Practice Report: March 23

Notre Dame got outside on Wednesday morning in full pads. While the Irish offense lost some firepower, the depth of the defensive line showed.

Practice Report: Defense - Tim O'Malley

Ideal football weather greeted Notre Dame at the LaBar Practice Complex Wednesday morning. Absent from the defense was redshirt-freshman safety Mykelti Williams while linebackers Greer Martini and Te’Von Coney continued to work on the sideline bikes.

2017 defensive lineman prospect Greg Rogers watched position coach Keith Gilmore tutor his troops today. Rogers is listed as the No. 3 defensive tackle and 34th-best prospect overall per

The Irish opened practice with field goal work. Sophomore Justin Yoon hit from 20 yards (middle), 27 (right), 40 (left), 44 (right), and 49 yards (left) while interspersing back-to-back misses (wide left) from 34 yards out on the left hash. Yoon briefly trotted to the sideline following his second miss, made a quick adjustment, then nailed the three longest offerings in succession.

Senior backup John Chereson hit from 20 and 34 while missing from both 40 and 47 yards out, the latter a wobbler that never had a chance.

No team work during our six-period viewing session today, so defensive alignments should be taken with a grain of salt, but I did make note of the order of each during drill work.

Leading the linebackers in tandem were senior James Onwualu and junior Nyles Morgan followed by the redshirt-freshmen pair Asmar Bilal and Josh Barajas. With the aforementioned Martini and Coney out, the third and fourth pairings included walk-on Jimmy Thompson in tandem with legacy Devyn Spruell, followed by Kier Murphy and Brandon Hutson.

Barajas was corrected for his footwork and immediately responded on the next rep. To reiterate last week’s observation: Bilal is noticeably thicker, his 230-pound frame now resembling a linebacker rather than the lithe safety look of his recruitment.

-- Today’s cornerback pecking order showed Cole Luke and Nick Watkins followed by Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman. Still rehabbing from off-season foot surgery, Devin Butler worked with Jesse Bongiovi and did not have a noticeable brace or tape on his foot (he appeared full speed).

Shaun Crawford was lauded for his strike and ability to consistently bring his hips while Butler was corrected immediately thereafter: “Clear your hips,” said defensive backs coach Todd Lyght to Butler, “Watch the guys that can do it.”

-- Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was on Nick Watkins during an interception drill, offering, “No use in practicing high Nick Watkins. Make it a habit (to stay low).” Watkins did so on his next rep.

Additional bodies are en route this summer but Notre Dame’s safety unit will experience no shortage of reps prior: Max Redfield and Drue Tranquill took first team reps with Avery Sebastian and Nicco Fertitta as the 2s. Devin Studstill and Spencer Perry did not rep in tandem as third teamers, instead receiving direction from Lyght during a particular drill vs. scout team receivers running combination patterns (no football).

Studstill brings great energy to practice, either yelling or laughing following each interception (in an interception drill). Perry will be a linebacker in the future; he towers over his fellow DBs and will fill out his current 204-pound frame with one season in the Irish strength and conditioning program.

-- The Irish defensive line contingent currently numbers 18, 15 of them on scholarship. For what it’s worth, the following was the order of drill work with the assumption that the first four, then next four, fill out the first and second units (and so on):

Andrew Trumbetti, Jerry Tillery, Isaac Rochell, Daniel Cage, Jarron Jones, Jonathan Bonner, Daelin Hayes, Jay Hayes, John Montelus, Khalid Kareem, Elijah Taylor, junior walk-on Marquis Dickerson, Brandon Tiassum, Micah Dew-Treadway, Grant Blankenship, Pete Mokwuah, walk-ons Ryan Kilander, and Lincoln Feist.

Incoming freshmen Ade Ogundeji and Julian Okwara will round out the 20-player group in the summer. A non-freshman buried on Notre Dame’s defensive line depth chart at the end of August Camp is akin to a career death sentence.

-- If I was dropped into practice for the first time and knew nobody prior: Daelin Hayes, Drue Tranquill (moving great), Andrew Trumbetti (all out in drill work), Shaun Crawford (physical, aggressive per usual), Nick Watkins (wingspan is ideal for the position), Nyles Morgan (fluid movements) and Asmar Bilal… “young” guys that look the part.

In good health – and admittedly shoulder injuries are tricky for a front seven football player – Hayes will be a force by mid-2017.

Bilal looks better in a uniform than anyone on the team not named Miles Boykin.

Practice Report: Offense - Pete Sampson

Notre Dame drilled outside on Wednesday morning, taking advantage of some favorable Midwest weather in late March. Outdoor practices during the first month of spring ball have been rare during the past few years, particularly the early morning sessions. Notre Dame went in full pads.

The offense was down some firepower, with Miles Boykin, Colin McGovern and C.J. Sanders all sidelined by apparent injuries. Boykin’s right hand was wrapped, but not in a full cast. It’s not clear what’s keeping Sanders and McGovern out, although Brian Kelly will address the media Wednesday morning after practice. Corey Robinson was also absent from practice again. Awaiting word on what’s keeping Robinson away, but considering his interests outside of football, it literally could be anything.

Regardless, the three absences at wide out left Notre Dame with just four healthy scholarship receivers in Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Holmes, Kevin Stepherson and Equanimeous St. Brown. Hunter, St. Brown and Holmes (slot) worked with the first team, with Stepherson running with the second team. Basically, Notre Dame had as many healthy scholarship tight ends today as it had healthy scholarship wide receivers.

In terms of how Notre Dame lined up offensively, Malik Zaire got the first-team work in Tempo with Tarean Folston and Josh Adams rotating at running back. In addition to St. Brown, Holmes and Hunter, tight ends Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar rotated with the first group. Impressed with the physical gains Weishar has made in the past year. He no longer looks like an undersized tight end. He just looks like a tight end now.

DeShone Kizer, Dexter Williams and Alize Jones all ran with the second team.

Down McGovern, the starting offensive line shifted to become (left to right): Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher, Tristen Hoge and Hunter Bivin. The second-team offensive line came out with (left to right): Jimmy Byrne, Trevor Ruhland, Mark Harrell, Sam Bush and Alex Bars. While Notre Dame has recruited very well on the offensive line in the past few years, the Irish could have used a couple early enrollees at the position today.

A reminder, Alex Bars is not 100 percent after last season’s broken ankle and still playing his way back into shape.

After Tempo drills – that’s basically running offensive plays on air – the offense worked on run game blocking concepts, two offensive linemen and a running back against two defensive linemen and a linebacker. The drills didn’t reveal a ton as they were run at three-quarter speed, but Smythe had one very good rep against Asmar Bilal where he wiped him right out of the play. McGlinchey also had a rep where he rode Isaac Rochell five yards away from the action.

Best moment of practice viewing came courtesy of Nelson working against Ruhland in an earlier period when the offensive linemen went heads up against one another. The point of the drill was blocking in space, taking a defensive lineman and riding him toward the sideline. For Nelson, this meant taking Ruhland about 20 yards and beyond the sideline, forcing the scattering of media who didn’t want to get trampled.

Today was my first shot to get a look at the rebuilt Folston after his ACL tear back in September. Watching him run through the three-on-three drills was a reminder of the player who juked about a half dozen North Carolina players en route to 169 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns back as a sophomore.

Folston looks all of his listed 5-foot-9½, 214 pounds and seems to have the same flexibility and agility of last year. Basically, for how impressive Josh Adams was last season and how good C.J. Prosise was to play his way into the NFL Draft, remember that Folston started over both last August. I’d expect Folston to get the majority of carries again. 

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