The day began as it always does with the Irish working with their position coaches. The first team situation came 30 minutes into practie with the Irish working on their two-minute offense and defense.
The first-team offense faced the first-team defense in the first series. We use first-team lightly as many projected first-teamers are out with injury or were not present at practice.
Players working with the first-team on offense were Brady Quinn, Marcus Wilson, Marcus Freeman, Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight, Ryan Harris, Bob Morton, John Sullivan, Dan Stevenson and Brian Mattes. Rashon Powers-Neal and Jeff Samardzija would rotate in and out depending on if the play called for a three receiver set.
Working with the first-team defense were Travis Leitko, Chris Frome (working at defense tackle), Matt Hasbrook, Victor Abiamiri, Joe Brockington, Mike Goolsby, Derek Curry, Carlos Campbell, Dwight Ellick, Chinedum Ndukwe and Tom Zbikowski. Preston Jackson came in during the nickel defense.
The first series began with Quinn at the helm running the first-team offense. Marcus Wilson chewed up some good yards on first down with a draw play. Wilson then caught a pass and moved the ball to what appeared to be a first down.
Maurice Stovall then caught a nice 15-yard pass from Quinn for another first down. Quinn then threw three incomplete passes with the last one just missing being picked off by Tom Zbikowski after it was batted in the air to end the series.
Pat Dillingham then led the second-team offense in similar circumstances—less than two minutes on the clock, 80 yards to go. Dillingham came out firing with a pass to Jared Clark to pick up a first down. He then hit Jeff Samardzija for another first down. John Carlson then caught another Dillingham pass for a first down. Nate Schiccatano then moved the Irish into the red zone with a nice run. Dillingham completed the two-minute drill finding Jeff Samardzija in double coverage for the score.
Players on the second team defense consisted Mike Richardson, Freddie Parish, Joe Brockington, Jake Carney, LaBrose Hedgemon and Ambrose Wooden. A number of others were involved including a number of walk-ons.
The next drill we watched was offensive linemen going against defensive linemen in blocking situations and pass rushing situations.
One section was offensive tackles and tight ends versus defensive ends and outside linebackers. The defense ends and outside linebackers could go straight up on their man or twist and stunt and the offensive tackle and tight end then had to take the correct man. Some classic battles were had here.
The best battles were Victor Abiamiri versus Ryan Harris. Harris won more than he lost, but Abiamiri did get him at least once that we saw. Harris is going to be an outstanding offensive tackle—Abiamiri will also be an outstanding defensive end.
Also standing out in this drill was Chris Frome as he beat his man a number of times. Holding his own was Jared Clark on a number of plays.
The other section was the interior offensive line (guards and center) versus the interior defensive line and linebackers. Sullivan, Stevenson and Morton were no match for anyone on the defensive line, although a number of guys did make a play now and again inside. The defensive line was at a huge disadvantage as many were not available, and Landri looked to be somewhat limited.
The Irish then went to work again as full unit with the first-team offense again working against the first-team defense. The Irish were working on down and distance situations from their own 20.
Quinn misfired on first down in the first series and was sacked by Carlos Campbell on second down. But, he found Maurice Stovall on a wonderful fingertip catch for a big gain to pick up the first down.
The second string then went to work and Dillingham was sacked on the first play by Matt Hasbrook. Marcus Wilson found no room to run on second down and an incomplete pass ended the series on third down.
Quinn then took over for the first team. Ryan Grant found little running room as Chinedum Ndukwe stopped him on first down. Quinn then found Marcus Freeman for a first down on a short pass in the middle of the field to pick up a first down. More important, the Irish defense blitzed two and the Irish offensive line and backs picked it up nicely.
On the next series, the offensive line also picked up another blitz very effectively.
The Irish then went to work on punting. We were not impressed by any of the punting that we saw. The Irish seemed to struggle getting a good snap, and the punts were inconsistent on both hang time and distance on some occasions.
Overall, it was a spirited practice with Irish looking sharp at times on either offense or defense, and looking ragged at times. The lack of starters along the defensive line made it difficult to see how much improvement the offensive line has made this spring.
Despite the injuries, Coach Tyrone Willingham says the Irish will continue to hit in practice. "We're going to go pretty hard," Willingham said. "We always go pretty hard, especially this time of the year. Spring practice is the time for us to get a lot of work in so we usually push it pretty good."
Willingham says while the Blue-Gold game is fun for the fans and players, he's hoping to accomplish one thing, first and foremost. "The most important thing is that we walk out of that football game injury free. If we can accomplish that then it will be a great Blue and Gold game for Coach Willingham."
With so many players on defense banged up, we asked Willingham if he thought they could hold a Blue-Gold game. "We think we can. There's always concern. You don't want to injure anyone at any point, especially during spring practice. We're concerned but not overly concerned because we think if they are injured, it's nothing major in terms of injuries."
We also asked if he would hold some players back that probably could go in normal game situations. "It really depends on the guy. It depends on somewhat his experience, the situation he's in at his position, there are a lot of things I'll factor into that. In some cases it will be that he hasn't had a lot of work maybe with injuries so this is the best chance to get him some game-time experience. In other cases he may have already had a lot of game-time experience so it's not the best thing to get him in there."
Plenty of players were on the sidelines or not at practice at all. Brandon Hoyte, Carlyle Holiday and Billy Palmer were not at practice due to class.
Also not present were Trevor Laws and Lionel Bolen that we could tell.
Mark LeVoir, Jamie Ryan, Justin Tuck, Travis Thomas and Isaiah Gardner spent a lot of time on the bike. Also not participating was Greg Pauly although he was dressed. Quentin Burrell also did not practice. Jerome Collins practiced, but didn't participate in any contact.
The Irish will be back at it again on Tuesday. Irish Eyes will be there finding the latest.