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Spring Winds Down In South Bend

Notre Dame is down to its final week of spring practice and head coach Brian Kelly says his team as “checked all the boxes” of specific development he hoped to see before they officially break until preseason camp.

Head coach Brian Kelly gives instructions during an indoor spring practice this week.

The Irish had their 12th session of the spring Saturday morning, the first fully open to media viewing, with three more practices and the Blue-Gold scrimmage remaining on the schedule for the next seven days.

“I think it’s still more about for the group that we have out there, and you saw all those young kids, it’s just more practice time,” Kelly said. “It’s not one thing in particular where we have to work blue zone or more red zone. We’ve covered all those situations and circumstances. I think every day that we get in a practice we take another step forward.”

Kelly said he has been generally pleased with the development of some players in key positions during the past three weeks on the field.

Finding a center was the coach’s top priority in early March, and junior Nick Martin has seized control of that spot so far.

Martin, the younger brother of fifth-year senior left tackle Zack Martin, is still climbing up a steep learning curve in terms of helping to identify defenses and determine what protection the line should use. He also is still sorting through the mechanics of snapping in his first year as a center. Overall, though, Kelly said he’s been impressed by Martin’s steady demeanor on the field.

“He’s got a great temperament. He can handle a lot of things that are being thrown at him,” Kelly said. “I just really like the way his maturity has shown itself. For a young guy that hasn’t played he’s shown himself to be a very mature kid.”

The coach said he’s also been pleased with what he saw from juniors Ben Koyack and George Atkinson III, both of whom will help to fill big shoes in the fall. Atkinson has been the leading candidate to replace running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood all spring. Kelly said that the rising junior has made big strides in his ability to catch the ball and affect the passing game.

Koyack has also shown more confidence in making receptions downfield this spring. He had a disappointing three catches for 39 yards as a sophomore while playing in 12 games. This season, he’ll be part of a committee of tight ends called upon to replace outgoing All-American Tyler Eifert.

“He’s had a really good three weeks,” Kelly said. “It’s good to see him having fun and smiling. He’s feeling good about himself, and he’s a big strong kid that we always believed was an outstanding pass catcher.”

The Irish won’t ask Koyack to be the diverse vertical threat that Eifert was during his college career, but he will likely spend some time in the slot position split from the traditional tight end spot. Notre Dame used its tight ends extensively at practice this week. Kelly said that was more a result of all of them being completely healthy (unlike the thin wide receiver corps) rather than an indication of what he expected offense to look like in September.

And while spring practice is drawing to a conclusion, it doesn’t feel that way in South Bend. Saturday morning’s practice was moved inside due to an unseasonable wintry mix of rain, sleet and snow. Notre Dame has been outside only once in its dozen practices during the past month.

The inclement weather has restricted some of what the team is able to accomplish. Kicking specialist Kyle Brindza has had limited space to try to develop the punting side of his game, something he has yet to do at the collegiate level. Kelly also said he would have liked more time to get quarterback used to putting the ball in the air outside.

“I like to get out in the elements more with the quarterbacks in the passing game, but not to a point where it concerns me,” he said.

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