Practice Report: April 8

Notre Dame's football team received cooperation from early morning temperatures in the high 40s but rain again moved the Irish practice inside the Loftus Sports Center Monday morning.

Brian Kelly's Irish took part in their ninth practice of the spring session Monday morning, at least seven of which have been pushed indoors due to inclement weather.

Participating today but not in full pads were seniors Dan Fox and Bennett Jackson, both recovering from off-season shoulder surgery; junior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (jammed knee), and sophomore safety Nicky Baratti, also recovering from post-season shoulder surgery.

Not seen today during today's first five periods was sophomore wide receiver Chris Brown, who purportedly injured his hamstring in a recent practice.

Offense -- Makeshift Depth

The wide receivers unit was sans its trio of promising sophomores that began spring ball: Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson no longer with the program, and Brown absent due to injury.

Taking reps with the first team were seniors Daniel Smith and T.J. Jones aligned to the perimeter, with redshirt-freshman C.J. Prosise in the slot. The starting running back per usual was junior George Atkinson, joined in the backfield by classmate Everett Golson. Fellow junior Troy Niklas was the first unit tight end, with an offensive line from left to right comprised of Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty, and Christian Lombard.

Senior quarterback Tommy Rees led the second unit, joined by junior Cam McDaniel in the backfield. The perimeter targets were a pair of early enrollees, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, with junior tight end Ben Koyack in the slot, and senior tight end Alex Welch in-line.

The second unit offensive front from left to right showed sophomore Ronnie Stanley, senior Bruce Heggie, junior Matt Hegarty, a repeat run by junior Conor Hanratty, and early enrollee right tackle Steven Elmer.

Walk-ons helped fill out the third unit, forced to run without an offensive line. Will Mahone (RB) and early enrollee Malik Zaire (QB) were in the backfield, fellow semester freshman Mike Heuerman was a detached tight end (slot) and senior Luke Massa was split wide.

Though he participated fully in individual and position drills, injured junior Amir Carlisle (broken clavicle) did not take part in the "Tempo" portion of the practice described above.

Defense -- Filling Holes

Notre Dame's three-deep defensive front showed no surprises, with junior Stephon Tuitt (RDE), senior Louis Nix (NG), and sophomore Sheldon Day (LDE) the first string. They were backed by junior Tony Springmann, senior Kona Schwenke, and senior Justin Utupo, respectively. The third string was comprised of sophomore Jarron Jones (RDE), 5th-year senior Tyler Stockton (NG) and junior walk-on Arturo Freeman (#86 at LDE).

Though the first five defensive linemen (Tuitt, Nix, Day, Springmann, Schwenke) appear set, the incoming freshman trio of Eddie Vanderdoes, Isaac Rochell, and Jacob Matuska will have an early opportunity to crack the second and third units in the first 7-10 days of August camp.

The team's linebacking units aligned as follows: junior Ben Councell at Dog, senior Prince Shembo at Cat, junior Jarrett Grace (Mike) and 5th-year senior Carlo Calabrese (Will). They were backed by sophomore Romeo Okwara (Dog), junior Ishaq Williams (Cat), senior Kendall Moore (Mike), and preferred junior walk-on Joe Schmidt (Will). Taking reps with the third unit was 2012 starting Dog Danny Spond, the status due likely to missed time over the last week as he recovers from an unspecified neck/shoulder injury. Spond was joined by junior Anthony Rabasa at the Mike and a pair of walk-ons.

5th-year senior Dan Fox -- now absent his extensive locks -- watched from the sidelines.

The first string secondary showed Lo Wood and Jalen Brown on the corners with Matthias Farley and Elijah Shumate at safety. With the exception of Brown, there's been no change among first unit defensive backs this spring.

Like Fox, senior Bennett Jackson does not take part in early team drills as a precautionary measure, nor did Baratti today. Baratti is battling for a No. 2 safety role with a pair of veteran teammates (below).

The second unit defensive backs included junior Josh Atkinson and senior walk-on Joe Romano at cornerback with senior Austin Collinsworth and junior Eilar Hardy holding down safety spots. 2012 starting cornerback Keivarae Russell was not present during the team session but entered the following period as part of individual drills (in full pads/contact).

Sophomore John Turner was a third unit safety with Spond (Dog), Stockton (NG), Jones (DE), and Rabasa (Mike) the other scholarship players.

Observations: Sights and Sounds

Defensive line coach Mike Elston worked his unit with a passion in position drills. Noting a Springmann error on the snap Elston offered, "You're dropping your eyes…Looking like Jarron (Jones)." Jones took the next rep and was immediately schooled by Elston on proper weight distribution.

Elston then offered a little tough love to All-America candidate Stephon Tuitt. Looking for a spot to get walk-on Arturo Martinez a rep, Elston stated, "Hop in for someone -- no Tuitt, he needs the work -- take Big Lou (Nix) out."

Senior Justin Utupo must be on the rise this spring, Elston noted of the twice converted inside 'backer, "Play that way with power and low base and no one can block you!"

The veteran line coach then quickly added, "Other than on double teams, you gotta work on that."

Elston stayed on Springmann, noting, "If you're going to become a great player, Tony, it starts in individual (periods)."

The unit worked on getting off the snap with Elston changing his cadence, then moved to run-fit drills in a 4-3 set. Said Elston of the positions, "I need two defensive ends (Tuitt and Day), Louis on the nose, and Sheldon you're the 'stud'", the latter apparently the team's nomenclature for the interior position next to Nix in a 4-3 front.

Ball Skills

Amir Carlisle continued to impress as a pass-catcher, gracefully plucking a pass behind him with both hands and full speed and never stumbling as he broke downfield thereafter. Carlisle repeated the feat with a low ball later in the session.

Speed-burner George Atkinson carries himself a bit differently this spring. He is, in my estimation, the no-doubt starter at running back exiting April. Unlike last year's starter Theo Riddick, Atkinson isn't on pace to make an impact in the passing game, during a one-on-one drill today the junior got a step on Collinsworth down the seam, then turned awkwardly, nearly stopped, and attempted to one-hand a pass that sailed behind him over his head. Had he simply run, turned, and extended his hands, it would have been a catch/touchdown.

In direct contrast to Atkinson as a pass-catcher is early enrollee target Corey Robinson, who's beautiful leaping grab of a back-shoulder fade downfield was the highlight of the session. Robinson extended for the high pass thrown expertly outside by Golson, twisted to ensure the catch and crashed to the turf. (He later talked with trainer Rob Hunt but returned).

Robinson needs ample work as a route-runner, not to mention major strength gains to beat good press coverage (hard to stress this enough), but when the ball is in the air and its just he and the defender near the sideline, the ball is his.

Niklas secured a bullet throw low from Golson vs. tight coverage…Andrew Hendrix bounced a pass to Luke Massa on a comeback…Will Mahone collected a low ball with ease and didn't have to break stride. The play was notable only because Atkinson noted in an interview with Irisheyes.com that Mahone is a "good route runner at his size."


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories