Practice Report: Aug. 7

CULVER, Ind. – Notre Dame opened camp Friday and Irish Illustrated broke down the full two hours, position by position. Where might Notre Dame have more depth than expected?

Pete Sampson: Offense

Quarterback

For all the upside of Malik Zaire – mobility, leadership, strength – it was hard to watch Friday’s opening practice and not think about Everett Golson. In a format like an opening practice, where quarterbacks aren’t live and nobody is in pads, Golson’s accuracy could shine. There was an unconscious competence, to use one of Brian Kelly buzzwords, about Golson the passer. The ball got where it needed to go so often that you stopped charting it.

With Zaire, DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush there’s more of an inconsistency. Whereas Golson could read a play out before the snap, Zaire needs the see the play unfold after the snap and then react to it. There’s a good chance that comes during training camp and into the first couple games, but it’s a progress Zaire must make. Perhaps we took for granted that Golson was already there.

Zaire started the Tempo drill against air and struggled to deliver the football. He quickly settled down from there, but it was an up-and-down performance from Notre Dame’s new starter. He continues to look better running the read option or tucking the ball than Golson ever did. On one snap the defense vacated the middle of the field and Zaire had no problem spotting it for what amounted to a 20-yard gain, untouched.

One other highlight for Zaire was a pre-snap recognition where he spotted Amir Carlisle matched with Joe Schmidt. With Matthias Farley late to help – at least based on the reaction of Brian VanGorder afterward – Zaire lofted a touch pass to Carlisle for an easy touchdown. The secret of that play was mental more than physical, which is where Zaire can progress most. To see Zaire go through his progressions is to watch a quarterback deliberating more than reacting.

Very positive first look at Kizer, who completed a better percentage of his passes in 7-on-7 than Zaire did. He threw well with touch and strength. Kizer even completed a nice short ball to Torii Hunter Jr. while rolling left, which isn’t easy for right-handed quarterbacks. There’s no quarterback controversy here, but Kizer looked like a legitimate backup on Friday more than just a second guy on the depth chart. That could be an important development.

Brandon Wimbush had very limited opportunities in his first practice and his throwing motion is more similar to Kizer than Golson. It’s an elongated motion, which can lead to accuracy issues. It will be interesting to see how much work Wimbush gets during August. While Kelly stated publicly that he wants a competition, the understanding privately around the Gug is that Wimbush taking a red-shirt would be ideal. Kizer’s progress may make that more likely.

Running Back

Tarean Folston and CJ Prosise rotated with the starting offense in a light day for the running backs. If one looked better than the other, give the slight edge to Prosise. Not much has changed from spring practice for that pair. Both look like major FBS backs. Prosise is uniquely gifted with agility for his size at 6-foot ½, 220 pounds. He moves like a player built low to the ground like Folston, listed at 5-9 ½, 214 pounds.

Too soon to tell if Justin Brent to running back will work or flame out. Kelly said as much after practice and believes Brent needs to put the pads on before rendering judgment. Brent has an upright running style that’s enhanced by his big frame. Difficult to read into anything he did or didn’t do on opening day, but safe to say that if Kelly wants to stick with this move that it’s going to take a lot of work for both Brent and the staff.

Dexter Williams and Josh Adams both rotated through the second and third groups on offense. Both moved well, which is maybe more notable for Adams because of his height. Listed at almost 6-2, he doesn’t have the kind of upright running style that you see from many taller backs, for example George Atkinson.

Receiver

Will Fuller, Amir Carlisle and Chris Brown made up the starting group on Friday, with the second team coming out with Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr. and Corey Holmes. The most impressive receivers from those six were the two slot guys, Hunter and Carlisle. Hunter had the catch of the day, snaring a pass one-handed with his left on a ball that was behind him. Carlisle got open deep for a touchdown against Joe Schmidt and almost made a circus catch on the sidelines on a lofted pass over two defenders.

In the conversation about moving Prosise to running back, the impact that shift has on Hunter didn’t get much play during spring practice. But based on first impressions during training camp, it appears the Irish still have two capable athletes in the slot with C.J. Sanders a potential third option down the road. Sanders also mixed in with the return game on Friday morning.

Not much to report on Jalen Guyton, Miles Boykin or Equanimeous St. Brown out of the gate, but they all got work with the third team. Looking at the depth chart, it’s hard to find a straight-forward path to playing time for those guys. And based on how little freshmen have played at wide out under Kelly, it’s likely those guys will continue current trends rather than alter them.

