Notable in his absence this morning was sophomore defensive end Aaron Lynch, of whom head coach Brian Kelly offered would return to the University on Monday evening.
"We excused him from practice today. He needed some time to straighten out some personal matters. (Director of Media Relations) Brian Hardin said there were rumors he quit, or transferred, or went pro. All of that is not true."
According to a tweet from his mother, Lynch is apparently home with his family in Cleveland, their new home after moving from Florida following the pass-rushing star's recruitment.
Lynch led the Irish defense with 14 QB hurries and 5.5 sacks last fall in just six starts, earning 1st team freshmen All-America honors for his efforts.
Jack of all trades5th-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter added another balancing act to his already hectic schedule as father of a baby boy, though his latest change is likely a bit less tiring.
Slaughter lined up at field cornerback in today's media viewing session. The safety/nickel defender/hybrid outside linebacker might be the team's best cover man, but Kelly noted today his talents are likely still needed elsewhere.
"We've given the corners a good opportunity; we want to give Jamoris a little cross-training," Kelly explained. "It fits exactly what we want to do in case we get into a bind. You do that when you think you have another safety. We wanted to wait and now we're really pleased with (Austin) Collinsworth," he added of the junior who ascended to a first-team role in Slaughter's stead. "That allows us to do some cross-training to really make sure we get the best four players on the field.
"We're pleased with cornerbacks right now but if there's an injury, we wanted to be prepared for that and give him the opportunity to be comfortable."
Also unexpectedly working with the first unit is junior nose guard Kona Schwenke. (Click here for a story on his progress this spring.)
"Even in the spring, we're challenging our players to be consistent," said Kelly of the at least temporary demotion of 11-game starting nose guard Louis Nix. "We want that from them every day. I think we all know Lou on Saturday is a great player. I love Lou and I love the way he competes on Saturday. We want him to compete every single day. We want to demand that from everyone."
Joining the brigade of not-yet-proven performers in search of consistency is redshirt-freshmen and early-camp notable, DaVaris Daniels.
"It's a broken record, but for all the young guys, it's the attention to detail and focus every day they have in practice," said Kelly of his purportedly explosive pass-catcher. "I can probably list a lot of names that have the athletic ability we're looking for, but have not reached that level of consistency. He has to be a consistent performer. He can't have ups and downs; he's learning. I'm happy with his progress but he's not at a championship level. We have a high bar for him, as we do all the guys, but he hasn't reached that yet."
Dog Eat DogAs noted earlier this week, junior linebacker Danny Spond has consistently run with the first unit at the Dog (Drop) linebacker position.
Like quarterback, cornerback, Will linebacker, place-kicker, and likely a handful of other positions, the Dog competition will play out for five more months rather than the last 5-6 practices of the spring.
"No, he has not," said Kelly when asked if Spond had put a stranglehold on the starting spot. "It's a very fluid situation. He has a little more of a knowledge base going in relative to the defense. I think Coach (Bob) Diaco said this best, but really, when it comes down to the safety position, and the Will linebacker position, and maybe even the Dog, you can pick a game (in which players will start). ‘You start this one I'll start that one.'"
Challenges at the position, both mental and physical, are numerous.
"Anytime you put 230 to 240 pounds in space…it takes a very special player to stay on the field when you're in space and you're playing skill out there. In a box, in a phone booth, both of those guys are doing a great job," he said of Spond and redshirt-freshmen Ben Councell. "I think it's about being more comfortable in space, and being able to play and get off (blocks), and get into the curl (route), and all the things that have to come with defending a wider area.
"You really have to be a combination of a guy that can win on the line of scrimmage and go in space. You saw Jamoris play a lot of that position (last year). That's a competitive position."
As for the 6'5" 240 pound Councell, Kelly noted the following as strengths: "Suddenness. He can get his hands on you and control you. He's hard to block in space. He's long and he moves very well. For him it's getting more comfortable with the defense every single day and as does we'll feel like we'll have two really good ones out there."