Coach Kelly met with the media following this morning’s practice and opened with the following statement:
“Well, today we had a two-hour practice; one of our longest practices of the spring. We need to get a lot of work in. We got some situational scrimmages in that we won’t necessarily have in the spring game. We got all of our quarterbacks first team reps today as we continue through the evaluation process. Today was a big day. We have a long way to go. A two-hour practice for our guys is not something we do a lot. We lost a little bit of our focus and energy, so it was a good teaching moment for us because we want to be a championship football team, and you’ve got to be able to go 24 periods, locked in, focused. That kind of waned in the back end of our practice structure today. Good learning experience for our guys today, but we got a lot of situational work in as well.”
What did you see from the quarterbacks with the first unit?
“They all have different skill sets. Dayne (Crist), when he goes in there, really knows the offense probably as well as anybody. He makes good decisions. Tommy (Rees) is efficient. I think we all know about Tommy. Once you think about him getting beat out, he has a day like today and it says he wins. He is 4-0 as a starter. Then the two young guys are exciting to watch. (Everett) Golson got some first team reps today and made some plays. I’m not sure he knows what he is doing all the time, but I’m not going to over-coach him either because he has a natural gift of making plays. (Andrew) Hendrix continues to move forward. The spring game is going to be fun for me because Dayne and Tommy won’t get a lot of work. It’s going to be Golson versus Hendrix really, relative to the offense. They are going to do everything. They will be live. They will run the ball. They will throw the ball. We will get a really good feel for both of those guys because we know the other two guys can win football games, Crist and Rees.”
The way the defense finished last year, did that alter your approach on the defensive side this spring?
“No, I don’t know if that had an impact on what we are doing. In year two, it’s more of understanding your personnel. They understand the defense now and now they can work on their skills, unit consistency, really figuring out the back end with Zeke (Motta) and (Jamoris) Slaughter being injury free, and really Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson, getting them a lot of work. So really, it’s been more about individuals more so than just team.”
Going back to the quarterbacks, after Saturday will you be able to name the starter and the order of backups?
“No, we won’t say, you are one, you are two, you are three, you are four. We’ll tell them, these are the things, and our expectations, and you guys are in seven-on-seven and we’ll have a clear sheet of things we think they need to work on. There’s no way we would leave the spring game, unless something dramatic would happen, where we would say we have found our starter.”
You wanted to have that pecking order determined. Are you behind schedule?
“No, I just think we need as much practice time as possible. I’m pleased with the progress they have all made. We want to win a championship. This is really about getting the quarterbacks in a position to win a championship.”
What is the format for the game on Saturday?
“I’m going to slow it down a little bit. We will huddle. That’s when 11 guys get together on the offensive side and relive the last play (laughing). So we will slow it down a little bit, but it will be a traditional game in the first half. We’ll go in at halftime and come out for the second half and I’ll be mic’d so it should be interesting on Versus. You might want to Tivo it. We will have the quarterbacks on a headset and they will talk a little bit. So we will make it an interesting game, but the first half will be most game-like and the second half, the clock will run. I think the piece you will look for will be the two quarterbacks battling. They will get a lot of the work.”
Can you talk about Chris Watt and Daniel Smith injuries?
“I don’t think they’ll play. Smith has made good progress the last two days. We really need to push him and he needs to push himself too. So it’s a little bit of both. He is making good progress.”
How about Manti Te’o?
“Oh, we’re not going to play him. He could’ve went today. He got mad at me today because we were going live, and I pulled him out. He said, ‘Hey, coach, we’ve got to go no tackle so I can be in there.’ He’s ready to play. We’re just not, obviously, going to put him in there.”
Do you like the idea of the game being broadcast on TV?
“I think it’s great. Knowing what the weather is going to be like, 70 degrees and sunny (laughing), you’re going to have a tough choice whether to watch it at home or come to the stadium.”
How are you dividing the teams for the game?
“I’m trying to balance them off. This is how they will go - the offensive line will wear green jerseys. They will be one unit themselves. That unit will be one unit the whole time. Then blue/gold and that split has been to balance the teams the best we can.”
Are you going to take it a little bit easy with the running backs?