Impressed by the tight end group more than expected with Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Nic Weishar, Alize Jones and Chase Hounshell. Smythe looks like a bona fide Notre Dame tight end in terms of the weight that he’s put on since last season. It’s difficult to judge off-season weight gains just based on the roster, but Smythe looks bigger than his listed 245 pounds. Jones, who was a five-star recruit on Scout.com, doesn’t jump off the field as an athletic specimen like Kyle Rudolph (also a five-star) did a few years ago. He’s shorter than Notre Dame’s other tight ends, but he’s listed a 240 pounds, which is impressive for a freshman. The best way to describe Jones is to say that he fit in. The freshman looks like the other Notre Dame tight ends, not a physical outlier like Rudolph or Troy Niklas, but also not undersized as a freshman like Tyler Eifert or Mike Heuerman.

Offensive Line

The offensive line came out as expected on Friday with (left to right) Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey, who absolutely got blown up by Harry Hiestand midway through practice for missing an assignment or playing with the wrong technique. I never remember a coach railing on a player during an opening day of fall camp like that. Have mercy, Harry.

The second team came out (left to right) Hunter Bivin, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, John Montelus and Mark Harrell. The third group (left to right) was Trevor Ruhland, Jimmy Byrne, Tristen Hoge, Sam Bush and Colin McGovern. Look for McGovern to get some second-team work during camp. Ruhland is not a left tackle candidate but the third team is usually a hodgepodge of positions. Ruhland got dominated by Jonathan Bonner and Doug Randolph in pass rush moves later in practice with speed moves. Those were very much “welcome to college!” moments for the freshman. Worth remembering that he’s the only regular freshman offensive lineman on the squad right now because Hoge enrolled early.

Without pads it’s very difficult to comment much on physical play or if Notre Dame has truly picked up where it left off from the Music City Bowl. What is obvious is that the Irish have a collection of highly conditioned athletes at this position, particularly in the first team. Curious to see how the second team develops during camp, but Mustipher seems physically ready in a way he was not last season. If the Irish can get Bivin and McGovern active at tackle with Bars, Montelus and Mustipher getting green lit at guard/center, that’s nice depth. Right now Bars might be the only player from that group that the coaches trust, although he was worked over by Sheldon Day during Bars’ brief work with the first team.

Tim Prister: Defense

• Before the media even reached Oliver Field on the campus of the Culver (Ind.) Academies for Notre Dame’s pre-season-opening practice Friday, they were informed that fifth-year senior linebacker Jarrett Grace would not be in attendance due to an unavoidable commitment pertaining to the one-year MBA program he’ll be participating in this school year.

• Fifth-year senior linebacker Joe Schmidt – who led flex with fifth-year senior center Nick Martin – ran a lap upon the conclusion as the defense headed to the field behind the Oliver Field press box.

The first notion was that Schmidt was not 100 percent healthy. Actually, he was serving the punishment for the entire team when at least one of the more than 100 players on the field did not have his hands directly on the yard line during pushups.

Schmidt then joined the rest of the defense, and like Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder, Todd Lyght and the other coaches whose voices carry, Schmidt could easily be heard as VanGorder’s defense worked extensively on pre-snap defensive adjustments based upon formation.

• It was refreshing to see a first defensive unit exactly the way it was anticipated, which means experienced, quality players are manning each spot after a horrific conclusion to the 2014 season following the season-ending injury suffered by Schmidt.

The first defensive line was comprised of, from right to left, Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell with a linebacker corps of Schmidt, Jaylon Smith and James Onwualu.

The cornerbacks were Cole Luke and the energetic KeiVarae Russell with safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

Jones – coming off a significant foot injury – may have been pacing himself and may have been a bit sluggish at times. But he made it through the nearly two-and-a-half hour practice session while participating in everything the first-team defense was asked to do.

Was Schmidt’s left foot/ankle a little stiff? Not according to Schmidt, who said he’s feeling no pain and no weakness whatsoever.

Russell made several quality plays on the ball and did not show any noticeable rust after missing the 2014 season due to suspension. Redfield looked strong and smooth with a natural flip of the hips on deep balls he defended.

The second defensive unit: DL—Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Jerry Tillery and Grant Blankenship. Once again, another huge difference between last year’s second unit and this year’s, which had virtually no experience.

