Practice Report: March 22

Tim Prister and Pete Sampson break down Notre Dame’s third spring practice, where the Irish coaching staff targeted a major deficiency on last year’s roster. Can Notre Dame get that fixed?

Practice Report: Defense - Tim Prister

Notre Dame’s third practice of the spring after a 12-day layoff was in full pads inside the Loftus Sports Complex on Meyo Field Wednesday morning.

• Hearing Matt Balis bark instructions as the team stretched was, for me, reminiscent of former Irish strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti, now with Urban Meyer at Ohio State. They look and sound alike from a distance, which makes sense since their paths crossed in the Meyer regime.

• To throw in one offensive observation, it’s interesting to see the skill position players with a football in their hands as they go through some of their pre-practice running/stretching. Might as well learn to move laterally with a football in your hands, even when you’re just getting loose.

• Shaun Crawford’s shoulder pads were on the ground next to him as the Irish went through flex. He put them on when practice began, but did not take contact as he’s returning from an Achilles injury.

• Per usual, the defense opened in a skeleton formation and chased the football to the sideline. Some mixing and matching going on, but generally speaking the defensive front was situated as it was for the first open practice of the spring with (right to left) Daelin Hayes, Jerry Tillery, Jonathan Bonner and Andrew Trumbetti up front.

The Bonner move from end to tackle makes sense. Although perhaps not possessing ideal interior defensive line size, his athleticism translates better on the inside. He uses his hands pretty well, which should help compensate for a lack of bulk.

Here’s something that hasn’t been written by Irish Illustrated very often the last two years. I like the way Tillery looks. Low pads and a bit of explosiveness. Maybe Mike Elko can extract more from him than his predecessor could. Trumbetti clearly is a bigger version of his previous self. Hayes looks great physically. Now let’s see if it translates in live competition.

• Can’t help but look at the Greer Martini-Nyles Morgan pairing at the Buck-Mike linebacker spots and think that has the makings of a sturdy, physical, productive duo. Asmar Bilal fits the Rover role as well. Linebacker was a strength last year and should be this year again with a capable Te’von Coney next in line.

• Just as the Martini-Morgan duo looks like a capable pairing, the same can be said of Nick Watkins and Julian Love at cornerback. Certainly a healthy Crawford will change the dynamics of the position, but it’s a nice one-two punch at the cornerback spot for now.

• Drue Tranquill, Spencer Perry and D.J. Morgan continue to work at strong safety. Perhaps now that spring break is over and practices will come in a more rapid-fire succession over the next few weeks, Tranquill and/or Perry will get some looks at the Rover.

• The No. 2 defensive line, from right to left, was Julian Okwara (behind Daelin Hayes), Daniel Cage (behind Tillery), Micah Dew-Treadway (behind Bonner) and Jay Hayes (behind Trumbetti).

The No. 3 defensive line was Ade Ogundeji, Brandon Tiassum, Pete Mokwuah and Khalid Kareem.

Okwara and Ogundeji still need to add size and strength. Athletically, they offer plenty; physically, there’s a ways to go.

• Interesting to see Nick Coleman getting reps with the No. 1 defense alongside Tranquill at safety. Certainly Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott are in the mix as well. But Coleman’s extra year in the program over Studstill and Elliott is playing in his favor. Nicco Fertitta and Isaiah Robertson were running with the third unit.

• Behind Watkins at cornerback was Donte Vaughn while taking the No. 2 reps behind love was Troy Pride Jr.
 
• Open-field, one-on-one drills between the skill position offensive players and the Irish defensive backs. It’s a tough drill for the defense to have consistent success because of the open-field nature of the drill.

It’s particularly difficult for a program that for 2½ years often shied away from position-breakdown drills, which explains some of Notre Dame’s past tackling issues.

For the record, the most consistent tackler – by my estimation – was Fertitta with Coleman showing well. There were a few whiffs – Elliott, Ashton White, Tranquill, Watkins and Pride.

Tranquill made a play on Chris Finke, which is no small feat against the shifty athlete in the open field. Other open-field tackles were made by Vaughn (2, including an arm tackle), Robertson (2), Elliott, Studstill, and D.J. Morgan.

• In case you missed it, former Notre Dame special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Scott Booker has taken an analyst’s job at Nebraska, joining former Irish coaches Bob Diaco and Bob Elliott.


Practice Report: Offense - Pete Sampson

Notre Dame worked inside Wednesday morning in full pads during the program’s first spring practice since March 10, the Friday before spring break.

