already showed that he was capable of doing at a fairly high level for a guy walking in the door. Anytime you have a guy that can read coverages, it gives you an opportunity not to have just progression reads. Now you can count on him reading the rotation and most of the time going in the right spot and then it allows you not to hold the ball and make better decisions. There's a whole chain of events that happens when it all starts with how quick you can recognize coverages."
Are there still things that he kind of surprises you with as far as his potential to be a great quarterback?"We're two days in. It's a bit premature for me to be too critical at this time. All I know is that he is slinging the ball well and is reading coverages well. He's making a few mental mistakes on identifications because he's trying to be too insightful. We have to calm him down a little bit because he's trying to jump about three levels all at one time. We have to make sure he doesn't try to do too much, too fast."
Is his physical development on par with what is upstairs?"I think he has made more development physically than he has mentally. I think he already had a lot mentally. I think his body is going to help him in a lot of facets. It isn't just arm strength and being able to deliver the ball; it's also being able to shrug off guys when you have bodies around you. There was way too many times last year when he would go down too easy. He'd get pulled too easy or knocked off too easy. He's a lot more solid than he was at any time last year."
When you're pushing a quarterback, how do you know if it is too hard or not enough?"The two things I'm pushing hardest on right now; pushing him along mentally development-wise and leadership-wise. I don't think you can force leadership on anyone but the kid has it in him. It's just that a lot of times when you are a younger guy, you are afraid to let it out because you really haven't earned your stripes yet. I think at the quarterback position if you don't show some leadership, you really have a problem as an offense. I talked to him the other day about the big difference between players looking at you and players looking to you. I had a half hour conversation with really just that phrase. When your offensive players are looking at you, they're not looking at you as a leader. They're looking at you as a guy running the plays. When they're looking to you, they're counting on you being the guy. Of all the things that we can talk about the entire spring, if we can get the offensive players to look to him rather than at him, then we've really turned the corner."
How far does the line have to go from last year to where you would say they are good this year and how difficult a climb will that be?"I think we have a big climb to go to be honest to your first question. People sometimes don't understand how important experience is as an offensive lineman. Experience is invaluable as an offensive lineman especially when there is some form of continuity where guys get used to playing the game with each other. The communication becomes better and guys start looking out for each other. These guys understand that we didn't perform very well last year. No one has to tell them that. These guys are very prideful young men. I think with the level of experience these guys gained from last year, just like we talked about with Jimmy, the same thing is true with the offensive line. When you guys have gone through a tough year, the one thing that happens if you get punched in the face; you've got two choices, you can go down or you can punch back. The signs I've seen at this point right now, they prefer to punch back."
Once the team is in full pads, how long will it take you to determine what you have?"I don't know, but today I told them there are just 10 of them because you take the two you just had and the last one before the spring game - that's three - and the spring game itself - that's four - next Friday night when we have the clinic going on we'll be in shoulder pads and knee braces – that's five of them – there's 10 out of the 15 days, not including the spring game where we're going to be able to bang around right there. And I'm going to use every one of them. So the answer to that, it's going to take me 10."
What are your expectations for Gary Gray?"He's in the two-deep and he's pressing for time and he's legitimately pressing for time. You'll see him on the field."
Is Dan Wenger dinged up? I noticed he was wearing a pad on his hand."We're protecting that hand. That's an injury from last year and we could practice without it, but we don't want to do it because he cracked a bone last year and we don't want him to crack a bone in the spring just when he's gotten healthy. He takes it off after practice; he doesn't wear it all the time. There are a couple guys who wear things like that. They don't have a crack so we do it so they don't get a crack during the spring."
Is it going to be a permanent thing?"It will be permanent in the spring, and I might use it some in training camp. But we shouldn't have to go into the season wearing anything like that."