Fresh off a home victory over Notre Dame's most significant rival on Saturday, the head coach of the Fighting Irish football team took to the podium on Tuesday to field questions prior to facing the Air Force Academy. Fans of thouroughly unspecific coach-speak will find lots to love in Kelly's 40+ minutes with the media this week. Fans of inebriation would love a drinking game based on the number of times Kelly talks about competing, attention to detail, and assignment football.
Let's take a few minute and dive in to some of the key issues discussed in the press conference.
No one position on any football team gets as much scrutiny as the guy under (or a few yards behind) center. Kelly's press conference covered the position from several separate angles. Regarding Tommy Rees, Kelly was estatic to report that Rees was cleared to practice Tuesday. With being cleared so early in the week, Kelly is confident Rees will be good to go vs. the Falcons in Colorado this weekend. They'll monitor his neck soreness closely, and get the other QB's additional reps, but It is pretty safe to assume Rees will start.
Speaking of the other QB's, Kelly was clear that he expects Andrew Hendrix to play better than he demonstrated in the 2nd half vs. USC.
But looking good in practice and playing in the games, obviously, are two different things and I think what Andrew has to do he's got to take that practice now and he's got to take that into games. And hopefully he'll use the experience that he had against USC and he'll take that as a learning experience and translate what he does in practice now into games. He knows what it looks like. Now it's incumbent upon him as a competitor and he's a competitor. And he wants to succeed. Now he's going to have to take what he does in practice and he's going to have to carry that into games.
When one reporter began to imply, as many here in the OFD comments have, that Hendrix may not have the mental makeup to be successful in the game, Kelly was quick to declare that the "sample size" wasn't enough to draw conclusions yet.
Hendrix will take some percentage of the number one reps this week, and Malik Zaire will be prepared. There was no indication that Zaire is ready to jump in to the number two role.
Kelly was also asked about the missing QB. Everett Golson is in contact with his coaches weekly, and one of the graduate assistants several times a week. He's keeping up on game plans, and Kelly characterized him as "working hard" in a "very structured environment."
Kelly's testy side came out when a particularly challenging line of questioning came down regarding Notre Dame's offensive performance vs. the success Kelly had at previous stops. Put in a bit of a defensive posture, Kelly does his best to avoid saying he's had crummy QB's, but watch the video or read the transcript to watch an exercise in saying it without really saying it.
Kelly talked a lot about the emergence of the Irish defense in the last few weeks. There are a number of good topics in there. First, he was quick to praise Stephon Tuitt's emergence as a dominant force. In talking about the improved pass rush, Kelly pointed out that in the last two contests, the Irish have faced more traditional drop back passing vs. the quick hitting offensive systems in the first few weeks of the season. This additional time is finally letting the pressure get home.
Louis Nix III was, of course, also a topic of discussion. The staff sent several plays to the officials following the USC game. Apparently there was evidence of LN3 being targeted in several plays versus the Trojans. Kelly also talked about option teams not being Big Lou's "cup of tea." With the amount of cut blocking by smaller linemen, expect Nix to see a much lighter load vs. the Falcons. Given how valuable Nix is to the Irish defense, risking his legs vs. the academies sounds like something Kelly is going to be extremely cautious with.
Kelly was quick to praise the character of two of his linebackers. First, he talked about the contributions of Danny Spond. Acting as a translator and communicator for the linebacking corps, Kelly heaped praise on Spond. He's playing a big role on this team, and I think it is right to give Spond's leadership and presence some degree of credit for the rapid maturation of Jaylon Smith into an absolute beast at the Dog position. Kelly also talks about Joe Schmidt earning a scholarship. While you wouldn't think of your head coach talking about your need to get faster and stronger as high praise, Kelly is quick to say that Schmidt is a guy he can trust to make smart plays and not get beat in the game.
Overall, it is another interesting 40 minutes with the head guy in charge, so what do you think?