Wednesday morning saw the Fighting Irish take the indoor field inside The Gug to open the 2016 edition of spring practice. The media was allowed to view the first 30 minutes of the workout and will do so again for the same limited time next Wednesday. In the meantime, Notre Dame will practice Friday, Saturday, and Monday in between viewing periods.
Let's talk some real (sort of) football!
Major developments at quarterback after just one practice! Just kidding, things went about as you'd expect. Malik Zaire, not looking to suffer any ill effects from his ankle injury, took the first-team reps early in the viewing period while DeShone Kizer took those reps later in the practice. Observers continue to be impressed with Brandon Wimbush's physical skills. Numerous people mentioned his ridiculously strong arm on the longer throws.
It was heartening to see Tarean Folston back on the field, now sporting a brace on his reconstructed knee. Obviously, nothing was full go during practice but he was cutting this way and that without problems. Adams continues to grow into his body asking questions about just how big he'll end up being in his career at Notre Dame. As we saw last year, his open-field stride is impressive and caught people's eye again. Justin Brent got in the news for a great catch only to drop the next pass that hit both hands. Consistency is everyone's friend on the football field.
Your first-team receivers were Equanimous St. Brown and Corey Robinson on the outside with Torii Hunter in the slot. They were backed up by Corey Holmes and Miles Boykin with C.J. Sanders in the middle. Holmes and early enrollee Kevin Stepherson appeared to have grabbed the biggest headlines during the media portion. Both were cited for their speed and cutting ability.
Also turning some heads is rising sophomore walk-on Chris Finke a speedy 5'9" slot receiver out of Kettering, Ohio. He came from Archbishop Alter (same school as Malik Zaire) and a few have mentioned he's good enough to possibly see the field in the future and/or earn a scholarship.
Instant Analysis: Notre Dame's depth in for a major test this spring https://t.co/iA0CjCIDoq— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) March 16, 2016
The tight ends appeared to be Durham Smythe in the 1A role and Alize Jones coming as the 1B option. After the practice, Brian Kelly mentioned they're happy with the way Nic Weishar can now hold up in the blocking game.
The first unit on the offensive line trotted out as McGlinchey (LT), Nelson (LG), Mustipher (C), McGovern (RG), and Bivin (RT). Yesterday, Kelly mentioned that no decision had been made on moving McGlinchey to the left side but that appears to be false. After practice, the towering redshirt junior said he's been working at left tackle for a while.
The second unit consisted of Byrne (LT), Ruhland (RG), Hoge (C), Harrell (RG), and Bars (RT). Remember, Bars is not fully healthy yet and is being worked slowly back into practice shape so we'll see how that changes things when he's fully ready. Also, interesting to see Harrell (the backup RT last year) move inside to guard for this practice.
Kelly told the press afterwards that they feel good about the center position and left side. That appears to be good news for Sam Mustipher locking down the snapping duties. Yet, Kelly spoke so glowingly about Hoge that it's difficult to imagine he won't make a move this spring. Either way, those two positions on the right are completely up for grabs. Right now, I think a McGlinchey--Nelson--Mustipher--Hoge--Bars starting lineup is going to take the field against Texas.
No surprises for the starters at defensive line where Rochell (SDE), Jarron Jones (NT), Tillery (DT), and Trumbetti (WDE) were the main men. Behind them we saw Bonner (SDE), Cage (NT), Dew-Treadway (DT), and Blankenship (WDE). Interesting to see MDT as the initial backup at 3-tech, remember this is his second spring so he could be making bigger strides than some of his classmates. Also, seeing Blankenship flipped over at the weak-side feels like a nod to a veteran and a move that has been made by default with the lack of pass-rushers.
Freshmen EE's Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem both looked physically ready to play. Hayes, in particular, opened a lot of eyes with his size and athleticism while working with the defensive ends the entire time. If he can stay healthy I'll be surprised if he doesn't become the backup behind Trumbetti.
Kelly talked about the need for a bigger rotation on the D-line after the practice. He clearly wants to see what they have out of the young guys. Also, he said Rochell isn't a natural leader but is growing into the role and that he's not worried about Tillery's work ethic and focus.
The starters at linebacker were: Onwualu (strong-side), Morgan (middle), and Bilal (weak-side). Following the workout, Kelly said the staff feels comfortable with Bilal at the strong-side and now they're going to throw him into the fire at the weak-side. After saying yesterday that Josh Barajas would be getting work at Sam or Will the rising redshirt freshman worked at Mike on Wednesday morning. He was flanked by a pair of rising sophomore walk-ons in Devyn Spruell and Kier Murphy. Kelly said Barajas will see some time at the weak-side and that Greer Martini (DNP, injured) will be a candidate at the Mike linebacker position.
The biggest headliner at corner was Shaun Crawford who is back from a knee injury and sporting a brace on his leg for the time being. Kelly called him a very smart, smart, smart player following the workout. Some in attendance mentioned Crawford's explosive ability cannot be missed. For Wednesday the corner pairings were Luke and Watkins then Butler and Crawford.
The updated spring roster that was circulated yesterday at Kelly's press conference showed redshirt freshman Ashton White at safety. However, that appeared to be a typo. He should be a corner and was working out with that position group today.
Both early enrollee's Devin Studstill and Spencer Perry caught attention for looking physically ready to play. In particular, Perry's height and frame look like he's a linebacker but his listed weight of barely over 200 pounds likely means he'll stay at safety for the time being.
Drue Tranquill was back from injury and said to be very vocal among all the defensive backs. The starting unit for this position was Tranquill at strong safety and Redfield sharing reps with Studstill at free safety. Fertitta was the third free safety while Perry went out first with the backups at strong safety followed by reps from Sebastian and Mykelti Williams.
Kelly was immediately asked about Max Redfield following practice and it continues to be frustrating listening to him talk about the Californian as if he were still a freshman. He mentioned yesterday that they simplified things at safety in 2015 as much as they could. Today, Kelly told the press they've continually had to work on Redfield's pedaling, movement, and knowledge base. He went on to say that there's been fundamental issues and that it's been steady progress with a lot to learn.
Kelly and VanGorder have continually mentioned that safety was the biggest issue for last year's defense and you have to wonder how much patience they're going to have left in 2016. The head coach mentioned that young defensive backs are going to be involved heavily this off-season. When the spring is usually spent giving deference to veterans it's interesting to see Studstill and Perry already so involved in the two-deep from practice number one.