The weather didn't cooperate, the field was in terrible shape, and the offense didn't do much, but overall it was a good day to see the Irish back inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Aside from a couple topics there isn't a whole lot to take away from this game, so I'll try to keep it short and sweet (no promises though). I wanted to run through some comments on various players before getting to the quarterbacks, then wrapping it up with some final thoughts.
Deion Walker (5 catches for 56 yards) had a nice game on a day where the receivers did not stand out at all. A lot of that had to do with the QB play to an extent, but Walker showed he's a big body with good hands. I don't think anyone is expecting huge things from him, and he doesn't seem to be anywhere near the explosive athlete he was in high school, but it was a positive sign that he played well.
Danny Spond looks like a real player and is someone who I would be happy with starting. He's undersized and he might be a backup this year, but you can tell that everything the coaches have been saying about him is true. He plays incredibly physical, has great instincts, and hits like someone 40 pounds bigger than his size. I have a feeling we'll be hearing his name a lot in 2011.
Ben Turk can't afford to continue being so inconsistent in the punting game, especially since he's experienced and a veteran. If he is not careful, freshman Kyle Brindza is going to take his job away. Brindza hit his only field goal attempt and looked decent in the punt game, but will need to work on his mechanics and hurry up his punts if he wants to overtake Turk.
Lo Wood is very physical for a smaller corner and made an outstanding play on the game's only interception. I think everyone is getting more and more comfortable with Wood being a solid third corner and not someone who is just going to fade into the background when the talented freshmen show up.
Ishaq Williams was overshadowed by a fellow freshman on Saturday, but he played solid nonetheless. He didn't do anything incredibly flashy, but he proved that he belongs out there and actually made a couple really nice tackles, plus causing the fumble on Golson. I still think he's a little awkward out there, yet I was very content with how well he played as such a young and inexperienced athlete.
Luke Massa had a devestating drop in the end zone on a beautifully thrown ball by Tommy Rees, and generally looked slow and uncomfortable at wide receiver. He did take a screen pass for a nice gain, but he is going to be a long-term project at his new position.
Alex Welch looked great in his first action for the Irish finishing the day as the blue team's leading receiver with four catches and 34 yards. There were precious few routes run vertically down field so it's hard to tell if he has the type of speed and playmaking that Rudolph and Eifert have, but he looks like your typical steady-handed tight end. That he's presumed third on the depth chart says a lot about how good the tight ends are at Notre Dame right now.
I kept an eye on Kendall Moore and thought he played really well. He's listed at 6'1" but he looks much taller and bigger than that. There was a play early in the game where Cierre Wood took a run to the left side and was suddenly stopped for a short gain, and that's because Moore came across from the weak side, shed a block, took an excellent route to the ball, and finished the tackle. He pretty much looked like Te'o there, played well throughout the rest of the game, and has a very bright future.
I know Jonas Gray was dinged up and not close to 100 percent healthy, but he's a clear drop off from the starting running back.
TJ Jones was also slighty dinged up and toughed it out, but I wanted to see a little more explosiveness from the sophomore receiver.
John Goodman made a beautiful catch in the end zone and finished with three total receptions. The passing offense wasn't a well oiled machine, but it would have been nice to see someone like Goodman make a statement. That's not to say he played poorly, but he's the oldest and most experienced player not named Michael Floyd.
As to be expected, Louis Nix played a little bit out of the system, but he was an absolute monster at times during this game. He's clearly big enough and strong enough to be a starting nose tackle at this level and he'll just have to keep working on his stamina. Besides laying a couple massive hits, Nix was able to get a big push anytime he wanted to. I don't think it's hype to say that he's physically the most gifted tackle to come to Notre Dame in a very long time.
Cierre Wood is clearly on another level at the running back position. His level of play, his understanding of the system, and his confidence all prove to me that he is ready for a special season. Notre Dame simply hasn't had a running back of his caliber in years and it shows nearly every time he touches the ball. His speed and elusiveness are close to elite, if not already there, and although we'll likely deal with him trying to kick it outside too often, he's going to make it pay off with plenty of long runs and touchdowns.
Everyone is fawning over Aaron Lynch right now, and let's be real...he deserves the high praise. There are some people nit picking his game, mostly his over-agressiveness, but that just goes to show you how dominant and in your face he was on Saturday. The best part was that he was lining up against a couple starters on the offensive line and still making plays.
Like Brian Kelly, I think we should reign in our expectations, but boy does Lynch have freshman All-American written all over him. It wasn't like he just lined up on the edge all day and beat guys with his speed, he was making plays in a variety of ways showing off his size, strength, instincts, and hustle.
There are big, big things in store for Aaron Lynch over the next few years.
And now to the quarterbacks, starting with Tommy Rees whose gold team took the field first.
Rees finished 7 of 14 for 61 yards with one interception and generally didn't look great in the handful of series he led. His first drive he looked sharp and threw a beautiful pass that was dropped in the end zone, but after that Rees was pretty shaky.
I would agree with Kelly that Rees was the most accurate (he had two drops, plus another ball that was a tough catch but could have been brought in) but he also threw a few dangerous balls that were not pretty, including the aforementioned interception.
