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Kelly talks contract extension, Irish offense in wake of Duke win

| Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly held a press conference Monday to further address his squad’s season-opening win over the Duke on Saturday. He opened by praising Duke and their game plan.

“[Head] coach [David] Cutcliffe had his team ready to play and it was apparent that they spent a great deal of time giving us a number of different looks,” Kelly said. “And it was very effective. I thought we did some really good things in the second half controlling the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively, and got our control of the game late in the third and into the fourth quarter. So great to get a win. Obviously, everything that has gone on in this past year, finishing 2019 on a strong note and then not knowing what 2020 had in store for us, but to finally get to a game, I was really, really happy for our football team and our staff to come up with a victory.”

He also briefly mentioned the team’s upcoming matchup with South Florida.

“So now we get ready for South Florida,” Kelly said. “And obviously [head coach] Jeff Scott has got a great resume from his time, and the success that he’s had as a coach. And now he gets to run his program, and so he’s certainly going to have a group of young men that are excited about this opportunity to play us at Notre Dame. Some familiar faces I think, [offensive coordinator] Charlie Weis Jr. coming back to Notre Dame. He’s a young, bright star in this profession who’s done great things in a very short period of time as a coordinator.”

Afterwards Kelly moved on to lingering questions about Saturday’s win, most of which pertained to the offense. He addressed the extension he received with the University to coach the team through 2024, news which was made known to the media during the season opener.

“I’ve been very fortunate, you know, blessed that the University has given that trust in me to continue to lead this program,” he said. “I feel blessed to have that opportunity knowing the great history and tradition of Notre Dame football. To be entrusted with that, I take that quite seriously. And when we discussed this, I needed to have the energy, the enthusiasm and the want to continue to lead this program, and really feel like there was more to accomplish, which I do … the ultimate goal and our mission is to win a national championship.”

Kelly then discussed sophomore running back Kyren Williams and the role he is stepping into within the running back room.

“He has shown himself to have the ability, in terms of the numbers that he produced, that he adds a dimension to our offense that makes us a better offense,” Kelly said. “So we’re going to see him continue to play a large role … what he can do to our offense, I think, has separated himself a little bit, but all those guys are going to be integral and important to our success moving forward.”

Williams had more than 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against Duke after recording only 26 total yards on four rushes last season. Kelly did say though that other backs would get more of a chance to take the field going forward.

“You also saw [senior] Jafar Armstrong, who can catch it and play physical; [junior] Jahmir [Smith as well],” he said. “I know everybody saw the explosiveness of [freshman] Chris Tyree, and we didn’t see [junior] C’Bo Flemister, who arguably had as good a preseason as any of our backs, who is coming back from a collarbone injury. … So I still think it’s important that those other guys get touches, because they can help our offense. But what he can do to our offense, I think, has separated himself a little bit, but all those guys are going to be integral and important to our success moving forward.”

Speaking of injuries, Kelly also addressed those suffered by sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton and graduate student and junior receivers Bennett Skowronek and Braden Lenzy.

“He had a scan that came back clean, but we’ll keep him in a walking boot til Wednesday,” Kelly said of Hamilton. “And our team docs, orthopedic guys feel like he’s day-to-day. This is a matter of, now, pain management … You know Kyle, he wants to play on Saturday, so we’re not going to rule him out. We’re going to let him kind of dictate where we go and we’ll keep him in the rotation … and see where we go from there.

“I think Ben had probably the most consistent offseason, and now Ben’s going to be out probably this week with a hamstring, so it’s been kind of an in-and-out situation and we just got to fight through that … Braden wasn’t healthy, he had a hamstring injury, and he should be almost to 100% on Tuesday. And if he is then then he can help us. You can’t take a guy like Braden Lenzy, who’s a speed guy, and have him not 100% healthy.”

Because of the injuries to the receiver position, including a broken foot suffered before the season by junior wide receiver Kevin Austin, Kelly said the team will look to their youth.

“We got to get a young guy ready,” he said. “Somebody’s got to step up now and accelerate their growth, and whether that [freshmen] Xavier [Watts] or Jordan [Johnson], somebody’s got to continue to grow.”

Before that comment, Kelly addressed why Johnson, a five-star recruit out of St. Louis, did not appear against Duke despite the aforementioned injuries.

“Physically I think he’s coming along quite well,” he said. “He’s still finding himself as a student athlete here. There’s a lot on his plate. I think he’s getting better … This isn’t just about football; he’s got football talent. We gotta continue to work on his attention to detail and his focus, and we’re getting better there. I think as those traits continue to develop there’s good prospects down the road for Jordan.”

Another area where youth could produce production is at tight end with freshman Michael Mayer making a splash in his first game with three catches for 38 yards against Duke.

“I think he’s got great potential,” Kelly said. “… Look, he’s still a freshman, there’s a learning curve there. But I think his athletic ability is pretty evident, and he showed that in the way he catches the ball — soft hands, puts the ball away, can run after the catch, can shake a tackle or two. It’s gonna be fun to watch his growth and development.”

At the end of the press conference, Kelly was asked about how Tommy Rees, who was promoted to offensive coordinator after the conclusion of the 2019 season, performed in his first game as the official OC.

“I thought it was good. He was poised,” Kelly said. “My comments to him were to be patient, hang in there with the run game, stick with it. Let’s not abandon [the] run game; we’re in a new running game relative to our scheme. Stick with it, give these guys an opportunity to really work through it and they did, and we looked so much better in the second half. He’s 1-0, baby. 1-0. can’t beat that.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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