Practice Report (March 31)

Several positions are alternating between the first and second units on defense. Perhaps the best one-two punch is at Rover with Drue Tranquill and Asmar Bilal.

Practice Report: Defense - Tim Prister

• All but about the last five minutes of the media’s eight-period viewing session was a position-by-position drill work, so not nearly as much “meat on the bone” to report like this past weekend.

• It was interesting to see the pattern that defensive coordinator Mike Elko continues to follow when a position group does not execute the fundamentals of a drill.

Graduate assistant Harland Bower was working with the defensive linemen, two at a time, where they would shoot out of their stance, break down, and then break sharply to their outside shoulder moving laterally.

Elko popped his head in the drill and made Jonathan Bonner and Adetokunbo Ogundeji repeat the movement because their hand placement after coming out of a three-point stance was insufficient.

It truly is a spring of fundamentals and technique.

• Speaking of Ogundeji, the red-shirt freshman was back in action after a weekend of inactivity. Not sure what his physical setback was, but he could be seen working the stationary bike over the weekend.

Ogundeji likely isn’t physically ready to make a down-after-down contribution. But there remains long-term promise with Ogundeji and Julian Okwara, who were described last week by Elston as a couple of long-armed defensive ends with burst.

Neither likely have the weight/strength to hold up against the run, but they remain in play as off-the-edge rushers.

• Several positions are alternating two players on a daily basis. Over the weekend, we saw Jay Hayes as the No. 1 left end. Friday, it was Andrew Trumbetti. Similarly, Micah Dew-Treadway was with the 1s as Jonathan Bonner worked with the 2s.

Joining Trumbetti and Dew-Treadway with the 1s were nose tackle Jerry Tillery and right end Daelin Hayes. Drue Tranquill remained at Rover with Nyles Morgan (Mike) and Greer Martini (Buck), who flip-flopped with Te’von Coney over the weekend.

The back end of the No. 1 defense remained Nick Watkins and Julian Love at field and boundary cornerback respectively with Nick Coleman at field safety and boundary safety Devin Studstill.

• The No. 2 defense: RE-Julian Okwara, DT-Bonner, NT-Daniel Cage, LE-Jay Hayes. Rover-Asmar Bilal, Mike-Jonathan Jones, Buck-Coney, BC-Donte Vaughn, FS-Nicco Fertitta, BS-Jalen Elliott, FC-Troy Pride, Jr.

• The media caught its first glimpse of Mike linebacker Josh Barajas in a couple of weeks. Barajas had been sidelined with an illness. Linebackers coach Clark Lea said Wednesday that Barajas was back at practice that morning.

• Love the Rover tandem of Tranquill and Bilal. Theoretically, Bilal – the true linebacker – is the bigger body and will come into play against more run-oriented teams, which his basically the first month of the 2017 season.

Yet Tranquill now weighs 230 pounds and has always been a physical player. Suffice it to say the Irish have two good-sized Rovers with physicality and good edge speed.

• It’s a bit disconcerting when Bonner and Dew-Treadway struggle with the technique of engaging, lifting and then separating from the one-man sled.

• Surprised to hear Todd Lyght say earlier in the week that Vaughn and Pride weren’t nearly at the level of Watkins and Love at cornerback. Vaughn has had some back soreness and Pride’s track involvement stunted his growth in the weight room.

There was no evidence of a back issue with Vaughn Friday, and Pride continued to run with the 2s.

• It’s always fun to see what practice innovation comes into play from year-to-year. The DBs were working with circular blocking pads (like big donuts) that are rolled in their direction. As they come of a block, they drive through the rolling pad and wrap up through the “donut hole.” Seems like a useful tool.

• You have to be a bit of an old-timer to know this, and the comparison isn’t exact. But when I hear Mike Elko speaking loudly to his troops on the field, he sounds to me like former Notre Dame defensive coordinator/line coach Greg Mattison.

• As for those last five minutes of live action, Coleman made a nice pass breakup on a pass from Brandon Wimbush to Equanimeous St. Brown, ranging from the middle of the field to the sideline to make a play.

On the next play, Miles Boykin got underneath Watkins on a slant and there was no safety help in place to prevent a 70-yard score.

A deep ball from Wimbush to Chris Finke was overthrown and incomplete with, per usual, Love running virtually stride-for-stride with Finke. He is Julian “The Glove” Love.


Practice Report: Offense - Tim O'Malley

Notre Dame remained indoors for its seventh spring practice. Absent from the proceedings was junior running back Dexter Williams. His (scheduled) commitment will be explained today post-practice when the media meets with head coach Brian Kelly.

Still out of action and likely for the duration of spring is early enrollee running back C.J. Holmes (shoulder separation). Holmes was present with his school backpack in tow.

FIRST, SECOND, THIRD...AND NOT
There were two informative periods among the seven made available to the media Friday morning, and as always, the offense’s “Tempo” drill provided a reasonably accurate look at the first, second, and third string performers at this, the midpoint of spring ball.

