Practice Report: Opening Day

Pete Sampson and Tim O’Malley break down our first look at spring practice as the Irish look to rebuild with a new coaching staff, new quarterback and host of new talent.

Practice Report: Defense - Pete Sampson

First look at Mike Elko’s new scheme – for 30 minutes, at least – on Wednesday morning during the opening spring practice. Before getting into who’s aligned where, the pace of practice under Elko strikes you immediately. Everything seems to run in multiple groups, meaning the positions are getting almost double the work. In other words, as the defensive ends rep on one side of the field, the defensive tackles rep on the other. While the first group of linebackers go, the second group is preparing. Basically, there’s less standing around than I remember during previous spring practices. Even if the only upside of that is more conditioning, that’s something.

As for the “depth chart” from the first practice:

First-team: Daelin Hayes, Andrew Trumbetti, Jerry Tillery, Jonathan Bonner, Nyles Morgan (Mike), Greer Martini (Buck), Asmar Bilal (Rover), Nick Watkins (corner), Julian Love (corner), Drue Tranquill (safety), Nick Coleman (safety).

Second-team: Jay Hayes, Julian Okwara, Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway, Te’von Coney, Jonathan Jones, Robert Regan (Rover), Donte Vaughn (corner), Troy Pride (corner), Jalen Elliott (safety) and Devin Studstill (safety).

Third-team (mash-up): Daniel Cage, Isaiah Robertson, Spencer Perry, Josh Barajas, Spencer Perry, Nicco Fertitta, D.J. Morgan, Ade Ogundeji, Brandon Tiassum, Pete Mokwuah, Khalid Kareem and Jamir Jones.

Player Impressions

Daelin Hayes: Best looking player in uniform, maybe on the entire roster. Seems like he knows it too as the only player who rolled up his jersey to show off his abs. Took every first-team rep that we saw during the media periods and basically looks like the long, lean pass rusher Notre Dame never seems to have. The fact the first-team defense had Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti working together was interesting. More of a speed look than we’re used to seeing. Hayes lined up in more of a two-point stance with Trumbetti in a three-point stance.

Nick Coleman: Could a third-team corner be a first-team safety? It looked that way on Wednesday. We didn’t see much from Coleman in 1-on-1’s other than Alizé Jones beating him for a reception from Brandon Wimbush, but it’s an interesting depth move at a minimum. The Irish appear rich at cornerback right now without Coleman, which maybe paves the way for him to help at safety.

Defensive Tackles: Beyond Jerry Tillery and maybe Jonathan Bonner, this group is a concern. Elijah Taylor showed some good things last season and needs to show more of them, a lot more moving forward. It was impossible not to watch this practice and not think how much Notre Dame needs Scott Pagano. Unless Daniel Cage makes a full recovery, this position will need a couple surprise contributors among Pete Mokwuah, Brandon Tiassum and Micah Dew-Treadway. That’s a big ask. The Irish really miss Jarron Jones.

Nick Watkins: Brian Kelly said Watkins made a full recovery from the broken arm he suffered during spring practice last year. Believe it. The senior looked good in 1-on-1 drills and position drills from what the media could see. Did get beat by Equanimeous St. Brown (from Brandon Wimbush) in 1-on-1’s, but nothing glaring. Todd Lyght has a very nice group of cornerbacks to work with, and Watkins might be the best. Great length.

Julian Love: Best pass breakup of the day, even if it was swatting an Ian Book pass to Deon McIntosh. Brandon Wimbush did complete a pass to C.J. Sanders on Love, but the sophomore isn’t going to stop everything. Just a solid, do-everything-well corner.

Ade Ogundeji: Yes, the sophomore defensive end probably needs another year in the weight room before getting on the field. But, the former three-star recruit is all sorts of long with his wing span. I continue to be intrigued for the long haul here, even if Ogundeji is working behind Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara.

Asmar Bilal: Brian Kelly said it yesterday that the Rover position depth chart (among other depth charts) won’t be a primary concern during spring ball. Well, behind Bilal at the position today were Robert Regan and Devyn Spruell. So the depth chart is a concern in the sense it lacks scholarship players. Maybe the Irish will find other options during spring ball. Maybe a safety will move down. Maybe incoming freshman Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will be a factor come summer. But right now Bilal just has to be good. The Irish don’t have other options.

Nuts & Bolts

Brian Polian, who said he’d probably work with the offense during non-special teams work, was actually working with the linebackers. Elko works with the safeties, as expected … Daniel Cage does not look close to being ready to play in an actual game right now. He worked with the third team. Might be a tough off-season to get back into fighting shape for the defensive tackle who missed the final month of last season with concussion symptoms … Brian Kelly was in fact spending time with the defense, starting with the defensive line … Shaun Crawford was in uniform and running around a little bit, which is amazing considering he tore his Achilles last September.

