Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly met with the media on Tuesday as his team prepares to kick off the 2017 season at home against the Temple Owls.
Brian Kelly Opening Statement: “I can tell you that from my perspective, it's exciting to start to talk about playing a game. It's been a long time coming for all of us to begin this season. The preparation, the work, all the things that go into starting a season are now right in front of us. A lot of excitement.
I know everybody has a similar press conference and stands in front of the media and the group and talks about how excited they are. But our team is ready to play. I don't know that I've had many press conferences where I said, ‘Give me the team right now, we'd like to play today.’ We're ready to play with a few more practice days in front of us.
We know about Temple. A program that's won 10 games over the last two years, averaged 10 wins. They've got a core of winners. Coach [Geoff] Collins takes over a very successful program, comes from a winning background, has played winning football, great defensive coordinator at Florida. So he continues to bring that kind of mindset to that Temple program.
I think from a perspective of looking at Temple and how we will look at them, how we have prepared against them, not certain about the quarterback situation, but we really can't worry about that. We have to be able to do what we do in an opener, and that is run our defense, execute what we do.
They could run as many as three different, four different quarterbacks. You just have to be prepared for football from zone read to the different types of offensive sets. So we're prepared for whatever happens at the quarterback position.
What they do have is production at the wide receiver position. So the expectation is to get the ball out quickly, get it to some skilled receivers, let them make some plays.
[Ryquell] Armstead is a very gifted back, as well. Looking at how to defend Temple, obviously for us we've got to do what we do, and that is be fundamentally sound defensively and be good tacklers in an opener.
This is my 26th opener. It comes down to playing fundamentally sound defense, tackling well right out of the gates. If you do that, you put yourself in a good position against any scheme that you play.
Defensively they had a lot of really big play-makers on the football team last year that was very disruptive and productive defensively. A big turnover there, but they do have some outstanding players in the back end of their defense.
Then, you know, a head coach who has that defensive pedigree. I'm sure they'll bring a confidence and a toughness to their defense that we'll certainly have to match.
All in all, a Temple football team that has a confidence of winning, and certainly from our standpoint what we have to do certainly in our opener is rely on our training and what we've been working on over the last eight months. Those things that were not part of our process are now part of it, and we'll display that on Saturday.
Again, like I said, we've got a few more days of practice, and we will practice and continue to work on some of the things that need to be cleaned up. But this football team's ready to play. I'm excited about our preparation, our total preparation in all areas, and excited to play.
So with that, I'll open it up to the questions that you might have about Notre Dame-Temple.”
Q: Anything new on Alohi Gilman?
Kelly: “Alohi Gilman was denied by the NCAA his request for a waiver to the initial transfer eligibility. We are still in the process of deciding whether to appeal that or not. We haven't made a final decision on that.”
Q: And if you do, do you have any sense of what the timetable for something like that would be?
Kelly: “Yeah, I've been in that process before. It is a committee that is made up of athletic directors and commissioners. It takes the information quite well in a sense that it looks at all mitigating factors in it, whereas your initial, it's pretty cut and dry relatively.
We obviously feel as though we've got some information that we would like the NCAA to see. I don't make that decision. Our athletic director and senior associate would make that final decision. But I think we have some information that we probably would like to share.”
Q: Then Alizé Mack, 100%?
Kelly: “Yeah, he's been 100%. I think he's looked really good and has been very active.”
Q: The two freshmen [defensive tackles Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa], I know you've been impressed with them in the interior defensive line. Can you expand a little bit on their development, their progress, what's been able to get them to push into the two deeps?
Kelly: “Well, let's all keep it in perspective, too. I mean, we're not talking about 50 plays here. We're talking about a role that we believe that they can fulfill for us, and they have handled it because they have the physical ability to go in there and compete. They're strong. They possess the mental capability to handle what we're throwing at them in terms of picking up the coaching techniques.
