Irish Eyes Practice Report

By now you've probably read the summaries by Mike, Christian and Lorenzo. They did an excellent job describing the action. My take on things will simply be a fourth set of eyes. We all watched different things during the practice, so I'll try to describe some of the things I watched, and skip the drills and observations they've already reported.

Also, please refrain from asking about particulars from the coaching clinic. Saturday's practice was open to the media, so that's all I'll talk about. The coaching clinic is put on to help those of us in the coaching profession learn some tips and techniques. It would be wrong to share those things on the internet. The ND staff and guest speakers put on a great clinic, and were top notch hosts for three days. The coaches who attend receive the royal treatment. I've been attending this coaching clinic for years, but this was the first time the rest of my coaching staff joined me. Three of them are Purdue grads/fans, and even those poor souls admitted it was a very good experience.

Defensive impressions:

For starters, I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the defensive starting line-ups during spring ball. With several top notch players dinged up and sitting out, the line-up will change from day to day. Spring ball is the time to try different players at different positions. Coaches look for various combinations against various offensive schemes. The Irish play a wide variety of offenses throughout the season. At this point, the coaches are looking for a heavy line-up (to defend power running teams), a base line up (to defend pro style offenses), a nickel package (to defend spread teams), and several others. Spring is the time to develop position flexibility. The more players in the two-deep who can play multiple positions, the better the defense will be. Injuries and unexpected problems won't cripple a defense that has good depth and several top players who can play more than one position.

The other articles did a great job with play by play on the Irish Eyes drill and the scrimmage, so I'll try to add some general observations. I didn't watch the defensive line as closely as the linebackers and defensive backs, but it didn't take long to notice Ethan Johnson. Two of the coaches from my staff didn't like anything about him. Of course, as Purdue fans, they were more worried about the next three ND/PU matchups. These two watched the defensive line all practice (along with Scriptcomesfirst from IE) and were extremely impressed. Ethan is an elite talent. Enough said.

Kapron Lewis-Moore, Hafis Williams and Ian Williams had their ups and downs. The defense always has an advantage during early spring or fall drills. The stunts, dogs and blitzes the Irish defense employs only increase this advantage. Morrice Richardson played well, and the young combination of Brandon Newman and Tyler Stockton should push for minutes in the interior. While watching the scrimmage on the sideline, it was nice to see the defensive linemen who were not in the game shouting out defensive calls and checks to their cohorts on the field. Hafis was enjoying himself, feeding off Brian Smith's non-stop energy.

Brian Smith is the emotional leader of the defense. His mouth rarely stops yapping, and the defense feeds off his shouting and trash talk. Scott Smith looked solid during the LB drills, Irish Eyes segment and scrimmage, while standing out during the special teams period. David Posluszny made two excellent plays in the scrimmage, but still looks undersized. He struggled in the Irish Eyes drill. Steve Filer is an incredible athlete. He was impressive during the drills but it might take him awhile to adjust to the outside linebacker position. Zeke Motta is thin, but fluid and talented. I'm betting a year or two from now he'll be happy he skipped his senior prom to get an early start.

The defensive backfield looks to be as good as advertised. It will undoubtedly be the strength of the Notre Dame defense next fall. Kyle McCarthy perfectly timed a safety blitz during the scrimmage. Although he didn't reach the QB, he was a blur running through the line and punished the RB who picked him up. He made several nice tackles throughout the day. Harrison Smith is at home at free safety. When your free safety tackles a screen play for a five yard loss, you're a very happy coach. He covers ground like David Bruton, but looks to have the instincts of a veteran. Harrison also wowed us on kickoff coverage. He can really fly down the field. Sergio Brown was full of energy, barking out chants with BSmith. He would start in almost every other defensive backfield. With all the multiple WR offenses the Irish will face, Sergio will be a major factor in the fall. He made several nice plays on Saturday. Dan McCarthy has the look of an athlete. One of the coaches on my staff asked "Who is #15? That kid is an athlete." He's a bit less built than his older brother, but he has a bright future.

Robert Blanton made several fine plays in the scrimmage. He and the other corners were jumping all the short routes. The lack of a deep threat at WR made it easier on the corners during the scrimmage. They played very aggressively, and shut down the short passing game. Blanton would be the third of the "oral trifecta". BSmith, Sergio and Robert keep the practice alive with their enthusiasm and barking. Raeshon McNeil started at the other corner, but shared time with Darrin Walls. Walls opened up our eyes in several drills, as his speed is head-turning. Jamoris Slaughter was praised several times during drills.

To summarize, the defense as a whole outplayed the offense during the scrimmage. This is year two in this defensive scheme. The young talent is gaining experience. If I had to worry about one thing, it would be stopping an elite running game. Only time will tell.