Irrational Optimism: Daelin Hayes, Nick Watkins, Nyles Morgan

Need To See More: Khalid Kareem, Spencer Perry, Elijah Taylor


Practice Report: Offense - Tim O'Malley

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Brian Kelly’s eighth-edition Irish opened spring ball today inside the Loftus Sports Complex. Dominating the early stretching periods was the, um, mellifluous voice of Notre Dame’s new director of sports performance, Matt Balis.

(If you’re not motivated – or frightened – into working hard with Balis cajoling you, it’s probably time to pursue another line of work.)

The first unit offensive line showed returnees Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson again anchoring the left side with senior Sam Mustipher in the pivot position. 2016 right tackle Alex Bars began at right guard with redshirt-freshman Tommy Kraemer taking his place at tackle.

Tight end Durham Smythe, running back Josh Adams, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and quarterback Brandon Wimbush comprised four of the six skill positions as expected. They were joined by slot receivers Chris Finke and C.J. Sanders.

(2016 starting X receiver Kevin Stepherson repped with the third team.)

Second String OL: Early enrollee Aaron Banks (LT), fellow semester freshman Robert Hainsey (LG), junior Tristen Hoge (C), his classmate Trevor Ruhland (RG) and redshirt-freshman Liam Eichenberg (RT).

Joining them were running back Dexter Williams, wide receivers Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, and walk-on captain Austin Webster, plus senior tight end Nic Weishar and holder Montgomery VanGorder as the triggerman.

Third Unit: Tight end Alizé Jones joined Stepherson with the skill positions on the third unit. Javon McKinley and Deon McIntosh joined Stepherson as wideouts while Tony Jones, Jr. lined up in the backfield along with quarterback Ian Book.

Fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin worked at left tackle next to walk-on guard Logan Plantz. Redshirt-freshman Parker Boudreaux was the center flanked by senior right guard Jimmy Byrne and walk-on right tackle Sam Bush.

Boudreaux dropped from 295 to 288 over the off-season while Bivin gained 10 pounds to 318. Hainsey is listed as 292 (275 on National Signing Day) and Banks down to 310 after a 320 listing on February 1.

OBSERVATIONS
Early enrollee C.J. Holmes looked every bit of his listed 208 pounds. Sans pads, Holmes fit right in with his veteran position mates in terms of stature.
-- Hey, who’s the walk-on wearing No. 89 that just torched Drue Tranquill in a one-on-one drill? Aha, the nation’s top tight end prospect and early enrollee Brock Wright. Now that makes more sense. (At least you know confirmation bias isn’t at play in this scouting report. I had no idea he was wearing No. 89.)

-- Miles Boykin with the catch of the day, a diving toe-tapper on the sidelines. Of course, he had to dive because he wasn’t quick enough out of his break on a well-thrown ball by Book.

-- Chris Finke from the slot in one-on-one drills remains a mismatch. The former walk-on is unguardable if the defense isn’t allowed to touch him upon the snap (which they were not in this drill).

-- Chase Claypool with seven yards of separation vs. Nicco Fertitta downfield but Book missed wide of his target.

-- Accurate throw by Brandon Wimbush on a bubble screen drill, and it gets there in a hurry. The quarterbacks repped earlier on rolling to both sides and making a decision to keep the pigskin or throw. Wimbush looked comfortable on the roll.

-- Kevin Stepherson gets in on the action by beating Nick Watkins (solid coverage) in a one-on-one drill. Remember, wide receivers have a massive advantage in all of the above. The defense doesn’t jam and they’re left on a full-field island.

-- Austin Webster looks quick on a post route, well-thrown ball by Book.

-- Alizé Jones runs a crisp out route to beat Spencer Perry and sprints the remaining 40 yards to the end zone. He did the same thing last August when we watched the opening drills of training camp – it’s more pertinent these days because he’s not ineligible. Jones is wearing No. 86 which I believe is code for: "You can have the number or your choice when you earn it back.”

-- Equanimeous St. Brown is a tough cover crossing the field.

-- The offensive linemen repped 120 yards away from my balcony perch. And also weren’t wearing pads nor did they face a defender in our 45-minute viewing period, so I’ll withhold judgment on the unit until our first full practice on March 25.

-- A few weight changes (since the last official listings in August) among the offensive linemen to report: Quenton Nelson +4 to 329, Mike McGlinchey +2 to 312, Sam Mustipher minus-5 to 305, and Tommy Kraemer minus-2 to 313.

-- I thought Durham Smythe looked a little thicker and low and behold he’s added 11 pounds since his last official listing in August: 245 to 256.

-- Tony Jones is up nine pounds to 224 since his last listing.

-- Of note, I don’t believe every player has officially weighed in (that was the case last spring) at least prior to the printing of the spring roster. August weights are much more reliable. 

-- There are three full practice viewings (March 25, April 7, and April 19 plus two more of these brief (45 minutes) looks on March 22 and March 31st. The players practice Friday morning (not open to media) and then not again until March 22 due to the University’s spring break.

We’ll talk to Brian Kelly after practice today followed by a quartet of veterans: Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, Josh Adams, and Mike McGlinchey.

Kelly spent most of his early time with the offense but came down to watch defensive linemen (actually defensive ends) during our viewing period as well.


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