Practice Observations: 8/16

With heavy rains in the forecast, Notre Dame took to Meyo Field inside the Loftus Center for today's morning practice.

Heavy rains forced Notre Dame's 15th practice session of August camp inside the venerable Loftus Center Thursday morning. The media was granted an extended 75-minute access period as the began at least preliminary preparations for Navy.

Sidelined today was backup right tackle Tate Nichols (unconfirmed knee injury) and junior Dog linebacker Danny Spond. From my vantage point in the balcony, I could not confirm sophomore running back Amir Carlisle as another sidelined player, but the USC transfer was not in uniform or taking reps with the running backs.

As reported on the message board earlier this week, Cam McDaniel has returned to running back. Junior nose guard Kona Schwenke wore a heavily wrapped cast on his right hand, the apparent result of a break suffered in a previous practice.

Dan Fox, who was rumored to have injured his shoulder in practice this week, appeared to have a blue brace on his left shoulder. As well, senior tight end Jake Golic wore a cast or brace on his right hand as well.

Of particular note on the injury front was 5th-year senior Jamoris Slaughter, who took part in non-contact drills, but was not seen in any contact efforts, nor did he run out with the first unit defense as noted below. During unit sessions, Slaughter practiced with both the outside linebackers and secondary. (The potential team captain appeared to have a sleeve on his right arm/shoulder, but had full motion of the arm, throwing a football back to the trainer at least 20 yards away.)

1st and 2nd Units

I focused on the defense for the majority of practice (the unit was located below us, the offense was 90 yards away).

Running out with the first string were Kapron Lewis-Moore, Schwenke, and Stephon Tuitt on the defensive line; Ben Councell and Prince Shembo flanked Manti Te'o and Dan Fox inside for the linebackers while Zeke Motta and Matthias Farley served as safeties with Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson on the corners.

The second-string defense showed a three-man front of Sheldon Day, Louis Nix, and Chase Hounshell; a linebacker quartet of Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams outside with Jarrett Grace and Carlo Calabrese inside. The secondary was comprised of freshman Nick Baratti and senior Chris Salvi at safety with freshman Keivarae Russell (field) and redshirt-freshman Jalen Brown on the corners. Sophomore Josh Atkinson joined Brown as the boundary safety for a second rep (he didn't replace Brown, he joined him).

The offense showed the same starting lineup as we've seen throughout camp:

Offensive Line (left to right): Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, and Chris Lombard.
Skill Positions: Tyler Eifert (TE), Robby Toma (slot), John Goodman (W), and T.J. Jones (X). Cierre Wood joined Everett Golson in the backfield.

The second unit offensive line was comprised of (from left to right): true freshman Ronnie Stanley, redshirt-freshman Conor Hanratty, redshirt-freshman Matt Hegarty, true freshman Mark Harrell, and redshirt-freshman Nick Martin, who kicked out to tackle after backup left tackle Jordan Prestwood left school, and backup right tackle Nichols was sidelined with a knee injury.

The skill position players on the second unit included Andrew Hendrix at quarterback, Theo Riddick at running back, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, and Davonte Neal at wide receiver with Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack alternating at tight end. Jake Golic also entered the fray.

Navy Preparations Begin

The Irish defense broke into position groups and prepared for the myriad cut blocks they'll receive vs. Navy's triple-option in two weeks. Each group was schooled to use both hands to force an already diving blocker to the ground while sidestepping in unison: first left, then right.

(Slaughter joined the outside linebackers for this period.)

One-on-One

Receivers and defensive backs paired up to receive go routes, outs, flags from the slot, and the occasional flair route from Irish quarterbacks Golson, Hendrix, and Gunner Kiel.

Beginning the rep was All-American Tyler Eifert taking in a deep ball above cornerback Josh Atkinson. That followed with a DaVaris Daniels sideline catch despite decent coverage from Jalen Brown. Davonte Neal beat Zeke Motta from the slot but was held in his efforts to get to the sideline throw while Bennett Jackson showed perfect deep coverage on the opposite side, knocking down a go-route intended for Chris Brown, a great stride-for-stride play by Jackson.

Eilar Hardy gave up an out route from the slot to walk-on Eric Lee while Justin Ferguson pushed off to gain position vs. walk-on Connor Cavalaris. John Goodman reeled in a catch behind him with Atkinson in coverage and Motta was forced to hold again, this time vs. the quicker Robby Toma from the slot. Tyler Eifert reeled in a deep ball vs. Jalen Brown who also committed pass interference to no avail.

Lo Wood showed solid coverage deep vs. T.J. Jones though the ball was thrown out of bounds. Troy Niklas ran a text-book short out vs. the much smaller Chris Salvi, who had no chance to cover such a play in this drill. Neal then ran a quick arrow to the sideline for a catch vs. Nicky Baratti and Daniel Smith beat KeiVarae Russell deep, though the latter fell. When Smith jumped for a perfectly thrown ball with no one on him, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin could be heard 70 yards away: "Why are you jumping?"

DaVaris Daniels beat Bennett Jackson deep to end the session.

Special Teams

The punt return and punt block teams took turns though all punts hit the low roof of the Loftus Center, negating any reports on return men Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Davonte Neal, and later…John Goodman.

The first unit coverage team appears to be Lo Wood, Cam McDaniel, Kendall Moore, long-snapper Jordan Cowart, Daniel Smith, Chris Salvi, and Josh Atkinson with the trio of personnel protectors in front of punter Ben Turk comprised of Nick Martin, Matt Hegarty, and Jarrett Grace. Hegarty replaced the injured Tate Nichols.

Backups in coverage included Matthias Farley, Nicky Baratti, Ben Councell, long-snapper Scott Daly, Romeo Okwara, Eilar Hardy, and Keivarae Russell, with personal protectors Conor Hanratty, Ben Koyack, and Tony Springmann in front of Kyle Brindza.

During this practice session, Manti Te'o, Zeke Motta, Robby Toma, Jamoris Slaughter, and T.J. Jones all took to the exercise bikes. The group was likely just staying loose, though Toma and Jones returned to work with the punt block team.

Jones and Toma were joined by Chris Salvi, Daniel Smith, Danny McCarthy, Matthias Farley, and Eilar Hardy as the Irish blocked a punt for a touchdown, albeit vs. the Scout team blockers.

Tag-off Scrimmage and General Observations

One highlight of a full-speed, but tag-off scrimmage was an end around to DaVaris Daniels who fired downfield to an open Tyler Eifert. Eifert got by the defense when Josh Atkinson was sucked up on the run-action from Daniels.

KeiVarae Russell showed good downfield coverage, blanketing Jones down the far sidelines…Bennett Jackson offered the same coverage to John Goodman on a similar route…Andrew Hendrix beat the defense with a roll left and sharp cut inside -- he'd have gained 15 yards in a real scrimmage…Hendrix later threw a strike to Eifert…Ishaq Williams devoured two plays on pass rushes while facing the second unit offensive line…Stephon Tuitt now sports a Justin Tuck-style face mask making the imposing 6'7" 300-pounder even more menacing…

A rarity in practice: Scout Team guard Tyler Stockton (a defensive end by trade) buried Tuitt in a drill, drawing a wild roar from long-time teammate Kapron Lewis-Moore. Tuitt lay prone in relative disgust as fellow defensive linemen celebrated around him.

Of note: Slaughter did not take part in the tag-off scrimmage, replaced by Matthias Farley. Calabrese earned the start with Fox apparently a bit hampered, though the latter did later appear for two reps. Louis Nix was the first team nose guard for the tag-off 11-on-11 action.


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