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Everything you need to know about Notre Dame’s first spring football practice

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At least this wasn’t the ONLY spring practice for the Irish

Marcus Freeman and Bo Bauer notre dame football
Marcus Freeman and Bo Bauer
Notre Dame Athletics

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finally returned to the practice field on Saturday to have its first session of the spring football season. While it’s certainly exciting to take the first steps toward the 2021 season, we must remain cautious of taking too much of what is being fed to us by Notre Dame. With no media access this spring, it’s going to be a little harder to decide what’s real and what’s that good old spring narrative.

I think the best way to go about “covering” each practice will be to dump everything into one post instead of 4 or 5. It may show up on the front page a wee bit later (though not as late as this one) but at least it’ll be a one click spot.

ACTUAL PRACTICE THINGS

Notre Dame sent out 3 minutes of practice footage worthy of a music video with the way it’s cut up and edited. Be that as it may, we saw our first glimpses of Jack Coan and Tyler Buchner at quarterback as well as a fair share for Drew Pyne.

Brian Kelly filled us in on who was “starting” right now along the offensive line, but the practice clips also show a nice shot of OL2 with Coan behind center (more on that in a bit). Xavier Watts jumped off of the screen, and Joe Wilkins played a big role in those 3 minutes — my candidate for that spring award that shall not be named.

HANGING OUT WITH BRIAN KELLY

In typical Brian Kelly fashion, the Notre Dame head coach didn’t offer up a ton of information to begin his press conference, and instead took a wide variety of questions.

Brian Kelly talked about the injuries on the team and who won’t be practicing this spring.

“Injuries that will preclude them from being involved as you know are the big ones. Jarrett Patterson won’t have a spring ball. From a defensive standpoint, I think Jacob Lacey will not because of the shoulder. I think it’s probably unlikely that we’ll see Kevin Austin, from an offensive standpoint. But other than that, the guys that are capable of practicing, they’ll be involved.”

What about the insertion of transfer Jack Coan as it pertains to him becoming a leader of the team as the quarterback?

“The first thing that Jack and I talked about was that our group here at Notre Dame is one where you will get immediate support from from these guys because it’s Notre Dame and when you come here, it’s all about supporting each other and we just have that built into our culture. So, I said you don’t have to worry about pretending to be somebody else. Just be who you are and they know who you are. You’ve got a lot of recognition for the things that you’ve accomplished already in the Big 10 at Wisconsin, so the guys know who you are. Be who you are, be authentic and when you’re authentic, guys trust you.”

There is a battle along the offensive line with some moves we were aware of — and some that we weren’t. One that we weren’t was just how likely it will be that Josh Lugg moves to guard for 2021.

“The offensive line is going to be — a couple of guys we know, Zeke Correll is slotted in at that center position. Josh Lugg is going to play at tackle, but most likely will slide back into the guard position when the season starts. You’re gonna see a big battle for one of the tackle positions and one of the guard positions, so you’re gonna see a little bit of everybody. Tosh Baker, we saw him starting in one of our units today. Dillan Gibbons was starting. John Dirksen was starting. We really liked the progress of Michael Carmody, who is coming along. I mentioned Andrew Kristofic. The young freshmen, both the young freshmen linemen that are midyears, they got a chance to step in with the second group. Everybody is going to get into the mix. We kind of have a plan of how this should look. Quinn Carroll is another guy that had a really good offseason. So, a lot of names. We got to kind of sort it out as it goes.”

It’s Drew Pyne and Jack Coan in a battle, and Tyler James for the WIN.

“What do we want from Drew Pyne? We want Drew to be the starter. We’re not handing this job to Jack Coan.”

Add Brendon Clark to that injury list for spring.

“He’s probably going to be able to start throwing a little bit more, but in terms of being able to get in the mix, if you will, it’s going to be difficult for him to do that relative to the timetable.”

Who is going to “replace” Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah?

“We’re going to do things that allow us to get another linebacker on the field. I don’t know that we’re replacing the kind of player that we had with Owusu, so you’re going to see a combination of players out there. If we’re in a strictly rover situation, you’ll see Isaiah Pryor, you’ll see Paul Moala, you’re going to see Jack Kiser out there, and at times you might even see three linebackers, so I think it’s a combination of all those things.”

