In our bi-weekly question as to whether quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire threw the ball well during Thursday’s second open pre-season practice, let the record show both were outstanding.
Accuracy among the quarterbacks was not the issue; hanging onto passes thrown right into the hands of the receivers was the culprit in the hit-and-miss day for the offense.
Young receivers are going to have dropped passes, to be sure, but Thursday’s practice session was littered with missed opportunities. Corey Holmes really struggled early before making some plays. Freshman Javon McKinley had a couple miscues to go along with a few other positive efforts.
The most glaring drop, however, came on a perfectly-thrown deep ball by Kizer in which sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown got behind the secondary and allowed a dead-on throw to slip off his fingertips.
Two receivers who had a more consistent day with the quarterbacks were W receiver Miles Boykin and junior tight end Nic Weishar, who is making a habit of lighting things up in the pre-season, as he did in 2015 and to start fall drills Saturday in Culver.
Boykin slipped through the Irish secondary late in the practice and gained about 50 yards on a short throw from Zaire.
Zaire also connected with freshman W receiver Chase Claypool on a deep ball over freshman cornerback Julian Love. Weishar made mincemeat of freshman safety Spencer Perry, who could only flail at the Irish tight end. The combination of Zaire-to-Deon McIntosh also torched cornerback Ashton White, who would turn the tide later in drills.
Kelly commended Weishar for his body control, balance and improved work volume. He said that last year at this time, Weishar already had missed a couple of practices due to heat exhaustion and just the inability to work through practice after practice in the heat.
One missed opportunity came on a tremendously elusive route by Z receiver C.J. Sanders, who turned safety Max Redfield around, only to have Kizer’s throw sail over Sanders’ head. It was one of the few passing miscues by the quarterbacks Thursday.
Note: Zaire generally was the first quarterback to come out with the first unit. With he and Kizer alternating days beginning last Saturday, it was Zaire’s turn to get the first nod.
Regarding how he will pick a starting quarterback, Kelly said the winner of the job would be the one whose presence in the starting lineup is “what’s best for the team to help us win.”
RIGHT GUARD/CENTER ROTATION
The Irish are still trying to find the right fit at center and right guard where four players now appear to be competing for two spots.
Pencil in left tackle Mike McGlinchey, left guard Quenton Nelson and right tackle Alex Bars into the starting lineup. No surprise there. McGlinchey and Nelson are leading candidates for post-season awards while Bars looks ready to begin the process of rising to their level.
Brian Kelly confirmed that the right guards have alternated so far in camp much like the quarterbacks where one works with the first unit one day and then flips roles the next.
Thursday, it was sophomore Tristen Hoge, who is pushing for a starting spot at either right guard or center. He worked predominately at right guard in between center Sam Mustipher and Bars.
Also competing for a starting spot is senior Colin McGovern at right guard with classmate Hunter Bivin. Hoge’s versatility is helpful because it gives him a chance to win a spot at two of the five offensive line positions.
Not sure if Hoge will win the center or right guard spot. But the hunch here is that Hoge will snag one of the two positions.
MCGLINCHEY ON THE MOVE
Not only is Mike McGlinchey becoming an outstanding left tackle, but he’s finding time to mentor his teammates during camp. McGlinchey was the first to jump to Hunter Bivin’s aid following an unsuccessful rep.
Credit McGlinchey for taking advantage of a vulnerable Nyles Morgan, who was caught leaning one way and was literally thrown through the air by a McGlinchey block.
Proof what a valuable commodity McGlinchey is to the Irish and their offensive line, receiver Miles Boykin clogged up a play in which McGlinchey was left sprawling on the ground. Barked Kelly: “Get out of the way, Boykin!”
In other words, don’t hurt one of the cornerstones of the offensive line.
The bulk of the nicks heading into Thursday’s practice were on the defensive side of the football.
Two standout offensive players were slowed: X receiver Torii Hunter Jr. and running back Josh Adams.
Hunter ran routes, but did not mix it up during the physical portions of the practice. He seemed to be favoring his right leg. After practice, Kelly said Hunter was bothered by tendinitis, which they didn’t believe to be serious.
Adams was seen on a stationary bike with freshman safety Devin Studstill. Both have hamstring issues that Kelly did not deem serious.
Kelly also revealed that St. Brown has been hampered with a thumb injury, which could have played a role in his deep-ball drop.
AROUND THE GRIDIRON
• The greatest beneficiary of Adams’ absence was sophomore Dexter Williams, who just keeps looking better and better. Kelly noted Williams’ explosiveness, reckless abandon running style and strength. He added that Williams’ confidence on the field has grown in lockstep with his confidence to succeed in the Notre Dame classroom.
• The Z position suddenly seems loaded. C.J. Sanders, Kevin Stepherson and walk-on Chris Finke all have had noteworthy camps with Sanders overcoming a summer hip injury, Stepherson excelling with his move from X to Z, and Finke proving more every day that he is legit.
Kelly compared Finke to former undersized Irish wideout Robby Toma. “Only he’s faster than Robby Toma,” said Kelly, who then added, “Make sure Toma hears that.”
• Always interesting to observe/listen to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who needs little reason to go off on an emotional tirade. In a one-on-one drill designed for the offensive player, Hunter Bivin was going up against a somewhat passive “defender” played by freshman tackle Liam Eichenberg.
When Eichenberg failed to give Bivin a different variation to help Bivin get better, Hiestand jumped on Eichenberg. In other words, you not only have to block well, but you have to give a strong effort in a “show-team” situation.
• Interesting to see Stepherson and Sanders, both generally Zs, in a stack formation split wide. With Hunter hobbled by tendinitis, it was Stepherson who moved over to the No. 1 X, a position he played throughout the spring.
• We’ve seen a ton of it on film and now we’ve seen in it person. Freshman running back Tony Jones Jr. can a) catch the hell out of the football and b) weave his way through traffic with quick feet and vision. He is a natural running back. Just not sure how many carries will be available with Tarean Folston, Adams and Williams taking the top three spots on the depth chart.
• You’re not going to hear much about freshman quarterback Ian Book this fall. He is a bit undersized, as expected, but he has a nice, tight, over-the-top throwing motion that is quick and efficient.