At linebacker, Greer Martini aligned at Sam with Te’von Coney at Will and Nyles Morgan at Mike.

The cornerbacks were Nick Watkins and Devin Butler with safeties Drue Tranquill and Matthias Farley (when Farley wasn’t playing the nickel). By the way, the No. 2 nickel was freshman Shaun Crawford.

• In a drill in which the defensive backs were instructed to interfere with the receiver to challenge them to make the catch, KeiVarae Russell easily reached across the body of Will Fuller to come up with a PBU in a one-on-one drill. Russell also easily broke on and batted away a stop route by Chris Brown as well.

• Among the players working on the punt coverage team – an isolated “get-off” drill – were: Farley, Tranquill, Onwualu, Shumate, Avery Sebastian (who also worked with the No. 2 unit at safety), walk-on Nick Ossello, Doug Randolph, Nicco Fertitta, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter, Jr., Nyles Morgan, Nick Watkins, Nicky Baratti, John Turner and Devin Butler.

Just caught the tail end of the guys working as the wedge blockers on kickoff returns. Among those seen were Mark Harrell, Hunter Bivin, Jay Hayes, Jonathan Bonner and Chase Hounshell

Torii Hunter Jr. caught a deep ball against Max Redfield. Redfield played it perfectly but simply couldn’t come up with the PBU.

• In the 7-on-7 work, Joe Schmidt defends on a diving drop by Durham Smythe…Nick Watkins breaks nicely on a DeShone Kizer pass to Corey Holmes…Freshman Mykelti Williams defends a deep ball well from Kizer to C.J. Sanders…Schmidt easily gets beaten on a patented Amir Carlisle seam route. In fairness to Schmidt, any ILB would have lost that battle…Devin Butler does a nice job on a deep ball from Brandon Wimbush to Holmes…Russell makes it look like child’s play on a PBU of a Malik Zaire-to-Will Fuller pass.

• General impressions from the first practice…Although willowy, freshman linebacker Asmar Bilal has excellent burst out of the backpedal…The freshman cornerbacks were impressive. In addition to Crawford working at nickel, Nick Coleman is a long 5-foot-11 ½ and Ashton White is solidly built. A good-looking young unit. Like safety Mykelti Williams, too…The quickest defensive end off the snap of the football was Andrew Trumbetti…Isaac Rochell did indeed show off one of his new pass-rush moves, a well-executed swim…Freshman Micah Dew-Treadway – though extremely raw – showed some athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder…

Other than Brian VanGorder’s voice on defense – which carries a country mile – defensive backs coach Toddy Lyght commands some authority on the football field…Interesting for Joe Schmidt to remain on the field in nickel situations with Matthias Farley replacing James Onwualu. Schmidt’s knowledge and communication outweigh what he gives away in athleticism…Late in the practice, the training staff seemed to be working on KeiVarae Russell’s right toes. Blisters? Turf toe? He returned to action shortly thereafter.



IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories

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Pete Sampson: Offense
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Quarterback

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For all the upside of Malik Zaire – mobility, leadership, strength – it was hard to watch Friday’s opening practice and not think about Everett Golson. In a format like an opening practice, where quarterbacks aren’t live and nobody is in pads, Golson’s accuracy could shine. There was an unconscious competence, to use one of Brian Kelly buzzwords, about Golson the passer. The ball got where it needed to go so often that you stopped charting it.

\r\n

With Zaire, DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush there’s more of an inconsistency. Whereas Golson could read a play out before the snap, Zaire needs the see the play unfold after the snap and then react to it. There’s a good chance that comes during training camp and into the first couple games, but it’s a progress Zaire must make. Perhaps we took for granted that Golson was already there.

\r\n

Zaire started the Tempo drill against air and struggled to deliver the football. He quickly settled down from there, but it was an up-and-down performance from Notre Dame’s new starter. He continues to look better running the read option or tucking the ball than Golson ever did. On one snap the defense vacated the middle of the field and Zaire had no problem spotting it for what amounted to a 20-yard gain, untouched.

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One other highlight for Zaire was a pre-snap recognition where he spotted Amir Carlisle matched with Joe Schmidt. With Matthias Farley late to help – at least based on the reaction of Brian VanGorder afterward – Zaire lofted a touch pass to Carlisle for an easy touchdown. The secret of that play was mental more than physical, which is where Zaire can progress most. To see Zaire go through his progressions is to watch a quarterback deliberating more than reacting.

