Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly met with the media following Wednesday's 14th spring practice. Various players are scheduled to be available to the media on Friday before spring wraps up with the Irish's 15th practice, also known as the Blue Gold Game. Let's try and Cut Through the Coach Speak...
On the plan for the spring game:
First half we'll have two 12-minute quarters of stop time. Last year we got in about 30-something plays each quarter. That will take up most, probably 65-70 percent of the plays. In the second half we averaged 19 plays per quarter in the second half. What we're going to see in the first half, the quarterbacks will be live in the first half, so Everett and Malik will get a chance to really show themselves and everything within our gameplan and compete. Then we'll run [the clock] in the second half.
The second half is going to be so boring. Getting in 60 to 70 plays in the first half isn't half bad though.
On making the quarterbacks live:
I just think both of them are guys that require that element in their game. We'll have a quick whistle with them and our guys know we're not going to take shots at them. They're in a compromising situation. Both of those guys need to be who they are and that's who they are. They're guys that need to move in the pocket and they make plays with their feet. They both can run the football and we want to be able to run both.
Hmm, interesting. This was expected of course, that the quarterbacks would be live but not really 100% live. That would seem to favor Golson in my mind. If I'm Zaire I wouldn't want to risk injury, but at the same time, I'd want to be able to use my physicality to try and create a separation in the quarterback competition.
On balancing Golson's experience & Zaire's inexperience:
For us, it's been working on what we perceive to be what their weaknesses were, not necessarily game experience because you can't duplicate the game experience. We know what they looked like when they were in the game. For Everett, it's been pocket presence, taking care of the football. We're really evaluating on those things. For Malik, it's accuracy and throwing the football and managing the offense.
Our evaluation has not really been about the game experience because we've seen them both play and we know how they'll react in games. It's been about evaluating based upon those criteria and I will say that Everett's done a great job in the pocket. He's really progressed in the areas we've asked him to. We're really pleased with his spring. He's had a really good spring. As we go into the game, if you look at his numbers last spring, he didn't have a very good spring game, Everett that is. He's had a really good spring and I expect him to have a really good spring game as well.
My spring game preview for tomorrow asks questions about the quarterbacks that mirror Kelly's concerns: Taking care of the ball and pocket presence for Golson plus accuracy and throwing better from Zaire.
Kelly has talked about both quarterbacks in situations like this several times this spring. I don't think there was one time when Golson didn't get the bulk of the compliments. Read into that what you will.
On comparisons to Ohio State's quarterback situation:
I think there are certain areas that I think at the quarterback position, maybe other than Ohio State, I would take our two quarterbacks. I would take our two over Ohio State's, but in terms of depth, I don't know that anybody has a better situation than we do with the two quarterbacks that we have.
I get where Kelly is coming from on this, but come on. We have two quarterbacks, they have three. Their three have been more productive. I'm okay with praising the Irish quarterbacks, though.
On tight end Durham Smythe:
I really like the spring Durham Smythe has had. I think he's really - in my eyes - has kind of picked up where the Notre Dame tight ends need to be when you expect them to step in for the next graduating senior. It's pretty clear that he's going to be an important part of our offense.
[nods approvingly while thinking about the long history of Notre Dame tight end production]
On offensive areas for improvement:
I think from an offensive standpoint, the areas we need to work on is depth at the tackle position, Hunter's got to kind of grow into the left tackle position. Bars and Nelson are both going to play at left guard. Both those guys will play, but everybody else is really solid.
Tackle is in a weird spot right now. A lack of experienced depth is the norm for just about every offensive line in the country. However, I'm hoping to see someone like Hunter Bivin continue to develop because if there is an injury to a starter I'm not sure the plan is just to move Nelson and/or Bars to the edge.
On the growth with the defense:
Defensively, the thing for me that I'm most pleased with is the safety play. Max Redfield is a different player than he was. Elijah. Of course you've got Jaylon. Those three guys in particular really make a huge impact. I like the depth we have with young players on the defensive line. I think we've shown great depth there. James Onwualu has had a great spring.
There's a number of areas. I think that term for me means that we have a number of players that can compete at a high level at that particular position. Where we have to grow is the cornerback position. Nick Watkins has had a good spring. I think he's developed and he needs to continue to grow there. I would say it's a really good spring for Nick. He has a ways to go, but it was a good spring for him.
Let's hope this strong spring from the safeties turns into really good seasons for both Redfield and Shumate. We need it so, so badly.
Onwualu seems like one of those players who many expect will fall into the background eventually but who will nonetheless keep playing well enough that he'll stay on the field.
Growth at corner is definitely important. If Cole Luke were to go down how would they feel about that third corner?
On the receiving corps:
You'd always like to see Corey Robinson needs to continue to grow and develop. He's been out a little bit. I don't think he takes a step back at all. I think Amir's had a good spring. Will's been playing with a broken hand, but he's just got to finish some plays off. I think for some of those guys it's more about the physical development off the field.
