Notre Dame opened practice as they always do—working with their position coaches. Each position coach had specific drills for each unit of offense and defense.
I admit to being curious about secondary coach Steve Wilks and how he teaches technique so I spent some time over watching the defensive backs work on their technique.
I liked what I saw in Wilks. He was teaching the defensive backs how to use their hands in man coverage, how to use their feet and shuffle their feet while keeping their man in front of them, and how to put the whole package together so they can stay in proper position no matter where the opposition went.
I'll also say that it appeared Wilks might be the best defensive back on the team as he was flawless in his technique—the others struggled for a bit but most seemed to catch on well. Seriously, Wilks is pretty darn quick with his feet for a coach.
Also, defensive coordinator Kent Baer spent a lot of time watching the defensive backs and Wilks coach. Baer knows the defensive backfield is the least experienced and spent a lot of time watching how Wilks was teaching his defensive backs. Baer didn't offer anything which tells me that he was pleased with what was being done.
A few defensive backs stood out to me during the man drills. Tom Zbikowski showed good feet and change of direction. One can tell it's important to him to get on the field and be a star for the Irish. Dwight Ellick also looked to have quick feet and pretty good change of direction.
I also spent some time watching the linebackers and coach Simmons in action. Simmons can be a fiery guy. He lit up one young linebacker who will remain nameless for poor technique in tackling. He was getting on a number of them for poor technique. The linebackers were moving laterally over obstacles and then hitting a ball carrier, but they had to have perfect hitting technique or they'd feel the wrath of Simmons.
I took special notice of the four freshmen linebackers during this drill. Dwight Stephenson moves pretty well for his size. He looks like he's at least 245. He looks like a guy who's going to end up at defensive end when all is said and done because he's a big guy already. He does move very well for a guy his size and he's an effort guy.
I was also impressed with the gains that Mitchell Thomas has seemed to make in the weight room. I would guess he's around 230 or so. He's got very quick feet. He has all the tools to be a great one. But, with linebacker, grasping the position is at least half the battle.
Joe Brockington reminds me a lot of Hoyte in stature although I think he's taller. He's not as big as Hoyte now, but he moves pretty well. He should be interesting to watch because he's next in line after Hoyte.
I also spent some time watching the offensive line. I tried to focus on their size by checking out the physique of each player, and I must admit, I'm very impressed by the way they look. I'd say Dan Stevenson is at least 20 pounds lighter. He really has put in the work. Mark LeVoir is lighter--I'd say around 15-20 pounds. Bob Morton looks much thinner. He told us 295 and I believe him. It's a better looking 295 as well. I spoke with Ryan Harris after practice and he says he's up to 284 pounds. It looks to be a very good 284.
Coach Tyrone Willingham seemed pleased with his team's attitude so far this spring. "I think we're getting back to attitude," said Willingham. "I think when I arrived some time ago I said I wanted to play Notre Dame football. Of course we touch that wonderful sign that we have—play like a champion today—when we enter the stadium. To me, that's what we've got to do every day. We have to play like a champion football team that hustles, and be driven to be a championship team. I think that attitude is being reinforced in everything we do."
The Irish will be in full pads on Saturday according to Willingham. "We added a portion of our pads today which is just our shells. We won't go into full pads until Saturday. The game is a game played with your feet more so than the upper body. What we try to do is make sure we stay in shells a sufficient time that allows us to learn how to move your feet."
Willingham also thinks the offensive line is coming together. "You have to be excited, you have to be enthusiastic to play the game well and then you have to have a comfort level of knowledge. I think so many of those guys are not just playing on the run now. There's some confidence about knowing what to do, when to do and what will come at them, and that always makes you a better football team."
The injured list looks pretty small so far. Brian Beidatsch was the only player on the bike today. Justin Tuck and Kyle Budinscak are limited. Tuck looks to move better of the two right now. Jamie Ryan appears to be moving OK, but doesn't look close to seeing action. It would not surprise me if he sat out all of spring. Quentin Burrell is moving fine, but with a shoulder injury, he'll likely sit out all of the contact session.
The Irish will be back at practice again today at 4:30 PM. I'll be there watching the quarterbacks and the running backs to give you my thoughts on their progress this winter.