\r\n

Very positive first look at Kizer, who completed a better percentage of his passes in 7-on-7 than Zaire did. He threw well with touch and strength. Kizer even completed a nice short ball to Torii Hunter Jr. while rolling left, which isn’t easy for right-handed quarterbacks. There’s no quarterback controversy here, but Kizer looked like a legitimate backup on Friday more than just a second guy on the depth chart. That could be an important development.

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Brandon Wimbush had very limited opportunities in his first practice and his throwing motion is more similar to Kizer than Golson. It’s an elongated motion, which can lead to accuracy issues. It will be interesting to see how much work Wimbush gets during August. While Kelly stated publicly that he wants a competition, the understanding privately around the Gug is that Wimbush taking a red-shirt would be ideal. Kizer’s progress may make that more likely.

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Running Back

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Tarean Folston and CJ Prosise rotated with the starting offense in a light day for the running backs. If one looked better than the other, give the slight edge to Prosise. Not much has changed from spring practice for that pair. Both look like major FBS backs. Prosise is uniquely gifted with agility for his size at 6-foot ½, 220 pounds. He moves like a player built low to the ground like Folston, listed at 5-9 ½, 214 pounds.

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Too soon to tell if Justin Brent to running back will work or flame out. Kelly said as much after practice and believes Brent needs to put the pads on before rendering judgment. Brent has an upright running style that’s enhanced by his big frame. Difficult to read into anything he did or didn’t do on opening day, but safe to say that if Kelly wants to stick with this move that it’s going to take a lot of work for both Brent and the staff.

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Dexter Williams and Josh Adams both rotated through the second and third groups on offense. Both moved well, which is maybe more notable for Adams because of his height. Listed at almost 6-2, he doesn’t have the kind of upright running style that you see from many taller backs, for example George Atkinson.

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Receiver

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Will Fuller, Amir Carlisle and Chris Brown made up the starting group on Friday, with the second team coming out with Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr. and Corey Holmes. The most impressive receivers from those six were the two slot guys, Hunter and Carlisle. Hunter had the catch of the day, snaring a pass one-handed with his left on a ball that was behind him. Carlisle got open deep for a touchdown against Joe Schmidt and almost made a circus catch on the sidelines on a lofted pass over two defenders.

\r\n

In the conversation about moving Prosise to running back, the impact that shift has on Hunter didn’t get much play during spring practice. But based on first impressions during training camp, it appears the Irish still have two capable athletes in the slot with C.J. Sanders a potential third option down the road. Sanders also mixed in with the return game on Friday morning.

\r\n

Not much to report on Jalen Guyton, Miles Boykin or Equanimeous St. Brown out of the gate, but they all got work with the third team. Looking at the depth chart, it’s hard to find a straight-forward path to playing time for those guys. And based on how little freshmen have played at wide out under Kelly, it’s likely those guys will continue current trends rather than alter them.

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Impressed by the tight end group more than expected with Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Nic Weishar, Alize Jones and Chase Hounshell. Smythe looks like a bona fide Notre Dame tight end in terms of the weight that he’s put on since last season. It’s difficult to judge off-season weight gains just based on the roster, but Smythe looks bigger than his listed 245 pounds. Jones, who was a five-star recruit on Scout.com, doesn’t jump off the field as an athletic specimen like Kyle Rudolph (also a five-star) did a few years ago. He’s shorter than Notre Dame’s other tight ends, but he’s listed a 240 pounds, which is impressive for a freshman. The best way to describe Jones is to say that he fit in. The freshman looks like the other Notre Dame tight ends, not a physical outlier like Rudolph or Troy Niklas, but also not undersized as a freshman like Tyler Eifert or Mike Heuerman.

\r\n

Offensive Line

\r\n

The offensive line came out as expected on Friday with (left to right) Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey, who absolutely got blown up by Harry Hiestand midway through practice for missing an assignment or playing with the wrong technique. I never remember a coach railing on a player during an opening day of fall camp like that. Have mercy, Harry.

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The second team came out (left to right) Hunter Bivin, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, John Montelus and Mark Harrell. The third group (left to right) was Trevor Ruhland, Jimmy Byrne, Tristen Hoge, Sam Bush and Colin McGovern. Look for McGovern to get some second-team work during camp. Ruhland is not a left tackle candidate but the third team is usually a hodgepodge of positions. Ruhland got dominated by Jonathan Bonner and Doug Randolph in pass rush moves later in practice with speed moves. Those were very much “welcome to college!” moments for the freshman. Worth remembering that he’s the only regular freshman offensive lineman on the squad right now because Hoge enrolled early.

