Irish Start Two-A-Days

<P>Practice has begun and I have been in South Bend all weekend. Some players are really stepping up to the challenge and making a name for themselves. Find out those players that have begun to shine and those freshman that could make and early impact. </P>

The first 3 full practices for the entire squad are in the bag. Practice usually begins with the basic unit drills. Each squad will work with their position coach to work on technique and fundamentals. I have been there watching this and will be there all week as well.

Let's talk about the quarterbacks first. Carlyle Holiday really threw the ball well yesterday. He struggled a little the previous day but really go things going yesterday. He was placing the ball exactly where it needed to be which is a good sign. They haven't done much running and Holiday has done very little. The coaches appear to be focusing on passing and reading coverage with all the quarterbacks.

Pat Dillingham has also looked pretty good. Dillingham is running #2 right now behind Holiday. He is a former walk-on granted a full scholarship and looks like he deserves it. He is only about 6-0 but has a nice arm and pretty good accuracy. He seems to be able to grasp the system well and throws a nice ball.

Freshman Chris Olsen has really looked good throwing the ball. He still has a hitch in his throwing motion but the staff has been working on it and it is improving with each passing day. He has a very strong arm and stands tall in the pocket. He seems to have a nice feel for the game and makes good decisions when he is throwing the ball. The learning curve will soon pick up once they can go full speed and starting hitting. I think you can expect Olsen to struggle a little early once they start going full speed. It's only natural that a freshman QB will have some tentativeness when trying to learn the system. You can tell he is well coached and has all the tools to be a fine future QB for the Irish.

Notre Dame did start concentrating on running the football more at the end of last practice. The last session of 11 on 11 focused mainly on running the football. Starter Ryan Grant looked very quick and very smooth with the ball in his hands. It's too early yet to judge because they haven't been in full pads yet and they can't go full speed full contact but they sure looked like they were going full speed at the end of the last practice.

Marcus Wilson also appeared to be very quick. He has added some size to his frame and doesn't appear to have lost any quickness. He also appears to have the best hands out of the tailbacks and seems to run good routes and turns his head looking for the ball. Grant also looked better at catching the ball with the last practice.

Tom Lopienski has been hurt so we haven't seen him practice with the squad yet. I hear he should be back very soon. This has given Mike McNair the opportunity to make a strong case for playing time. The first two practices, McNair really caught the ball well. He has shown the speed we all know he has as well. Mike did struggle a little catching the ball yesterday so let's hope he just had an off day.

One guy who has really impressed me has been Rashon Powers-Neal. Rashon has great size for a bigger back and is just a natural and fluid athlete. He catches the ball very well and explodes up field after he has caught the ball. He really has a nice fluid running motion and you can tell he is a good athlete.

The two freshman have shown glimpses of talent. Nate Shiccatano is a better athlete than people give him credit for. He is a load with his size and can catch the ball pretty well. He has a nice burst while running and did show some shake and bake with the ball in his hands. Jeff Jenkins also looks to be a good athlete. He is a big kid for his size. He looks to be 210 right now and also looks to be a physical runner. He can catch the ball and can make some things happen with the ball in his hands.

It's very important to understand that they team isn't going full speed and no contact. Once they put on full pads, catching the football and lateral movement will become a bigger challenge for these running backs. No contact doesn't mean they don't hit. They certainly hit but you don't drive them to the ground with a full tackle.

At wide receiver, Notre Dame has some talent. Starter Arnaz Battle has shown his natural ability and elusiveness. He has great hands and he can take the ball the distance at any time. He has shown the elusiveness and runs very good routes. I have been very impressed with Battle.

The other guy penciled in as a starter is Omar Jenkins. Omar is Omar, the most consistent WR out of all of them. He runs good routes and has nice hands. He works hard and makes the catch. He isn't going to dazzle anyone but he just gets the job done every play, all day long.

Carlos Campbell has looked very good. Carlos has some speed to get deep and makes some great catches. He is more of a Battle clone in that he makes a lot of nice moves in the open field and can make people miss. I expect Carlos to get some playing time this year because he can make you miss and does have some speed to get deep.

Ronnie Rodamer has the best hands on the team although he dropped a couple yesterday. The previous two practices, Rodamer didn't drop a ball. He looks natural as a wide receiver and makes the tough catch look easy. Ronnie does need to use his physical size more to his advantage. He needs to become more physical and use his strength to shield off the defender. He looks very good going deep or across the middle.

Rhema McKnight is going to be one hell of a player. He made two catches yesterday that were Sports Center highlights. He is such a graceful player and what an athlete. He glides while running the ball and can make any catch seem easy. It's going to be hard to keep this guy off the field. Rhema will also fight for the ball and isn't afraid to be physical.

Maurice Stovall had a very good day yesterday as well. He dropped some balls early but it appears he has found his hands. That is a good thing because he makes things happen when he has the ball. He is very similar to Rodamer. Once this kid gets some reps under his belt, watch out. He will also be hard to keep off the field.

Matt Shelton has very good speed. He can stretch the defense and be the home run guy. He has pretty good hands and isn't afraid to go across the middle. He needs more size and strength and needs to improve a little on his hands. He is a fighter and a gamer and will go up against anyone and get open. A little more size and he is a very good prospect.

I would say that it's Arnaz and then the other 5 right now. None has really made a case to start yet. It's not that they are playing poor and not stepping up. It is a situation where they are all playing very well and I can't choose one to start over another. ND won't lose anything if one guy goes down because the other 4 are just as capable. Rhema has the most talent and Stovall has quite a bit as well. I don't think the other 3 are going to go away quietly. All three are very good players and I think all 5 will play quite a bit.

I will go through the rest of the positions as the week progresses and I will continue to add practice updates throughout the week. I think the next few days are going to be very exciting to watch.


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