Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Practice Report (April 7)

Brian Kelly called Tony Jones Jr. the equivalent of a No. 1 running back with his running/pass catching skills, but also his advanced development as a pass protector.

Practice Report: Offense - Tim Prister

QUARTERBACKS

There’s nothing that Brandon Wimbush has done this spring that would indicate he’s an inexperienced quarterback trying to find his way to the starting role. He is in full control of the offense.

Wimbush continued to sling the football all over the field with accuracy Friday in the 11th practice of the spring. For the first time in the handful of open practices to the media, Wimbush threw a pass that could have been intercepted by Nick Watkins.

It looked as if he were trying to throw to a crossing Miles Boykin, but there was a route unfolding behind it. So that may have been more on the receivers than Wimbush.

The point is Wimbush continues to either be accurate with his throws or errs on the side of throwing the ball high and allowing his long receivers to make the catch or for it to be overthrown.

In 7-on-7 work unofficially, Wimbush was 17-of-23 with three completions each to Miles Boykin and C.J. Sanders, two each to Chase Claypool, Josh Adams and Tony Jones Jr., and one each to Alizé Jones, Chris Finke, Nic Weishar, Javon McKinley and Dexter Williams.

Quarterbacks coach Tom Rees said Wednesday that when Ian Book has an opportunity to set his feet in the pocket, he can make all the throws. Make no mistake, Book does not have the arm firepower that Wimbush offers. But Book’s ability to make throws is a stabilizing asset to the quarterback position should something happen to Wimbush.

Unofficially, Irish Illustrated had Book 16-of-22 with five completions to Claypool, three to Boykin, and one each to Alizé Jones, Durham Smythe, Sanders, McKinley, Deon McIntosh, Adams, Austin Webster and Keenan Centlivre.

Montgomery VanGorder struggled with his consistency and chemistry with the receivers. Unofficially, he completed 8-of-20 passes to eight different guys – Finke, Brock Wright, McKinley, Smythe, Claypool, Boykin, Alizé Jones and Webster.

RUNNING BACKS

Josh Adams is the hands-down No. 1 running back on the roster, but once again, red-shirt freshman Tony Jones Jr. impressed, even prompting some high praise from Brian Kelly (see transcript later today).

Kelly called Jones a No. 1 running back, which is incredible praise for a guy who has yet to play a down for the Irish.

Obviously, the ball-carrying and pass-catching skills are at a high level. It’s always surprising, however, to hear a head coach praise a young running back’s pass protection skills. That almost always is the missing ingredient, which curtails early playing time for a young back.

Not that Dexter Williams has done anything wrong, but he hasn’t jumped out in the practice settings that we’ve seen quite the way Jones has. Williams remains a valuable weapon, and in Chip Long’s offense, all three backs should play. But Jones is special and gives the running back corps great depth and a definite contributor in 2017.

Red-shirt freshman Deon McIntosh is working full-time at running back in the absence of injured freshman C.J. Holmes (shoulder), who was on the field in street clothes still wearing the protective sling on his right side.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

Asked about the old nomenclature of W, X, Y and Z receivers, Kelly admitted that the line has been blurred in Chip Long’s offense. When the Irish run tempo, there is no time for a W receiver on one side of the field to run to the other following the end of a play to get properly aligned as a W, X, Y or Z receiver.

And thus, it’s more about wideouts and slots. In tempo, you simply have to line up at one or the other, regardless what side of the field you’re on.

Generally speaking – and there’s certainly some flexibility within this alignment -- the wideouts are Equanimeous St. Brown (who was limited with a hamstring issue), Miles Boykin, Alizé Jones, C.J. Sanders and Chris Finke.

Kevin Stepherson – who has been bothered by a hamstring issue, according to Kelly – is likely to align wide when he’s healthy. Walk-on Austin Webster lined up wide when Smythe and Wright were in the slot.

Notice the realignment of Sanders and Finke, who were always slot guys in the past. As wideouts, they can be on the field at the same time with each aligned wide in a 2 x 2 set.

The slots are tight ends Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, Brock Wright and Tyler Luatua, Chase Claypool, and the running backs when they’re not in the backfield. (Note: Smythe and Jones frequently align with Smythe attached and Jones off the line and off Smythe’s outside shoulder.)

Putting a pair of tight ends in the slot or Claypool, who is a physical blocker, should benefit the running game more than having a small receiver (Finke and Sanders) in the slot.

It was another big day for Boykin, who caught virtually everything in sight.

St. Brown, Claypool and Boykin have done an excellent job this spring gaining separation from the defensive back on their last cut of a route. That’s where Sanders’ size hurts him. He needs to take advantage of his quickness/speed to gain better separation. Finke gets better separation on a more consistent basis than Sanders.

OFFENSIVE LINE

It was status quo from left tackle to right guard with Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars receiving the first-team reps.

It was either “Tommy Kraemer’s day” again to work with the No. 1 unit at right tackle, or perhaps Kraemer is gaining some separation with fellow red-shirt freshman Liam Eichenberg.