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Without pads it’s very difficult to comment much on physical play or if Notre Dame has truly picked up where it left off from the Music City Bowl. What is obvious is that the Irish have a collection of highly conditioned athletes at this position, particularly in the first team. Curious to see how the second team develops during camp, but Mustipher seems physically ready in a way he was not last season. If the Irish can get Bivin and McGovern active at tackle with Bars, Montelus and Mustipher getting green lit at guard/center, that’s nice depth. Right now Bars might be the only player from that group that the coaches trust, although he was worked over by Sheldon Day during Bars’ brief work with the first team.

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Tim Prister: Defense
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• Before the media even reached Oliver Field on the campus of the Culver (Ind.) Academies for Notre Dame’s pre-season-opening practice Friday, they were informed that fifth-year senior linebacker Jarrett Grace would not be in attendance due to an unavoidable commitment pertaining to the one-year MBA program he’ll be participating in this school year.

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• Fifth-year senior linebacker Joe Schmidt – who led flex with fifth-year senior center Nick Martin – ran a lap upon the conclusion as the defense headed to the field behind the Oliver Field press box.

\r\n

The first notion was that Schmidt was not 100 percent healthy. Actually, he was serving the punishment for the entire team when at least one of the more than 100 players on the field did not have his hands directly on the yard line during pushups.

\r\n

Schmidt then joined the rest of the defense, and like Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder, Todd Lyght and the other coaches whose voices carry, Schmidt could easily be heard as VanGorder’s defense worked extensively on pre-snap defensive adjustments based upon formation.

\r\n

• It was refreshing to see a first defensive unit exactly the way it was anticipated, which means experienced, quality players are manning each spot after a horrific conclusion to the 2014 season following the season-ending injury suffered by Schmidt.

\r\n

The first defensive line was comprised of, from right to left, Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell with a linebacker corps of Schmidt, Jaylon Smith and James Onwualu.

\r\n

The cornerbacks were Cole Luke and the energetic KeiVarae Russell with safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

\r\n

Jones – coming off a significant foot injury – may have been pacing himself and may have been a bit sluggish at times. But he made it through the nearly two-and-a-half hour practice session while participating in everything the first-team defense was asked to do.

\r\n

Was Schmidt’s left foot/ankle a little stiff? Not according to Schmidt, who said he’s feeling no pain and no weakness whatsoever.

\r\n

Russell made several quality plays on the ball and did not show any noticeable rust after missing the 2014 season due to suspension. Redfield looked strong and smooth with a natural flip of the hips on deep balls he defended.

\r\n

The second defensive unit: DL—Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Jerry Tillery and Grant Blankenship. Once again, another huge difference between last year’s second unit and this year’s, which had virtually no experience.

\r\n

At linebacker, Greer Martini aligned at Sam with Te’von Coney at Will and Nyles Morgan at Mike.

\r\n

The cornerbacks were Nick Watkins and Devin Butler with safeties Drue Tranquill and Matthias Farley (when Farley wasn’t playing the nickel). By the way, the No. 2 nickel was freshman Shaun Crawford.

\r\n

• In a drill in which the defensive backs were instructed to interfere with the receiver to challenge them to make the catch, KeiVarae Russell easily reached across the body of Will Fuller to come up with a PBU in a one-on-one drill. Russell also easily broke on and batted away a stop route by Chris Brown as well.

\r\n

• Among the players working on the punt coverage team – an isolated “get-off” drill – were: Farley, Tranquill, Onwualu, Shumate, Avery Sebastian (who also worked with the No. 2 unit at safety), walk-on Nick Ossello, Doug Randolph, Nicco Fertitta, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter, Jr., Nyles Morgan, Nick Watkins, Nicky Baratti, John Turner and Devin Butler.

\r\n

Just caught the tail end of the guys working as the wedge blockers on kickoff returns. Among those seen were Mark Harrell, Hunter Bivin, Jay Hayes, Jonathan Bonner and Chase Hounshell

\r\n

Torii Hunter Jr. caught a deep ball against Max Redfield. Redfield played it perfectly but simply couldn’t come up with the PBU.

