With saws buzzing, sheet metal clanging and sledgehammers banging on the east side structure under construction amidst the Campus Crossroads project, Notre Dame conducted its final practice of “pre-season camp” Friday in Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame players traditionally celebrate the final day of camp by exchanging jerseys, so it was an adventure identifying players, except the offensive line, which likely wouldn’t dare such a move for fear of Harry Hiestand’s reaction.
The media was allowed access to the first 15 periods of the practice before the team conducted the final 40 minutes in privacy as numerous fakes were incorporated and the team ran live special teams, something Brian Kelly said he hasn’t done at this stage of the pre-season since his days at Grand Valley State.
With Malik Zaire wearing No. 4, DeShone Kizer sporting No. 19 and Brandon Wimbush in his customary No. 12, the quarterbacks went through their usual array of passes with Kizer continuing to be the most accurate thrower in the five practices witnessed by the media.
One could count on one hand – and probably have fingers left over – as to how many inaccurate tosses Kizer has made during those five sessions, although almost all of those throws came in a protective (contact is off limits) red jersey. His deep ball down the right (west) sideline to tight end Alize Jones (No. 34) was absolutely pinpoint as safety Avery Sebastian trailed considerably.
It wasn’t that it was a bad day throwing the football for Zaire, although his toss down the middle of the field – also to Jones – was well off-target and picked off by Elijah Shumate. It was uncertain as to whether the throw simply went awry or the rookie tight end veered off the proper route.
At one point during the 7-on-7, the three quarterbacks completed 13 passes in a row – four by Zaire, five by Kizer and four by Wimbush. Wimbush ended the 7-on-7 by misfiring on throws to Miles Boykin (wearing his customary 81) and an unidentified receiver wearing No. 26.
Early in the practice, in a move-the-ball/tempo drill, Zaire favored Will Fuller (No. 15) on four straight passes.
Tarean Folston (No. 1), C.J. Prosise (No. 82), Justin Brent (his usual No. 11), Dexter Williams (No. 10) and Josh Adams (No. 33).
Prosise went through flex and some early work loosening up, but as the level of intensity quickly picked up, the Irish senior – battling a hip flexor – did not take any live reps.
Kelly said after practice that Prosise is on target to return to action Monday.
Brent was a frequent underneath target for the quarterbacks in 11-on-11. Williams was easily identifiable by his emphasis on clutching the football high and tight.
Will Fuller (No. 15) Amir Carlisle (No. 89), Chris Brown (No. 88), Corey Robinson (No. 2), Corey Holmes (No. 7), Torii Hunter, Jr. (No. 20), Equanimeous St. Brown (No. 35), Durham Smythe (No. 18), Nic Weishar (No. 13), Chase Hounshell (No. 25), Alize Jones (No. 34)
If there was an offensive player of the practice – at least through the first 15 periods – Irish Illustrated’s vote would have gone to X receiver Chris Brown, who swapped his No. 2 jersey for Corey Robinson’s No. 88 and vice versa.
Brown caught every pass thrown his way, including a couple of spectacular grabs down the middle of the field and along the sideline. He tight-roped the sideline to make one grab and made a diving catch down the middle in front of the safeties. He had another catch down the middle of the field falling backwards, and also came back to make a catch on a Zaire throw.
It was a strong performance reminiscent of last year’s pre-season when Brown turned in the most consistently spectacular receptions in the practices open to the media.
Also making a diving grab on an out-route was tight end Durham Smythe, who was back in action after missing time with a hamstring injury. Quite frankly, there was confusion among the media writing practice reports as to which one was Smythe and which one was Nic Weishar (No. 13). Smythe is listed a half-an-inch taller than Weishar and looked to be the one making the diving grab.
Mercifully, none of the offensive linemen changed numbers, and everything was pretty much status quo with the starting unit from the first day of practice still intact (from right to left) – Mike McGlinchey, Steve Elmer, Nick Martin, Quenton Nelson and Ronnie Stanley.
Following practice, Kelly praised Stanley and Martin for their leadership. Kelly raved about the progress Elmer has made in terms of balance, staying on his feet, and blocking effectively on the second level.
With McGlinchey and Nelson, Kelly said they allow their emotions to intervene at times, but that they are outstanding prospects with which to work.
For the first time in the five open practices, we saw Alex Bars working at left tackle with Colin McGovern – who has worked at right guard and right tackle – taking snaps at left guard. The rest of the No. 2 line – Mark Harrell at right tackle, John Montelus at right guard and Sam Mustipher at center – has been the right three-fifths of the line the vast majority of the time.