Will's got to continue to get stronger so he can dictate his routes instead of being dictated by a more physical defender. I think for a Will Fuller, his work is going to be off the field, not on the field. I think Chris has been fine. Torii Hunter has certainly developed to the level that we've wanted him to. I've got some receivers coming in that are going to push all of them. There's going to be some eyes opened, I think, because I think they're all going to get challenged by the group of receivers we have coming in because they all want to play and I'm not going to hold them back.
Shots fired! Fantastic new freshmen haul of wideouts coming this summer!
But seriously, file this one away as motivation for the current players. I think we can expect a little something out of C.J. Sanders but I just can't see St. Brown, Boykin, or Guyton navigating a wide receiver depth chart that is 8 deep before they step on campus. They'd have to be utterly outstanding during summer workouts and in August camp.
On the health of Schmidt, Jones, & Tranquill:
Both of those guys are already moving at a level that when they come back in June, they'll be ready to condition and we'll get them ready through summer conditioning program, no question. They'll be available for us, we'll have nine OTAs beginning on June 5 and going to June 25. They'll be involved in those as well.
[Tranquill] is moving extremely well. We're just holding him out. If we were playing a game on Saturday, he could play. We just don't need to play him.
It's been a very blessed spring for injuries. The Irish lost Bonner until the summer with turf toe (more on that injury later next week!) but have escaped any long-term roster losses.
On the defense adapting to tempo:
The thing we struggled with was tempo and we worked really hard on that. We've reduced calls and made the communication system easier to get out to our players. We've learned a lot in terms of moving personnel in and out of the game. We got hurt a lot of times on having nickel personnel in the game on third down and when there were conversions on third down, we had nickel in the game and we're running them out and we're getting quick tempoed on that conversion on first down.
We've learned a lot in our defensive substitutions and I think we've cleaned up terminology and I think in some instances we made it easier for our guys and they've adapted quite well. I've challenged them. We've run really fast out of this spring. I think our defense has done a nice job. I would add one other thing to that: We're getting much better communication from the back end of our defense with both Redfield and Shumate as well.
Another compliment to the safety duo!
Nothing intrigues me more on defense this season than how they will make changes to counter the up-tempo offenses for the 2015 season.
On Jaylon Smith:
He'll be in a position where we can choose to put him in a number of situations and you'll have to gameplan against him. Last year at times you could take him out of the game. If you wanted to spread him out and get him out of the box and throw the ball to the other side or quick gain or run the ball away, you could take him out of the game.
Now, because we've cross-trained him, you can't. I think that's going to make a huge difference. He was always part of what was going on because he's such an athlete. Now he's going to be central to everything that happens during the game.
That sounds like someone cross-training at Will from Sam and not vice versa. I'm really curious to see just how different Jaylon is used because I read stuff like this and remember they were doing the exact same thing last year. Remember last off-season when Jaylon was cross-training and they were planning to use him all over the field? Well, they kind of did that last year--while keeping him at Will for the majority of the snaps.
If Jaylon plays a lot more snaps at Sam, teams will do exactly what Kelly says above--spread him out, and throw or run away from him. This smells like they're planning on moving Jaylon to Sam a little more than last year but primarily in a pass rushing role. But then last week Kelly mentioned moving Jaylon over to Sam to add more size against two tight end sets which denotes more of a run-stopping role. Whatever, we'll see how it plays out.
On getting down to 85 scholarships:
All their applications are in, so everybody that has asked to be a fifth year has turned in their applications to our academic-athletic review committee. Those were turned in. We should hear on those guys here pretty soon. You have to be at 85 when you kick off and we'll get to 85 when we kick off. We've got until we kick off against Texas to get to 85. It's a salary cap, right? We'll get to 85.
FYI those players who have turned in their applications include Amir Carlisle, Nick Martin, Chase Hounshell, Jarrett Grace, Joe Schmidt, and Matthias Farley. Quarterback Everett Golson did not turn in an application. Kidding! Golson was one of the seven to apply for a graduate year.
On Kolin Hill's role on defense:
We've played him more as a down player this spring. We want to continue to develop him as somebody that can perhaps rush for us in situations. That's really been his training, more in that position where he can continue to get develop and get bigger and stronger and add some athleticism as an edge player.
He's playing Sam, but when we kick our front over, he's been able to put his hand down too. We're just trying to take advantage of where we can get him on the field and be active.
It sounds like they're struggling to find a role for Hill. He's not the tallest guy and at 230 might not ever get all that much bigger. For comparison, Jaylon is an inch taller and 5 pounds heavier.
On playing a pre-season exhibition game in the fall:
It's interesting you say that because we've actually talked about this as head coaches how it would benefit greatly to have that kind of opportunity, especially if you kept it local. We would certainly be in favor of doing something like that and I think there's a number of coaches. It always gets to, 'All right, what are the finances? What are the TV arrangements?' Those always get in the way of just doing a simple thing and that would benefit going into the season. Certainly the early-season schedule that we play, you can understand how we would be very much in favor of something like that.
I've said this in the past, I'm surprised that college football hasn't evolved yet to involve some sort of pre-season exhibition game. College should take one of the pre-season games from the NFL. We'd all be better off for it.