Assistant Editor Wes Morgan – Opening:
The Notre Dame football team invited over 600 football coaches and members of the media inside the LaBar Practice Complex gate Saturday to see how the 2012 squad is shaping up with a week before the annual Blue-Gold Game.
The team’s sparkling blue and gold tractor-trailer, which is used to transport equipment on road trips, was parked outside even though it won’t be used until Sept. 15 when the Irish head to East Lansing, Mich., to take on the Spartans. Saturday was, after all, more about showing off than revealing secrets, with junior quarterback Tommy Rees’ speed option run right out of the gate just as conspicuous.
The coaching staff made sure the energy level was high in front of an audience, and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin was completely unfiltered. With so much going on at once across three fields, and a rare opportunity to soak it all in, some of the little things were what stood out.
Assistant strength and conditioning director Lorenzo Guess stood next to walk-on quarterback Charlie Fiessinger and oversaw the signaling in of plays.
A full crew of officials was on hand a 20-minute scrimmage at the end of Saturday’s session. It appeared the men in stripes were still trying to work out the kinks before fall as well. At one point, senior receiver Robby Toma was lined up two yards off the ball, which seemed to enrage head coach Brian Kelly, who was on the opposite side of the field. Kelly screamed for a ruling and one official said there was no penalty. Toma looked back at the official and said “thanks.”
Then there was defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who took it upon himself to use a stopwatch to clock the hang time of Notre Dame’s punters.
Of course, not all coaches in attendance were Irish fans. But it was funny at some of their lack of knowledge concerning the program. One coach asked who No. 5 was as sophomore quarterback Everett Golson took reps. “He must be at the bottom of the depth chart,” the man said.
He must not have been familiar with the four-man race at QB this spring, nor did he pay much attention to Golson’s performance, which was pretty solid.
Senior Editor Lou Somogyi – Offense:
The wideout corps was conspicuously thinner with fifth-year senior John Goodman (sprained right ankle) and Luke Massa (knee injury, which is believed to be a torn ACL) both sidelined. According to head coach Brian Kelly, Goodman was withheld from practice mainly as a precaution, but further evaluation on Massa likely could sideline him for at least five months.
The lone scholarship player working at boundary receiver (W) was junior Daniel Smith, although classmate TJ Jones also has the experience and knowledge to move around. Sophomore DaVaris Daniel must emerge more than he has. In one 7-on-7 drill in which cornerback Lo Wood broke on the ball and nearly had a pick six of a Tommy Rees pass, Daniels was sternly reminded by offensive coordinator Chuck Martin that he has to run and sell his pattern with much more effort.
“He’s a good talent,” head coach Brian Kelly said of Daniels. “He doesn’t know how to practice yet … he’s just got to learn how to play the game. The way we play the game here is you’ve got to go through the echo of the whistle, but he’ll learn. He wants to be a good player … I think he’s going to get it. It’s just that it’s taking a little time.”
Consequently, both Theo Riddick and Robby Toma — along with incumbent Cierre Wood — had an active scrimmage in their dual running back/slot role, taking shovel passes, reverses, wheel routes, etc. Among the walk-ons receiving a lot more snaps at receiver was 6-2, 190-pound Andre Smith, a sophomore from Davie, Fla.
Sophomore Troy Niklas also was missing from action while recovering from intestinal flu. The remaining tight end quartet of All-American Tyler Eifert, Ben Koyack, Alex Welch and Jake Golic were quite active in the offense, with Eifert understandably a focal feature in the goal-line offense. He made the catch of the day with a leaping, one-handed stab in the left corner of the end zone — while getting one foot down in-bounds — over cornerback Bennett Jackson on a fade from Rees.
The lone position along the line that remains to be settled is right guard with fifth-year senior Mike Golic Jr. and sophomore Nick Martin. Golic is stronger while Martin is more athletic, and Kelly can see both of them playing. When starting center Braxston Cave did not scrimmage while healing from his foot surgery last November, Golic did the snapping, with Martin at right guard and Christian Lombard at right tackle.