Kelly said Bars will play at either tackle, guard or both versus Texas. That makes him the top backup at four of the five positions.
Notre Dame moved practice inside the House that Rockne Built Friday, its 17th session of August Camp and with a free weekend looming, the last practice before the team begins preparations for its opener against Texas on Sept. 5.
Complicating matters for the media – the majority of the Irish players switched jersey numbers with a random teammate, clouding the personnel portion of our program today.
DEFENSIVE LINE – 3-4 FRONT
The unit worked on its odd front (3-4) early in the session, with Sheldon Day and Isaac Rochell flanking Jerry Tillery on the nose. The alignment moved Jaylon Smith to the strong side outside ‘backer position with Elijah Shumate opposite. Working in tandem on the inside were Joe Schmidt and Greer Martini.
The defensive backfield was comprised of Max Redfield and Avery Sebastian with KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke taking their normal positions on the corner.
Backups in the 3-4 front were as follows:
-- Andrew Trumbetti and Romeo Okwara bookending Daniel Cage at the pivot
-- James Onwualu (Strong) and Matthias Farley (weak) as outside ‘backers with Nyles Morgan and Jarrett Grace inside.
-- (It is assume) Mykelti Williams and Nicky Baratti were aligned at safeties (wearing irregular numbers).
Unfortunately (for our viewing and reporting purposes), the 3-4 alignment worked against an “offense” made up of scout team defenders.
Of note: It’s not a departure from last season but Trumbetti worked as a standup outside linebacker in the sub package. It appeared to be a rush end look in the nickel as I never saw a dime (sixth defensive back) during drills.
-- Grace wasn’t involved in the 7-on-7 work (that I saw), an indication his niche will indeed be against the power-oriented offenses and game situations the Irish will encounter this fall.
-- Jaylon Smith wore #1 today, a homage to either the suspended Greg Bryant, the 2011 version of Ishaq Williams, or his status among the nation’s linebackers, you make the call.
-- It doesn’t matter what numbers Te’Von Coney and Nyles Morgan don – both get a daily earful from defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
-- Martini and Schmidt working in tandem was an interesting look. Plenty of speed on the field with Smith and Shumate on the edges plus four defensive backs. Martini broke up a pass during the 7-on-7 drills.
-- James Onwualu no longer looks like a converted wide receiver. He’s not only filled out to a linebacker’s weight (232), but he fends off blocks like one as well.
-- Good day today for Elijah Shumate who broke up a pass and intercepted another in 7-on-7 work. Shumate started at safety for the entire viewing period with the exception of his work as an outside ‘backer in 3-4 looks.
-- Shumate and Redfield switched roles briefly today, with Redfield working as the strong side safety near the hash.
-- KeiVarae Russell worked more Nickel (over the slot receiver) than we’ve seen to date. He struggled a bit with the two-way go.
-- Devin Butler also received work with the first unit Nickel on the perimeter with Russell over the slot. Butler was named the team’s No. 3 CB today by Brian Kelly.
-- Cole Luke broke up a pass intended for Fuller, breaking nicely on Fuller’s 12-yard comeback route.
-- Our Tim Prister’s assertion early in camp that Avery Sebastian could struggle in downfield pass coverage proved prescient today, as Equanimeous St. Brown ran by him on a wheel route down the right sidelines for a score (perfect pass by DeShone Kizer, incidentally).
-- Butler was beaten on a corner route by St. Brown who likewise beat Luke on a comeback. Butler had good coverage but the Kizer offering was dropped right in the bucket.
-- Nick Watkins was easy to pick out among the number changes as he’s easily the tallest of the corners with a remarkable wingspan. Interesting to hear Todd Lyght critique Watkins on using the “inside” arm in an attempt to defend a pass rather than his outside arm. Lyght offered in Tuesday’s interview that Watkins often falls into that seemingly (unnatural) poor technique.
-- Butler served as the defensive team leader during the calisthenics portion of FSA.
-- The Irish went live on kick return and punt return during the practice’s final three sessions – closed to the media.
Quote of the Day (he shall remain nameless):
-- Me: “I noticed none of the offensive linemen switched numbers.”
-- Response: “Yeah, I’ll give you one guess as to the reason for that!”
(Offensive Line coach Harry Hiestand might have had a word or two for his troops had they joined the frivolity.)