Tuesday's Nevada Week practice offered idyllic conditions in South Bend with blue skies, a faint breeze and temperatures in the low-70s. With no reports of injury in today's press conference the absence of Raeshon McNeil (listed as a Nevada-game starter) from the practice's initial defensive drills was a bit of a surprise, but McNeil later jogged in, full pads, to join the defensive backs and appeared to be moving at full speed (or at least a speed in keeping with a player that missed basic warm-ups).
The Irish broke a full-team huddle with the cry "Wolf Pack!" and immediately hit the first of three position stations.
The defense began with pursuit drills and a first unit consisting of the following:
- Defensive Line: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, Kerry Neal
- Linebackers: Brian Smith, Toryan Smith, Darius Fleming
- Defensive Backs: Darrin Walls, Robert Blanton, Kyle McCarthy, and Harrison Smith.
The second unit was called in for rep #2 and featured:
- Defensive Line: Morrice Richardson, Hafis Williams, Sean Cwynar, John Ryan
- Linebackers: David Posluszny, Anthony McDonald, Steve Filer
- Defensive Backs: Gary Gray, Jamoris Slaughter, Sergio Brown and Ray Herring
Next was the starting Nickel package:
- Defensive Line: Darius Fleming, Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson, Kerry Neal
- Linebackers: Brian Smith and Toryan Smith
- Defensive Backs: Darrin Walls, Robert Blanton, Kyle McCarthy, Harrison Smith, and Sergio Brown (the nickel back playing over the slot)
The second team Nickel package included:
- Defensive Line: John Ryan, Hafis Williams, Sean Cwynar, Steve Filer
- Linebackers: Anthony McDonald and David Posluszny
- Defensive Backs: Gary Gray, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Ray Herring, and Leonard Gordon (the nickel back – playing over the slot)
As previously mentioned, McNeil was not yet present and noticeably absent was freshman Manti Te'o. As a result, I walked over to watch the linebackers, whose first drill worked on footwork technique and exploding "downhill" after the first step.
- Scott Smith and Brian Smith
- Darius Fleming and Toryan Smith
- Steve Filer and Manti Te'o
- Dan Fox and Carlos Calabrese
- Anthony McDonald and David Posluszny
- Steve Botsford and Tom Burke
Aside from impressive quickness from Te'o, watching linebackers step and sprint at divergent but equal angles is about as exciting as it appears in print.
The linebackers next worked on a contact drill (now we're getting somewhere) with five individuals, summoned by Coach Tenuta, to do the hitting against the rest of the group.
The Hitters: Brian Smith, Toryan Smith, Scott Smith, Fleming, and Te'o
- Weak initial hit by Toryan Smith (nothing audible in terms of pads and he was called out for the feeble effort)
- Scott Smith followed with a vicious, pad-popping shot, eliciting a satisfied "That's it!" from Tenuta
- Te'o came in too high (in my opinion) after being praised for exploding from his stance. Asked to repeat, Te'o absolutely crushes the next "ball carrier."
- Toryan Smith answers his first indifferent effort with a shot that drives his opponent back at least a yard in the air.
- Te'o repeats an explosive first step and again comes in too high, hitting his opponent on top of his pads.
The next group of Hitters: Filer, McDonald, Posluszny
- Filer comes in too high (and feels the wrath)
- McDonald drills his opponent and the result is a series of "oohs" from his teammates and a "There you go, kid!" from Coach Tatum
- Posluszny's technique is corrected: "Come on, Poz, get your head across" (the opponent's chest)
- Filer's second attempt is much better, driving the opponent back with a square hit
- McDonald delivers the shot of the session, cracking his opponent enough to draw yells and applause from the rest of the unit.
- Filer finishes with an explosion out of his stance but fails to wrap-up
Defensive Back Drills
With McNeil not yet on hand, the groupings for the unit's first drill: (backpedal/turn hips/break on ball) are:
- Walls, H. Smith, K. McCarthy, Blanton
- Slaughter, Brown, Herring, Gray
- Lezynski, Motta, D. McCarthy, Gordon
McNeil joins his position group for a drill focusing on playing (and intercepting) an overthrown deep ball.
- Gray can't haul in a leaping attempt
- Walls looks effortless in his effort, drifting back and catching the ball at its highest point
- Slaughter miss-times his jump about as poorly as athletically possible
- Freshman E.J. Banks' steps are a bit choppy as he turns and runs and he misjudges the throw
Drill No. 2 involves each DB beginning in press coverage (looking at receiver, away from QB), then looking back at QB for the pass, and finally back at the receiver before turning to intercept the deep pass.
- Again, Walls looks like he invented the drill
- Gray, however, plays it perfectly as well and makes a nice catch
- Brown is eaten up by the pass at chest level (throw should have been farther, in fairness to Brown – it turned into a jump ball rather than deep ball. Regardless, Brown dropped it)
- McNeil, running about 90 percent, easily snags a deep pick
- Slaughter runs fluidly in coverage, effortlessly making each of the three turns, then commits a surprisingly awkward looking drop as the pass clanks off his arm
- Gordon drops back at picks off the ball at its highest point
- Banks badly misjudges this effort as well
Defensive Linemen Observations
As both groups cycle through a drill to fight off two cut blocks while sliding downfield in an effort to string out the ball carrier, a noticeably quick Cwynar effortlessly fights off both cut blocks while Hafis Williams does the same and finishes with a pad-popping collision, drawing praise from Coach Young: "There you go HAFEEES!"
Neal and Lewis-Moore also look the part in the drill as does John Ryan but Coach Hart challenges Ryan to finish better (needed a better hit prior to wrap-up).
With time winding down in our observation period I walked down to the wide receivers and saw the "Z" receivers (Floyd, Parris, Goodman, Toma) working on in-line blocking in unison with TE Kyle Rudolph and LT Sam Young.
Floyd, Goodman and Toma cycle through with good technique (but nothing special in terms of contact) while Parris, after an initially impressive first rep, draws a few pointers from Coach Weis after a soft second repetition:
"Gonna have to bring it now, Robby…on that SAM linebacker he's not just going to stand there."
Parris asks: "Can we cut? (cut block)" to which Weis responds: "No…the ball (runner) is staying inside so you need a stalemate, at least."
Coach Parmalee echoes Weis' sentiments: "It doesn't have to be a kill shot. Keep your technique and get your head inside."
In the next grouping, Burger replaces Rudolph and delivers enough of a blow that two "There you go, Burg!" calls come from the back of the line (might have been Rudolph, actually).
On the way out of practice, Robert Hughes, he of the one-half suspension for Game One, makes a fantastic, NFL-level, one-handed stab of a rocket pass behind him as the running backs catch swing passes from Sharpley and Crist.