Cutting to the chase on the depth chart, here’s how the offense lined up in the Tempo drill on Wednesday morning:

First Team: Brandon Wimbush, Durham Smythe, Josh Adams, Chris Finke, Equanimeous St. Brown, Chase Claypool, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher, Alex Bars (right guard) and Tommy Kraemer (right tackle). Dexter Williams rotated into this group for Adams.

Second Team: Montgomery VanGorder, Nic Weishar, Tony Jones Jr., Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders, Austin Webster (slot), Robert Hainsey (left tackle), Aaron Banks (left guard), Tristen Hoge (center), Trevor Ruhland (right guard) and Liam Eichenberg (right tackle).

Third Team: Ian Book, Tyler Luatua, C.J. Holmes, Kevin Stepherson, Mick Assaf, Deon McIntosh, Sam Bush (left tackle), Hunter Bivin (left guard), Parker Boudreaux (center), Logan Plantz (right guard) and Jimmy Byrne (right tackle).

Notable from this, Alizé Jones (or Alizé Mack, if you prefer) didn’t take a rep during Tempo and was off to the side with walk-ons, freshmen and injured guys. During the media viewing portion (6.5 periods), we didn’t see him take much in the way of meaningful reps. Read into that what you want, but it’s something to remember down the road. If the junior is back in action academically, it would make sense to get him more work, not less. At least, that’s the theory.

Quarterback

Brandon Wimbush was OK during the media viewing portion of practice. Accuracy was not always on point, but he wasn’t spraying the ball all over the field either. The quarterbacks spent time throwing on the run (to their right) and Wimbush looked comfortable in that department. We’ll learn a lot more on Saturday during the open practice, which should include some scrimmage work. Today only validated what we already knew: Wimbush is a great athlete with a great arm.

Interesting to see Montgomery VanGorder take reps in Tempo ahead of Ian Book. And to be honest, from watching 75 yards away from an elevated end zone view, it’s hard to tell these guys apart. Privately, last year’s coaching staff believed VanGorder was good enough to have started in the MAC. Based on his physical skill set, I think that’s a fair assessment. Curious to see if Book can take these second-team reps moving forward. Again, we’ll learn a lot more on Saturday during the open practice. Getting reps in Tempo doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, but if Book was clearly the No. 2, this rotation wouldn’t happen.

The quarterbacks simulated taking snaps under center.

Running Back

Difficult to get much of a read on the position as it didn’t do much in 1-on-1 drills during the media viewing. But, watching Josh Adams stand next to C.J. Holmes gives you a sense of how much bigger a college junior is than an early enrollee freshman. Adams absolutely towers over Holmes.

Interested to see how this group develops during the weekend’s open practice because we haven’t seen much from them during the opening two practices. Clear pecking order of Adams-Williams-Jones Jr.-Holmes to date. Seems highly likely that it stays that way, too.

Wide Receiver

For the first time (maybe ever, that I’ve seen) the coaching staff put the receivers and defensive backs into tackling drills, meaning the defensive backs had to tackle the receivers in small, confined spaces. And the receivers dominated this drill, almost unnervingly so.

Chase Claypool and Chris Finke both abused the Irish defensive backs, working over a combination of Devin Studstill, Troy Pride, Ashton White and D.J. Morgan. If Morgan was asked to tackle Finke in a phone booth I’m not sure he could make the stop. Equanimeous St. Brown put a big-time move on Drue Tranquill that left the starting safety (for now) grasping for jersey.

One player that caught my attention was Deon McIntosh. While it might not translate to anything on Saturdays, he bowled over Robert Regan in the tackling drill. Not sure we’ve seen much from McIntosh coming out of his red-shirt season. While it’s hard to see where he’d get reps this year, there may be something there worth tracking.

Offensive Line

Not a ton to report as the offensive line worked a full 100 yards away from the media viewing position. The starting five was the same today as it was during the first spring practice, but it will be interesting to see if Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer rotate in some capacity at right tackle.

Maybe more notable, fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin worked with the third-team offensive line. For a player that Brian Kelly said would be in the running for a starting position (meaning in competition for it), odd to see him that far down the depth chart, behind starter Quenton Nelson and backup Aaron Banks, who should still be in high school right now.

Again, as with other positions, we’ll learn a lot more on Saturday. Without watching the linemen cut loose with contact, it’s difficult to know what the Irish have outside of their known quantities on the first team.


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