I think, quite frankly, we're not asking them to play 40, 50 plays. These are small roles that we're going to ask them to play, and we think that they can handle that type of role that we're prescribing for them.”
Q: Julian Love seems like a guy that every time we have a media window, seems like he's getting better. Maybe he's just good for us. What do you feel the key to his versatility, his progress, being a guy that's probably one of your better players going into your opener?
Kelly: “Well, it's an interesting observation in that sometimes we just look at what they do on the field and their production on the field.
He has been so productive in the weight room, as well. We did some speed squats yesterday, which is a real indicator of where you are in terms of neuromuscular firing. In other words, a lot of you people understand what I'm talking about, but it's the ability to fire quickly. Stick your foot in the ground after 25 practices, you tend to slow down a little bit. He's increased by about 22% in that area.
Here is somebody that has been getting a lot of work, a lot of reps. His GPS has been at a high rate, in other words his player load in practice, but yet continues to increase in the weight room.
So we're hitting a young man who's just physically continuing to develop, and that is also translating into his play. So we're just getting a young man who's physically growing, maturing, and he's already had those character traits to play at such a young age. We're just really blessed that we've got a young man that has it all together right now.”
Q: Relating that to what they do, the fact you have a first-year starting quarterback, do you feel the test you're going to get this week, looking at the next month of really good defenses, do you feel something like that early on is good for a young quarterback, trial by fire? I think everybody would like to break a guy in if you can. Is that good for a kid?
Kelly: “Yeah, I think as it relates to Brandon, there's going to be some things in each and every game that he's going to have to go through and fight through, a little bit of adversity each and every week. But he's got such a great mindset. He's going to be able to handle things quite well. He does a good job of putting something aside and moving on. He doesn't dwell on a mistake and let it affect the next play, because he's going to have that happen to him.
I'd be more concerned if this was a young man that let mistakes in camp eat at him. He's made some mistakes in camp, but he can put them behind him and move to the next play, because he's going to have that in the first couple of weeks of. I'm okay with that.
I'd like to get tested in some fashion. I hope Temple doesn't test us. I think they will. I think the quarterback's demeanor and his makeup is such that whatever he gets in front of him, he's going to be able to park it and move on to the next.”
Q: Defensively speaking, if you had to prioritize maybe three areas that you really need to see improvement on in that unit, how would you answer that?
Kelly: “Three areas (smiling)?”
Q: More statistically.
Kelly: “We weren't very good overall defensively in a number of areas. But, look, I mean, to play great defense, the basic tenets are not going to change, right? You got to be great against the run. I mean, there's nobody in here that follows football that would say, You're going to be a defense that's successful if you can't stop the run. We can't give up the big plays that we gave up last year against the run. We've got to get the ball down and we've got to get it down by the line of scrimmage, not on the other end of the field.
Downing the football, playing really good run defense, it starts there. Then I think how we support the football, how we run support. That's so important that in itself. So that to me is number one. Solid run support, getting the football down, that run defense is component number one.
Component number two for us is in the back end of our defense not giving up those big plays down the field. We gave up too many of them early in the season and it put us behind. We got better later, but early it became an issue, and we lost football games.
Then the third, ball disruptions. We have to be able to take away the football.
I think all three of those areas have been areas that we've seen growth in our football team. It's what we have really drilled in our football team defensively to get better in those three years.”
Q: All those are areas that Mike Elko has been very good in. What kind of influence has he been at the core of what you're seeing in these improvements?
Kelly: “If you just came to our practice, you would see those three things being drilled ad nauseam. You'd look at the defensive practice field, and you'd see guys mirroring the off hand of the quarterback, working on stripping the football, run support lanes, tackling, run fits. All of the things that I just mentioned, you can talk about them, they sound great, they're great sound bites, but you better do something every single day to develop that.
What Mike does, he drills that every single day and builds that within the practice schedules. I've even had to adjust our practice schedules to make certain that we get that time in the schedule so he can drill that to the point where he feels comfortable that we're getting to that fundamental kind of football.”