The theory about Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa shifting to a strong end is of strong mind.

“He’s gonna play some defensive end for us, the big end position. We think he’s certainly capable of giving us the kind of solid technique necessary to play that big end position. He’s got the size, he’s got the strength, he’s put on some weight so he’s up for it. He’s excited about it. He was out there with the first group today and did a nice job for us. So yeah, he’ll get some get some work at the end position.”

Brian Kelly triggered every Notre Dame fan that ever bitched about the Irish throwing the ball “too much.”

“I’m not really sure. I think we’re capable of doing a number of different things on offense and I think our personnel will dictate that. We know we’re capable of running four or five wides and playing in a no-back set. I kind of know how to throw the ball 55 or 60 times a game if we need to, but we also know how to run direct snap and play physical football, downhill football. It’s really going to be about the way this offense sets up and the personnel that we feel gives us the best chance of being successful on offense and playing complete football — offense, defense and special teams. I think it’s yet to be determined. We know that we are going to use this spring to kind of get an identity offensively and then we’ll build on that going into preseason camp and then into the fall.”

Transfer Portal Takes.

“Well, we’re aware of it. It doesn’t affect us in a negative way. Our guys want to get a degree from Notre Dame, so they’re going to get their degree and then if they didn’t play enough football, then they’re going to look to play somewhere else. It’s not something that we spent a lot of time thinking about. We’ll have somebody that monitors and looks at the transfer portal and sees if there’s the right kind of fit. We did a good job with it last year with Ben and Nick. We’ll keep an eye on it every year, but we’re not gonna lose any sleep over it. Guys that come to Notre Dame want to get a degree from Notre Dame, and then if they have more eligibility remaining, like we’ve had this year, they’ll move on and find out a place to play football.”

Kelly also offered up a Kyle Hamilton update.

“He’s got to get healthy. He’s not doing anything right now. So, as you know, he had postseason surgery. He’s making great strides. Then we’ve got work to do. He’s a young football player. He played two years of football and he knows he’s got a lot to improve on. We’ll get to work on that once he’s healthy, but hard to do much right now. He’s in our rehab program. Spent a lot of time with our trainers and I know he’s doing extra work with coach O’Leary and coach Freeman to pick up our defense. But now he’s got some work to do and he knows it. We’ve tried to put him in a leadership position as well. He has a SWAT team. So, we’re trying to utilize all the things that he can give us right now, while he is in fact injured.”

PLAYER INTERVIEWS

Notre Dame made Paul Moala, Bo Bauer, Chris Tyree, and Avery Davis available to the media. The video of all four interviews is available, but here are some quick takes from a few things that stood out to me:

  • Chris Tyree seems very comfortable in his role at running back alongside Kyren Williams, He’s also seeing time at kick returner (again) AND at punt return — which is exciting.
  • Avery Davis talking about being skeptical (at first) of Jack Coan was a refreshing bit of honesty. A team’s dynamic and bond are both simple and fantastically complicated. Uncertainty at the quarterback position is always dangerous.
  • I love Bo Bauer’s energy, and he confirmed what many of hoped — he is cross-training at the Mike and the Will.
  • Paul Moala’s prince braid is hot fire.

PHOTO GALLERY

FINAL THOUGHTS

Keep in mind that with spring football, we shouldn’t overanalyze everything — just as we should dismiss nothing. All of the parts that should be available come spring camp aren’t available right now, and that has a domino effect that plays tricks with what we see.

One of the big things I saw was Andrew Kristofic playing center with the second team. There is a battle going on along the offensive line for multiple positions, but backing up Zeke Correll is of equal importance. At least, for now, keep an eye on it.

What little we saw of Tyler Buchner in the clips impressed me. I don’t care about throwing motion or knowing the offense right now — what I do care about is seeing a well thrown ball down the seam to a speedy Xavier Watts.

I liked what I saw from the defensive backs. Multiple member of the secondary showed some physical coverage skills, and ball reaction looked quick and clean. The one clip of Houston Griffith coming from the middle of the field over to the sideline to defend a ball was impressive.

I’m not going to get too ahead of myself with the takes just yet, so I’ll leave it at that. Notre Dame’s next practice will be on Tuesday.