Practice Notes - USC

Fight On! greets the Irish players as Notre Dame prepares for USC.

Irish players (not to mention administrators, visitors, media, and passer-bys within about a quarter-mile radius) were treated to a piped in rendition of Fight On the USC fight song, during team stretching exercises. Sadly, I've already memorized it this past decade...

Various Notre Dame game day music was played intermittently throughout the session which provided an annoying Clockwork Orange effect to the Tuesday's first 10 practice minutes.

The Irish base defense had two changes: cornerback Gary Gray in place of Robert Blanton, and SLB Scott Smith in place of Darius Fleming…the latter more likely a result of the fewer reps received by the resting Fleming (hamstring) over the Bye week practices. John Ryan remained the starting DE with Kerry Neal on the second unit (as well as appearing on the "starting" Nickel defense).

Te'o predictably remained as a starter in the team's Base defense.

The No. 2 base defense included Blanton and Jamoris Slaughter at CB, Sergio Brown and Zeke Motta at Safety; David Posluszny and Toryan Smith as the two linebackers inside; Steve Filer as the backup SLB and Paddy Mullen as a new addition inside on the defensive line.

Fleming returned to his starting rush end role in the team's No. 1 Nickel package (Gray remained with the unit as well). Per usual, Brown took his spot as the Nickel DB.

The squad's No. 2 Nickel grouping included Blanton and Slaughter on the corners with senior CB Raeshon McNeil manning the "Nickel" role. Ray Herring and Motta lined up as the safeties while both Filer and Neal took the field on the edge of the defensive line.

The first team Dime package included Motta as the team's sixth DB (playing close to the line) in favor of Herring, with both Brown, Walls, Gray (and of course, Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith) as the team's remaining defensive backs. Ethan Johnson manned the middle of the three-man line in this grouping and was flanked by Ryan and Fleming with Brian Smith and Manti Te'o behind them.

Aside from the addition of Gray and insertion of Mullen and Motta, I wouldn't read too much into Tuesday's alignment (especially regarding Fleming's omission from the Base D).

Limited/Unfair Observation of the Day

I've championed the efforts of sophomore WR Deion Walker due to a few acrobatic catches I've seen in our limited practice viewings. After watching yesterday's second session in which the position group worked on precise comeback routes, I came away with the impression that Walker struggles with the exact depth and discipline of the route (something both freshman Shaquelle Evans and sophomore John Goodman have flubbed in late-game third-down situations this season).

Walker is probably a serious spring and summer away from making a splash, as he varied his depth and break with each rep. Again, this is my observation: though Walker was schooled on the issue by WR Coach Ianello, so were most of his teammates in this early practice stage.

Red Zone One-on-One

The media was treated to a rarity in the final session of practice: WR vs. CB in one-on-one drills, this time with the CB defending the end zone.

"Who wants a piece of Golden?" exclaimed Ianello. It was senior CB Darrin Walls who stepped up for the challenge (on the opposite side of the practice field).

Session Notes:

Beginning on the 20-yard line, Opposite Side (50 yards away so I can't hear the conversations). The line of scrimmage is moved to the 10-yard line and eventually inside the 5:

  • Tate beats Walls on a "smash-route" (in, then out to the sideline) TD.
  • Slaughter covers Evans well on an incomplete slant pass
  • Evans beats McNeil for a comeback completion
  • Tate beats Walls on a square-in completion
  • Evans bests McNeil on square-in
  • Slaughter breaks up a slant pass to Evans (best play by a CB on the opposite side during the drill)
  • Tate beats Walls on a square-in touchdown
  • Walker beats Harrison Smith for a fade touchdown
  • Evans beats Slaughter (again solid coverage) for a back shoulder fade touchdown
  • Tate blows by Walls on a slant touchdown

Before you worry too much about the CB in coverage on the far side, remembering they were facing (mostly) Jimmy Clausen as an unrushed quarterback.

20-yard line, Near Side (standing five yards away, so I can hear every word…most of which I've grudgingly edited):

  • Parris and Gray are locked in a physical battle and a comeback route is thrown wide
  • Goodman's slant is completely destroyed by Blanton, who comes to the sideline with a colorful boast of "He must not know I bench 300!" said for the benefit of both his DB teammates and the media. Sergio Brown offers a quick: "That might be a slight exaggeration…" Good times.
  • In my personal "I can call it standing here" route of the session, Robby Toma works Brown for a fade TD as Brown fails to locate the ball in the air (he was close in coverage)
  • Kamara lines up to face Gray and Blanton, from the sideline, warns his CB-mate. "He's running a slant! You can tell because he… messed up his split!" Kamara indeed runs a slant, beats Gray and turns around to Blanton and DB Coach Corwin Brown: "It don't matter. I can tell you the route!"
  • Blanton is beaten briefly by Parris who takes two steps toward the corner then breaks off his route inside. Blanton recovers for the best pass break-up of the day
  • Goodman beats Brown on a comeback. Brown had the coverage, but didn't locate the ball
  • Toma is destroyed at the line of scrimmage by Gray. No idea what the route would have been because it never happened
  • Kamara badly beats McNeil off the line for an easy fade TD and offers to the CBs standing nearby, "He never had a chance!" DB Coach Corwin Brown responds: "RJ, will you do him?" (matchup forthcoming)
  • Parris runs a poor route and Brown covers him well on an incomplete pass
  • Kamara vs. Blanton. Plenty of edited talking…more edited talking…Kamara beats Blanton (who had the coverage, didn't locate the ball) for a leaping one-handed fade route touchdown and a foot in bounds. The receivers explode in cheers as Kamara gives the ball to Blanton. Clausen tells Blanton "Keep it."
  • Final one-on-one, this one is for pushups for the losing player's position group: Kamara beats Brown (slightly) to the corner but the bullet pass ricochets off the receiver's face mask and the DB's explode in cheers and taunts. McCarthy does a run-by taunt of Clausen who I assume gets to join the push-up group as we're ushered out of practice.

A scout from the New York Giants was in attendance. Top Stories