Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Practice Report: Defense – August 17

Notre Dame’s defense got some speed on the field Wednesday during its Media Day practice as a few new freshmen entered the lineup against the starting offense.

Notre Dame went in full pads on Wednesday’s practice as temperatures returned to usual August levels in the mid-80’s. The Irish definitely felt the heat today. Before jumping into position-by-position analysis, some quick hits from the session.

News of the day: Jay Hayes walked into practice with a walking boot on his left foot and did not participate in the practice. Andrew Trumbetti returned to the starting lineup with Hayes out.

Sprint of the day: Jarron Jones with an 80-yard dash after a Javon McKinley fumble during the scrimmage. Seriously, he went 80 yards. Looked good doing it too. Not Stephon Tuitt against Navy in Ireland good, but there was athleticism happening.

Hit of the day: Nyles Morgan launched Tarean Folston out of bounds in the red zone drill, which didn’t go over very well with the running back. Wasn’t a pop the running back saw coming considering how much elevation he got.

Scheme of the day: Brian Kelly has referenced it, but Notre Dame showed a “speed package” or something similar. Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes got into the mix against the starting offense. This might be a way to keep James Onwualu on the field in passing situations. The Sam linebacker usually subs out in nickel and dime.

Stock Up: Julian Love as a potential nickel back, and not just among the reserves. The freshman looked very good on multiple reps, including a pass breakup of Torii Hunter Jr. during the scrimmage portion. There’s a Football IQ here that catches your attention.

Defensive Line

At this exact moment it’s not clear how long Notre Dame will be without Jay Hayes (Brian Kelly talks to reporters at 2 p.m.), but that’s a critical absence if he can’t get back soon. Hayes had been having a very nice training camp and offers something unique along the defensive line. Andrew Trumbetti returns to the starting lineup with Hayes out, with Daelin Hayes moving up to the second-team.

One return from injury to note was nose tackle Daniel Cage, who was actually back earlier in the week. But this was the first the media has seen of Cage in person. He worked behind Jarron Jones at nose tackle and with the second-team. That healthy bump removes Pete Mokwuah from the two-deep, although Mokwuah continued to get work too.

In addition to Daelin Hayes, freshman Khalid Kareem got some real work, including in the scrimmage. He’s not nearly as ready to go as Hayes, but the Irish don’t need him to be considering the durability of Isaac Rochell. Didn’t see Kareem make any plays and he got sucked inside on a zone read by DeShone Kizer. Regardless, unlike some earlier practices this camp it seemed Kareem actually got some more work. Jonathan Bonner continues to reps as the second-team defensive end behind Rochell.

That sprint by Jarron Jones aside, it’s important to see the nose guard able to log as many reps as he did today. Brian Kelly has been talking about Jones going more than 30-35 snaps this season (Notre Dame desperately needs it) and Jones held in just fine today.

Linebackers

James Onwualu doesn’t get enough attention among the linebackers right now. He made an outstanding blitz to flush Malik Zaire in the scrimmage and appears to be in tremendous physical condition. Should be an every-down player for the Irish and it appears the staff is working to make than happen more considering the linebacker turnover. Not saying Onwualu is going to be an All-American or even put up great stats, but look for a very, very good year from the senior. Looks like a captain too.

Nyles Morgan is Nyles Morgan at this point. Haven’t seen him have a bad practice this calendar year. We’ve said it on our podcasts but I’ll repeat it here, Morgan should be a true “breakout player” for the defense this season. He covered Torii Hunter Jr. well enough on one red zone rep that Malik Zaire threw the ball away.

Not sure what to make of the Will linebacker position as it appears the Irish still have three candidates for the job: Asmar Bilal, Greer Martini and Te’von Coney. Have a suspicion Martini starts at least a few games there this season. Doesn’t have the size of Coney, but I’d put his athleticism right there with the other two linebackers.

Just don’t know what Notre Dame has in Josh Barajas right now. Not sure the coaches do either. Appears to be an outstanding athlete with excellent size, but Brian VanGorder and Mike Elston spend a lot of time on him in a way they don’t with Morgan. Curious to see how things develop with Barajas, but betting it’s on special teams this year. That’s still a fine first year of being an active player.

Nice pass breakup by Jamir Jones on Alizé Jones in the scrimmage. Both freshman linebackers look like good athletes who can red-shirt this year.

Cornerbacks

Can echo what was written here last week, Cole Luke has developed into an A-list cornerback in camp. Will it keep up all season? KeiVarae Russell looked pretty good last August too. But Luke has moved up a level from being a good cornerback to a potentially great one. A few excellent pass breakups. Showing some solid leadership too, not only within the secondary but also within the entire team. He doesn’t back down from giving it to offensive linemen or quarterbacks during reps.

Noted this in Rewind earlier in the week, but like how much Nick Coleman matches up with Torii Hunter Jr. during 1-on-1 work. Coaches don’t put second-level players against A-list players unless they can take it, and Coleman can take it. Not calling him a second-level player either. Seems more like a legitimate third corner despite barely playing last season. Interested to see what happens with Nick Watkins when he returns. Does Coleman keep the third corner job, which is a starter in nickel?

Liked what I saw from Julian Love today. Plays aggressive and seems to read things out well in scrimmages. Will Love play much this season? Probably not, but if the Irish suffer an injury in the secondary they won’t have to abandon the nickel package immediately like last season. Love also had a great pass breakup on a 1-on-1 jump ball with Chase Claypool.

Safeties

Didn’t expect to spend much time on Avery Sebastian today, but the sixth-year senior turned in arguably the best practice of his Notre Dame career. He had an outstanding pass breakup in the end zone on Durham Smythe, preventing a touchdown. He also showed a real knowledge of the defense, ordering Jalen Elliott to realign before the snap over C.J. Sanders. Elliott panicked, didn’t move, and Sanders made the easy catch. There have been questions about what exactly Sebastian can offer considering his injury history. If today is the new regular, the Irish have a nice reserve safety. They need a few.

Devin Studstill got a lot of first-team work today in his public return to practice, although that seemed to be a way to tone down the work facing Max Redfield. Studstill looked fine at the back, no huge plays allowed.

Elliott worked at free safety behind Studstill. D.J. Morgan appeared ahead of Spencer Perry at strong safety. Didn’t see Nicco Fertitta take a rep.


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