-- No changes among the first unit offensive line showing, from left to right, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher, Alex Bars, and Tommy Kraemer.
 
It’s worth mentioning we’ve seen only Kraemer working with the first string to begin practice. It’s also relevant that we’ve only seen odd-numbered practices (1, 3, 5, 7), and thus he and classmate Liam Eichenberg(“er”) could be alternating. Both receive first team reps during scrimmages.

Brandon Wimbush was joined in the backfield by Josh Adams. Durham Smythe took his usual spot as the No. 1 tight end with C.J. Sanders (X), Equanimeous St. Brown (W) and Chase Claypool (Z) as Wimbush’s targets.

Second Unit: The offensive line (left to right) was comprised of early enrollee freshman Robert Hainsey, fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin, junior Tristen Hoge, his classmate Trevor Ruhland, and the aforementioned Eichenberg(“er”).

Nic Weishar worked as the second string tight end with Chris Finke (Z and X), Javon McKinley (X and Z) and Miles Boykin (W) as the receivers. Redshirt-freshman Tony Jones, Jr. joined his classmate; quarterback Ian Book in the backfield.

Third Unit: Walk-on Sam Bush (LT), early enrollee freshman Aaron Banks (LG), redshirt-freshman Parker Boudreaux, walk-on Logan Plantz, and senior Jimmy Byrne (RT).

Brock Wright worked at tight end with Deon McIntosh at running back, Kevin Stepherson worked at the X receiver with captain Austin Webster and fellow walk-on Mick Assaf interchanging between Z and W.

Senior Montgomery VanGorder was behind center.

We saw a little two-back look (second back shifts from detached) again but didn’t see enough of practice to witness two tight end alignments. (There was plenty of it in 7-on-7 and red zone work last Saturday.)

Two key takeaways from the alignments above:

1. Not among those participating in the tempo drill – junior Alizé Jones.

(Jones, was, however, sharing first team reps on the blocking sled, in individual work among tight ends, and in skeleton drills.)

2. Deon McIntosh is back at running back. The reasoning, for me, is three-fold:

  1. C.J. Holmes is out for spring. He was one of four scholarship running backs on the roster.
  2. Dexter Williams is likely still battling the ankle/foot injury we saw him suffer last Saturday. That brings the RB total two a mere pair (pre-McIntosh). We’ll update his status after speaking with Brian Kelly.
  3.  McIntosh wasn’t going to make in-roads at wide receiver (he converted to the position last summer).
  4.  Apropos of nothing: I liked McIntosh’s high school film as a one-cut runner.

“THUD” WORK
No tackling to the ground, but our last period of practice included some 11-on-11 work with heavy contact on the runners/pass-catchers.

We saw about eight reps – takeaways include:

-- Wimbush looked comfortable on a fake hand-off (right) and roll back left. He fired a corner route about 20 yards downfield on the move to Equanimeous St. Brown by converted corner Nick Coleman (coming all the way from the middle of the field) broke on the ball, dove, and smacked it out of bounds

The Run-Pass Option with Wimbush could be a primary weapon this fall. He’s going to take advantage of many overaggressive safeties when he pulls back on the move and unleashes downfield.

-- Wimbush hit Miles Boykin on the numbers on a quick slant. Boykin wrested it away from the fingertips of safety Devin Studstill, turned, and out-ran everyone for about a 70-yard score. Studstill can’t take that chance, but a nice throw and competitive catch by the big-bodied Boykin who I always felt would make his living running such routes in South Bend.

-- A bubble screen left to C.J. Sanders was quashed, quickly, by Julian Love. Chase Claypool looked like a wide receiver from British Columbia on the block.

-- Tony Jones, Jr., is one slippery 225-pounder in short space. Defenders will have a hard time tackling him if they fail to utilize proper techniques.

To borrow from the great Keith Jackson, “He just ‘aint got no handles on him.”

-- Chris Finke got a step on Julian Love (who closed late) and Brandon Wimbush’s 60-yard throw down the right seam bounced about two yards past both of them.

-- Third-string wide receiver Kevin Stepherson caught a slant route and took it the distance as we were walking out. (Couldn’t see the defender.)

Because of his ability to get deep, Notre Dame’s offense could benefit greatly Stepherson’s services this fall – his third string status is clearly related to something not between the lines, because that cat can run. It’s apparent Kelly is choosing not to use first unit practice reps on a fall question mark this spring.

-- Horizontal passing games like the one favored by new offensive coordinator Chip Long are much more effective when there’s a player that can keep a post safety honest, and though both Claypool and St. Brown can do just that, Stepherson flashed unique “football speed” as a true freshman last fall.

Notre Dame is back on the practice field Sunday morning and again Wednesday after which we’ll speak to assistant coaches. (Those outstanding to date are Harry Hiestand, Del Alexander, and Tom Rees.)

There’s a full practice media viewing one week from today.


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