Part of me went back to the mindset from last season where I felt comfortable with Rees being accurate on the short throws, moving the chains, and just being generally calm, cool, and collected in the pocket. But this spring game also pointed out yet again his lack of running, poor down field throwing, and the general limitations he places on the offense.
I will allow the weather as a reason for all of the quarterbacks struggling at times, plus it was very apparent the play calls were not very aggressive nor did Kelly say the intent was to put points on the board.
However, the one play where Lynch broke off the line and caught Gray in the backfield was a perfect illustration of how Rees holds the offense back. Some were saying that Lynch over-pursued, but isn't that the smart play in that situation?
In other words, with Rees at QB should the defensive end even worry about him taking the ball there? At worst, Rees bootlegs out and Lynch is probably able to stop, cut back and be disruptive anyway.
Last season the team was executing at such a high level that plays like this weren't hurting the team, but I fear they will become more common with Rees under center.
Dayne Crist wasn't lighting the world on fire either. He finished 5 of 11 for 34 yards with a bunch of short completions.
He continues to look and act the part, but he didn't look any different than the quarterback who was in a new system last year. He drove a couple out routes into the ground (admittedly they were very tough throws across the field, Rees doesn't even attempt to throw those, and there might have been some disconnect with the receivers) but it's a little disheartening to see that still happening.
After watching the game the first time I thought Rees looked better, but going through it a second time I think Crist looked a little better than I thought. The big thing for me was that Crist didn't throw any "dangerous" balls that could have been turned over, whereas Rees had a couple, including a rather ugly pick.
It seemed apparent to me that Crist wasn't going to do anything special out there and was trying to work on some throws. Kelly even admitted as much after the game as you'll see about four of the 11 throws Crist attempted were very tough to complete.
Both quarterbacks can play better and I have faith that they will, but this exhibition certainly didn't get people too excited.
Everett Golson showed why he has so much potential with his rocket arm and supreme athleticism.
I think it's pretty clear that he's a long ways away from being an effecient and disciplined starter, but he is obviously way ahead of the curve for a true freshman in the spring and his combination of skills make him a perfect fit for the system.
Golson finished 9 of 18 for 91 yards including a beautifully thrown fade pass to Goodman for a touchdown. He also chipped in a game high 62 yards rushing on 11 carries as well.
I think his athleticism was just about where I thought it would be (although playing on the slippery cow pasture of ND Stadium probably doesn't help in this regard) but his arm strength and passing abilities are probably better than I expected. He definitely struggled at times and had happy feet pretty much the whole game, but in a lot of ways he looked exactly like the superstar he was in high school and that is a great sign for the future.
I thought Andrew Hendrix was the most consistent quarterback and therefore the most impressive player at this position on Saturday. He doesn't look entirely comfortable yet, but after this game I don't think he is that far away from being in position to start.
He finished 10 for 16 with a game high 113 yards, plus 37 yards on the ground with two touchdowns on only 5 carries for a very potent 7.4 average.
I especially liked his performance backed up near the goal line, and the fact that he took a few huge hits and was able to stay in the game and still perform well. There was one dangerous throw that was almost picked off, but Hendrix generally played within himself and showed off his strong arm, good accuracy, and sneaky good running ability.
I know things might be different with a full crop of 11 BCS defenders facing him, but if Hendrix can get the protection that the quarterbacks received last year, I don't see how he can't be a very good passer right now. Plus, his ability to take the ball on the option read is another major advantage for this team.
How much longer will this be ignored?
I think there was a deliberate attempt by the coaches to not push it very hard with Crist and Rees, and it showed. I would give them the benefit of the doubt with their poor play because of the weather, play-calling, and the like. We would have loved to have seen one quarterback step up, but it just didn't happen.
I don't think we should freak out over the receivers, but it's pretty clear to me that we need someone to step up. Without Floyd this group is pretty average, and if the offense is going to hum we'll need someone like Jones or Goodman to be more dynamic than they are right now.
The tight ends look great with the emergence of Welch to back up Eifert and Ragone. The coaches are going to be able to do a lot of different things with three big and talented players.
A couple of veteran offensive linemen were getting abused by Lynch, but overall the unit played well. The defensive line has been getting bigger, stronger, and faster, but the O-line held their own and still looks very good in pass protection.
There were a lot of starting defenders who played sparingly including Ethan Johnson, Kapron-Lewis Moore, Darius Fleming, Carlo Calabrese, Gary Gray, Robert Blanton, Harrison Smith, and Zeke Motta. Pretty much anyone who started last year did not see much action.
There were a ton of walk-ons getting time on defense, but I thought the regular backups on scholarship looked good. I already talked about some of them, but guys like Nix, Lynch, and Moore are now adding quality depth to the program.
Overall, there really wasn't much to take away from the game especially without Floyd and Te'o participating, the game going so quickly, and in such terrible weather. That's usually the case with most spring games, but even more so this year. Think about it, the offense did nothing new (except the inexperienced QB's running), there was one screen pass, and it was as vanilla as could be.
One thing I would take away is that the Irish need to get faster at the skill positions on offense. Theo Riddick is a keeper and will be a big time playmaker and obviously with Floyd the skill level is boosted tremendously, but I think Davaris Daniels, George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel are all going to be seeing the field a lot in 2011.
The defense is shaping up to be the most solid and productive we've seen in quite some time, but will they be dominant?
We'll find out in September.