Practice Observations (Offense)

Hickey offers observations on offense from today's practice, the first in full pads for Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish in 2013. Namely, Kelly's blunt message for the running backs, Carlisle will contribute in a big way, Rees' improvement in three key areas, and overall thoughts and more.

Note: Detailed observations on the freshmen will come in a follow-up report.

Running back:

To say Kelly wasn't pleased with what he saw from the running backs in the individual drills at the onset of practice is a major understatement. Choice words were spoken that won't be repeated here, but his anger stemmed from ball security… balls weren't necessarily fumbled, but Kelly didn't like how the backs were cradling it during light contact drills. He stopped the drill by the time each player had gone through two full repetitions, with Atkinson leading the way at the helm. He called them over in a huddle, and the message was clear: "Ball security is the No. 1 key to making Notre Dame's offense work." He basically told them they had one more chance to get it right before he was out of there. Ironically, after he said that he turned and left. I think the message was delivered.

He was also not too pleased with the pad level, "You're all too high! Way too high!"

Later in practice, Kelly pulled Atkinson over after a ball went through his hands and spoke with him for a short time one-on-one. I think Kelly expects more leadership – both by example and verbally – from his most experienced half back. It was obvious (not surprisingly) Atkinson bounced outside most every time. Running backs coach Tony Alford was really working with Atkinson on his first step going up the middle in individual drills.

Also important to note: Kelly spoke afterward about his running backs as one of the most impressive groups he's seen all camp. It's obvious he expects a lot out of them, from Atkinson down to the young guns, so he feels like he can be harder on them. He touched on ball security as well post- practice -- "Ball security is essential to what we do. We talk about being a disciplined football team, we talk about ball security."

Carlisle and Mahone Stand Out

Amir Carlisle – He can play X,Y or Z, and he did today. Carlisle said in his post-practice interview he used the time he was injured to learn the playbook inside and out. Kelly pointed out Carlisle's versatility and intelligence today, saying not every player can handle the demands of being versatile, but Carlisle can be rendered that role easily.

"Versatility is great if you can handle it," Kelly said after practice. "He [Carlisle] can handle dual roles. He's 192, he's solid. He's running inside and out, and he's catching the ball. He's a smart player."

Will Mahone - Even before he beat the right side of the defensive line to the outside and juked inside linebacker Ben Councell (a play on the boundary that got the sideline fired up) for a nice pickup, he looked very sharp. Mahone is elusive enough to float outside, but he's physical enough to run up the middle and explode up field from behind his blockers.

"I am probably pleased with that group [running backs] as much as any," Kelly said after practice. "We have guys that can come in and contribute right away. Greg Bryant is one. Will Mahone has had a great camp. He's playing a little more slot. He has very good ball skills -- we didn't even know how good his ball skills were until we put him the slot."

Cam McDaniel didn't stick out today… got a few reps with the second team, but nothing stood out, good or bad. Mahone was often in the slot with McDaniel.


Overall, Tommy Rees looked confident and athletic, making good decisions - especially when he led the offense down the field at the end of practice. From all accounts his stature and physicality is up a few notches from 2012. Kelly was asked about the specifics of Rees' improvement this year. He gave a response that highlighted three tangible areas: 1) Keeping plays alive with his feet (He didn't turn into a dual-threat overnight obviously, but that leads into the head coach's next point… 2) Turning a thought-to-be negative play into a no-gain or plus five. Meaning, not taking the sack and finding the sideline can be the best play. 3) Improving the fade throw. Maybe that's primarily because he now has 6-foot-4 freshman Corey Robinson to throw it to, but still, expect that duo to combine for a few touchdowns this season.

A few plays that stood out with Rees under center:

Rees found tight end Ben Koyack up the middle for a considerable gain (20-25 yards). Not only was it an impressive throw slotted in between defenders, but Koyack made a great grab in traffic.

During reps in the redzone during the 11-on-11, (ball lined up on the 15 or 10 every time), Rees found Carlisle, Robinson and Jones for touchdowns. Rees has weapons that can jump up and grab the ball, and today he put the ball in the approximate vicinity to give his playmakers the opportunity to make the play, especially in the redzone.

Each time Atkinson bubbled up field or bounced outside on a swing pass or flat route, Rees placed the ball right in his chest with the appropriate zip.

Rees ran one play, after which Kelly critiqued him for running the wrong version of the play call. Turns out, Rees and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin were on the same page, with Kelly thinking something different. Not going to guess who was right here…

Andrew Hendrix didn't produce much. The two plays of note were yards he picked up with his legs on the bootleg. He worked primarily with the second team. I do not see Hendrix contributing valuable minutes to more than three games, especially if Rees holds up and Zaire can provide adequate relief.

Wide Receiver:

Scout team safety turned contributor in the slot, C.J. Prosise was getting a lot of reps with the first team (Jones, Daniels, Niklas), and they weren't all at slot. He was being looked at the X a few times, with Carlisle or Jones in motion. Prosise looked sharp and was catching everything thrown his way.

T.J. Jones looked solid per usual, and he was getting looks at all three wide receiver positions. DaVaris Daniels had an impressive grab over the middle from Rees, and he looks as though he's zeroed in on consistency this offseason.

Chris Brown hardly got any reps today, and Daniel Smith was on the bike much of the 11-on-11. Both most likely are dealing with pesky injuries.

Quick Hits:

Only once that I recall did the offense run a two tight end set, with Koyack and Niklas being the guys called upon. There is so much competition at the slot, it wouldn't come as a surprise if that position is used as the primary "5th" in the offense this year. (Granted, Smith didn't get reps in).

Rees looked strong in and out of the pocket today. He made plays in every scenario the offense encountered. By the end of camp, expect this team to be fully his.

Kelly has emphasized that though there's valuable depth at the wide out position, Daniels and Jones are the dominant one-two punch to be reckoned with this season. He called Jones a first round draft pick last week, and today he called Daniels a sure-fire BCS wide receiver who's going to draw attention from other teams.

Kelly called this week's practices, "the most competitive practices [he's] coached in a long time." It's only Aug. 9, and there's a lot of football to be played before Temple comes to town. But, you've got to like where the offense stands today, even with some position battles unsettled. There's a lot of playmakers of offense, and therefore a lot of competition. Even though questions remain at running back (Kelly emphasized again today there is no clear cut starter), quarterback, and even tight end, there's no question competition is making the entire offense better. Top Stories