Brian Kelly addressed a variety of topics at today's extended Media Day press conference. Youthful additions and special teams improvements included:
Q. Is there a position group or unit where I guess since last season you've seen enough improvement where you think that it's kind of an added strength or a new strength from last year?
"I think our punter and kicker. You know, I really like-- I think you saw in the end of the year Ben Turk starting to come on with some consistency. He had a great spring. He's been terrific, and I don't want to jinx him, but Coach Diaco is working with the punters directly, and he's done a great job of getting them to a level of consistency.
"I really think that unit-- there were some questions in my mind, but watching them and special teams, they've done a really nice job. And that means obviously you're talking about Tausch and you're talking about Brindza and you're talking about Turk. Those three guys I've seen really great movement in terms of their development, even over the last couple of weeks."
Q. Who's going to handle your punt return and your kick return duties?
"Well, in terms of kickoff return, George Atkinson would be featured as the kickoff return specialist if we get a chance to return any. As it relates to punt, we're still a work in progress there. We've got three guys that we really like back there that are still developing. I'd say that's probably something that we'll focus a little bit more on next week. But we haven't made a decision on punt return, but kick return, it'll be George."
Q. How would you evaluate Kapron's return from injury?
"Oh, I think he's come back stronger physically. He's been a great leader for us. His personality has really come out this year. I think he really feels comfortable in a leadership role. So I think all of those things, so he hasn't missed a beat as it relates to that."
Q. Can you clarify the Danny Spond situation and just how cautious he has to be over the next couple of weeks?
"Well, from what we've gotten, he had a migraine that was so severe that it required hospitalization. He's seen specialists, the best in the country. He's been through a battery of tests. Now it's just a matter of getting him re-acclimated in terms of-- because he's been cleared, now it's just a matter of when can he get back out there and start contact and those things. We really don't have a timetable for that."
Q: If you can touch on how important it is to have leadership on the defensive end of things, maybe coming from Manti or some of those older players.
"Well, I think leadership shows itself in so many different ways. I think when you're talking about leadership on defense, it's communication. So as it relates to the game itself, great communicators, and guys that are confident and understand the system. We're three years now into the same system. There isn't a change in terminology, there isn't a change on a day-to-day basis. That means a lot.
"Again, from a defensive standpoint, leadership shows itself in the way they practice every day, as I commented earlier. It's been such a great camp because our guys have done a great job of handling the work volume, Manti, Kapron, Zeke, Jamoris, these are guys that are veteran players that have played a lot of snaps. Our defensive players have played a lot of football.
"So great communication equals great leadership for me on the defensive side of the ball."
Q. Jamoris was out there today with the first team. Slaughter, is he injure?
"He's bruised his heel, and no need to put him at any risk, so we're cautious with him. Farley has done very, very well. I think he's changed the dynamics back there. I know I had spoke that McCarthy had that position locked up. Well, it's a battle now. Farley has really been impressive the last 10 days or so."
Q. And also kind on the second line of the secondary, Russell and Brown, earlier I think it was Atkinson and McDaniel, McDaniel is back at running back. What have KeiVarae and Jalen shown you?
"They're getting better. They're just playing the ball. They're assignment correct. We grade them every day after practice, and they're grading out higher. They're starting to understand the scheme, what's expected of them. Just both of them maturing, and KeiVarae obviously faster because he's playing as a true freshman. He's extremely gifted. We're getting Jalen a lot more reps, too. Part of this is these guys have to mature and develop, and they're getting that opportunity.
Q. And you mentioned Farley. Does Slaughter become the nickel when you go to nickel? Does he become the nickel and somebody else play safety?
"Yeah, we're still working through that. We're not there yet, but I think there's a lot of-- you talk about moving pieces, there's probably more moving pieces there than any other position group."
Q. And Bob Diaco seems to have a new look out there, that hair of his?
"Yeah, again, you'll have to talk about Bob about that, but he's moving around pretty good out there, feels really good about it, and I don't have much to say about that. (Laughter.)"
Q. Going back to Manti for a second, every senior ever has felt a sense of urgency in the last year. How has that manifested with him do you think?
"I would say without question it's now at a point where he is imposing his own set of standards on others. He was always a leader by example in the way he handled himself both on and off the field, but now if somebody else is not doing it the right way, it's not good enough, because it affects the way he sees his role. And that obviously is a very positive dynamic to have on your football team.
He understands pure accountability, and he holds his teammates to a high level, too, and as a head coach, that's a pretty good feeling."
Q. A couple little personnel things, Kona with the wrist, what's going on there? Does it limit him at all?
"Not really. He's got a big lollipop cast on it just to protect it. It's not even a fracture, it's a crack of the bone, just the fourth knuckle. We put a big cast on it, but we'll get that down to a very workable, small cast for the game, so we're not concerned about that at all."
Q. And Cam McDaniel flipping back to running back, did you just like a lot of the options you had at corner or did you want to have some more depth at running back?
"Probably a little bit of both, but he's cross training on defense, too, so he is-- he's still taking some reps on defense, so he's kind of our one player that we feel like could fit in on either side of the ball in a pinch. "