Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Practice Report: Defense – Aug. 6

CULVER, Ind. – Notre Dame has some material to mold on defense, where Asmar Bilal made a strong first impression and some young defensive backs turned heads on opening day.

For a third straight year Notre Dame was back at the Culver Academies to open training camp with the Irish catching a weather break for the first time on their opening practice. While it was hot in the 80’s, this wasn’t the scorched earth conditions we’ve seen the past couple years in central Indiana.

But that’s enough of the weather report…

First Look: Depth Chart

Notre Dame showed plenty in terms of its depth chart and kept it fairly consistent throughout the practice, which was notable in the sense the Irish could have rotated liberally within position groups. Notre Dame did mix and match in the 11-on-11 portion of practice by working the third-team defensive line with the second-team back seven, for example. However, this is how the depth chart broke down on Saturday.

The Starters
Defensive Line: Jay Hayes, Daniel Cage, Jerry Tillery, Isaac Rochell
Linebackers: Asmar Bilal (Will), Nyles Morgan (Mike), James Onwualu (Sam)
Secondary: Drue Tranquill, Max Redfield, Shaun Crawford, Cole Luke
Nickel: Onwualu subs out, Crawford moves to slot, Nick Coleman shifts to corner

The Seconds
Defensive Line: Andrew Trumbetti, Elijah Taylor, Jarron Jones, Jonathan Bonner
Linebackers: Te’von Coney (Will), Josh Barajas (Mike), Greer Martini (Sam)
Secondary: Devin Studstill, Avery Sebastian, Nick Coleman, Ashton White
Nickel: Martini subs out, Julian Love enters to play the nickel

The Thirds
Defensive Line: Daelin Hayes, Pete Mokwuah, Micah Dew-Treadway, Khalid Kareem
Linebackers: Jamir Jones (Will), Jonathan Jones (Mike), Devyn Spruell (Sam)
Secondary: Nicco Fertitta, Donte Vaughn, Troy Pride, Jalen Elliott (Spencer Perry and D.J. Morgan got in here too)
Nickel: Onwualu subs in at the nickel

Nick Watkins, who started the Fiesta Bowl, was in uniform and did some position work but did not participate in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11. Watkins suffered a broken arm during spring practice and is expected to require more time to heal.

Interior Defensive Line A Question

Jarron Jones admitted after practice that he tried to push himself too far too fast during spring practice and that’s led to poor conditioning and a slow full recovery from last season’s MCL injury. Brian Kelly has said that Jones just needs to log 20-to-30 snaps to be effective, although he upgraded that to 25-to-35 snaps today. Jones said after practice that he needs the next couple weeks to get himself in better condition. As noted above, he was second-team all day behind Daniel Cage. For a player that dominated the Florida State game, the Irish need Jones to rediscover that form regardless of if he plays 10 snaps or 100 snaps against Texas. That player is not back from injury yet.

Jay Hayes vs. Andrew Trumbetti

Picking up where he left off during spring practice, Jay Hayes ran with the first-team defense all day on Saturday. And he was impressive in doing so, particularly from a run-stop standpoint. On one snap DeShone Kizer had a run left set up well, but Hayes worked around tight end Tyler Luatua to blow it up and crash the running lane. Hayes is still listed at 285 pounds, but he moves better than a lot of Notre Dame’s other defensive linemen at that size. While pass rush might not be his thing, it’s not like the Irish have an abundance of talented weakside rushers just sitting on the bench. Perhaps Daelin Hayes can get there during camp, but right now this job goes to the junior from New York.

Stock Up At Linebacker?

If you’ve been listening to our podcasts, we’ve been high on Greer Martini all off-season as a potential starting Will linebacker. Well, on Day One he was the second-team Sam behind James Onwualu, which is the spot that subs out during nickel packages. The starting Will, which replaces Jaylon Smith, was Asmar Bilal, who looks to be in excellent shape. Te’von Coney ran with he second team and offers Notre Dame another very athletic option at the position.

Nyles Morgan was outstanding today and Notre Dame absolutely has a Mike linebacker who can run stride for stride with tight ends and running backs up the seam. Heck, Morgan did it today with Equanimeous St. Brown straight up the middle. Might have been a pass interference penalty, but Morgan was right there. He’s another player who’s picked up where he left off during spring ball.

Brian Kelly said something interesting on Friday in complimenting Morgan, mainly that the real concern is who’s the No. 2 Mike? Today it was Josh Barajas. Tomorrow it might not be. Barajas really struggled in coverage all day, “How many touchdowns are you going to give up today, Josh?” yelled Mike Elston. Barajas seems like he’s in good shape, but a rough day. Nic Weishar torched him right down the seam for a touchdown.

Liked what I saw from Jonathan Jones too. Broke up a nice pass intended for Jacob Matuska. Listed at 20 pounds heavier than National Signing Day at 220 pounds, Jones looks it. Much further along physically than I would have expected back in February.

Donte Vaughn Hype Train: All Aboard

OK, so Notre Dame doesn’t have a body type like Donte Vaughn at cornerback. Notre Dame might not have a body type like Donte Vaughn at safety either. The freshman from Memphis was very impressive today in mixing it up with the younger receivers. This included a beautiful pass breakup on a deep ball intended for Corey Holmes down the middle. Vaughn had no problem turning and looking for the ball and swatting it away. You know when players talk about the game slowing down for them as they get more experienced? The game seemed sort of slow for a kid in his first practice.

He Said It: Max Redfield

“Never played as fast as I’m playing now, never known as much as I do now. I think this is gonna be the best year of my life.” – Max Redfield

Also, Redfield ran exclusively with the first-team defense today. Brian Kelly said if he sees another four or five solid practices from Redfield this week that he might become a believer. The senior safety already is a believer in himself.

Youth Movements: Cornerback

We’ve written extensively about Shaun Crawford all off-season, but time to spotlight Nick Coleman and Ashton White. Both had really nice practices and combined they matched the pass breakup total by the rest of the secondary combined. Liked how both had an attitude like they’d done it in games before, jawing with the wide outs. White absolutely demolished Javon McKinley after one rep and McKinley didn’t give anything back.

Liked what I saw from Troy Pride and Julian Love as well today. Pride nearly made a great pick during 7-on-7, although he seemed to tap out due to heat later in practice. Love looked decent as the second nickel and seemed to get some praise from the coaching staff.

As noted by Tim O’Malley in our Instant Analysis, the cornerbacks beat the receivers today if you had to declare a winner between the two positions. And it was probably a blowout.

Conditioning Up Tick

Didn’t expect to spend much time checking out Brandon Tiassum today considering he’s coming off a red shirt and isn’t in a position to impact the depth chart much this fall. I’d have to agree with what Isaac Rochell told me on Friday that Tiassum is a much improved player in terms of conditioning.

“I would say the guy that's impressed me the most is Brandon Tiassum. He's worked extremely hard and in the past he hasn't had the best reputation for working hard, but he's kind of turned his act around it's been really impressive, so I'm excited see what he does in camp. I tell him all the time, I'm proud to have him as my teammate. He's been really impressive,” Rochell said.

Tiassum just looks a lot better in uniform now than he did at this time last year. Curious to see where that all goes. Probably a ’17 story and beyond, but a player worth remembering.


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