“Taking it easy would not be something that I would do with anybody, but I would be smart with them. Cierre Wood is not going to get a lot of carries. I’ve got a good feel for what he can do. Jonas (Gray) is not going to get a lot. A lot of young guys and the quarterbacks are going to run a lot. The quarterbacks will probably be the biggest end of the running game. They will run the ball quite a bit.”
Obviously, this is a big recruiting weekend. How do you balance the two?
“It’s what we do 365 days a year. It’s called balance, with developing and preparing your football team at the same time always looking toward your future. Don’t mortgage your future, don’t live in the past, stay in the present. But the reality of BCS football, you’ve got to balance all of those things.”
How special is the spring game compared to an unofficial visit?
“There’s a lot more going on, on campus. A lot of our sports teams will be playing. The atmosphere will be much different. It’s definitely a boost when you get those kids on campus.”
With the evaluations you have done, do you see any position changes going forward?
“Yes, subtly though, within units you may see someone move from a guard to a tackle or a receiver move from inside to outside. You won’t see any changing positions. The next move you will see is when we bring in the freshmen. We will try to see where they can possibly help us right away.”
Are you considering wearing that mic for the Michigan or USC game?
“Absolutely not (laughing).”
How big has the spring game gotten down through the years?
“I think it’s a spring event now on the calendar. As it relates to the 15 practices for me, it’s not that big. As it relates to coming back on campus as an alum and getting a feel for getting back into that stadium, it’s an event in the spring. And I think it should be.”
What have you seen from Kyle Brindza so far?
“Strong leg and operation time down considerably. His operation time early on was not sufficient for him to be out there kicking. He’s done a great job on his operations and has a strong leg; just development. (Nick) Tausch and (David) Ruffer and Brindze, you don’t necessarily want three kickers on scholarship but we have three really good ones.”
Are your guys in or out of Bookstore Basketball this year?
What is your thinking about this?
“We are not in a position right now where we cannot be 100 percent focused on academics and football. We will be back in. Listen, one of the reasons I came to Notre Dame is community and campus life. It’s awesome. I want to get back into doing those things. We’re just not there yet as a business plan. Once we get ourselves acclimated to what we do and how we do it, relative to a routine, I’m sure we’ll see that again.”
Can you talk about the concept of having quarterback competition versus having a set quarterback?
“If I had Andrew Luck standing in front of you, I’d be very happy right now (laughing). For me, I don’t think I have a preconceived notion. I kind of deal with it. In dealing with it is, we have four guys who need a lot of work and need to continue to develop. I’ve been on the other side of this where we’ve had a quarterback who is clearly number one. It allows you to do a number of different things as well. I can adapt to whatever the situation is.”
Was TJ Jones slowed a little bit today?
“A little bit, he will play. It’s football, he has a little bit of an ankle. He’s a gamer and when it’s time to play, I don’t think you’ll see him limping.”
Tyler Eifert was working some with the receivers today. Is this new?
“We are doing some one-on-one stuff in the red zone with him and match-ups. We are doing some drills where he has to go high point for the ball, which he wouldn’t normally do with Coach Dembrock. It’s just trying to get him versatility at that position.”
Do you want to see a winner between Dayne and Tommy, and Everett and Andrew? Then would you pair them up and play two quarterbacks?
“We are preparing four packages for four guys right now because I have to prepare for the worst case scenario, I’m not going to get left holding it like we were last year where we didn’t have guys that could really run our offense. I’m like every other football coach, I would like to have one guy and he’s our guy. I don’t think that’s going to be the case so we have to prepare for all those scenarios and that’s really the way we’ve gone through spring. As it gets better, it gets easier. In other words, as it kind of starts to pare itself down and it’s two or it’s this guy and that guy, it’s easier. I would rather make it tough on us right now in the spring and make it easier as we move closer to the season.”
Do you want one guy like Dayne to be the passing guy and other guys…….?
“No, I want them to be who they are and make them the best player they are. Last year, we really had to force the system on the personnel. We don’t have to do that this year. We are taking our system and tweaking it towards the strengths and weaknesses of the four quarterbacks.”
Any incentive for the winning team?
“We talked about that and we are going to have a decision on Thursday.”
Can you tell us what the shirt looks like? Are you going to spill the beans again (laughing)?
“I already learned my lesson on the throwback stuff (laughing). I was given double-secret probation on the throwback stuff (laughing). It is a guarded secret, and I do know what the shirt looks like and I will tell you this, you’re going to like it (laughing).”