Observing the Irish

Field-level takeaways from Notre Dame’s two-hour, scrimmage-heavy open practice Saturday morning at the LaBar Practice Complex.

1. The Defense Is Faster – The 2015 Irish defense in no way resembles last year’s late-season sinking ship. The group has both depth and speed to burn among the defensive front seven, and it’s notable that a top level “free agent acquisition” is set to join the fray this summer. They play fast, play together, and play with confidence and aggression.

They’re also a mouthy group, with Max Redfield, Jaylon Smith, Matthias Farley, Elijah Shumate, and Jay Hayes always in someone’s ear pre- and post-play. KeiVarae Russell will fit right in…

2. Concentration Drops -- Was there a receiver that didn’t drop a pass yesterday? Deep balls, hitches, seam routes, out routes, you name it. It’s been a consistent theme this spring, too – easily balls bouncing to the turf that should have been secured.

I’m not being picky, or saying, “You have to make that catch.” (That’s a separate issue, one also present.) Rather, a definitive case of the Dropsies has reached an unacceptable level in the seven-plus hours in which I’ve viewed practice this spring.

3. I Really Like Nic Weishar – Odd observation? Consider it a relative one. I really like Nic Weishar as a redshirt-freshman No. 3 tight end, a player with true potential. And yet he’s not a guy I would consider playing over Durham Smythe for any reason, or ahead of Tyler Luatua for obvious ones.

And Aliz’e Jones is on the way. The tight end recruiting machine that is Notre Dame is remarkable. (Back to Weishar: he’s a tough cover and seems to have a knack for getting open.)

4. Greg Bryant, Punt Returner – Will Fuller is at full speed after his second step, and by full speed, I mean, “see you later” speed. (It is stunning how fast Fuller is at field level). But Bryant is the team’s best punt returner for this modern era in which there’s not often a lot of room to roam upon the catch.

He’s fearless, has great short-space quickness, and can get up-field after a hard foot plant upon the catch. He’ll also run through arm tackles and free defenders, and as we know, the latter is an epidemic that has plagued the Irish punt return team for the better part of five seasons.

5. Nick Watkins, No. 3 CB – Appears to have pulled ahead of Devin Butler for the “starting” cornerback role opposite Cole Luke. That party likely ends in August when KeiVarae Russell returns, but the Irish cornerback duo will be strong through at least 2016 after which Luke graduates.

Watkins is nowhere near a finished product, but the talent – and improvement from last fall – is readily apparent.

6. Line ‘Em Up, Knock ‘Em Down – Notre Dame’s offensive linemen are a massive, aggressive, cohesive, and angry, angry group. During C.J. Prosise’s 70-yard touchdown run (it was second unit against the second unit, by the way), left tackle Hunter Bivin and left guard Quenton Nelson continued to block a nearly defenseless Pete Mokwuah 30 yards down the field until he finally went to the ground.

It was both alarming and enjoyable to watch if you’re a fan of physical football. (30 yards is not an exaggeration). Excessive? Yes. Necessary, considering Prosise was rolling into the end zone? Not at all.

A sign of things to come? One can only hope…

7. Odds and Ends – Sheldon Day is back in attack mode, glad to see his time away from live action was merely prudent and precautionary…For my money, C.J. Prosise’s best run was an 8-yarder over left guard in which he absorbed three hits, not the oft-referenced, untouched 70-yarder in which he out-ran Matthias Farley who had no chance of catching him…

-- If Joe Schmidt returns to form, Notre Dame’s linebacker play will be a national talking point next fall, and it will be because at least five players are heavily involved in the proceedings…RT Mike McGlinchey appears to be a head taller than any member of a very tall Irish offensive line…

-- Love the recruited and developing depth on the Irish defensive line, but it’s essential Jarron Jones returns to form because his presence allows promising second unit players such as Jay Hayes and Jerry Tillery to play small, crucial roles, rather than start and then wear-down over the four-month grind…

-- To borrow a phrase from scouting parlance, Everett Golson’s “arm talent” is remarkable. He made NFL-level throws yesterday (three of which were dropped, I might add)...

-- Timing and trust will be crucial components of Malik Zaire’s development as a passer this summer. He unleashed a few gems Saturday but would have had a better day, statistically, had he trusted what he saw post-snap…

-- Both interceptions yesterday (Golson and Malik Zaire tossed one apiece) were unacceptable mental mistakes…

-- There are going to be couple (or five) colossal after-the-whistle altercations early in August camp. Lot of competitors on this team that get after it and there’s a bunker mentality present in both the offense and defense, one they won’t try to eradicate until at least mid-August when the goal is to come together as one...The offensive line will be at the forefront of these scuffles – they won’t put up with the level of trash talk from a few members of the Irish defense…

-- Top trash-talking moment of the day (fit to print): After a dancing Greg Bryant was lit up by Jay Hayes on the perimeter (credit Te’Von Coney’s effort to fight off a block, causing Bryant to dance rather than go north-south), a sarcastic Max Redfield chided Bryant with this sarcastic gem, “Way to run the ball, baby.”


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories