Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly met with the media after practice on Monday, Aug. 12, for the third time since preseason camp began.
Kelly touched on several pressing matters, including who will fill the void for injured safety Nicky Baratti, the role quarterback Andrew Hendrix will play this season and what his expectations are for tight end Troy Niklas.
On the state of the safeties with Baratti sidelined:
“…Really it’s too early to start slotting anybody. Elijah (Shumate) was running with the first group. There was still flexibility there with (Austin) Collinsworth and I think Nicky was getting some first-team reps.
“But you have three other guys that have done a very good job and I’ll highlight them for you. We’ve already talked about Max Redfield and we know about his ability. But there’s going to be a mental end of it that he’s going to have to continue to progress there. But physically he’s got the ability. He’ll continue to grow. But John Turner has had a very good week for us and Eilar Hardy. Both those guys.
The old coaching cliché, it’s not our job to notice you, it’s your job to make us notice you. We have now noticed Hardy and John Turner. They have put themselves in position along with Collinsworth, Shumate, (Matthias) Farley where we’ve got pretty good depth there.”
On KeiVarae Russell retaining starting cornerback spot:
“KeiVarae is our starter. Lo (Wood) is doing a great job. He’s physically fit, He’s had no ill effects of his injuries. He’s competing hard, but KeiVarae is the starter. Just the confidence in the position. He was a first-time player there last year. He knows the position very well. His technique has improved immensely. He’s stronger physically. A lot more confidence. All those things that come with being a returning starter.”
On the offense’s go-to guy, if there is one:
“It’s TJ Jones. We have a go-to-guy. If I led you to believe that I don’t want Michael Floyd or Tyler Eifert, I don’t mean that. I like the balance in our offense, but I still think we have a dynamic playmaker in TJ Jones. I just think we surround TJ with much more balance. We didn’t surround Tyler, nor Michael with as much balance as TJ is gonna have this year.”
On how Christian Lombard fits in with the offensive line:
“I think what matters is that you put the best five on the field. So as it relates to Christian, he’s gonna have to fit with the best five. It’s not really about him as much as how do we get the best five on the field? What it allows us to do is find out is it Conor Hanratty? Is it Ronnie (Stanley)? Is it Steve Elmer? Who is it that gives us the best five? We’re fortunate that he gives us that flexibility to be able to have this conversation. I think it’s less about, ‘Christian, what do you prefer?’ and more about what gives us the best five. We’re still in that process.”
On the quarterback rankings behind starter Tommy Rees:
“There’s a clear pecking order here, 1-2-3. Andrew (Hendrix) is clearly the No. 2 quarterback and ready to play. I think I made it pretty clear that if I believe Andrew can help in winning football games, I am not a guy that’s going to be hesitant to put him in at any time to help us win. The evaluation is always about for me, can you help us win football games? Andrew can help us win. We’ll see if there’s a time and place necessary for him to come in and help us win games. Right now Tommy is the guy.”
“(Hendrix) does things differently. Obviously he would be a guy that we’d feature in some more runs like we did with Everett Golson. He could still throw it. He could still run the offense. We’re not going to change into an entirely different offense. We certainly would feature some more quarterback inspired runs and reads, which are already within our system. I think you’ve already seen that with him.”
Expectations for tight end Troy Niklas:
“Quite honestly, I know what you mean, 275 at 6-5, 6-6 is wonderful. You have to be skilled in the pass game, catch the football. You have to be really, not dominating, but a really accomplished in-line blocker. I’d say in both those areas, he was okay last year. In other words, his size and physical frame were up here and his accomplishments were (down) here. I want to see his accomplishments meet his size and stature. I think they’re getting there. Just the other day in the red zone, he used his body and his size and complemented it with his pass catching.
“Using his body to box out, and he didn’t have that feel last year. He was a bid-bodied guy running around there. He’s getting there. He’s learning and understanding those things, and the same thing in the run game. We’re seeing an improvement in this big young man at the tight end position every day and it’s pretty exciting. I will say I’m really pleased with Ben (Koyack) and Alex (Welch) too, they both can be really important parts of our offense as well.”