\r\n

• In the 7-on-7 work, Joe Schmidt defends on a diving drop by Durham Smythe…Nick Watkins breaks nicely on a DeShone Kizer pass to Corey Holmes…Freshman Mykelti Williams defends a deep ball well from Kizer to C.J. Sanders…Schmidt easily gets beaten on a patented Amir Carlisle seam route. In fairness to Schmidt, any ILB would have lost that battle…Devin Butler does a nice job on a deep ball from Brandon Wimbush to Holmes…Russell makes it look like child’s play on a PBU of a Malik Zaire-to-Will Fuller pass.

\r\n

• General impressions from the first practice…Although willowy, freshman linebacker Asmar Bilal has excellent burst out of the backpedal…The freshman cornerbacks were impressive. In addition to Crawford working at nickel, Nick Coleman is a long 5-foot-11 ½ and Ashton White is solidly built. A good-looking young unit. Like safety Mykelti Williams, too…The quickest defensive end off the snap of the football was Andrew Trumbetti…Isaac Rochell did indeed show off one of his new pass-rush moves, a well-executed swim…Freshman Micah Dew-Treadway – though extremely raw – showed some athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder…

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Other than Brian VanGorder’s voice on defense – which carries a country mile – defensive backs coach Toddy Lyght commands some authority on the football field…Interesting for Joe Schmidt to remain on the field in nickel situations with Matthias Farley replacing James Onwualu. Schmidt’s knowledge and communication outweigh what he gives away in athleticism…Late in the practice, the training staff seemed to be working on KeiVarae Russell’s right toes. Blisters? Turf toe? He returned to action shortly thereafter.

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See what Notre Dame fans are saying here

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[MEDIA:734638]
Pete Sampson: Offense

Quarterback

For all the upside of Malik Zaire – mobility, leadership, strength – it was hard to watch Friday’s opening practice and not think about Everett Golson. In a format like an opening practice, where quarterbacks aren’t live and nobody is in pads, Golson’s accuracy could shine. There was an unconscious competence, to use one of Brian Kelly buzzwords, about Golson the passer. The ball got where it needed to go so often that you stopped charting it.

With Zaire, DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush there’s more of an inconsistency. Whereas Golson could read a play out before the snap, Zaire needs the see the play unfold after the snap and then react to it. There’s a good chance that comes during training camp and into the first couple games, but it’s a progress Zaire must make. Perhaps we took for granted that Golson was already there.

Zaire started the Tempo drill against air and struggled to deliver the football. He quickly settled down from there, but it was an up-and-down performance from Notre Dame’s new starter. He continues to look better running the read option or tucking the ball than Golson ever did. On one snap the defense vacated the middle of the field and Zaire had no problem spotting it for what amounted to a 20-yard gain, untouched.

One other highlight for Zaire was a pre-snap recognition where he spotted Amir Carlisle matched with Joe Schmidt. With Matthias Farley late to help – at least based on the reaction of Brian VanGorder afterward – Zaire lofted a touch pass to Carlisle for an easy touchdown. The secret of that play was mental more than physical, which is where Zaire can progress most. To see Zaire go through his progressions is to watch a quarterback deliberating more than reacting.

Very positive first look at Kizer, who completed a better percentage of his passes in 7-on-7 than Zaire did. He threw well with touch and strength. Kizer even completed a nice short ball to Torii Hunter Jr. while rolling left, which isn’t easy for right-handed quarterbacks. There’s no quarterback controversy here, but Kizer looked like a legitimate backup on Friday more than just a second guy on the depth chart. That could be an important development.

Brandon Wimbush had very limited opportunities in his first practice and his throwing motion is more similar to Kizer than Golson. It’s an elongated motion, which can lead to accuracy issues. It will be interesting to see how much work Wimbush gets during August. While Kelly stated publicly that he wants a competition, the understanding privately around the Gug is that Wimbush taking a red-shirt would be ideal. Kizer’s progress may make that more likely.

Running Back

Tarean Folston and CJ Prosise rotated with the starting offense in a light day for the running backs. If one looked better than the other, give the slight edge to Prosise. Not much has changed from spring practice for that pair. Both look like major FBS backs. Prosise is uniquely gifted with agility for his size at 6-foot ½, 220 pounds. He moves like a player built low to the ground like Folston, listed at 5-9 ½, 214 pounds.