Q: If I'm not mistaken, have you three guys, Michael Young, Brock Wright and Jeff Riney that are in that hurricane Harvey area. Have you had feedback from those guys?
Kelly: “Yeah, each one of them has been concerned, have touched base with family members. All of them are okay. They all have different stories about friends or relatives or past homes that they've been in.
All three of them, thank you for asking, are fine, and their families are fine.”
Q: The running back rotation, maybe better depth there than you've had a couple seasons. How do you see that playing out on Saturday? More of a hot hand approach? Do you see Josh [Adams] as a couple steps ahead of Dexter [Williams] and Tony [Jones, Jr.] there?
Kelly: “You know, all three of them I think are -- I don't know how to put it in grading terminology. But they all have futures to play past this level. They're that kind of player.
So when you have three outstanding backs, they all have to fit in what you're doing in some fashion. I think each one of them has a little bit of a different style. So answer question one would be, definitely play a guy that has a hot hand, but you have two other guys that if they're fresh, we're not going to run a guy where he's not at 100%.
So I think you're going to see more of a rotational basis with the three of them. And it will start with Josh Adams at the top of the list. Whether he's two ahead or a little bit ahead, I mean, I think they're all really, really fine backs, and all of them will be contributing to our success in some fashion.”
Q: Game plan basis?
Kelly: “Yeah. But it would surprise me if all three of them weren't actively involved in the game. As you know, we're going to play more than one back. I mean, they're all going to be actively involved in the game plan.”
Q: On defense, last year at the beginning of the year you wanted to play more guys, end of the year you sort of did. Do you pick up where you left off in terms of getting Te'von [Coney], maybe Troy Pride, [Andrew] Trumbetti, guys right there where you sort of see more of a rotation than 11 guys playing 85 snaps?
Kelly: “Yeah, 11 guys playing 85 snaps is not the kind of defense that we're about. I'll give you an example of a Trumbetti. Can play either end position for us, so right away he's a guy that comes to mind as somebody that's going to be sharing both sides of that. Te'von Coney obviously with Greer [Martini] immediately. I think we can talk about more than two corners being on the field. We mentioned the two freshmen are going to have to play a role in the defensive line rotation.
Just right there, you're talking about 15, 16 defensive players immediately having to be in a rotation.”
Q: Coaching staff position on game day, you have two guys up top, the rest are down. Might be less of a split than maybe it's been in the past.
Kelly: “Yeah, it is.”
Q: Talk about why that's a good fit with you.
Kelly: “I sit down with the coordinators. We clearly go over what communication system do we like, who our signalers are, what forms of communication do we want on the sideline with the players.
We kind of just start with that and begin with, do the coordinators want to be watching the game from the box, whether I have a strong feeling in that, or do you want to be on the sideline. Then we kind of go to work on who we believe -- where the assets are, how they best fit, then we kind of put it together from there.”
Q: With Chip [Long] calling plays, what is the advantage of being down there as opposed to up top? A lot of guys are up top.
Kelly: “I think he wants to get a feel and a comfort level. That's where he's going to start. He'll start the first game on the sideline and see how that rolls. I think he just wants to get a real good feel of the game itself and all of our personnel and our communication.
It could change. But that's where we'll start it.”
Q: With a lot of new staff members, assistant coaches, new quarterback, a lot of elements that the stadium are new, what are you most curious about game day on Saturday?
Kelly: “I don't know that I have a curiosity. I don't know that that word really hits my brain as much as I want to see our players really go and play with a sense of 'welcome to my preparation, I have prepared myself for this opportunity, I'm here to dominate the day.' Not play apprehensive, not play with weight on my shoulder, I'm at Notre Dame. Go play, have fun, be excited. You've prepared for this opportunity.
So if maybe we squeeze that word a little bit more in terms of 'curiosity', maybe I'm a bit curious as to whether they'll play like that. I think they will, though. I'm, I guess, more than anything else, as you can see, I'm excited to see them go play more than anything else.”
