Practice Impressions: Stock Up, And Otherwise

A run down of Notre Dame’s best efforts, both from Tuesday’s practice and August Camp to date.

STOCK UP

Most of the musings below are the result of Tuesday’s practice viewing, but a few are camp-long as well:

Avery Sebastian – Consecutive practices in which he earned ample first team reps at strong safety, both in the base defense and nickel/dime looks. Sebastian joined the program in late June – he’s clearly fully engaged.

Concerns remain in coverage where Nic Weishar beat him for a 7-on-7 score. Par for the course for Mr. Weishar this August.

Cole Luke – Much better Tuesday than Saturday. Much better Saturday than previously. Notre Dame is unlikely to entertain the theory that KeiVarae Russell has to shadow a team’s best wide receiver as long as Luke is healthy (this is per Todd Lyght).

Aliz’e Jones – So that’s what all you recruiting folk were talking about. Jones looked the part Tuesday, a gazelle running down the middle of the field and extending for an over-the-shoulder catch. It wasn’t so much that the freshman was open by 10 yards (Drue Tranquill) but the effortless nature of the play from start to finish.

Jones later ran past senior Elijah Shumate for a score on a corner route TD. Big day.

Drue Tranquill – A physical presence in the box, and after being beaten by Jones deep and Nic Weishar on a corner route (a poor throw by Malik Zaire resulted in an incomplete pass), Tranquill bounced back to break up two passes in 7-on-7. Then he took his usual spot as a roving dime linebacker and reminded everyone what he does best: attack.

(Disagree with Brian Kelly’s kind assertion that Tranquill can play “off the hash” this season. He belongs in the scrimmage scrum.)

Equanimeous St. Brown – Hereafter known on these pages as ESB, the kid is a natural. Footwork is impressive on comeback routes, snapping it off and exploding back to the pass. Check out our Pete Sampson’s article on St. Brown from Thursday.

Steve Elmer – It’s almost not fair when the Irish run power and Elmer is able to bring the hammer. His proving ground will be in pass protection on 3rd-and-8…

Miles Boykin – A good release off the line to beat Ashton White; a touchdown vs. Devin Butler on a goal line dig route – he’s a future weapon on the inside slant with that frame (six-foot-three-plus and 225) and body control.

Torii Hunter, Jr. – Works between the hashes with aplomb and is a natural pass-catcher when he has to adjust to a throw. Hunter beat Max Redfield in space, reaching back for a high grab without breaking stride upon landing and likewise torched Shumate for 55 yards on a gorgeous throw by DeShone Kizer.

DeShone Kizer – The above-noted bomb to Hunter, a perfect dig route to ESB (dropped); a stand-and-deliver dig route to Corey Robinson in scrimmage; and a drop-in-the-bucket corner route to walk-on Chris Finke vs. Mykelti Williams. When he’s allowed to set and throw in a comfortable red jersey, Kizer is the best quarterback on the field.

Nothing to do with what a game would be like, of course, but he can spin it.

Chris Finke – I think Finke (#27) just beat another scholarship player for a touchdown as I typed these notes Friday morning. Yep…there’s another one. (Irish fans will get to see five-foot-nine, 165-pound Finke on a “Safe” punt return or two this fall, we get to see him clowning kids in 7-on-7 drills.)

Whoops, he just got open again…

C.J. Sanders vs. Shaun Crawford – To quote colleague Evan Sharpley: “No one can win consecutive reps between these two.” He’s right, it’s been a fantastic camp-long battle to watch, and the last rep witnessed was a corner-route score by Sanders just past the outstretched arms of Crawford.

Matthias Farley – Had a better day in coverage after a rough camp. Nice timing on some PDs over the middle.

Doug Randolph – Got in the mix as a sub package, stand-up DE in a two-point stance (also dropped into coverage).

Max Redfield – Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder wasn’t effusive in his praise of Redfield yesterday, but I will be. His athleticism is on display each time we enter the LaBar gates.

Jaylon Smith – My goodness.

TIME TO PICK IT UP, SON

When there’s a winner and a loser on every snap, not everyone can look good -- but it’d be nice if all were fully engaged:

Justin Brent – Appeared to be hampered by injury and didn’t take live reps as a runner, though he did engage in a physical special teams drill – one he lost handily to Greer Martini. Previously, Brent faced the wrath of Brian Kelly for not jumping in as a slot receiver in an open backfield skeleton drill – then proceeded to treat the drill as a nuisance. (To be clear, no contact was to be included, but movement would have been nice.)

