COMING BACK AND SITTING OUT
The old adage, “You can’t lose your job to injury,” is just that. Old.
The best player at a given time earns the nod in modern competitive sports, and that’s a reality of which Tarean Folston and Malik Zaire – a pair of 2015 opening day starters recovering from injury – are well-aware says Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
“Malik is still working through the strength (recovery),” said Kelly of the senior’s progress this spring. “He’s still a little tender and sore at times with that ankle. Today we just worked on his base, but no, I don’t sense a frustration. He’s a competitive kid, but I don’t think for one second, regardless of what he said to everybody here, that he was going to be handed a job. I think he knows me well enough that people are going to compete for jobs here.”
Zaire had previously expressed frustrations to the media that he would yet again be forced to fight for a starting job entering this, his senior season. Zaire and 2015 breakout star DeShone Kizer will receive nearly identical first and second team reps to that end through team, 7-on-7, and 11-on-11 work according to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford.
As for Folston, it’s (nearly) all systems go in his competition with sophomores Josh Adams and Dexter Williams.
“Just rounding himself back into the physical condition necessary to play in the offense and getting confidence to make that explosive cut,” said Kelly of Folston’s progress to date. “I think the last time he put his foot in the ground and really was explosive, he tore his ACL. So getting past that is where he’s focused, I don’t think he’s frustrated at all.”
Concussion Caution: Notre Dame student body president-elect Corey Robinson spent today’s practice out of uniform due to a concussion – at least his third in the last calendar year.
“We’re going to get an evaluation with a specialist to make sure that we’re covering all the bases with him,” said Kelly of his senior wideout. “He’s had a couple of concussions. Obviously we want to do everything we can to get him all the information necessary where we don’t put him in a position where he doesn’t feel comfortable getting back on the field. So we’ll do that next week and I think we’ll have him in a better position relative to making a decision to get back on the field.”
Yesterday’s Pro Day inside the Loftus Center illustrated a harsh truth for Notre Dame fans.
A lot of speed left the building.
Asked today who among the current crop might have the ability to stretch the field a la Will Fuller last fall, Kelly offered, “Torii Hunter would be that guy right now. We think he’s got top end speed. Elite speed where he can compete with the very best in the country.
“We think Corey (Holmes) is trending that way, not there yet. He has to play with more confidence, attack the football a little bit more aggressively. Torii Hunter would be a guy that can continue to grow into that position. Those two guys have the skills necessary.”
Hunter has moved into Fuller’s X receiver spot with Holmes shifting into the slot in Hunter’s stead. Holmes clocked a 4.39 40-yard dash over the winter, fastest on the squad, but he’s not yet playing to that speed according to his head coach. Holmes redshirted last season as a sophomore after playing two games as a true freshman in 2014.
“There’s track speed, there’s in-line, straight line speed and then there’s, quite frankly, football speed. I think that’s been the struggle with Corey in the first couple of years, to get that to translate,” Kelly said. “Playing fast, playing with confidence. I think he’s gaining the confidence. We’re seeing, definitely, a different football player. He’s not ‘Will Fuller speed’ yet, certainly, although he runs at the same speed he’s not playing at that speed yet. He’s capable. He’s certainly not there yet but he’s moving and trending in the right direction.”
EQ the W: Robinson’s extended spring absence and a broken finger for redshirt-freshman Miles Boykin elicited a shift among Irish wideouts. Sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown, formerly competing at the X position, now works as a W. (The W aligns to the near, or boundary side of the offensive formation while the X plays to the wide, field side.)
“We’re moving him around,” said Kelly of St. Brown. “We’ve had him at W quite a bit. We like the size at the W position because of the short field matchups that you get there. What I like about EQ is speed and size, and physical traits. And he’s really smart. He picks up the entire offense.
“(But) he has to be a more consistent ball catcher. That’s what we have to get from him. I think if he attacks the ball a little bit more aggressively he’ll improve. Really like his smarts, his physical conditioning and love his skill set in terms of his size but attacking the football is what we’re working on right now.”
Not in need of improvement in that realm is early enrollee freshman Kevin Stepherson.
“Stepherson, I hate to put a lot on a freshman, but right now he is an outstanding ball catcher. Maybe our best right now in terms of catching the football,” Kelly said.
Sans Robinson’s three seasons of production (65 receptions), Notre Dame returns just 37 career catches courtesy its wide receivers for 2016, 35 of them by Hunter.
WAIT, HE WEIGHS HOW MUCH?
While the right side of Notre Dame’s offensive line remains a work in progress, the left side – from center down – is crystal clear.
Mike McGlinchey (LT), Quenton Nelson (LG), and Sam Mustipher (C).
“Mike has been our most efficient blocker and Quenton is in the best physical shape that he’s been in,” said Kelly. “He moves extremely well for 346 pounds. He’s a rare, rare, rare football player. Moves well, physically strong, knows his assignments.”
Nelson is listed at 325 pounds on the spring roster, the same listing as last August.
“We’re very fortunate there and Sam (Mustipher) has been very good,” Kelly continued. “Those three guys are really solid football players for us and we love the competition going on the right side.”
The latter includes a shuffling of personnel.
“Hunter Bivin, over the next 4-5 practices and in particular the periods where there’s team competition, we’re getting him some guard work and we want to kick (Alex) Bars out to some tackle work, because we’re still in a very competitive mode on the right side,” said Kelly. “It’s just exciting to see all these guys compete. There are some good football players on the right side but we’re still not sure who is going to be where at those positions.”
Bivin worked as a backup left tackle to Ronnie Stanley last season while Bars started two games at right guard before a broken foot and subsequent surgery truncated his season. He backed up his classmate Nelson, prior.