Too soon to tell if Justin Brent to running back will work or flame out. Kelly said as much after practice and believes Brent needs to put the pads on before rendering judgment. Brent has an upright running style that’s enhanced by his big frame. Difficult to read into anything he did or didn’t do on opening day, but safe to say that if Kelly wants to stick with this move that it’s going to take a lot of work for both Brent and the staff.

Dexter Williams and Josh Adams both rotated through the second and third groups on offense. Both moved well, which is maybe more notable for Adams because of his height. Listed at almost 6-2, he doesn’t have the kind of upright running style that you see from many taller backs, for example George Atkinson.

Receiver

Will Fuller, Amir Carlisle and Chris Brown made up the starting group on Friday, with the second team coming out with Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr. and Corey Holmes. The most impressive receivers from those six were the two slot guys, Hunter and Carlisle. Hunter had the catch of the day, snaring a pass one-handed with his left on a ball that was behind him. Carlisle got open deep for a touchdown against Joe Schmidt and almost made a circus catch on the sidelines on a lofted pass over two defenders.

In the conversation about moving Prosise to running back, the impact that shift has on Hunter didn’t get much play during spring practice. But based on first impressions during training camp, it appears the Irish still have two capable athletes in the slot with C.J. Sanders a potential third option down the road. Sanders also mixed in with the return game on Friday morning.

Not much to report on Jalen Guyton, Miles Boykin or Equanimeous St. Brown out of the gate, but they all got work with the third team. Looking at the depth chart, it’s hard to find a straight-forward path to playing time for those guys. And based on how little freshmen have played at wide out under Kelly, it’s likely those guys will continue current trends rather than alter them.

Impressed by the tight end group more than expected with Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Nic Weishar, Alize Jones and Chase Hounshell. Smythe looks like a bona fide Notre Dame tight end in terms of the weight that he’s put on since last season. It’s difficult to judge off-season weight gains just based on the roster, but Smythe looks bigger than his listed 245 pounds. Jones, who was a five-star recruit on Scout.com, doesn’t jump off the field as an athletic specimen like Kyle Rudolph (also a five-star) did a few years ago. He’s shorter than Notre Dame’s other tight ends, but he’s listed a 240 pounds, which is impressive for a freshman. The best way to describe Jones is to say that he fit in. The freshman looks like the other Notre Dame tight ends, not a physical outlier like Rudolph or Troy Niklas, but also not undersized as a freshman like Tyler Eifert or Mike Heuerman.

Offensive Line

The offensive line came out as expected on Friday with (left to right) Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey, who absolutely got blown up by Harry Hiestand midway through practice for missing an assignment or playing with the wrong technique. I never remember a coach railing on a player during an opening day of fall camp like that. Have mercy, Harry.

The second team came out (left to right) Hunter Bivin, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, John Montelus and Mark Harrell. The third group (left to right) was Trevor Ruhland, Jimmy Byrne, Tristen Hoge, Sam Bush and Colin McGovern. Look for McGovern to get some second-team work during camp. Ruhland is not a left tackle candidate but the third team is usually a hodgepodge of positions. Ruhland got dominated by Jonathan Bonner and Doug Randolph in pass rush moves later in practice with speed moves. Those were very much “welcome to college!” moments for the freshman. Worth remembering that he’s the only regular freshman offensive lineman on the squad right now because Hoge enrolled early.

Without pads it’s very difficult to comment much on physical play or if Notre Dame has truly picked up where it left off from the Music City Bowl. What is obvious is that the Irish have a collection of highly conditioned athletes at this position, particularly in the first team. Curious to see how the second team develops during camp, but Mustipher seems physically ready in a way he was not last season. If the Irish can get Bivin and McGovern active at tackle with Bars, Montelus and Mustipher getting green lit at guard/center, that’s nice depth. Right now Bars might be the only player from that group that the coaches trust, although he was worked over by Sheldon Day during Bars’ brief work with the first team.

Tim Prister: Defense

• Before the media even reached Oliver Field on the campus of the Culver (Ind.) Academies for Notre Dame’s pre-season-opening practice Friday, they were informed that fifth-year senior linebacker Jarrett Grace would not be in attendance due to an unavoidable commitment pertaining to the one-year MBA program he’ll be participating in this school year.

• Fifth-year senior linebacker Joe Schmidt – who led flex with fifth-year senior center Nick Martin – ran a lap upon the conclusion as the defense headed to the field behind the Oliver Field press box.