Q: After last year with some heightened scrutiny coming off a losing season for the first time at Notre Dame, how is the pressure that you feel compared to past years where there's always that inherent pressure of coaching here?
Kelly: “For me, I've always felt like there's an expectation that you have to have being the head coach at Notre Dame. It's God, country and Notre Dame. That's a pretty high bar. You should live up to that bar. I didn't live up to that bar, so I think as the head coach at Notre Dame, every year is the same way: you've got to live up to that high bar, and this year is no different.
We come into this year, our mission is to win the national championship. That's a pretty high bar. So I think you feel that every single year.”
Q: What do you think is the toughest part about preparing for and then executing in an opener?
Kelly: “Well, kind of some of the things that we talked about, right? The uncertainty of a new coach, the uncertainty of what you're going to see. But then you have to kind of just say, Whoa, how about we just worry about what we're going to do. That should really be where your focus is. Not worry about it, but let's just go play. Kind of like what I was just talking about. Let's just go play with a mindset of, Let's go out and exhibit our traits and do the things that we've been trained to do, play with that competitive mindset, really don't worry about it.
If you worry about all those things, then the opener becomes one of these openers where you're trying to make adjustments to everything, then you become 'analysis, there's too much paralysis'. I think that's what we're trying to avoid.”
Q: Aside from the physical preparation of your team, which you talked a lot about in camp, is there one element of this team that you feel best about?
Kelly: “I think the mental preparation of our football team has been something that I've taken quite a bit of time to help develop. Total preparation for me is certainly the physical, the technical, the tactical has got to be part of that. But the mental is absolutely crucial. I think this football team is as prepared as any team that I have coached from a mental perspective.
That's something that will continue to grow, but I've taken a great amount of time to really spend time, and our coaches have done a terrific job of really following my lead of working with our football team from that mental performance standpoint and how effective that can be to helping them reach their potential.”
Q: We'll talk to the players, no doubt they're excited for Saturday. Where is your level of enthusiasm for this weekend?
Kelly: “As I said earlier, I can't wait to watch our guys in a sense of their preparation and just performing and competing, right? Taking all this teaching and preparation, then pushing 'play', letting it go. I just can't wait for that.
I mean, the days are just going too slow for me. If we could get Temple here a little bit earlier, it would be fine with me. They're a fine football team, but I'm just excited about watching our team play.”
Q: What are some of the characteristics in Brandon that make you believe he's ready for his first start here?
Kelly: “I think really where it starts for most quarterbacks that I have coached is their ability to move through a poor play and get to the next play, let it go and move on to the next play, not let it affect the next one.
He has the great ability to show, and I know you hear this quite a bit now, it's chronicled everywhere, but he has a passion for the game and he's got perseverance. I think Angela Duckworth called that in her book 'grit'.
He's got grit. He's got such a passion for what he does, and because he loves what he does, he doesn't get down. If he makes a mistake, he fights through it and he gets to the next play.
That's a great quality to have in anything that we do in life. I mean, I'd like to be better at it, too. But he does it at the quarterback position, which is a really fine trait to have for a young player.”
Q. Last year offensively you had the oddity of driving right down the field and scoring opening touchdowns with your script to start about nine of the 12 games, but there would be a drought thereafter. Did you and your staff research how to mitigate those droughts, what might have caused it? Is that something that can happen?
Kelly: “I don't remember anything about last year. That's somewhere else.
I know what we're doing this year. We're going to extend those drives to the second drive and the third drive, the fourth and the fifth and the sixth.”
Q: Is it a script situation? You've been successful in the past.
Kelly: “Play calling is an art and a science, right? There's a combination of both. You can script plays, right? You still have to execute them. Then, if you run out of the script, maybe there's a little bit of the art to it, as well. Play calling is a combination of both.
I don't know how to answer the question other than we didn't do a good enough job if that was the case. Like I said, that was last year. This year is this year. We plan on scoring more.”