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Transcript: Everything Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said following Saturday’s scrimmage

Kyle Kellyby:Kyle Kelly04/13/24


On Saturday, Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman addressed the media for the third time this spring. Here is everything he said during his latest news conference.

Opening statement

“We got in about 80-something plays — 80-plus plays, which is great — a chance to do that and get some live situations. Obviously, the quarterbacks weren’t live, but it’s great to see the competition. 

“I told them after practice (there was) a lot of good on both sides. As a coach, you try to create this and build up to the outcome of this game — making the winning side get the blue jerseys. At the end of the day, it’s the ability to get them to focus on what it takes to get the blue jerseys and to get their job done on that play. 

“I saw a lot of good things. The defense won. I told them at the end of practice that it came down to two pick-sixes. I’ve been to a lot of jersey scrimmages as a player and a coach. And if you have one, but for sure two pick-sixes, there is a great chance as a defense you’re going to win. That hasn’t happened in the past. It’s the first time since I’ve been head coach that the defense has won the jersey scrimmage. 

“So, it was good to see the competition and competitive spirit on both sides. And some guys step up and make some plays.”

On the benefit of Notre Dame QB Riley Leonard being able to take mental reps despite not participating during the live jersey scrimmage:

“That’s just a reflection of who (Riley Leonard) is. This is his idea. He was going to challenge himself to have 100% focus on every rep. So, he had the headset on; he knew every call that was going in and he went and stepped through every single one. 

“That’s who he’s been. He’s actually practicing a little bit more now, doing some 7-on-7 and some other things. But today, we didn’t want to let him go. So, for him to get work like that, it’s just a reflection of who he is. That’s going to make him better. 

“That was my challenge as a head coach to him that, ‘Hey, what can you do? Although you’re physically not practicing on Saturday, what can you do to get better?’ ‘He showed today a chance to do that.”

On if it is difficult to evaluate edge rushers when they face different quarterbacks who call different pass protections: 

“It’s hard to gauge. It’s, ‘Are you doing your job or not?’ The biggest thing I try to challenge the quarterbacks is that you can’t get comfortable with the red jerseys. You’ve been used to for 10 practices not being touched. I’m going to try to call sacks when I think it’s truly a sack. I know it’s never perfect. But I did feel some edge pressure. 

“I don’t know if they would have been sacks. I would think the quarterback steps up and gets the ball out of his hands. That’s the double-edged sword. Do you live them up, or do you keep them red? I want to keep them protected and make sure that we’re keeping our quarterbacks healthy.

“I did feel some pressure, but a lot of times, as an offensive mind, if you get those defensive guys to run behind the quarterback, that quarterback is going to step up and deliver the ball. It’ll be interesting to go back and look at the film. But it doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback as much as the tackles in there. Do they execute and do their job? Is the quarterback able to step up and get rid of the ball?” 

On the injury status of Notre Dame WR Jayden Harrison:

“(Jayden Harrison) had plantar fasciitis strain, so he’ll probably be out for the spring. We just need to rest it and let it recover. It’s similar to the JD Bertrand injury that he had in the Senior Bowl. He’ll be back. We just want to keep it protected and let it heal right now.”

On the injury status of Notre Dame WR Jayden Thomas:


On what he has wanted to see from the offensive line and how he gauges their progress:

“As we’ve always said, we’re an O-line-, D-line-driven program. So what do you want to see? I want to see them be able to run the ball, protect the quarterback and execute their job at a high level. 

“There are a couple of competitions. You have a competition at right tackle. You know, Rocco (Spindler) is trying to get back to 100%. So, at some point, when he’s 100%, you’re going to have a competition with him somewhere on the inside. 

(Charles) Jagusah has been pretty much the No. 1 at the left tackle. So, you’re trying to create competition but understanding that as an offensive line unit, you need that consistency in those five guys. So, I’m trying to get involved, but I want to see them be able to run and pass the ball.”

On QB CJ Carr, WR Micah Gilbert and EDGE Boubacar Traore impressing:

CJ (Carr) has been great. Coming in the winter, mature. He really understands offensive concepts with defensive football. He’s a smart guy. He makes great decisions. So, I’ve been really impressed with him at quarterback. 

