A rundown of the August 13 practice, which was fully open to the media and featured lots of situational and red zone work.
From all accounts Malik Zaire settled into more of a rhythm than previous practices, and performed well operating in red zone and two minute situations. No one knows quite how often a no-huddle, up-tempo offense will be used, but it seems like the offense is becoming more comfortable using it (and the defense gets valuable experience defending tempo).
The goal appeared to be to throw a lot of different looks and blitzes at Zaire, and he handled it well, making quick reads and good decisions. Accuracy, in particular on some longer throws, was at times an issue - how big of an issue was debatable depending on the source. Not a lot on DeShone Kizer today. Brandon Wimbush continues to show off impressive physical tools, but is adjusting to the speed of the game and making quick decisions.
Justin Brent continues to work into the running back rotation, at times starting in the backfield and then motioning out wide. The practice appeared to focus more on the passing game (HARRUMPH!) but the offense ran the ball well in goal-line situations. Brian Kelly mentioned that there is "no depth chart" at running back, and that Brent is working his way into the mix with Folston, Prosise, Zaire, and a few receivers that will get carries.
In general the receivers appeared to have an average to below average session - Will Fuller continues to establish himself as the top receiver, and Torii Hunter Jr. also appears to be making moves on the fall practice DGT© report. Also on the report? Nic Weishar, who took advantage of other tight ends being nicked up to show off a more well-rounded skill set.than last season, blocking well in addition to showing off great hands.
Going into fall practice Quenton Nelson was the odds on favorite to become the starter at left guard, and it sounds like he's not giving up any ground. Reports are that the O-Line was inconsistent and has some communication issues early, but after an uplifting conversation with Harry Hiestand they finished strong.
The big story of the day was KeiVarae Russell and the secondary. The consistent theme was Russell dominating individual and team drills, including stepping in at nickel back (and getting a sack blitzing from that position). It's a different look for the defense, but if a third cornerback can fill in outside while Russell provides improved coverage at the nickel, it's a nice wrinkle to add flexibility.
True freshman Nick Coleman saw some first team reps outside with Russell in at nickel, and while he was beaten a few times, he showed off great athleticism. It's the time of year to experiment with different combinations, and I'd still bet on Nick Watkins as the third corner, but put Coleman and Ashton White on "burning the redshirt" watch.
While Russell and Shaun Crawford (who continues to impress with his quickness and physicality) took most snaps at nickel, Matthias Farley worked in at free safety. Farley doesn't have the physical tools of a Max Redfield, but has the awareness and instincts to put himself in the right place and guide the rest of the secondary - a pretty nice combination for a number two free safety.
James Onwualu is also doing good things at linebacker - it sounds like things are clicking in year two at the position and with some added weight. Small sample size, but it sounds like Onwualu-Schmidt-Smith will be the linebacker trio to start against Texas, with Nyles Morgan next in the middle. It may be a season long battle as Morgan continues to improve his decision-making and instincts to go with his physicality and toughness.
The defensive line keeps showing signs of turning around the struggles against the run from late last season, with impressive performances from Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, and Isaac Rochell. Romeo Okwara also had a good practice and show great technical improvement from last year. No one wants to make any conclusions about pass rushers struggling against Ronnie Stanley, so it may be a tough camp for Andrew Trumbetti and Grant Blankenship.
It means nothing right now, but Justin Yoon hasn't missed any of his 18 field goal attempts in practice. Tyler Newsome is averaging 51 yards per punt with great hang time. If this translates to game situations the next four years will be an unprecedented and glorious run for Punter Bro and all special teams lovers.
Prosise, Amir Carlisle, and Crawford are all in the competition for kick returns, with Fuller the leader returning punts. Walk-on Chris Fink was praised as "catching everything", which is the first step in any successful return, so at the very least he could be the next Fair Catch Goodman.
Bumps and Bruises Report
- Alize Jones (neck injury) and Durham Smythe were both held out of practice with minor issues and should return within a few days.
- Te'Von Coney also sat out after getting poked in the eye but should also be back soon.
Notes from Brian Kelly's time with the media:
- Leadership continues to be an ongoing theme in BK's comments - today Nick Martin and Sheldon Day singled out for their great work with their respective units. Jaylon Smith also praised for doing Jaylon Smith things.
- As mentioned Nic Weishar had a great opportunity with Jones and Smythe out, and it sounds like he took full advantage. Kelly praised his work, mentioning that they've always had faith in his pass-catching abilities, but has had a great offseason gaining weight and strength to help with his in-line blocking.
- BK's comments on the tight ends divided them by their strengths into pass-catchers vs. blockers - Smythe, Jones, and Weishar as pass-catchers and Luatua and Hounshell as blockers. Hounshell was highlighted as the physically strongest and "will play", so get excited for 5 TE sets.
- Lots of praise for Isaac Rochell, who was called "a beast" and "virtually unblockable".
- Ishaq Williams was not at practice and his status is still "pending".
- Tristen Hoge was also praised, and has taken advantage of enrolling early and extra Paul Longo time. It may depend on offensive line health, but he's also on track for the freshman "no redshirt" team.
- The Greg Bryant situation remains murky - Kelly mentioned that he has not talked to Bryant but wants him back if he's committed to getting his degree and ND education. He would like to talk to him but Bryant has been "elusive", which is normally a good trait for a running back, but in this case it makes a return to South Bend sound pretty unlikely.
- The Showtime series was brought up - Kelly said it could be a potential distraction, but team is used to constant camera presence. Also said show will be able to showcase the program and "tell our story each week" in recruiting.