Notre Dame was back on the field Saturday afternoon for the 12th practice of the spring and this was the first opportunity for the media to watch the entire workout. The Irish will take the field again on Wednesday (no media) and Friday (full viewing) before Saturday's Blue Gold Game.
Now, let's talk about what happened on the field today and Brian Kelly's comments after practice.
The clear winner in the first extended action witnessed on Saturday was rising redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer. The praise was universal that Kizer was sharp, comfortable in the pocket, and more successful running the offense. Most especially, Kizer was flashing very good ability to make big plays with his arm down field.
Not to say that Zaire didn't perform well, but the reports are the same as they've always been going back to 2014. He's athletic and able to escape and make plays with his feet but the accuracy throwing the ball wasn't on the same level as Kizer. He threw interceptions to Crawford and Studstill--but as always with the red jerseys on there's the caveat that Zaire has the ability to be more productive in real game situations.
Happy feelings all around for the running backs as the collection of 4 scholarship players are as impressive athletically as any time during the Kelly era. On Saturday, both Folston and Adams sat out a lot of the contact situations. As the top two dogs there's nothing wrong with that in the spring.
Dexter Williams appears to be sneaking closer to a bigger role in 2016. Judging by comments of those in attendance he seems closer to a 1C option in the backfield than a distant 3rd-stringer.
The extra reps gave more opportunity to Justin Brent who is more than holding his own. I'm curious to see how much he can break into the rotation during the fall. With the progress of Nyles Morgan (see below) it'll be Brent who takes the mantle for Fan Frustration for 2016.
Corey Robinson still is not practicing with his concussion issues. After the practice Brian Kelly said he'll be seeing a specialist on Tuesday and he thinks the fact that Robinson is seeing the doctor that it's a sign he wants to continue playing football if possible.
Equanimeous St. Brown fell on his shoulder earlier in the week and was held out of contact for Saturday's practice. Luckily, it was not the same shoulder he had surgery on towards the end of last season. With a week to go I think it's safe to say that St. Brown has been a little bit of a disappointment from what the public has seen. With the lack of numbers and injuries Equanimeous hasn't blown up quite yet while practicing with the first team.
With St. Brown held back on Saturday that gave some first-team reps to Miles Boykin. As a bigger receiver he's making his living in underneath routes but hasn't proven he can stretch the field with speed.
You know who can stretch the field? Torii Hunter who was the consensus top offensive player of the day and has created a fairly large gap between himself and the second best receiver on the team. Hunter even received praise after the practice for being an emerging leader.
True freshman Kevin Stepherson has been one of the spring surprises but wasn't playing at a super high level in this practice.
Alize Jones played...everywhere. He was lining up at all three receiver positions which has to do with the injuries at wideout as much as anything. Kelly did mention they are still trying to find the best spot for Jones.
Weishar was the first team tight end for the second practice in a row. The staff continues to hold Durham Smythe out as he comes back from multiple injuries from 2015. Weishar did hurt his knee during the practice but it does not appear to be serious.
The lineup of McGlinchey (LT), Nelson (LG), Mustipher (C), Bivin (RG), and Bars (RT) has been together now for over a week. The line kind of got mixed reviews on Saturday as the left side proves it's by far the better side. Kelly said that McGlinchey is also one of the emerging leaders so look out for a possible captaincy.
Isaac Rochell is turning some heads with his pass-rushing ability and all-around effectiveness. Most believe he was the line's best player and it wasn't close. For a bigger player he's really getting explosive and crafty with his ability to penetrate into the backfield. Rochell was also another emerging leader, per Kelly.
It was a good day's work for Jay Hayes. Following a curious move to weak-side defensive end he appears to be handling his own as a pass rusher. When the defense went into the nickel and dime sets Hayes was getting first-team reps on the edge. Bad news for Andrew Trumbetti? No, it's believed he's being rested like many of the veterans.
True freshman Khalid Kareem got some nice reviews and even significant reps with the second unit. If Saturday was an audition then Grant Blankenship and Jonathan Bonner didn't pass the test and may not be ready to hold down backup reps like veterans should be at this point.
Daniel Cage continues to receive quality praise as he splits reps with the starters at nose guard.
Jarron Jones got hurt early in the practice and came back to play well. He's getting some mixed reviews, however, I think a lot of that has to do with many expecting him to dominate as he works his way into shape again.
With the first full practice we finally got to see how the rotation is working out at the 3-tech position behind Jerry Tillery. On Saturday the impressive showings went to Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway, and Brandon Tiassum in that order. Taylor was praised for his burst out of those three players.
Let's check in on the Nyles Morgan stock.......
It's happening. It's really, really happening. The coaching staff hasn't been shy this spring about talking up Morgan and Saturday the media became believers that he's on his way to living up to his lofty recruiting hype. Morgan has command of the defense, ease communicating and calling the plays, and was all over the field making plays.
The few comments on the young linebackers aren't too positive. Bilal has his moments but didn't look super comfortable with the role thrust upon him. Barajas looks to be struggling a bit stuck behind Morgan.
The defense continues to take Bilal (WILL) off the field in nickel sets and move Onwualu over from SAM to the inside next to Morgan.
On Saturday, redshirt freshman Shaun Crawford was starting with Cole Luke at corner. When the defense switched to its nickel set Crawford slid inside and Nick Coleman came in at outside corner. As mentioned, Crawford had an interception and continues to impress.
Last practice report I wondered how much Butler's broken foot was still slowing him down. The consensus for this open practice is that he's still behind Coleman and Ashton White.
Mixed reviews for Max Redfield who had some ups and downs during practice but got the nod to start at free safety during the team portions of practice. Kelly did praise Redfield after the practice and said he was pleased with him lately.
Tranquill received high marks for his play near the line of scrimmage and less so at the back end defending passes--pretty much what we know about his skill set. The bad news is that on Saturday the options behind him at strong safety don't look great, particularly Avery Sebastian who was a bit of a liability in coverage.
After the practice Kelly mentioned that the satellite camp ban has no effect on how the Irish recruit. I'm sure everyone was dying to hear what he had to say about the topic.
The roster will be split up into two teams for the Blue Gold Game pitting Kizer versus Zaire. There will be some cross-over, especially with the walk-ons and younger players, but for the most part they will try to keep players on one side.
Like last year it's expected that the quarterbacks will be live during the first half of the spring game but the red jerseys will come on in the second half.