Kelly discusses QBs, Dexter Williams, special teams play and Stanford
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, September 26, 2018
During his weekly press conference, Irish head coach Brian Kelly discussed the preparations his team is making going into a top-10 home matchup with No. 7 Stanford, as well as his impressions from Notre Dame’s most successful offensive outing yet in its 56-27 win over Wake Forest.
After making the controversial decision to start junior quarterback Ian Book in the place of senior Brandon Wimbush against the Demon Deacons (2-2, 0-1 ACC), Kelly reserved the right to decide which member of the duo would be taking snaps under center on a week-to-week basis.
“I think they’re both going to prepare. They’re both going to prepare the way they have. Look, it’s important that everybody knows that both of these quarterbacks can win football games for us. That’s the most important thing,” he said. “So, as coaches, we have to keep both of them sharp. That’s the challenge is making sure that during the week of our preparation that they’re both sharp. We’ve got a lot of work to do each and every week to make sure that that happens in terms of making sure that they get the right looks in the red zone and short yardage and third down and long and blitz packages. It’s a lot of work during the week, but we’ll make sure both of them are ready.”
Kelly added that, going forward, ideally both Book and Wimbush will be able to play during games, as he feels their skillsets complement each other well.
“Whatever is going to get us a win against Stanford this week, if we feel like playing both of them every other series is the best thing to win, we’ll do it,” Kelly said. “We’re not here to please any one group. We’re just trying to win games.”
Running back Dexter Williams has yet to see the field this season for the Irish (4-0). However, the junior is likely to see action this weekend against the Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12), Kelly confirmed.
“He’s been working with us. He’s been practicing. He’s been with us. He just hasn’t been up to the level that we wanted him to. He’s done a really good job. I expect that this week could be a week that he plays,” he said. “We’ve worked him through our team periods over the last few weeks, whether it be our blitz pickup period or our skelly period. He’s ready to play for us this week if he continues to do what we expect him to do.”
Williams spent much of last season as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart, behind former Irish running back Josh Adams. He averaged 36 yards per game and rushed for 361 yards on the season, making him Notre Dame’s fourth-leading rusher on the season. He also scored four touchdowns on the ground in the 10 games he played.
“He’s explosive. I think he gets into the second level, and he’s an explosive back,” Kelly said of Williams. “You know, does he have 20 carries in him this week? Probably not, but I think he can be integrated within a backfield that is emerging and getting better each and every week. … I think that explosiveness, especially at the second level, I think he adds very nicely to that.”
Overall, Kelly feels Williams time away from the field has given him time to improve himself as a player and as a person.
“He’s better in all facets than the Dexter Williams version that we had in the spring,” he said.
Since the first few weeks of the season, the Irish have made a concerted effort to improve their special teams, as it was a noticeably weak area on the team. The Irish made personnel changes this weekend on kick and punt returns, including rotating in senior safety Nicco Fertitta and freshman linebacker Bo Bauer.
“Quite frankly I would say just a lot of players understanding the leverage points of playing special teams. We’re seeing that growth much more, understanding how to leverage the football, [senior wide receiver] Chase Claypool leveraging the football so much better. Guys really understanding their roles a lot better,” Kelly said. “So, I just think that as we’ve progressed through the season, them getting their reps, I kind of alluded to it earlier, that sometimes you don’t get enough reps and it’s just a learning curve. Where kicking the football, especially in the opener, is so crucial, the placement of the football as you’re learning your leverage points. I think we’re further along in the season and we’re getting a lot more guys in those leverage points.”
Kelly said that with special teams, the bottom line is that, without oversimplifying the game, it comes down to putting in the effort, and having players on the field who are willing to put in the work on every snap.
“When you’ve got a guy like [junior safety] Alohi [Gilman]on those teams who brings so much energy to our defense and he’s running down there with great effort, it’s easy for me to turn to John Smith and say, ‘listen, John, get your butt moving. That guy is playing 90 snaps,’” Kelly said. “Know what I mean? It kind of sells it pretty good from that perspective when you have guys like that.”
When it comes to the Cardinal, one of the keys to the game will, of course, be containing senior running back Bryce Love, who Kelly referred to as “the best back in the country” Tuesday. While Love has had a slower-than-typical start to the season, Kelly attributes it to the fact that he is such a dangerous threat the teams have to pay him such attention.
“I think he’s going to get his yards. He’s just too good of a player,” he said. “I think you’re really focusing on making sure that you’re not short at the point of attack. You can’t put him in a situation where he can go the distance. I think each and every week you’re strategically looking at minimizing his opportunities to turn easy offensive plays into touchdowns.
“So I think each and every week, defenses have been very careful in making sure that the box looks were such that he’s not going to get easy looks.”
In terms of controlling Love, Kelly’s approach is fairly simple.
“You have to get him on the ground and tackle him,” he said.
Another offensive player who Kelly feels is poised to really make an impact in the game is junior quarterback K.J. Costello, who Kelly said is starting to embrace his role as a leader this season.
“[He has developed] poise in the pocket, delivering the ball in some really, really tight windows, accuracy you can see by his numbers the completion percentages are way up,” he said. “He threw some great balls on Saturday. I mean, Oregon had great coverage on a couple of third down — the one third down conversion, which set up the late-game field goal was just a beautiful throw into tight coverage.”
The Irish sustained one season-ending injury against the Demon Deacons, as freshman defensive lineman Jamion Franklin will have quad-tendon surgery to reattach his quadriceps to his bone.
“It’s a surgery that we don’t have very often, quad tendon surgery, so we’ll have to reattach the quad tendon, which probably three months for that to reattach, and then you’re talking six months for that to get back because there’s a lot of atrophy there with the quad,” Kelly said. “But he’ll be back for spring and ready to go. But kind of an unusual injury.”