As we’ve stated before, Kraemer is the bigger body with more power and physicality; Eichenberg is more nimble and offers the better option as a pass blocker.

The No. 2 line from left to right was Robert Hainsey, Hunter Bivin, Tristen Hoge, Trevor Ruhland and Eichenberg. The No. 3 line from left to right was Sam Bush, Aaron Banks, Parker Boudreaux, Logan Plantz and Jimmy Byrne. Boudreaux also got a look at right guard with the No. 2s.

Banks continues to impress. The impression when he signed with the Irish was that he might need time to get in the condition to compete at a high level. Banks’ mobility out of the gate has been a pleasant surprise.

SPECIAL TEAMS

With Justin Yoon sidelined for the spring, walk-on Sam Kohler continues to get the placekicks. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian said last week that he’s been pleasantly surprised by Kohler’s accuracy. He nailed his short kicks, but was just barely wide right on his longest kick. (Note: Our vantage point from the end zone balcony made it difficult to assess the actual length of kicks on the opposite end of the field.)

For the record, the No. 1 line on placekicks (a total of nine players with the kicker and holder, which was Montgomery VanGorder) was (from left to right) Weishar, Bivin, McGlinchey, Bars, snapper John Shannon, Nelson, Kraemer, Smythe and Wright.

The No. 2 line from left to right was Luatua, Eichenberg, Byrne, Ruhland, Weishar (snapping), Hoge, Hainsey, Alizé Jones and Claypool.

Fielding punts Friday were Sanders, Adams, Finke, St. Brown and Stepherson.


Practice Report: Defense - Tim O'Malley

Shorts and shells for Notre Dame Friday morning, practice No. 11 of the 15-session spring.

The first and second units aligned as follows:

Defensive End: Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes (For the sake of reference, they align to the field side of the formation with the Rover.)
Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Bonner, Micah Dew-Treadway
Nose Tackle: Jerry Tillery, Daniel Cage
Drop/Rush End: Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara
Rover: Drue Tranquill, Asmar Bilal
Mike: Nyles Morgan, Jonathan Jones
Buck: Greer Martini, Te’von Coney
Field/Strong Safety: Nick Coleman, Devin Studstill
Boundary/Free Safety: Jalen Elliott, Isaiah Robertson
Field Cornerback: Julian Love, Troy Pride
Boundary Cornerback: Nick Watkins, Donte Vaughn

Notable: Vaughn was relieved intermittently by a walk-on cornerback. Cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght offered last week that Vaughn had trouble finishing practices because of recurring back spasms.

-- Converted cornerback Ashton White worked behind Robertson as the third string boundary safety while redshirt-freshman safety D.J. Morgan was behind Studstill as the No. 3 to the field side.

-- Only one Irish player spent the day separated from the pack – safety Nicco Fertitta wore a cast on his left wrist and toiled away on the exercise bike and with a dumbbell in his right hand. It was the opposite of a “day off” for the recently injured junior.

-- Sophomore Spencer Perry announced his transfer yesterday via social media. He was moved from safety to Rover in the off-season and was realistically a distant No. 3 behind the Tranquill/Bilal combination – prior to the arrival of the remainder of the freshman class.

Perry played in six games last season including the Army contest in November. He did not record a tackle as a member of the coverage units.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The word you’re looking for to describe senior nose tackle Daniel Cage at present: Rotund.

Irish head coach Daniel Cage offered today that Cage has “had his best spring.” That didn’t appear to include today’s practice during which line coach Mike Elston was on Cage repeatedly including a unit-wide “up-down” after Cage was too high on a drill. The mistake sparked a “Who? Come on, Bro!” response from fellow nose tackle Jerry Tillery and a pat on the helmet.

Cage almost completed the up-down punishment.  

-- Sophomore drop/rush end Daelin Hayes cuts an athletic jib. You can pick out Hayes without seeing his rolled up jersey number. His ability to drop into coverage will be on display in Mike Elko’s scheme. It is to be hoped a consistent edge rushing presence is a dual skill.

-- Senior Andrew Trumbetti worked with the first unit opposite Daelin and ahead of classmate Jay Hayes. The bulk of my practice viewings to date (including the most recent) had Jay Hayes ahead of Trumbetti. Kelly also lauded Trumbetti for his recent progress post practice. I’ve always been high on Trumbetti (to this point with relatively low payoff). He’s quicker than credited by most. And much faster, though that’s less relevant.

Still, I think I’d prefer Jay Hayes’ bulk at strong side defensive end against Georgia, Michigan State, and the like.

-- Redshirt-freshman Ade Ogundeji is a future (2019? 2018?) prospect. He covers a lot of ground in a hurry. For 2017, Julian Okwara appears poised for situational pass-rushing role. Like Daelin Hayes, Okwara is noticeable in drills, moving effortlessly, transitioning from low pre-snap to pursuit.

