Practice Report: March 18

Notre Dame got back to work on Wednesday morning and some of the program’s young talent impressed. Tim O’Malley and Pete Sampson run down first takes on offense and defense.


Tim O'malley: Offense

Irish head coach Brian Kelly was joined on the practice field today by ex-Cincinnati offensive coordinator and former Buffalo Bulls head football coach Jeff Quinn. Quinn's role with the football team will be clarified today post-practice when Kelly meets with the media.

Also in attendance but as a visiting coach was Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, a Notre Dame alumnus. Visiting coaches aren't an active part of practice as was Quinn.

FIRST AND SECOND UNIT
The Irish ran through only first- and second-unit skeleton drills at the outset of practice. Guiding the first group was quarterback Everett Golson, joined in the backfield by junior Tarean Folston. Folston's classmate Greg Bryant subbed for his fellow Floridian more than midway through the up-tempo drive.

The offensive line from left to right showed senior Ronnie Stanley, redshirt-freshman Quenton Nelson, 5th-year senior center Nick Martin, junior Steve Elmer, and junior (redshirt-sophomore) Mike McGlinchey.

Durham Smythe served as the tight end (began detached, took more than one snap attached) and was flanked by wideouts Will Fuller and Chris Brown, plus slot receiver Amir Carlisle. Fuller sported a brace on his left hand, the result of a fracture to his third metacarpal.

Malik Zaire controlled the second unit, joined in the backfield by senior slot receiver C.J. Prosise. Kelly noted Tuesday in his opening address that Prosise would cross-train heavily with the running backs, a group that has just two scholarship players (Folston and Bryant) on hand for the spring.

Prosise did not join the wide receivers for unit work during our 30-minute viewing period.

The second string offensive line included Hunter Bivin at left tackle, Alex Bars at left guard, Sam Mustipher at center, John Montelus at right guard and Mark Harrell at right tackle. Joining them both as an in-line blocker but also a detached tight end was Tyler Luatua. The sophomore dropped 10 pounds over the off-season, weight that likely had to come off in order for him to compete as a full-time tight end rather than only a lead blocker in the Irish 12 package.

The second unit wide receivers were slot receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., flanked by sophomore Corey Holmes and junior Corey Robinson. Holmes' classmate, Justin Brent, did not take second team reps and was with the third team (Brent plus 2014 preferred walk-on Keenan Centlivre) in drills, though that alignment is often semantics.

There was no third unit skeleton drill today but redshirt-freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer followed closely with the second unit while the rest remained in the viewing line.

OBSERVATIONS
- 1st year running backs coach Autry Denson guided his unit (Folston, Bryant, Prosise, plus walk-ons Josh Anderson, Ross Bailey, and Austin Ross) through pass-catching drills for the bulk of our viewing period. The 'backs first caught one-step slant routes then sideline go-routes predicated on beating the (non-existent) defender with one hard step inside and an explosion down the sidelines.

Denson was a far better runner for the Irish than he is a current passer of the pigskin…

-- Assistant head coach Mike Denbrock worked with the wide receivers throughout practice while tight ends coach Scott Booker and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand had the two groups generally paired together in our viewing periods. Contact was minimal as the Irish donned helmets, jersey/pants but no shoulder pads as part of the mandatory NCAA acclimation period.

-- Former Irish standouts Chris Watt and Zack Martin watched the Irish offensive line work today. Also on hand is 2015 graduate Conor Hanratty. A potential fifth-year senior next fall, Hanratty chose not to continue his football career.

-- New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford has a four-quarterback group with which to work. Each took part in footwork drills that included 20 yards of continuous drop-backs rather than 3- 5-, or 7-step drops. The quartet worked on standard three-step drops throwing short to the net -- one equipped with a trio of square holes at various heights for accuracy.

-- As noted last spring and August, Bryant catches the ball effortlessly, regardless of its placement…

-- Chuckle if you will at the spring-speak commentary, but left guard Quenton Nelson does not A.) look like a redshirt-freshman, or B.) appear to have much bad weight among his 325 pounds…

-- Stretching lines were led by seniors, including potential 5th-year senior tight end Chase Hounshell. (Hounshell, Golson, Chris Brown, Martin, Carlisle, Prosise, Matthias Farley, Sheldon Day, Jarrett Grace, Joe Schmidt.)

-- Upon noticing my binoculars (we stand above the field in the end zone, and the offense is between 70-120 yards away at all time), 5th-year senior linebacker Joe Schmidt cordially waved…continuously until acknowledged...

