Spring practice takeaways

An overview - thoughts and observations after watching two days of spring practice at Notre Dame...

After observing the Irish for four hours this past weekend, a few thoughts:

1. There's no doubt the defense has a taken on a new persona. And, that's not just due to the technicality of moving from a 3-4 base to 4-3. To me, Diaco's defense was very compartmentalized; the line, backers and secondary acted as very separate units. On Friday and Saturday, observing Jaylon Smith playing inside, close to line of scrimmage, nipping at the heels of the defensive line in front of him was something new we haven't seen. That coupled with the safety playing high made for a fluid, unified look from the defense. The defense's new personality really hit home when John Turner rushed the edge, forcing Malik Zaire to release the ball early, which was greeted by a swat from Jarron Jones.

At the risk of sounding cliché, when interviewing members of the offense about the new look they were seeing from the defense, their eyes lit up, signaling, oh yeah, the pressure we're seeing is something we've never seen before. From press man the wide receivers are facing to the disguised blitzes on third down, the entire defense seemed on the same page, working as one unit.

2. I touched on Cam McDaniel receiving first team reps and how he'll receive his fair share of carries in Saturday's practice report. My opinion here, and it's nothing original, but Folston and Bryant need to by and large have the most carries this season. McDaniel prides himself on being a competitor who makes the most out of every run, but the best players need to run the show.

3. I believe I wrote detailed features about both Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise last year and their potential of being x-facotrs offense. We all know how that panned out. But, with Prosise having a year under his belt playing the position (and looking bigger, stronger) and Carlisle having the luxury of concentrating on just slot wide receiver and not dabbling at running back, those two could really pack a powerful punch as slot. It wasn't Carlisle's shiftiness that stood out this weekend, but rather his improved catching ability.

4. Though my eyes were mostly upon the offense, Matthias Farley didn't stand out to me, good or bad. A bleak projection, I know, but Farley is likely keeping the nickel (which doesn't equal ‘backup' in VanGorder's defense so to say) warm for Florida incomer Cody Riggs. Despite Farley's decreased playing role, he'll still provide a valuable voice in a somewhat inexperienced secondary and linebacker corp.

5. Think about the firepower potential of this lineup on offense. Golson at quarterback. Bryant in the slot. Robinson, Daniels at wide receiver. Folston in the backfield. Koyack detached from the line. Every one of those guys has the ability to make something special happen when the ball's in their hands.

6. Jaylon Smith is poised to be the leader of the front seven. VanGorder has no problem barking orders at Smith or jumping on his case, but that's because he knows Smith can handle it. And, not only that, but it was obvious during interviews that Smith embraces that instruction. He touched on the fact that both Diaco and VanGorder's concentrations are with the linebackers, and that's a fact that he loves. He still has a learning curve of his own, but he'll be a great leader to Nyles Morgan, John Turner, Joe Schmidt and Kendall Moore.

7. That was my first true look at what Malik Zaire brought to the table. Such a gifted runner, he can bring value to the offense. Kelly seemed open to the idea of a two-quarterback system when asked about it on Friday, but more likely than that in my opinion is Kelly possessing a comfort level with keeping Golson out for a play or even a series if he's slightly banged up, knowing Zaire can lead the offense.

8. I'll touch some on VanGorder's general philosophy, though I can't go into specifics of what we heard from the coaches' clinic. I know the message we've heard from recruits and the incoming freshman class is that VanGorder's system is anything but simple, but I get the sense the way he prepares his players to compete will be concise and specific. During the season, early in the week, he'll go over a tendency overview with his players, observing the norm from the opposing offense, and that will be the theme for most of the week.

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