The first notion was that Schmidt was not 100 percent healthy. Actually, he was serving the punishment for the entire team when at least one of the more than 100 players on the field did not have his hands directly on the yard line during pushups.

Schmidt then joined the rest of the defense, and like Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder, Todd Lyght and the other coaches whose voices carry, Schmidt could easily be heard as VanGorder’s defense worked extensively on pre-snap defensive adjustments based upon formation.

• It was refreshing to see a first defensive unit exactly the way it was anticipated, which means experienced, quality players are manning each spot after a horrific conclusion to the 2014 season following the season-ending injury suffered by Schmidt.

The first defensive line was comprised of, from right to left, Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell with a linebacker corps of Schmidt, Jaylon Smith and James Onwualu.

The cornerbacks were Cole Luke and the energetic KeiVarae Russell with safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

Jones – coming off a significant foot injury – may have been pacing himself and may have been a bit sluggish at times. But he made it through the nearly two-and-a-half hour practice session while participating in everything the first-team defense was asked to do.

Was Schmidt’s left foot/ankle a little stiff? Not according to Schmidt, who said he’s feeling no pain and no weakness whatsoever.

Russell made several quality plays on the ball and did not show any noticeable rust after missing the 2014 season due to suspension. Redfield looked strong and smooth with a natural flip of the hips on deep balls he defended.

The second defensive unit: DL—Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Jerry Tillery and Grant Blankenship. Once again, another huge difference between last year’s second unit and this year’s, which had virtually no experience.

At linebacker, Greer Martini aligned at Sam with Te’von Coney at Will and Nyles Morgan at Mike.

The cornerbacks were Nick Watkins and Devin Butler with safeties Drue Tranquill and Matthias Farley (when Farley wasn’t playing the nickel). By the way, the No. 2 nickel was freshman Shaun Crawford.

• In a drill in which the defensive backs were instructed to interfere with the receiver to challenge them to make the catch, KeiVarae Russell easily reached across the body of Will Fuller to come up with a PBU in a one-on-one drill. Russell also easily broke on and batted away a stop route by Chris Brown as well.

• Among the players working on the punt coverage team – an isolated “get-off” drill – were: Farley, Tranquill, Onwualu, Shumate, Avery Sebastian (who also worked with the No. 2 unit at safety), walk-on Nick Ossello, Doug Randolph, Nicco Fertitta, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter, Jr., Nyles Morgan, Nick Watkins, Nicky Baratti, John Turner and Devin Butler.

Just caught the tail end of the guys working as the wedge blockers on kickoff returns. Among those seen were Mark Harrell, Hunter Bivin, Jay Hayes, Jonathan Bonner and Chase Hounshell

Torii Hunter Jr. caught a deep ball against Max Redfield. Redfield played it perfectly but simply couldn’t come up with the PBU.

• In the 7-on-7 work, Joe Schmidt defends on a diving drop by Durham Smythe…Nick Watkins breaks nicely on a DeShone Kizer pass to Corey Holmes…Freshman Mykelti Williams defends a deep ball well from Kizer to C.J. Sanders…Schmidt easily gets beaten on a patented Amir Carlisle seam route. In fairness to Schmidt, any ILB would have lost that battle…Devin Butler does a nice job on a deep ball from Brandon Wimbush to Holmes…Russell makes it look like child’s play on a PBU of a Malik Zaire-to-Will Fuller pass.

• General impressions from the first practice…Although willowy, freshman linebacker Asmar Bilal has excellent burst out of the backpedal…The freshman cornerbacks were impressive. In addition to Crawford working at nickel, Nick Coleman is a long 5-foot-11 ½ and Ashton White is solidly built. A good-looking young unit. Like safety Mykelti Williams, too…The quickest defensive end off the snap of the football was Andrew Trumbetti…Isaac Rochell did indeed show off one of his new pass-rush moves, a well-executed swim…Freshman Micah Dew-Treadway – though extremely raw – showed some athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder…

Other than Brian VanGorder’s voice on defense – which carries a country mile – defensive backs coach Toddy Lyght commands some authority on the football field…Interesting for Joe Schmidt to remain on the field in nickel situations with Matthias Farley replacing James Onwualu. Schmidt’s knowledge and communication outweigh what he gives away in athleticism…Late in the practice, the training staff seemed to be working on KeiVarae Russell’s right toes. Blisters? Turf toe? He returned to action shortly thereafter.

[MEDIA:MzAsNDkwMDU0]


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