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Brian Kelly: ‘There’s no panic’

| Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Following Saturday’s 36-28 loss, Notre Dame dropped out of the AP poll’s Top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2014 season.

And after allowing 501 yards of offense — including 260 on the ground — in the team’s latest loss, the defense of the Irish (1-2) once again became the subject of heavy scrutiny Sunday. But, when asked if any major personnel changes would be made going forward, Irish head coach Brian Kelly stood by the players he currently has on the roster.

“I mean, you guys I think all know what our personnel is,” Kelly said. “Any guy that we put on the field now is a true freshman. We’re playing true freshmen. Really at this point, it’s a matter of the guys that we have are the guys we have to continue to work with and develop. Each game becomes an experience that they have to take and learn from and get better from.”

Irish junior linebacker Greer Martini chases the quarterback during Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss on Saturday. Martini has 16 total tackles on the season and has shared time with sophomore Te’von Coney.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish junior linebacker Greer Martini chases the quarterback during Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss on Saturday. Martini has 16 total tackles on the season and has shared time with sophomore Te’von Coney.

Questions continued to rise as to whether or not defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is the right fit as the leader of the Irish defense, and many of those questions were fueled further when Kelly’s Twitter account liked a tweet from a fan suggesting Kelly fire VanGorder. Kelly explained Sunday that the activity was the result of one of his staff members who has access to his Twitter account scrolling through tweets and inadvertently liking the one of them. Additionally, he reaffirmed his confidence in VanGorder as his coordinator.

“That’s not even part of the conversation,” Kelly said. “There’s not a question about scheme. There’s not a question about who’s leading it with Brian.”

Rather, Kelly said his focus is on working with the defensive players and improving the technical aspect of its play.

“It’s really about the fundamentals of defense and getting the fundamentals to the point where simple guard pull play is being fitted the right way,” Kelly said. “Making a play on the ball, making a tackle — I mean, this is not rocket science what we’re talking about here. These are plays that we’ve got to continue to work on and fundamentally get better at.”

And while Kelly said he thought he’s seen good things from the young players in the secondary and at the Sam and Mike linebacker spots, he pointed specifically to the Will linebacker position — played by junior Greer Martini and sophomore Te’von Coney — as an area in need of more consistent and improved play going forward.

“The Will linebacker position has been inconsistent for us,” Kelly said. “That’s caused us some problems. It caused us some problems [against Michigan State]. In our two losses, that position has been an issue for us. We’re struggling right there trying to get consistency out of that position.”

And while the team’s hopes of a College Football Playoff berth have been all but dashed following a 1-2 start, Kelly said he expects his team to remain motivated and to focus on step-by-step improvement.

“They want to win. I mean, everybody is a competitor,” Kelly said. “The focus just becomes on what I just talked about: each individual getting better, each individual improving from week and week. The focus being really much more smaller in a sense. All we’re looking for is to find a way to win and beat Duke. That’s really the goal that’s in front of us.

“This is work. We’ve got some work to do. But we got a group that will fight and compete. I’m proud of the way they go out and represent Notre Dame on the field. We’ve got to clean up a lot of things. We’ll continue to work with a lot of young players. I’m confident that we’ll be a better football team in November than we are in September.”

And, although it is the program’s first 1-2 start since 2010, Kelly asserted that the team’s play in its first three games is not a referendum on the direction of this season, adding that the team has been sloppy but not out of contention in each of its two losses thus far.

“There’s no panic,” he said. “There’s not any of that in my eyes at all. But we’ve got to continue to improve in the fundamentals of the game. That’s my concern more than anything else.”

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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