Practice Report: August 9

Notre Dame took part in its second padded practice of August camp Saturday morning -- the first two-a-day session will follow this evening before the squad receives its first day off Sunday.

Out of action and out of uniform today:

-- Senior Offensive G/C Matt Hegarty and senior LB Ben Councell (concussions)
-- RS-Freshmen WR Torii Hunter, Jr. (groin injury, 4-6 weeks)
-- Freshman OG Sam Mustipher (boot on left foot/ankle. Should get it off this week.
-- TE Mike Heuerman remains sidelined for the month (hernia surgery).

Also on the injury front: both cornerback Keivarae Russell (mild leg "tweak") and defensive tackle Justin Utupo appeared to pull up lame at one point. Utupo returned to action (he twisted his knee in an opening drill), but later sat out contact against the offense. Russell did not return, but remained at practice. He was spelled often by senior Josh Atkinson with both the first and second unit.

Sophomore cornerback Devin Butler left practice midway through, accompanied by members of the training staff. Head coach Brian Kelly noted post-practice that Butler needed IV fluids.

Evolving Depth Chart

Hegarty's absence did not create an immediate shift of personnel along the offensive front. That is, his chief competitor, senior Conor Hanratty replaced him and the first unit remained the same thereafter, with Ronnie Stanley (LT), Nick Martin (C), Christian Lombard (RG) and Steve Elmer (RT).

Redshirt-freshman RB Greg Bryant worked with the first unit to open practice. Of note, senior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was with the second group, due largely it was revealed later because of a nagging groin injury. Daniels was replaced by sophomore Will Fuller and the former did not participate in portions of 7-on-7 action later. Fuller was joined by Amir Carlisle (slot), Ben Koyack (TE), and Chris Brown (WR), with Everett Golson under center.

Head coach Brian Kelly said of Brown following practice: "He was our best receiver this week."

The second unit offense included Malik Zaire at quarterback, plus Tarean Folston (RB), Justin Brent (WR), Daniels, and C.J Prosise (slot). The offensive line showed (left to right): Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern, Mark Harrell, Hunter Bivin, and freshman Quenton Nelson. Bivin worked as the third-team center in our first practice viewing Monday, August 4.

The third unit had just four offensive linemen due to Sam Mustipher's (and Matt Hegarty's) absence: redshirt-freshman John Montelus (G), freshmen tackles Jimmy Byrne and Alex Bars, and preferred walk-on freshman Sam Bush (center). DeShone Kizer (QB), Cam McDaniel (RB), Tyler Luatua (TE), Corey Holmes (WR), preferred walk-on Keenan Centlivre (WR) and walk-on Omar Hunter (WR) filled out the skill positions as Corey Robinson was not included early (but repped regularly throughout practice).

The defense did not line up as a clear unit at practice, rather going immediately to position drills. Today's nickel and back seven alignments will be discussed in the sections below.

Golson's Day

Kelly offered today that the season's first six practices were about installation, not finding a winner of his proclaimed quarterback battle between Golson and Zaire.

To the layman though, Golson was clearly the better player today -- dominant at times in 7-on-7 action, though there notably is no pass rush. At one point, the senior triggerman ran off a string of throws that included a deep completion to Chris Brown followed with a rocket strike on a dig route to Brown who absorbed a solid hit from sophomore safety Max Redfield. Golson then followed with a laser rolling to his left to C.J. Prosise who kept his toes in bounds despite strong coverage and a chuck from Austin Collinsworth.

Golson continued his role with another on-point dig route, this time to Corey Robinson, who held on despite solid contact. Golson was intercepted by Max Redfield when an accurate pass bounced off the hands of Prosise down the seam.

It's one part of one practice, but today's competitive segment open to the media belonged to Golson.

Speaking of a small sample size…

Surprise, Surprise...

Most improved from last season: Josh Atkinson. This is of course relatively speaking, because Atkinson has bounced between cornerback and wide receiver during his Irish career, and was summarily torched on the corner throughout spring 2014, but it's notable that the senior appears far more confident, aggressive, (talkative) and simply carries himself differently. He battles with receivers in press coverage, recovers to compete for the ball when he's beaten, and in no way looks overmatched.

If I didn't have three seasons of evidence to suggest otherwise, I'd have left two open practices believing Atkinson was the team's No. 3 cornerback -- he could, however, become it's No. 4 or 5 if he continues this approach.