Micah (Gilbert) has come in and really done a great job. He has performed at a high level. He’s even getting some reps with the ones. I know we have a couple of injuries, but he’s going to do some things for us this year. I really like where he’s at and where he’s progressing. 

“Then, Boubacar Traore, I just keep telling him, ‘Just keep showing up.’ And he keeps showing. That isn’t against just the threes and twos; he’s showing up against the ones. 

“So, that’s what you want to see—that depth, that competition and those guys who can step up and make plays. But all three of those guys have done some really positive things, along with some others.”

On what he has seen from Notre Dame LB Jack Kiser and how he has affected the younger linebackers:

“(Jack Kiser’s) the elder statesman. I was making fun of him in the pregame lines (saying), ‘How many practices or spring games have you been in this stadium?’ He’s been here a lot. But he made a decision to come back for a reason. He wants to improve what he’s doing specifically—he wants to improve his position, his traits and his skill set. But he also wants to make sure this team reaches its full potential.

“So he’s been an unbelievable vocal leader, leader by example. Just a great mentor for those young linebackers in terms of how to approach every day, how to work, and how to go about your business. I am so grateful to have him back for his sixth year.”

On if the younger linebackers’ potential allows Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden to be creative with adding varieties to pressures:

“It’s similar to how we utilized Marist (Liufau) last year — being a (line) backer on first or second down. At the end of the day, on third down, if it’s a passing situation, you want to get your best four pass rushers on the field, no matter what position they are on first or second down. 

Kyngstonn (Viliamu-Asa) and (Jaylen) Sneed had both shown the ability to be able to rush the passer from the line of scrimmage. Jaylen did it last year. But Kyngstonn has shown the ability to do that. So, is he one of the top four? That’s to be determined. But he’s had a heck of a spring. He’s done a really good job — just from the moment he’s gotten here to where he’s at now. He’s going to help us this year.” 

On when he felt CJ Carr had the competence to run the offense:

“I don’t know if it was one specific day, but you saw the way he came in during bowl practice as a high school senior and just soaked it all in. I guess you have to give credit to his high school and his development from his dad and grandpa. They are pretty knowledgeable about this game of football. 

“He came in and didn’t say much. He just soaked it in; he was a sponge. Now, what you are seeing is through spring he’s progressing and getting better. Every time I walk by (quarterbacks) Coach (Gino) Guidugli’s office, he’s there. 

“That’s how you improve. Can you retain the information that your coaches are trying to give you so you go out and do it when it matters the most? For different people to retain that information, it takes different things. That’s what you see out of CJ Carr and a lot of these guys that they’re wanting to learn and like, ‘Okay, how do I figure this thing out and process it, now so when it’s out there in the stadium, I go out there and perform?’ He’s done a really good job.”

On Notre Dame DL Tyson Ford being absent from practice:

“He’s taking some personal time to figure out what he wants to do.” 

On being proactive in the transfer portal:

“It’s called having honest conversations with your players. That’s what we got to do. And that’s what our job is as coaches — to have honest conversations and have relationships with our players so there are no surprises. So that’s what we do. 

“This isn’t just a transfer portal discussion — this is a year-round, ‘If you love your players and you want to see them reach their full potential, you’re going to have honest conversations with them.’ I don’t want it to change because there’s a transfer portal window coming up. That’s just what we should do if we’re mentors and leaders to young people. 

“We should have a relationship with them. We should be honest with them. And they should be honest with us so that when they make a decision, ‘Hey, I want to stay, I want to transfer,’ it’s not a surprise. That comes from having a relationship with them, which takes time and investment.”

On where he wants to see improvement from the team:

“All over. It’s never a finished product. What you’re trying to do is build this group of coaches and talented individuals to make sure when we play game one, we’re ready to perform. We have to be more consistent on both sides of the ball at doing our jobs and making plays on offense, making plays on defense, our special teams have to improve. 