-- Our Pete Sampson reports that Zack Martin is one "rocked-up unit" after the two spoke pre-practice...

Pete Sampson: Defense

Notre Dame opened spring practice in the Loftus Center on Wednesday morning without pads as it eases into the off-season schedule. On the injury front, no surprises as Jarron Jones (foot) and Joe Schmidt (ankle, leg) were held out. Schmidt did work through some non-contact position drills and moved well. To put Schmidt’s status into context, there is no comparison to where Jarrett Grace was last year to where Schmidt is today. Schmidt is way out in front.

Speaking of Grace, for all the buzz on his condition, the senior linebacker took reps with the second-team behind Nyles Morgan. There was no limp or hesitation to Grace’s movements. How Grace holds up to contact won’t become clear (to the media) until next week when the observation period runs more than 30 minutes. However, in terms of first impressions, Grace made a positive one. Grace even adjusted Daniel Cage’s stance on one rep, the kind of adjustment the MIKE linebacker has to make in Brian VanGorder’s defense.

In terms of depth charts, the Irish did come out in a full 11 for one period. First group: Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day, Jacob Matuska and Isaac Rochell; Jaylon Smith, Nyles Morgan and James Onwualu; Max Redfield, Elijah Shumate, Cole Luke and Devin Butler. Second group: Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Daniel Cage and Grant Blankenship; Te’Von Coney, Jarrett Grace and Greer Martini; Connor Cavalaris, Matthias Farley (safety), John Turner (safety) and Nick Watkins.

Players who worked with the third group: Jonathan Bonner, Jerry Tillery, Michael Deeb, Micah Dew-Treadway, Jhonny Williams and Nicky Baratti.

Didn’t see Drue Tranquill (ACL), take any reps in the full defense, however, the freshman safety moved very well through some position-specific drills and had no problem getting off the ground to highpoint the football. Like Grace, his recovery would appear to be as advertised.

On the three early enrollees on defense, Jerry Tillery is an incredibly lean 300-pounder for the position and moved well. Not sure what the ceiling is for Tillery is in terms of size, but there is a lot of room to put weight on that frame. He’s a very well-conditioned athlete for any class, never mind an early enrollee. Te’Von Coney grasped the basics during the 30-minute observation period and worked with the second-team defense. In position work his technique wasn’t at an upperclassman’s level, but he didn’t hesitate in his movements either. Not much to report on Micah Dew-Treadway. A longer road to time than Tillery.

Of the freshman defensive linemen, Jay Hayes leads the pack in build and off-season work. Hard to say if he looks like he actually added 20 pounds from the end of last season, but the former four-star prospect looks like a legit college defensive lineman now instead of a freshman on the verge of being physically overwhelmed. Difficult to make much of Jhonny Williams after he put on eight pounds, but the freshman defensive end does look thick for the position. Will be curious to see him take live reps in open practices later this spring. Daniel Cage is down 10 pounds from his listed weight last season. He likely could trim down more.

Hayes took some first-team work in a run-fit drill when Sheldon Day was held out. I’d expect Day to have a light load this spring, similar to past veterans who already had proven themselves on Saturdays.

On the coaching front, graduate assistant Maurice Crum worked with Todd Lyght and the defensive backs while Brian VanGorder spent his time (during media observation) with the linebackers and Mike Elston. Keith Gilmore worked with the defensive linemen, although VanGorder oversaw some of that work as well.

Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, a former Notre Dame football player, also observed practice.

A few quick hitters: Liked how well Greer Martini moves at the SAM linebacker position and curious if a competition with James Onwualu develops … the Irish are hurting at safety as expected. Beyond Redfield and Shumate the second-team of Farley and Turner/Baratti isn’t ideal … Curious if Farley holds the nickel spot, where he played well last season … Jaylon Smith’s athleticism shouldn’t taken for granted, it should be appreciated. So fast/explosive … Nick Watkins’ build reminds me of Devin Butler in terms of length, but Watkins has more pure athleticism … the Irish have more healthy bodies on the defensive line than I can remember from any spring practice, but they’re still young … Few players enjoy football more than Joe Schmidt, even when he’s injured. The senior was all smiles, even without a helmet.

Notre Dame will practice again Friday and Saturday (no media access). The next opportunity to see the Irish work will come Monday on March 23rd and last 30 minutes. We’ll get an opportunity to check out a full spring practice later that week during the Coaches Clinic.


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