More likely, Atkinson's aggression and speed will provide a boost in kick and punt coverage.

Also from the Atkinson Files: the senior lined up against speedster Will Fuller at the outset of 7-on-7 action and was immediately chided by skill position players. Tarean Folston opened with, "Give Josh his bizness, Will!" and when Atkinson moved from press coverage to off-man pre-snap, Justin Brent chimed in, "Yeah, you want to play off…"

-- Fuller thereafter beat Atkinson deep on the play, but only after a 55-yard sprint. Everett Golson's past was thrown late, about 60 yards downfield, allowing Atkinson to catch up and break up the go-route. (Let's put it this way, had Aaron Rogers been the quarterback, it would have been six points.)

Last laugh to Atkinson, and he let his teammates know about it thereafter. Good to see him competing on every snap, no matter what comes of it on Saturdays.


-- The Irish offensive line was markedly better than the defensive front for today's contact sessions. (There was no tackling to the ground, however, which offers a natural advantage in terms of aggression to the offense.)

-- Freshman linebacker carries 230 pounds well. Concerns about his lack of bulk (he's an accurate 6'2") are overblown. Morgan will carry 240+ in 2015 without a problem.

-- Fellow frosh Jhonny Williams looks every bit of his listed 6'4" 252 pounds…

-- Redshirt-freshman Michael Deeb made a bit of an impression on my today at inside 'backer. He moved well and covered Ben Koyack well on a skinny post, forcing a high throw in a red zone drill.

-- Austin Collinsworth delivered both a diving pass breakup over the middle on a pass to Ben Koyack and a big hit that forced an end zone drop by C.J. Prosise, the latter bringing taunting cheers from the defensive sidelines as well as Collinsworth's fellow first stringers, as it was clear Collinsworth "influenced" Prosise's drop.

-- Both Cole Luke and Cody Riggs picked off Malik Zaire -- both were the result of dropped passes (Durham Smythe, Corey Holmes)…

-- Sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith offered a few not-so-friendly words of "encouragement" when Will Fuller didn't fully extend for an end zone pass in traffic. Let's just say Smith explained the potential future dangers of such a route to Fuller should they cross paths in a live scrimmage, and leave it at that...

-- Sophomore WR Corey Robinson failed to hold onto a red zone touchdown opportunity today. He told us post-practice that he's dropped a ball in two straight sessions, and that's a first "since I can remember."

-- Atkinson showed decent (aggressive) coverage against Chris Brown on a red zone fade, though the ball went through Brown's bread basket, drawing the ire of his head coach. Officials were on hand and did not whistle Atkinson for his use of hands on the play.

-- Zaire is quite adept at rolling right and throwing across his body…

-- Golson apologized early to a grad assistant for an errant throw on the run. "My bad, man," he said to his practice partner.

-- Backup long-snapper Hunter Smith worked as K Kyle Brindza's holder today. Smith then switch to LS with the second unit and freshman punter Tyler Newsome held for sophomore walk-on kicker, John Chereson. Brindza hit his first four field goal attempts at increasing depths before missing the final two; Chereson his first four before badly missing his fifth and final attempt.

-- Quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur questioned Zaire's early focus when the latter missed (standing) grad assistants on consecutive throws in a passing drill...

-- Good to hear offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock's booming voice during 7-on-7 after a week away following a surgical procedure…

-- Though Kelly noted post-practice that Farley is cross-training, it's clearly at safety and nickel, not perimeter cornerback -- he ran with the first nickel unit today and his chief competitor, Cody Riggs, noted that Farley is helping him with the differences and rules for nickel at Notre Dame vs. Riggs' previous stop, Florida.

-- As noted often, but rarely believed by the masses, there is no competition at middle linebacker. It's Joe Schmidt. Period. Michael Deeb (2) and Nyles Morgan (3) will have an interesting battle through September for a backup role.

-- Kelly offered today that he wasn't sure what the team might get from Jarrett Grace early in the season as they hadn't "cut him loose yet." Grace is active and in pads, but was not in contact at all Saturday morning.

-- Should you choose to partake in legal sports gambling, you could do worse than to bet the over in all 12 Notre Dame games and take your chances on winning at least 8-9 of those 13 wagers…

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