1 – All In…Now: Ineligible tight end Alizé’ Jones is to be commended for his approach at Notre Dame’s first practice, one in which he took no reps vs. defenders.
Instead, in addition to taking hundreds of reps with the sideline JUGS Machine (some at point blank range), he worked as a one-on-one pass-rusher to aid position-mate Nic Weishar’s pass protection practice. He celebrated with his teammates after big catches (especially Weishar, who enjoyed them in triplicate). He cajoled his fellow tight ends throughout the two-hour session, and he was, notably, one of the last to leave Oliver Field, working alone on pass routes post-practice.
Jones was, in short, the consummate teammate. It was an A+ opening day effort for a player headed for scout team duties over the next four months and, it is to be hoped, through bowl preparations.
And thus it must be said: If Jones put forth even a modicum of such effort in his spring and summer studies as he displayed on the field Saturday, he’d serve as Notre Dame’s No. 2 pass-catcher rather than as the squad’s top cheerleader this fall.
2 – At First Blush: Had I never seen a Notre Dame practice or game before, the following five Irishmen would have ranked as the most impressive offensive players following Practice No. 1:
-- Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey – As noted on today’s podcast, someone opposite this brutish pair is going to get hurt.
-- Torii Hunter Jr. -- The Natural.
-- Nic Weishar -- Picked up where he left off last year. Last August, that is.
-- Brandon Wimbush -- Dude has a howitzer. If the winner of QB Competition 2016 chooses to pursue NFL riches, and the runner-up transfers between now and next season, Wimbush will hit the ground running and not miss a beat in ’17.
3 – Going Deep: What was Notre Dame’s most impressive position group after one open practice? I’ll go with cornerback, where Shaun Crawford and Cole Luke have, for all intents and purposes, starting assignments (left and right) on lockdown. That means the following collection of talent is available in reserve:
-- Nick Coleman: Turned and ran with everyone, showing outstanding deep coverage acumen while also breaking with confidence on short routes. He also had something to say to virtually every pass-catcher he encountered. Outstanding feet.
-- Ashton White: Attitude, aggression, technique, all on point. And attitude. White was locked in for his opening camp salvo. Did I mention White plays with attitude?
-- Donte Vaughn: Lanky freshman corner was champing at the bit (hands literally quivering) pre-snap in a one-on-one drill. A one-on-one drill he dominated thereafter. Vaughn is the most intriguing rookie for me to watch when the rookies don full-pads at practice Thursday in South Bend.
-- Nick Watkins: Last year’s Fiesta Bowl game starter on the left side is not yet fully ready to compete following a broken humerus suffered during the spring. If he returns to form at any point in September, Notre Dame has a competitive, fluid three-deep at the position it will trust more than the 2015 two-deep. Remarkable.
4 – The Man in the Middle: You’re going to like Nyles Morgan, Irish fans. He’s purportedly mastered the scheme (it’s “Year 3” after all!), he can run, hit, cover and perhaps most important, he outright laughed at me when I offered that the corners and receivers showed a penchant for the physical on Day One (linemen, RBs, and LBs are really hamstrung with no pads).
“Ha. That’s not physical, that’s ‘patty-cake,’ Morgan offered. “I’ll show you physical. And they won’t hold as much when I can (fight back).”
5 – Hype Machine: I realized this morning – after more than 11 months of Shaun Crawford chatter and the long-awaited unveiling of the Irish Nickel package – that I’m going to spend the next 4-5 months hoping the redshirt-freshman doesn’t reinjure his knee.
It’s no way to go through life…
6 – Looking Better Than Expected: One practice down, 25+ to go:
-- Junior tight end Tyler Luatua has trimmed down and he made some nice receptions, both down the seam and crossing in traffic. Luatua’s role will be that of an in-line blocker, but it would help if he could serve as an outlet/check down pass-catcher as well.
-- Sophomore slot C.J. Sanders showed no lingering effects of off-season hip surgery. He, spring sensation Kevin Stepherson, and sophomore walk-on extraordinaire Chris Finke offer Mike Denbrock options in the slot.
-- Senior safety Max Redfield has always exuded confidence in post-practice interviews. This time I believed him…
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-- I know it’s not true, but it looked like senior running back Tarean Folston shrunk. Nevertheless, Folston offers defenders little more than a bowling ball-with-knees target when he approaches scrimmage. (Or, in the words of the immortal Keith Jackson, “He just aint’ got no handles on him.”)
No wonder the natural inside runner thrives between the tackles.
7 – Position Battles to (Still) Monitor: With a nod to the reality that nose tackle and running back are position shares (and so too might be slot receiver):
Asmar Bilal vs. Te’von Coney vs. Greer Martini (who also works as a backup Sam) at the Will LB…Sam Mustipher vs. Tristen Hoge at center…Hunter Bivin vs. Tommy Kraemer at right guard…the W receiver position with Equanimeous St. Brown staked to a pre-camp lead followed by Miles Boykin and the freshen duo of Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley.
And yes, the game day pecking order that will work itself out among the Coleman, White, Vaughn backup corner triumvirate. Each appears capable.
Oh yeah, and Kizer and Zaire. Those guys.
8 – Themes for Thursday: We’ll glean much more from Thursday’s open practice on Aug. 11 (remember, it’ll be viewing No. 2 for us but Practice No. 6 for them) than the first of camp, so in addition to monitoring those noted above, a few more newbies of note:
-- Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill: Notre Dame needs youth to rise to the fore in its backup safety ranks.
-- Julian Love and Troy Pride: Love made the better initial impression (Saturday) but defensive backs coach Todd Lyght was bullish on Pride throughout the spring. One could work his way into a second unit Nickel role – and thus weekly special teams action – this fall.
-- Julian Okwara, Daelin Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti: The last of the trio is anything but new, but I’d like to see him come off the edge with authority in August.
Hayes + pads + the Irish O-Line is something I’ve anticipated since spring when the early enrollee took part only in non-contact action.
Okwara is shaped like a bullet. If Trumbetti or Hayes isn’t the answer off the edge, he might get a rookie year look as the season progresses.
9 – Moment of Levity: I was 30 rows away, but it appeared Brian Kelly didn’t know long-time walk-on receiver Buster Sheridan switched jersey numbers in the off-season. (You know, because, why should he?)
Sheridan was working with the W receivers in a skeleton drill and Kelly came over and appeared to say, “Who’s that?” (Sheridan was wearing #18 rather than #85).
A teammate answered, “That’s Buster.”
-- BK: “Oh, Buster. Okay…
-- BK: “Wait, Buster why are you repping there? Get out.” (ND has four scholarship players with one aggregate reception fighting for roles at the position.)
Ah the life of a walk-on...
10 – Discretion is Indeed the Better Part of Valor: At the latter stages of Notre Dame’s first practice, an Irish backup defender – let’s call him “Player A” to save public embarrassment – was clearly upset by what he deemed post-whistle contact. When “Player A” stood up, he rose in an aggressive manner, putting his shoulder into the torso of the offender.
“Player A” shortly thereafter noticed he was about to scrap with one Quenton Nelson. “Player A” wisely chose to instead tap Nelson hard on the helmet and congratulate him on the physical rep.
Wise choice, son. Wise choice.
Until next week, Irish fans…