On the Offense:

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I want to once again mention that defense is always ahead of offense in early practices. It simply takes longer for an offensive line to gel. The Irish defense is all about deception. The offensive line will need to recognize where defenders are coming from, and communicate their switching responsibilities. The QB's are never sure what coverage they are attempting to read pre-snap. If the Irish defense played more of a base look, with less blitzing, the experience of the returners on the offensive line and QB would be more of a factor.

That being said, the O line had its moments in the running game, creating some nice holes. More often than not, the QB's had time to throw as well. This is a good pass blocking group, even without Trevor Robinson & Matt Romine, who weren't in pads.

Paul Duncan and Sam Young looked fine at the OT position, while the two starting OG's stood out, especially in the Irish Eyes drill. I have a feeling when Eric Olsen was a kid, he may have gotten a few minuses on his report card under the category "plays well with others". He brings a nasty disposition to the field. He was the most impressive offensive lineman in the Irish Eyes drill. Not only did he never lose a battle, when he won he did it decisively. Chris Stewart also excelled on Saturday. When Stewart is motivated, he wins the inside battles.

Dan Wenger struggled at times during the one on one drills. He played better during the scrimmage, so his experience at quarterbacking the OL unit looks to be his strength. Youngsters Andrew Nuss and Braxton Cave stood out among the non-starters during drills.

I don't believe I learned much new regarding the running backs. All four showed the talents they possess. James Aldridge did line up at the fullback position in a two back set, like we've heard from Coach Alford's interviews. Aldridge made a very nice lead block on a toss play to Jonas Gray for a big gain, so that is encouraging.

Michael Floyd looked great in the WR drills, showing good quickness and catching everything, but he was held out of the scrimmage. A fellow coach who doesn't follow Notre Dame marveled at Duval Kamara throughout the drills. He was impressed both by his size and ability. Unfortunately, Kamara also sat out the scrimmage. John Goodman showed good quickness and footwork, and caught the ball well. Goodman was breaking wide open on a dig route during the practice, but the ball was batted down at the line of scrimmage. Deion Walker was struggling with what looked like a bum ankle. Kudos to Walker for toughing out the practice, as some might have given up and rode the bike. Robby Parris was solid, but lacks the speed and explosion of the other four.

Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist provided quite a few oohs and ahhs with their velocity. Both showed great to good accuracy in drills. However, the only time either were able to show anything in the scrimmage was the nice throw down the seam by Clausen to Fauria for a big gain. It looked to me like the lack of a deep threat caused the defensive backs to crowd up and take away the short passes. When the ND offense is lacking #23, #3 and #9, it's not the same offense. It looked to me like Nate Montana was having some issues with his technique. The point of the ball was dipping both as the ball was cocked and as it was released. His throws were improving by the end of the drills.

Well, I've saved the best for last. A person would be hard pressed to find a more impressive group of Tight Ends than the four on the Notre Dame roster. I almost hesitate to describe how good Kyle Rudolph looks this early in his career. His is a freakish combination of size, speed and hands. Pick up those old Zbikowski #9 jerseys while they're still cheap. With Ethan Johnson on defense and Rudolph on offense, those jerseys will be at a premium by fall. My entire coaching staff was depressed when Rudolph was held out of the scrimmage session. He's that much fun to watch. Joe Fauria was a pleasant surprise. As you watch him go through stretching and agilities, you begin to doubt his athleticism. The coaches on my staff dubbed him "The Mad Stork", aka Ted Hendricks. He's just so tall and long. As he leaves the huddle, you wonder how this will all work out. Then, as the ball is snapped, he becomes a very good athlete, both blocking and route running. He tops it off with very good hands. Then, as he walks back to the huddle, you can't believe what you just watched. Fauria played the H-back role as well, often lining up as a wing to the TE side. Mike Ragone looked good in drills, but dropped a few balls. He's coming back from that knee injury, so every rep will help his confidence. The biggest surprise was Dayton transfer Bobby Burger. He is a maximum effort guy, but he has quite a bit of talent as well. I look for him to find a niche and get some playing time, if not on offense at least on special teams.

This offense is good enough to win several games without utilizing the running game. But to win the big ones, they'll need to run it with success. Call me cautiously optimistic.

I've noticed over the last several years how the talent level has improved each year. Faster, more dynamic kids replacing the outgoing seniors. Our buddy Funkdoctorspock from IE summed it up best. He told me how back in '04 the only two freaks he saw on the field were Justin Tuck and Victor Abiamiri, but now there are athletic freaks all over the place. I've got to say I agree with him.


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