-- Micah Dew-Treadway is in far better shape than at any point in his brief tenure. I wrote down “97 looks lean,” temporarily forgetting he was No. 97.

-- Asked about the defensive line’s progress today, Kelly basically named everyone. Never a good sign…

For Khalid Kareem fans, he was among the first four mentioned with Okwara, Dew-Treadway, Trumbetti, and Kareem. He did not distinguish today albeit in a practice without heavy contact (no “thudding” or tackling.)

-- “You think you have this down?” said Mike Elston following a particular drill. “I’m from Missouri (he’s not); you have to show me.”

Wonder if anyone other than Chesterfield, Mo.-native Jonathan Bonner got that reference?

LINEBACKERS

Didn’t see a lot of Jamir Jones as the third-string Mike today (actually, none) with redshirt-freshman Jonathan Jones taking those reps behind captain Nyles Morgan. Kelly noted post-practice that Jones might begin to work on the defensive line, adding, “We probably can’t keep him from getting bigger,” thus taking him out of linebacker contention.

Jones played in 10 games last season, posting eight special teams tackles including seven over a late-season four-game stretch.

-- Does the staff have enough faith in the team’s seven safeties to keep Drue Tranquill at Rover close to full time? And if so, how can they work Bilal into the rotation adequately? My guess: Bilal is a part-time Rover but also a sub package player. 

--  Martini sniffed out a bubble screen pre-snap, sprinting to take on the blocker before the ball was thrown.

-- No thudding and no tackling = very little influence by the linebackers in today’s practice (from a media perspective). They worked various turnover circuits in individual periods – the practice was heavy on individual instruction – including defending passes as edge rushers, defending passes within a couple yards of the passer, navigating traffic (pushup, large orange balls rolled at them) before scooping up fumbles, and jumping from a pushup (ground) position to break up a pass above them.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Intriguing tackling drill for the corners and safeties today (pictured on Irish Illustrated’s front page video) in which players explode through a tackling pylon but also turn their bodies, twisting the “ball carrier” to the ground in an effort to torque the ball loose.

Best Days:

  • Julian Love – Sound, solid, confident. Per usual. Though C.J. Sanders got him with a one-handed beauty to the corner. Love recorded an INT in one-on-one defending a dig route vs. Austin Webster.
  • Troy Pride – Multiple pass breakups in 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 including a near pickoff against C.J. Sanders followed by a pass defended vs. Sanders on the next rep. He even stripped Chase Claypool when the two wrestled to the ground on a dig route. Don’t sleep on Pride in man-to-man situations.

In Other News:

  • Nicco Fertitta – Injured but working continuously. It did not look relaxing…
  • Jalen Elliott – Hey, congrats, you get matched up with Chase Claypool only have to cover an entire field in 1-on-1s throughout the drills! At one point Elliott just mauled Claypool who fought him off to catch the pass
  • Donte Vaughn – Purportedly battling back spasms as well as the quickness of Chris Finke (got him twice including a blatant hold on Vaughn) and the big body of Miles Boykin. Vaughn did muscle Boykin on one back shoulder fade, the former’s best play of the day.
  • Devin Studstill – Rarely tracks/finds the football on fades/corner routes or back shoulder throws and repeatedly coached to “get your (“friendly”) hands up!” by Todd Lyght.
  • Ashton White – Victimized by a Javon McKinley corner route and an Alizé Jones out-route. I like White running downhill covering kicks and punts.

Nick Watkins out-fought Alizé Jones for pass defended on a back-shoulder throw but lost on a slant to Boykin, a back-shoulder to Finke, and was turned around by Boykin on a comeback. Watkins broke up a pass and dropped a pick that hit him in the chest/hands in 7-on-7.

Nick Coleman with strong coverage on a Claypool post – Claypool then broke off the post to the middle (dig) to secure the well-thrown ball from Ian Book. Coleman previously ran with Claypool on a deep post thrown past both of them.

Dexter Williams, Chase Claypool, and Deon McIntosh took part in tackling drills. Special teams related, clearly…

Speaking of which: Justin Yoon did not kick field goals today, ceding reps to walk-on Sam Kohler. (5 for 6, nothing beyond 42 yards from my vantage point about 200 yards away in the balcony.) Yoon is limiting reps this spring in part to avoid the dead leg that resulted from over-training last off-season. 

If you’re trying to visualize the defense, you’ll see these positions on the same sides:

  • Field/Wide Side: Julian Love (field CB), Nick Coleman (field/strong safety), the Rover, DE (Trumbetti or J. Hayes).
  • Nyles Morgan in the middle with Jerry Tillery (nose) and Jonathan Bonner (DT) in front. Tillery on the ball.
  • Boundary/Near Side: Nick Watkins (boundary CB), Jalen Elliott (boundary/free safety), the Buck linebacker (Martini/Coney), the Drop/Rush End (Daelin Hayes).

Hope that makes sense.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories