It's game week people. Camp is done, the offseason is done, and 2012 is fully behind us. Irish Head Coach Brian Kelly met with members of the media on Tuesday to discuss his team and the matchup with the Temple Owls (UND.com transcript link here). Looking very business like in his blue blazer and pink tie, Coach Kelly opened with a brief statement. Emphasizing how excited he is to, "get back on the field after a loss" as the "best recipe" for his team, Kelly went on to discuss the Owl's, characterizing them as a side that was difficult to pin down for tendencies and operation. With Coach Matt Rhule taking the helm in Philly, Kelly's staff studied a lot of Eastern Michigan tape to try to get a feel for defensive coordinator Phil Snow's tendencies.
Coach Kelly explained how this opener was one in which his team faces an opponent with "nothing to lose" and very little film precedent to work with. For this reason, he's ensuring his team is ready to make in-game adjustments in their home opener. Kelly's expectations for his Irish squad are to play a clean and efficient game, demonstrate high effort and energy, and turn special teams in to big plays. Speaking like a guy facing a 30 point underdog, Coach Kelly channeled his inner Lou Holtz and made sure everyone knew his team would have to play well to win and would look for a good start on Saturday.
After a bit of an awkward pause, he fielded a series of questions from the media. Here are a few highlights:
Regarding the Pistol Formation:
- He used it in his first year at ND but very sparingly.
- Coach Ault was on campus for the clinic this year and his staff spent a lot of time with him.
- ND will not be a full pistol team. "We're still a shotgun team," however, the offset formation limits some of the running and protection options for the back.
- He sees the pistol as a way to help with protection, force the backers to play downhill, and get guys like GA3 running downhill from the start.
- There's no real difference for the QB being 4 yards deep vs. 5. Tommy is catching the ball well at that depth, so there isn't much change in that department.
Regarding Punt Returns:
- After mentioning it in his opening statement, he took a few long questions on PR.
- Someone should have consulted Eric's analysis. The team took an in depth look and found that during the Purdue game, as an example, ND had the "safe" punt formation on for 7 punts. Purdue punted four times from over the 50 yard line. Coach Kelly hopes to see ND in more field position situations that allow him to get the return team on the field.
- TJ Jones is fired up to be the returner. Coach Kelly says he has seen a sharp uptick in the energy level of the overall return team and their desire to block for a senior captain that wants to be back there and has "the want, desire, and belief" that he can be really good.
- Kelly and his staff, "know more about Eastern Michigan's defense than anyone else."
- Temple presents a lot of unknowns with a new QB and OC.
- With so many variables in any opener, add a new staff and coach, and you just have to emphasize your own game plan and be ready to adjust on the fly.
- Kelly mentioned several times that he wants to get freshmen who are likely to see the field live-fire on special teams first to get them acclimated to the game. If you want a preview of which freshmen are going to see significant snaps, watch the ST units.
- RB may be the exception to that rule. While many guys could contribute from week 1, the RB position needs until week 6 to "impact a game." Defensive guys, however, can go from the start.
- Kelly and the staff sit down with the freshmen and get aligned on who will or won't burn eligibility so that everyone is on the same page.
- He watches to see if the freshman group hits the wall and loses their desire to get better. This one hasn't. They're adjusting well, very prepared, and "in it for the long haul."
- This freshman class has shown a great "willingness to get in line" that has extended all the way from the start of the recruiting process. They have a great respect for the game and teammates, they don't participate in trash talking, and they don't have a sense of a "class system." It is a very unique, humble group.
- With 3 EE's on the 2 deep, expect Elmer, Onwualu, and Robinson to get a lot of snaps.
- Max Redfield has made great progress, but isn't in the safety rotation right now. He will play ST saturday and has high expectations as we move through the season.
- Asked what makes Jaylon Smith ready to start on day 1, vs. Kelly's opinion on Te'o not being ready on his first game, Kelly was quick to point out the differences in the positions create an unfair comparison. Kelly did go on to heap praise on Smith, saying he "doesn't make the same mistake twice."
Other Depth Issues:
- Not planning on playing any more guys specifically because of the forecast (95 degrees and 40% chance of storms), but a lot of guys are going to play.
- Will Mahone is out, as is Springman, who had a successful surgery.
- If you were to ask today, Stanley is the starting LT, but it is a fluid situation. Elmer could start. Both will play.
- Collinsworth and Shumate are 1 and 1A, and will be situationally determined. He views the safeties as 3-for-2 with Hardy for the 4th and a "balanced rotation."
- Asked who jumped out since the start of camp, Kelly singled out Nick Martin and his ability to hold his own against Irish Chocolate in practice. He also named Knoa Schwenke as someone who is a different player and will make an impact.
- Asked if this was a "running back audition" this weekend, Kelly retorted, "Every week is an audition." He knows for certain that all 5 won't get 20 touches in their first game, but several will get carries, and we'll see all 5 at some point in the season. Each guy must make the best of the opportunity he's given.
- Asked what GA3 did to hold on to the #1 spot, Kelly was quick to come back with "Experience." GA3 has shown it on the field and hasn't lost a thing. Kelly finds him to be, "Better. Stronger. Great Teammate," but emphasized he must perform. If he fumbles, misses assignments or picks the wrong holes, he "will be standing next to me." Perhaps BK and Larz have been talking in the OFD film room.
Other Odds and Ends:
- Asked if there was a total analysis of the program's practices upon Kelly's arrival, he was quick to emphasize that some things will never change - like having a pre-game mass. The schedule for home game weekends has been tweaked to bring it more in line with away games. Kelly mostly wants to ensure he's "Working to give our student-athletes the best possible schedule leading up to kick-off. Give them the best opportunity to be successful."
- Kelly believes, "Tommy Rees will help us score more points." He also pointed to the balance and depth at WR and RB as key reasons for his confidence the Irish will put up more points this season. He also showed a clear confidence in his teams ability to "push the ball over your head," something he felt last year's team struggled with.
- Having a #1 QB settled early made this camp a bit easier on Kelly and the staff. They were able to focus on the QB communicating with the WR's, and movement in the pocket. The time others have to spend on evaluating who their #1 is, can be spent on teaching when it is already determined.
- Asked if it was important that all 3 QB's get snaps in this game, Kelly was quick to say that, "Any time you can get your 2nd and 3rd QB snaps outside injuries is a good thing." However, he also pointed out that he wants to see a solid game and great opener from Tommy Rees from start to finish. Based on this response, don't expect to see anyone else taking many snaps on Saturday.
- Chris Brown was singled out as someone who "needs to show more consistency" in his play. He's given the staff a lot of "Wow!" moments but has mixed in too many "What was that?!?" ones with them. He's done a good job getting himself physically ready, but needs better consistency day in and day out.
- Vetrans looking ahead to Michigan has been a key concern for Kelly and his staff and they've been talking about it every day. They're focused on this game vs. Temple, and the coaches will drive that home every day. "We're not that far removed from South Florida," was a telling comment.
Overall, Brian Kelly sounded all the right notes in his first Tuesday press conference. People looking to see a bunch of QB's on Saturday will likely be disappointed, but the man at the helm seemed rightfully confident and excited to get his guys on the field.
The 2 deep was also released to the press. Here's what we've got...
You've got to love how ND's SID uses a very liberal interpretation of two deep. I think the inclusion of 3 TE's indicates a continued reliance on 2TE sets, and while I'd love to apply that same thinking to 4 RB's, I'll believe it when I see it.
Luke Massa at holder opens up some nice fake possibilities for the former QB.
OK, we're here people. It is only a few short days away. What say you? Is this team ready to roll? Do you share Coach Kelly's enthusiasm and optimism?