Absences, including two of note, were of interest to the media on hand to witness practice No. 6 of Notre Dame’s 2016 football season. Head coach Brian Kelly ran down the laundry list of injuries before preparing to take his team back on the field in the late afternoon, the tail end of the squad’s first of four two-a-day practices over the next eight days.
The most serious of note is one that continues to plague potential starter Nick Watkins, the junior left cornerback who made the first start of his career against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl last January.
“Nick Watkins had a procedure to stimulate bone growth,” said Kelly of Watkins’ broken humerus suffered in spring ball. “We'll take another look at it and probably four weeks. We're hopeful that this procedure which is you know a bit of an aggressive procedure does the trick. We're very hopeful that it will. And we think and you know we've got a good shot and four weeks.”
OUT, INJURED, OR SOMETHING LIKE IT
Kelly noted that Micah Dew-Treadway, at practice on a motorized vehicle, has a “Jones fracture” (fifth metatarsal) and will be out at least eight weeks. Dew-Treadway redshirted last season as a true freshman and will thus logically be worked back into the mix as soon as possible.
-- Junior nose tackle Daniel Cage has a “Grade One” hamstring strain, similar to that of freshman safety Devin Studstill and sophomore running back Josh Adams. Said Kelly of Adams’ injury: “It’s to a lesser extent. We're just being careful with him.”
-- As for impressive “No. 3” running back Dexter Williams, injured at the tail end of practice? “Somebody said a boo-boo,” Kelly offered. (Scheduled to meet the media for post-practice interviews, Williams instead received treatment from the training staff.)
Said Kelly of Williams: “He's very explosive. Runs with a bit of a reckless abandon and he's powerful. I mean you might not think of it when you look at him, but he's very, very strong. His measurables are such that they translate very well as an explosive runner, especially as an inside out runner.”
-- Top target Torii Hunter, Jr., practiced sparingly, a precaution according to Kelly, and not the only one the staff will take over what is expected to be an arduous next week of action. “He's got a little bit of tendinitis. Just being careful,” said Kelly.
“We're at that point where you know, some guys are going to have some designated (days off). We've got 50 GPS units on guys. So we've been monitoring their intensity through repetition over the last seven practices, six practices now so some of these guys for example a couple of guys will have day off this afternoon from practice and some guys were scheduled to be pushed back to about 250 units to 300 units. Torii was one of those guys today.”
Kelly took the time to commend a handful of his competitors’ efforts to date, beginning with members of the senior class.
-- “Been very pleased with Max Redfield,” said Kelly. “He has elevated to that level of consistent performer…he’s been that guy that everybody was hoping for out of high school. He's playing at that level. He's at an elite level, the way he's practicing, the way his volume has increased where he can go all day. And play at a high level.”
-- “Both quarterbacks. They're good,” Kelly joked. “Dexter (Williams) has been good. Tarean Folston has been really good, both as a runner up inside, physical. Showing no effects of his knee without a knee brace running the inside zone play with that kind of recklessness that he's not concerned about his knee.
-- “I think defensively, the one guy that has elevated his game to a new level on the defensive line (is) Isaac Rochell…and Jerry Tillery,” Kelly added. “Jerry's playing so much more physical. At times maybe a little bit finesse last year, but he's playing as it was as a physical three technique this year.”
As for Rochell, Kelly noted the 2015 rock on the edge has added an element of suddenness to his arsenal.
“His movements, his short speed, his first step quickness. He was a bit of lumberer at times. It was more of a win at the point of attack, much more agile. I think if the quarterback comes out on a boot, he's going to be there and be effective. Just much more active, great shape physically, holding his weight
“He had a tendency to lose a lot of weight during camp and has been a great leader for us. But physically he looks the part and has done a great job with that quickness change of direction that we needed from him and he's showing it.”
-- On freshman pass-rushing prospect, Daelin Hayes: “I think he's that hybrid guy that can drop, that can come off the edge. I see him in our sub package (Nickel and/or Dime). He can play over the tight end, he's been impressive. He's going to be a good player for us.”
Hayes combined with backup defensive end Jonathan Bonner for a live sack of DeShone Kizer Thursday. Bonner was aligned inside on the (Nickel) snap.
-- On tight end Nic Weishar, who repeatedly beats the defense’s safeties and linebacker during practice viewings: “He's made progress in the areas of body control, balance and volume,” said Kelly. “At this time last year we had lost him for two or three practices already, overheating, not being able to make it through practice.
“(This camp) Nic hasn't missed a practice. And we've had some pretty hot days out there and as volume has been high. I think just in that, his ability to be out there every single day and take the load of the position has been a big uptick for us.”
Redshirt-freshman wide receiver Miles Boykin enjoyed an outstanding practice Thursday. It was his day. This. Particular. Day.
“He's a work in progress,” said Kelly of his massive target that won battles vs. cornerbacks on slant and dig routes while also breaking off a 40-plus yard run thanks to a vicious stiff arm. “We know his skill set. I mean he's got a catching radius that's incredible. He releases from the line incredibly well. He's smart but he's a bit inconsistent right now.
“And I think that that would be the case with all of those guys that are in there but they show flashes and the flashes are pretty exciting. But he's still got some work to do. He misjudges the ball here and there. He's a big guy doesn't need to jump, he just needs to stay on his feet and needs to catch the ball more consistently.”
Added Kelly of his myriad other young targets:
-- “K.J. Stepherson makes some plays here and there. I think all of receivers will make a play here and there.”
-- Equanimeous St. Brown (who dropped two in front of the media including a would-be gorgeous post-route touchdown from Kizer: ‘He has a tendency to want to catch the ball with his hands up. He's got to flip his hands and be a little bit more aggressive.
“He's dealing with an injury on his thumb, first time, he's protecting it. He's got to be a little bit more aggressive. So just be a little bit more aggressive with your hands. He's doing a really nice job for us. He's going to get open a lot. He's got very good speed. A good route runner. But he's covering up for a bit of a sprained thumb and he's got to go get the football.”
-- Kelly balked at the notion that redshirt-freshman Will linebacker Asmar Bilal had “distanced himself” from competitors at the position:
“No, I would not characterize him as being the guy thus far,” Kelly offered. “I mean I would say he's one of the guys. It's Asmar, it Greer Martini, Te'von (Coney) is doing a great job. I think all three of those guys.
“If you would ask me right now I'd say Asmar's got to catch the other two guys. Greer's really smart and puts himself in really good positions and Te'von's been impressive. I'd probably say Te'von has caught my eye the last couple of them. We scrimmaged back to back days now. First time I've done that a long time. And he's been on it pretty good.”
Bilal took the lion’s share of first team reps in both the base and Nickel package during the media’s two viewings, Practice No. 1 and No. 6.