In virtually all drills, juniors Rees and Andrew Hendrix are the first to take the reps, with sophomore Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel behind them. Interesting to note, though, was that Rees and Golson were the only two to take goal-line work. The 12th practice also saw the quarterbacks work on checking into plays for the first time this spring, both in protections and routes.
WR John Goodman watched from the sideline with a boot on his right ankle.
“If you’re confident and you walk up there and you know what you want to do, you’re making the check, you’re commanding your presence, that obviously goes a long way to the unit,” Kelly said. “That was the thing we wanted to see today. Who commands that respect? … Even if you’re wrong, go up there with a certainty that you know what you’re doing.”
Kelly joked about how one time during the scrimmage, Kiel admitted to him that he froze and forgot the play in the process and threw it into traffic, which led to Koyack nearly getting his head taken off. When Kelly told him in such situations it might help to roll outside the pocket and throw the ball away, Kiel replied, “That’s a great idea.” The head coach described the freshman as “very, very coachable.”
The QB situation might be similar to last year when Dayne Crist and Rees were demarcated as the first two, with Hendrix and Golson possessing the potential to play in limited packages. This year, Rees and Hendrix have the edge in overall knowledge — Rees now even has designed running plays — while Golson and Kiel are building a base.
Staff Writer Dan Murphy – Defense:
Fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore stepped back into his spot as a starting defensive end Saturday, the day after sophomore-to-be Aaron Lynch decided to leave the program. Lewis-Moore lined up with junior Kona Schwenke and sophomore Stephon Tuitt with the first team defense. Tyler Stockton, listed as a nose guard, moved outside to help fill out the depth chart at defensive end.
The Irish also worked extensively with dime and nickel packages later in the practice. In that lineup Lewis-Moore and Tuitt lined up as interior linemen flanked by sophomore Ishaq Williams and junior Justin Utupo on the line. It’s safe to assume Utupo will drop behind Prince Shembo on the depth chart there when Shembo returns from recent surgery on his foot.
In addition to the regular first-team secondary, safety Austin Collinsworth and cornerback Cam McDaniel filled out the back end of the defense in the five and six-defensive back sets. McDaniel lined up almost as a linebacker before dropping into coverage. Kelly said after practice that they though the converted running back could play a key role as a backup next fall and wanted to get him as much work as possible Saturday.
McDaniel responded well in live action against the offense. He broke up a fade pass to tight end Tyler Eifert during 7-on-7 drills and later caused a fumble during the full team scrimmage at the end of practice.
During individual position drills, McDaniel and the rest of the secondary worked on defeating blocks and stripping receivers to cause turnovers. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and the linebackers started preparing for Navy by working on defeating the cut blocks typically used by the military option schools. Diaco preached that his players take time to defeat the block, controlling the linemen’s helmet and keeping their legs out of harm’s way, before getting to the ball carrier.
Punt team first unit:
Punter – Ben Turk
Personal Protectors – Alex Welch, Chris Watt, and Christian Lombard
Line – Josh Atkinson, Chris Salvi, Danny Spond, Kendall Moore, Jordan Cowart, Justin Utupo, Cam McDaniel and Austin Collinsworth.
Recruiting Editor Jason Sapp – Overview & Worth Noting:
Cell phones weren’t allowed in the LaBar Practice Complex, so the media wasn’t allowed to provide live updates from the event.
Just before heading through the gates and keeping the media’s main accessory confined to the pocket, however, a few notes were passed along while the team and practice visitors were heading into practice:
As mentioned in the offensive summary, Goodman, Massa and Niklas did not practice. Linebacker Dan Fox still wasn’t in pads and both linebacker Prince Shembo, who had to have his turf toe surgically repaired and is expected to be out for six weeks, and running back Amir Carlisle were still bound to crutches.