“There’s not just one area where we need to improve. We improve everything. That’s the mindset of this program, right? We’re not satisfied. You’re never satisfied. You’re building this group so that when you play these 12 guaranteed opportunities, you are performing at maximum capacity. In order to do that, you’ve got to have a never-satisfied mindset. I think that’s what everybody in this program has to have.”

On how he sees the Notre Dame running back rotation sorting itself out: 

“I don’t know what the clear rotation is going to be as we go into College Station, but we don’t need an answer to that right now. We got some talented dudes in that room, and we got to find ways to get them the ball. In order to prove to us that you’re going to get the ball, you have to continuously be trusted to do your job. 

“I love what I’ve seen in terms of protection and execution. But it’s a long way to getting to College Station. We’ll get to that point. We’ll talk about reps and how we get them the ball. For sure, we’ll have discussions. How do we get all these playmakers on offense the ball? We have to find different ways to do that.”

On what he has seen from LB Jaylen Sneed:

“Commitment. Commitment to it. He’s always been a talented football player. But that’s a word — it can mean unfulfilled potential at times. So, he is committed to showing up every day, really being obsessed with, ‘How do I get better?’ Meeting with (linebackers) Coach (Max) Bullough

“I’ve been really pleased with how he’s performed consistently through 10 practices. I think, as you look at the last two years, Sneed’s a guy that would show up and flash. Now, he’s consistently doing his job, which is more important than anything.”

On LB Jaiden Ausberry’s positional flexibility: 

“He’s a guy that we’ve said, ‘Man, he’s just done such a good job at what we’ve asked him to do.’ We got to put him at different places to see how we get him on the field. That’s a compliment to him and what he’s done. It was really probably over the last two or three practices we said, ‘Okay, let’s try Jaiden Ausberry at a couple of different positions because we’re not gonna be able to keep them off the field.’ He’s a talented individual. 

“That’s what spring is about. Moving your pieces around and saying, ‘Okay, how do we formulate the scheme around the pieces?’ It’s not the vice versa. It’s not, ‘Hey, here’s our scheme. This person has to fit into it.’ It’s okay, ‘Let’s get the best players on the field and formulate the best defense around those pieces.’ Ausberry is doing a great job.’”

On if the defense has been ahead because of veteran players, a third-year defensive coordinator and a new offensive coordinator:

“Year three. It’s the same thing I said to you guys last year after year two. When you go into year three now, pretty much between Golden, (Mike) Mickens, and Al Washington — being consistent in terms of the voices in those rooms — year three is in the same scheme, and it’s an NFL pro-style defense. There’s a lot of defense. 

“In year one, we couldn’t perform at the pace, at the level that he wanted. That’s always the challenge. ‘How do you get these athletes to play fastest?’ That’s the challenge of a coach. It’s not, ‘Be so complicated that you’re trying to confuse the opponents.’ It’s okay, ‘How can I get these people to understand what I want and play fastest?’ Well, it’s year three. 

“We have enhanced but it’s pretty much the same scheme with a lot of the veterans coming back. Whereas offense it’s practice 11 of a new scheme. So they’re going to be ahead defensively because of a lot of returning players, year three and then (a new) offense, but the offense has done some really good things. 

“What you’ll see from the offensive side is that they’re going to get every look imaginable. They’re not playing against a Marcus Freeman defense where you’re going to see a couple of different things. You’re going to see everything with Al Golden. 

“It’s going to help them improve. Like, if they can understand – which I think they do, the coaches do — this is really good for you. What you’re seeing defensively, this is really good for you. You’re going against one of the best in the country. This is going to be one of the best defenses in the country. That’s what our offense is going against every day, but at the end of the day, that’s gonna make you better.

“We talk about it all the time, we bloody wounds, this is going to make them better. I know it might be frustrating today. You don’t win the blue jerseys, and, man, sometimes the defense presents some challenges, but at the end of the day, this is going to make our offensive team better.”

On WR Jaden Greathouse’s growth and development: 

“I think his natural position coming into Notre Dame was probably a slot receiver. Out of necessity and really the confidence he built in our coaching staff last year, we had to put him outside and do some things. Now, going into year two, he’s built the capacity to be effective inside as a slot receiver or outside. So to have a guy that can do that is going to truly benefit us.”

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