Quick Hits: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's opening press conference

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made his first official appearance of the 2015 preseason on Thursday, meeting with the media for a 10 a.m. press conference on campus a day before his team opens training camp at Culver Academy.

And as always, ND Insider was there.

Here's an initial rundown of Kelly's key points.

  • Junior Malik Zaire, Kelly noted, is a dual threat quarterback who is "committed and established at that position." Kelly said that they like where Zaire is currently and praised his "thirst for the game." Zaire has a few technical things to clean up, Kelly said, and he worked with Trent Dilfer this summer to address them. The key message to Zaire in camp is consistency. "Do it this way...all the time," Kelly said with a grin, when relating the focus for Zaire. Behind him, Kelly said that the back up quarterback competition between DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush will be a major focus in fall camp. The coach added that both quarterbacks have shown maturity beyond their years thus far.
  • Kelly addressed the tumultuous status of senior defensive end Ishaq Williams, but had little to report. The sixth-year head coach said that Williams' situation with the NCAA is ongoing, and he won't practice until his eligibility is decided. He did say, however, that he expects the situation to be resolved somewhat soon. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell, on the other hand, is eligible to play right away.
  • Kelly and junior running back Greg Bryant are still talking, Kelly said, about the possibility of Bryant coming back to the team after his season-long suspension for academic disqualification in 2015. "Every year that I've been a football coach, we have to counsel our players -- whether it's Greg Bryant or the best players on our team," Kelly said. "They have to make good decisions, and sometimes they don't. That doesn't make him a bad kid. He has to take this situation and learn from it."
  • Justin Brent will receive an "audition" at running back, Kelly said. The 6-1, 220-pound sophomore has to run north and south, the coach added, to get playing time. The decision to move Brent to the position was "definitely" prompted by Bryant's suspension, Kelly confirmed.
  • Kelly praised the returning leadership on the Notre Dame defense. "We probably have some of the best leaders we have ever had at Notre Dame, starting with (graduate student linebacker) Joe Schmidt," Kelly said. Kelly also listed Matthias Farley, Sheldon Day and KeiVarae Russell as team leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Another player who was highlighted, and for good reason, was junior linebacker Jaylon Smith, who led Notre Dame with 112 tackles in 2014. "Jaylon Smith is one of the versatile and athletic linebackers in the country," Kelly said.
  • Kelly addressed the health of his team, and largely delivered positive news. Safeties Nicky Baratti and Drue Tranquill, defensive end Jonathan Bonner, nose tackle Jarron Jones and linebacker Jarrett Grace will all participated in fall camp. He also went into detail on the two players who were medically disqualified from competition, tight end Mike Heuerman and linebacker Michael Deeb. Heuerman underwent two hernia surgeries, Kelly said, which hampered his ability to train and play effectively. Deeb had elbow ligament reconstruction which included some nerve damage.
  • With the season-long suspension of Greg Bryant, Kelly said that junior wide receiver Will Fuller may get some work with punt and kick returns this season. Fuller practiced some returns in the spring.
  • One freshman who has "impressed everybody unanimously," Kelly said, is highly touted tight end Alize Jones. Jones will compete immediately with Durham Smythe for playing time at the tight end position. Kelly also singled out freshman cornerbacks Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman and praised the physical intangibles of wide receiver Miles Boykin.
  • Kelly made it clear that entering his sixth season at Notre Dame, he's a much different coach than the one that first accepted the position. "I could write several books on what I've learned," he said.
  • Kelly said that this summer, for the most part, was a positive one for his players. "I probably would have liked them to do a little bit better in the classroom," Kelly said. "But they made good decisions. They were active in the community."
  • The player who has made the most significant physical leap this summer, Kelly said, is sophomore cornerback Nick Watkins. He was also a rising player throughout spring practice.

Notre Dame Head Football Coach Brian Kelly speaks to members of the media during at a press conference to open the 2015 season at Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Thursday, August 6, 2015, in South Bend. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)