The first practice of head coach Brian Kelly's second spring session brought the pad-free Irish inside the Loftus Center – planned in advance with dreary rain and sub-40s temperatures plaguing campus as the end of March draws near.
The aerobic stretch showed senior quarterback Dayne Crist with a brace on his left knee – the most recent of his troublesome appendages to be surgically repaired, this time due to a torn patellar tendon suffered in late October.
Crist ran and jumped through the stretching session looking no worse for the wear after a second straight off-season rehab session.
Sans brace but also without the normal spring in his step was junior linebacker Manti Te'o of whom his head coach noted will be treated with caution over the next three weeks as he recovers from a knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl victory over Miami.
Also present but not running was senior nose guard Sean Cwynar, sporting a boot on his surgically repaired foot.
Freshmen FramesFive early enrollees took the field for the first time today, and though I never wandered near the kickers to watch Kyle Brindza in his first collegiate practice, I can report with confidence that defensive end Aaron Lynch's reported 6'6" frame is as advertised. Lynch looked especially lean wearing No. 19 – the 40 pound difference between him and senior position mate Ethan Johnson readily apparent.
Wearing No. 1 on his jersey (he'll share it with wide receiver Deion Walker) was a dreadlocked Ishaq Williams, solidly built for a first-year outside ‘backer prospect at 6'5" 240 pounds. Also sharing a number with an upperclassman is frosh QB Everett Golson, who looks every bit the high school senior he should be wearing a red No. 5 jersey (shorts, no pads).
(I'll watch OL competitor Brad Carrico Saturday in the full practice viewing, though co-reporter Jeff Baumhower noted the need for the youngster to immerse further into coach Longo's strength program. Luckily for Irish fans, contributing freshmen offensive linemen is a thing of the past with the new regime.)
As AdvertisedI detest perpetuating hype surrounding untested players, but I'd be remiss not to report that sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix stands out in terms of one notable skill set among his quarterback competitors: he has a howitzer for a right arm.
Our brief media viewing session took me to the five-man QB drills, where experienced walk-on Matt Mulvey joined Hendrix, Golson, Crist and Tommy Rees (changing from No. 13 to No. 11 in the off-season).
Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar took the quintet through one-step and three-step pass drops (shotgun), throwing sideline routes from both the near hash and middle of the field. The ball simply gets from Point A (his fingertips) to Point B (the target) when Hendrix uncorks an offering, as numerous spiraled bullets tore through the hands of the student manager assigned to snare the passes (a nice way to wake up for a college student on a dreary Wednesday morning, I'm sure).
Golson's arm impressed as well, though his delivery isn't as compact as that of Hendrix. Golson fires from above ear level (if you can picture Rees from last season, his release seemed at or below that point). Golson's throwing motion is a bit more open than that of Rees as well.
Crist towers above the trio in stature.
Tempo DrillOr in media parlance – "the something to write about drill."
Year 2 of the breakneck-paced skeleton drill showed Crist take the field with the first unit, followed by Rees, also with the first team. (For those wondering about the official order, I guarantee you Rees takes the first reps tomorrow.) Joining them as expected was an offensive line from left to right that included Zach Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Trevor Robinson, and Taylor Dever. Only Watt is new to the starting lineup from 2010.
The first set of wide receivers included John Goodman, Tai-ler Jones, and Theo Riddick (slotted) with Cierre Wood in the backfield. Both Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone took first team snaps at tight end.
The second unit offered Hendrix and Golson as the quarterbacks (Golson running the read-option and pitch with noticeably quick feet); Jonas Gray and then Cameron Roberson in the backfield and a group of receivers that included Daniel Smith, Robby Toma (now wearing No. 9 – he's going for the unofficial record with his third jersey # in three years), and Deion Walker – who promptly lined up incorrectly, earning an exasperated glare from wide receivers coach Tony Alford.
Jake Golic entered at tight end (I made no notation of sophomore tight end Alex Welch, but don't read into it, it's easy to miss a player or two in this fast-paced drill). The second team offensive line included (left-to-right): Tate Nichols, Lane Clelland, Mike Golic, Andrew Nuss, and Christian Lombard.
LeftoversThe first of several hundred observations between now and September 3:
- Running backs coach Tim Hinton will play the role of small-campus professor during spring practice session – three scholarship running backs and walk-on Patrick Coughlin (who's going to be one sore college student by mid-April) are his only pupils. Incoming freshman Cam McDaniel will bring a much needed body to the proceedings in August as should at least one walk-on who'll absorb a great deal of punishment over the autumn months.
- There's a staggering lack of bulk among the Irish receiving corps without the monstrous pair of the suspended Michael Floyd or departed Duval Kamara in the fold. Sophomore Daniel Smith will grow into his 6'4" 215-pound frame (look for significant weight room gains over the summer from Smith), but seniors John Goodman and Deion Walker – 6'3" 207 and 6'3" 202 respectively – are simply lean athletes.
Robby Toma, T.J. Jones, and Theo Riddick: each quick as a hiccup…all vertically challenged. Sophomore Luke Massa stands 6'4" 220 pounds, but (not surprisingly) still looks like a quarterback who wondered too far outside the huddle, sporting a quarterback's #14 to complete the visual.
- Brian Kelly's attention to detail extended to two student managers this morning. When one young lady offered little resistance swinging her oversized tackling pad into a running back's torso (ball security drill), Kelly offered a good-natured, "You can hit him harder than that."
Her partner subsequently smashed the next pad into Wood's right arm (no, he didn't fumble), causing an audible thud that echoed inside the Loftus Center, bringing a smile to Kelly's face.
- Finally, Dayne Crist donned the team's new helmet-cam on a left-side bar of his facemask. The device, to be worn by different quarterbacks each practice, will allow the staff to review what the participant saw during each snap, each pass, each drop-back rather than just the end result of his decision and throw.