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Notre Dame Football

McCullough talks Jerome Bettis, 'chips on shoulders,' title aspirations

March 29, 2022

New Irish running backs coach Deland McCullough held court with print reporters for more than 20 minutes this morning inside the Irish Athletics Center.

We already shared McCullough’s thoughts on detail-work, the group as a whole and other influences in the offensive backfield.

Below, McCullough discusses just how deep his rotation is, how the group is adjusting in pass protection and even how he suffered with Notre Dame, not even knowing he would be on staff, while watching the Fiesta Bowl and the blossoming relationship with Jerome ‘Bus’ Bettis. 

Q: How do you feel the younger guys have adjusted to pass protection?

DM: I feel good about it. I feel real good about it. There’s a progression that you do, to prepare guys, not only to identify, but the keys are recognition first. Who do I have? And then separation, feet, hands and finish. I feel real good about that.

I feel like we had opportunities today to pick up blitzes and the guys did a great job doing it.

Q: How deep can you go with these four in a rotation?

DM: We can go all four. Everywhere I’ve been, my history is pretty strong on playing a lot of guys. You’ve got several jobs that come with playing running back that people on the surface maybe don’t think about. You’ve got the starter, you’ve got your immediate backup, so those two guys should play the most. In my world, you’ve got a third-and-3-to-6 guy. You’ve got a third-and-7-plus guy, you’ve got a two-minute guy, you’ve got a four-minute guy, you’ve got a gadget guy, a short-yardage goal-line guy. You’re talking about seven, eight jobs right there. Two people aren’t doing all those jobs, but those opportunities to grow from those jobs are there.

And when you see those, that excites guys. They don’t just look at it like I’m the starter or I’m the backup. There are other things you can fall into and still embrace being part of the game plan. And have opportunity to grow from there.

Q: Ball security is an emphasis point for you. How much does the defense focusing so much on forcing takeaways help prepare your guys to protect the ball?

DM: It helps it a lot. We do, when I came here, we heavy footballs. We haven’t even gotten to the other ones. I got a bunch, I can’t wait to use them. I’ve got a bunch of stuff we’ve not been able to fire it up yet. They told me when we get to training camp I’ll have some more time to use some other things. But right now just using the heavy football, it’s like a football with water in it. We use that during some of our individual drills and when they’re stretching, just to work on that technique. By the time you take that and go to a regular ball, you’re crushing it.

Having a defense striking at it, punching at it, raking at it, doing those things, it raises the attention to detail and the technique of carrying the football.

Q: What are some of those other techniques?

DM: We’ve got another one called a high-and-tight and it beeps when you hold it the right way. It will just beep the entire time. We used like in the beginning, one time, I was just kind of seeing like, hey this is what we are going to do. It’s got to stay beeping. When you’re holding it right, it just continuously beeps. That’s why I should hear it beep the whole entire time.

We’ve got another thing called a ‘fumble pro,’ it kind of pulls the ball out. I’ve got a punch stick. I’ve got all kinds of things that I would use, that I am going to use, that these guys will be exposed to. The punch thing, I wish (I invented it).

When I first did the punch-stick, it was a 3-inch PVC pipe with a boxing glove taped on it. That’s the real one. That’s the real one right there.

Q: Did you know Jerome Bettis before getting here and how’s it been having him around?

DM: Shoot, it’s been great. Having somebody, you know obviously, with being a legacy and tradition, hall of famer, high level player here, that helps for sure. Obviously with his background, etc., I know that when I met him and first got here, we took the players out to Ruth’s Chris and he happened to be there. He just happened to be there, too. It wasn’t planned. He was there with some of his friends and family. Just having him around as a resource, I think it’s important for me to feel his support – especially the position he played. And kind of seeing what are these guys doing. Here are some of the coaching points, here’s some of the things we are doing. It’s important to me that he feels like OK these guys are headed in the right direction.

I know from my understanding, there’s been connection during this semester (between Bettis and Estime). It’s been really good. Just continuing to earn trust from the guys. All the clips I show them, I show them NFL stuff. Here’s where y’all want to go. The footwork we do here, here’s these guys doing it. I’m not sitting up selling y’all something that don’t work. I bust out the Super Bowl ring every so often (that he won with the Chiefs). Hit the table, and I’ll say, ‘This ain’t 50 years ago. This was two years ago, now. Come on.’

Q; Speaking of Audric, he spoke about this team’s chip on its shoulder. In your experience, when a team has that chip early on, what does that do for the program and the team?

DM: Well, I mean, you got a bunch of guys who feel like there’s unfinished business. I watched that (Fiesta Bowl) game, I wasn’t even affiliated with them. That bowl game, I mean, come on. I think the guys really feel, we all feel that we have a national championship level team, but we’ve got to do the work to get there. So the chip on your shoulder, whether it be whatever the naysayers are saying or whatever, there’s all different type of forces we know being here at Notre Dame. At the end of the day, these guys buying into what we’re trying to do.

And the same thing with the chip on his shoulder at his position. Audric is pretty outspoken with some of the things he said. I saw one of his Twitter things, I was like, ‘All right, man.’ I just liked it. I said I ain’t going to retweet it, I just liked it. I’m not going to completely sign off on it, I don’t even know him yet. But he put a strong prediction on one of his things. I said, ‘All right, I’m just going to like that one.’ But the thing for Audric is, he’s doing a great job backing up this chip that’s on his shoulder, and I think that’s spread around to other guys.

Q: When you saw them essentially abandon the run in that bowl game, even though you weren’t affiliated at that time, what goes through your mind?

DM: Few things. I’m like, ‘Run the rock. Let’s run it. Go get it.’ The line that we had and different things, I wasn’t in there, I don’t know the specifics, and I’m kind of flipping back and forth and different things, but all we can do now is just move forward. We’ve got Harry (Hiestand) here (coaching OL), myself, we’ve got a great overall offensive staff, great overall staff. Just excited about some of the things we’re going to bring to the table to complement the passing game for sure.

Q: How do you teach the stiff-arm, such as Kyren Williams had it?

DM: Some of that is you either have it or you don’t. He had a good angle for how he shot it out there on guys. In my history, I never did something specific for a stiff-arm. It’s just an instinctive thing, just kind of part of their deal.

I’ve had some really good backs, Tevin Coleman at Indiana had over 2,000 yards; I can count on one hand the amount of times he stiff-armed somebody.

Q: What’s been the message to Chris Tyree? Especially since he admits he wants to do more.

DM: I tell all the guys just continue to embrace the opportunity. So in the room you’re trying to have guys, I tell them in this room, team, but I’ve just got control of the room, there should be a level of separating and gaining with everyone. So you’ve got everybody pushing each other. If Chris, I’m trying to separate. If I’m whoever, I’m trying to gain. Boom-boom-boom. Everybody should feel that heat that somebody is coming for them.

With Chris, in particular, he’s been a guy who’s embraced the details. He’ll come up and meet with me. They see the results of them. That’s the thing. Be one thing if just having loose conversations with them, but being detailed can result in this. Being detailed can if you’re trying to go to the next level, and you have somebody like me who was once there and you ask these questions, you want to be prepared to answer them. Why you running the ball there? I’m just doing my own thing. Well, in the NFL you can’t do that. I see you doing that a lot in college, if you do that in the NFL, you won’t be here. So how about addressing it here right now. Let’s address it right now. Let’s put you in position to be the best version of yourself, now. Give you the language that the NFL uses, now. Because I know what these guys are going to be asking them when they get to where they’re trying to go. So having that level of buy-in, especially out of all my guys, and how it permeates the team, is going to be good this year.

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