In addition to getting in quite a bit of work walking from sideline to sideline and sitting on the stationary bikes, Carlisle hobbled over to Guess and caught balls from the Jugs machine. Niklas was also getting reps in while former Irish wideout Michael Floyd provided the commentary. Nose guard Tony Springmann spent most of his time at practice getting rope work in and taking in mental reps.
Other visitors included former Irish player Mike Golic Sr., the father of current players Mike Jr. and tight end Jake. Golic Sr. was joined by former Notre Dame offensive guard Trevor Robinson while watching on the sideline. Tight end Alex Welch’s dad was also present at practice.
Other spectators included 2012 defensive end signee Jarron Jones and 2013 outside linebacker target Marcus Ball.
The Irish got right into positions drills on both sides of the ball following team prep work. Brian Kelly worked with the quarterbacks on footwork and passing, the running backs were instructed during a strip drill with Tony Alford, the slot receivers worked with the outside receivers on releases with Mike Denbrock, the tight ends were going in motion and blocking in space with Scott Booker, and the offensive linemen focused in on inside and outside zone blocking.
Defensively, the defensive backs worked together on coverage responsibilities with Bob Elliot and Kerry Cooks, the linebackers went downhill and got into their fits with Bob Diaco and the defensive line went through gap responsibilities with Mike Elston.
During the “Irish Pride Drill” where one defender is matched up with a blocker and a ball carrier, offensive tackle Zack Martin and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore were in one of the bigger battles of the morning. Martin was able to drive KLM on his back on the first rep, but KLM came back and stoned Martin on the line for the next time around. Linebacker Jarrett Grace also stood out in the drill and displayed his natural playmaking ability throughout the practice during team reps as well.
Other linebackers that stood out during the position work were Danny Spond, who received quite a bit of recognition from Diaco, Anthony Rabasa made a few plays and Ben Councell is looking strong with his added size and usual speed.
A young player that really stood out to me was early enrollee Sheldon Day. He doesn’t come across like a player that should still be in high school. I’ve always liked his ability in the pass rush game, and his technique is getting fine-tuned that much more working with Elston. It’s only practice, but I’ll be watching even closer at the spring game because at this point I’d imagine he has a great shot at getting minutes early in his career.
Also worth noting that I was right in the group that felt that Chase Hounshell was a candidate to move to the offensive line, but seeing how his body has filled out and his technique he’s in the right position along the defensive front.
One of the focuses of the defensive drills was being able to defend a great running team, which Elston used Stanford as an example of a team with a strong running attack because of its ability to run the play action as well.
Braxston Cave may be coming off of an injury, but he looks the best physically than he has yet. He went through cone drills while his position group prepped for one-on-one pass rush drills, and his footwork has improved to match his great strength. There are high expectations for his final season.
OL/DL pass rush drill:
• Mike Golic Jr. remained stout on a Louis Nix III bull rush and forced him to one side.
• Day used a quick jab step inside and went back around the outside to get pressure against Christian Lombard.
• Day clubbed Tate Nichols on the inside for his next rush.
• KLM did the same against Lombard on the following rep.
• Tyler Stockton used a quick swim against Matt Hegarty.
• Day bull rushed Bruce Heggie back.
• Tuitt was able to get the edge around Jordan Prestwood.
• Watt had great feet on a rep against Schwenke.
• Nix III stepped towards the gap to get Golic Jr. off balance and then bull rushed him back.
• Tuitt hit N. Martin with a quick outside swim.
• KLM was able to get up field first against Nichols and came back in around the edge.
• Stockton used an inside-out move on Lombard.
• Nix III bull rushed Hanratty.
Overall, the player that stood out to me in the scrimmage to finish practice was running back Cierre Wood. Not necessarily because he made a bunch of plays, but he just looks like more of a complete back than he ever did. High expectations indeed as he has improved his ability to block in the passing game, but he’s also a threat as a check-down option with his ability to catch, field awareness and added size to run the ball just as hard but more difficult to take down.