Offensive Notebook

Third session skeleton drill tests Irish intensity, mental focus from the outset.

Consider it the calm before the storm for the offense. Then again, there's nothing laid back about this tone-setting segment that sets the pace each day for another challenging practice. Head coach Brian Kelly's oft-discussed Five-Snaps-to-Score drill occurs just 15 minutes into each practice; segment No. 3 of 24.

It's intriguing for outsiders to watch due to the intensity level and pace (and exuberance displayed in each correction/point-of-contention from the coaching staff), and it's commanded the focus of the entire Irish offense, with three units each attempting to run five successful plays vs. an empty field.

And though the drill is performed at breakneck speed, with players sprinting back to the ball and often from one sideline to the next in a no-huddle offense, the challenge is much more mental than physical.

"Yeah, we're trying to get that down," explained sophomore wide receiver Shaquelle Evans. "It's really a mental thing. It's not that the plays are hard to understand, but you have to think really fast because the plays come in real fast and you have to get lined up; sometimes you have to run all the way across the field and get the signal (from the sideline) at the same time. That's the hardest part."

"Everything's called from the sideline, it's all signaled in."

Junior quarterback Dayne Crist has run the first unit in each of the team's open practices with varying levels of success (yesterday's serving as the best effort from my perspective).

"It's a scripted set of plays that we go over, whether it's the new stuff for the day or just things we want to emphasize for the day," he explained.

"It really just gives us a script to get going. It's on air (no defense), so the point is just to make sure guys have their assignments down, and to create a great foundation to start practice. The better you start, the better you finish.

"If you look back at a practice none of us want to relive (last Wednesday)," Crist continued, "we talked about how that wasn't a great practice, and (the struggle) started at the beginning. So it makes you focus on attention to detail, on your assignment, and letting that translate into team success."

The aforementioned rough practice of March 31 featured numerous mental errors (as well as dropped passes). Yesterday's segment was cleaner, though not without flaw. One twist in the most recent rendition was Kelly calling a "Cover 2" defense from his vantage point in the opposite end zone – a tactic to test Crist's ability to adapt to an already called play from the sideline.

"I think that's (just) for the QBs," Evans noted later. "I don't think we have those calls."

(Note: Evans wasn't with Crist's group, thus the Cover 2 call didn't occur during his segment yesterday).

"It helps you get your mind ready and embrace the entire mental (drain) of practice that's to come later," Crist added. "The plays are being yelled out – its high-energy, high-tempo fast-paced stuff. That's the emphasis."

Better, As Expected

March 31 (practice No. 4) was the team's most recent gathering before yesterday's session in the rain, and the lackadaisical effort and overall sloppiness was noted, ad nauseam, over the next week by numerous media outlets.

But Kelly's troops rallied for practice No. 5, pleasing the new head man – to a degree.

"We tried to get our players to understand what it takes to develop their skill — and that is to be mentally locked in for 24 periods," Kelly said. "We had to move around a little bit, moved inside, moved outside, but that was part of the plan as well. We wanted to make sure we could keep their focus. Today…it's small steps, but I was pleased they got the message about how we're supposed to practice on a day-to-day basis."

Regarding the overall pace of practice?

"It was better. Around period No. 15-16, the body language was starting to show itself," Kelly continued. "A couple of players were looking like they were defeated, a little tired. I expected that (attention wane) about 15-16 periods in, about an hour-and-thirty minutes (a drop-off). We're not at that volume. We made good progress. We started better, and we gave it all we could for about 15 periods, and then we started to taper off."

The Irish have 10 practices remaining to improve, and you can bet 15-16 sessions of solid focus won't be the goal by late April.

"I mean, eventually we'll get to the level that Coach Kelly wants," offered running back Armando Allen last week (Allen jogged out of the beginning of yesterday's practice and did not return during the media viewing).

"That's what Coach Kelly expects and we have to get into our heads." Top Stories