If the season started today, I’m confident Notre Dame’s running back pecking order would place Brent behind both freshmen ‘backs and walk-on Josh Anderson. Well behind Anderson.

Corey Holmes – Muscled out of a catch by Nick Watkins; dropped a touchdown in scrimmage; looks the part of receiver No. 11 in the 11-receiver unit. Holmes doesn’t seem to compete with the consistent fervor of his position-mates, though it should be noted that he won a key 3-on-3 blocking drill in punt return, springing his runner for “a score.”

A special teams niche would be a good start for Holmes in 2015.

Elijah Shumate – Is his (planned) added weight limiting his ability to turn and run? He doesn’t look as athletic as season’s past.

Edge Rushers – Interesting to see VanGorder use Trumbetti as a stand-up rusher – aligned almost as a Mike linebacker – in the sub packages. Interesting for two reasons:

  1. It was effective – he has a knack for timing and crashing through the pocket.

  2. No one is coming off the edge consistently, including Trumbetti. There are myriad good football players on this Irish defense but none of them will remind you of Derrick Thomas. Look for Trumbetti, Tranquill, and Jaylon Smith to bring consistent pressure in blitz packages against Texas and Virginia – then opponents and the Irish will have to adjust.

The Red-Jersey’d Malik Zaire – It’s not his forte. But when the bullets go live, Zaire will produce. But as one colleague noted Tuesday: “They better be able to run it.”

SPECIAL TEAMS, SPECIAL TEAMS, SPECIAL TEAMS

Nice to see the Irish engaged in multiple contact ST drills. The most exciting (and telling of a player’s desire) was a three-on-three blocking drill in which the punt is live, the returner is live, and three blockers/defenders are live (but no other players are on the field).

Plenty of spark and excitement displayed by teammates that stood to the side and watched the heavily rotated drill, one highlighted by individual efforts Greer Martini and Corey Holmes.

-- Look for Martini, Butler, Tranquill, Onwualu, Farley, the ballyhooed Nick Ossello (the former Irish Lacrosse player missed a tackle in the 3-on-3 drill, so let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet), Sebastian, Jarrett Grace, Nyles Morgan, and Nick Watkins to be mainstays on the Irish run teams at season’s outset.

The Irish will likely miss the solid efforts of Prosise and Redfield on their run teams this fall, but they have to rest sometime.

-- Will KeiVarae Russell and Jaylon Smith join one of the four Irish run teams? That’s the rumor regarding Smith and I’ve seen Russell’s impact first-hand on C.J. Sander’s oft-referenced punt return.

--- Hello, my name is Justin Yoon. I make field goals.

PRACTICE SNIPPETS

Things that caught my eye Tuesday: some will matter, some won’t, but hey, it’s August, and we like football.

-- If freshman DT Elijah Taylor is looking for the number of that truck that blind-sided him Tuesday it was #7056 – Hunter Bivin and Quenton Nelson. In the history of one-sided reps, this was near the top.

-- That was freshman runner Dexter Williams that never followed Kizer for an option run to the left

-- Brandon Wimbush shows nice touch on deep corner routes. His release seems to include wrist-action similar to a snapped off jump shot that gives the ball loft.

-- Jarrett Grace, welcome back to the fray. Signed: Quenton Nelson.

-- Joe Schmidt’s voice continues to ring out in every scrimmage situation. The Irish defense might not be lost without him as it was in 2014, but its doubtless far better with him.

-- I view 1st-and-goal fade routes with as much disdain as Brent does a skeleton drill, so it was nice to see Nick Coleman break up an end zone fade to Fuller. Maybe if more are knocked down or sail out of bounds the Irish will decide to hammer it off tackle instead.

-- Max Redfield’s TD du jour included an incredible effort by Ronnie Stanley sprinting after him. Stanley had a bit of an angle on Redfield and might have beaten him to the spot if not for the blocking efforts of one Jaylon Smith.

Lotta talent on that return.

Quote of the Day: Asked if his red zone defense was the key to a better season in 2015, Kelly responded: “Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of things. Holding the football in special teams is important.”

Serving of Humble Pie for One, Please: KeiVarae Russell found himself in a trailing position behind Will Fuller on a perfectly executed tunnel screen touchdown from more than 50 yards out. The distance the gliding Fuller effortlessly put between him and Russell (and everyone else) giving full speed chase was eye opening.

When Fuller gets a step on the football field, it is OVER. 


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