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Everything you need to know about Notre Dame Football’s 8th spring practice

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Getting special time with Brian Polian

Brian Kelly and D.J. Brown
Notre Dame Football

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish took the practice field for their fourth session of the spring period on Saturday. There is no media allowed for any practice this spring, but Notre Dame has provided us with photos and video to pass along to our readers. The videos aren’t the normal type of hype footage we normally see from Notre Dame on their social accounts — as there is a lot more meat on this 3 minute bone.

A few quick thoughts...

Chris Tyree is looking more and more legit as a college running back. There were some concerns with his size as a recruit, but seeing him this spring, it’s hard not to be impressed with Tyree’s increased size. Obviously Chris is a speed back and is still very much a burner, but it looks like he can handle more physicality.

Michael Mayer is unfair. We saw Marcus Freeman talk about this with Mayer, but watching him destroy D.J. Brown one-on-one in the redzone is both a delight and a concern. It’s just not fair — but it’s awesome.

Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has flashed quite a bit out there at defensive end this spring. I’m still not completely sure how much of this move is warranted, but he looks good.

Drew Pyne likes hitting up Lawrence Keys for touchdowns. Today we see another well thrown ball into the corner and Keys pulling it down. Pyne has impressed me this spring for sure, but keys has been outstanding from what we’ve seen seen so far.

Justin Ademilola bullrushed John Dirksen and gave him the reverse pancake. Justin has continued to get better this spring, which is really encouraging as he’s improved every year in South Bend and has been an efficient performer on the field.

These clips are really doing bad things for my confidence in a couple of guys in the secondary, and Clarance Lewis is one of them. I can’t make any sweeping statements because of the limited look... but I’m sure I’ll let loose a few on the OFD Podcast.

I love the way Jack Coan steps up in the pocket. He’s shown really good pocket awareness, and on one of the plays today we see Rocco Spindler and Blake Fisher get owned on the edge which put pressure on Coan — which he then steps right up and fires a pass.

HANGING OUT WITH BRIAN POLIAN

Brian Polian was available for all of our special teams questions. Here are a few takeaways from that conversation.

Polian talked about Jonathan Doerer improving this spring after some struggles last year.

“Jon’s been good this spring. I recognize and so does Jon that in the second half of the season, there was some kicks missed that, frankly, just need to be made. I think back to North Carolina. We have a relatively short field goal, where we have the opportunity to make it a two score game, the short one in the ACC championship game, those kicks need to be made. Jon knows that. He’d be the first one to tell you. I think personally, there were some mechanical issues, something that we couldn’t just — he couldn’t quite get comfortable with, and then it became a confidence thing. ‘Hey, I’m gonna be super careful here and instead of getting up there and swinging at the ball, I’m just gonna try and ease it through the uprights.’ It’s frustrating to him and it’s frustrating to me that I couldn’t help him more at the end of the year, because you think back to the Clemson game and we don’t win that game without Jon Doerer. I believe he made four field goals, a couple of them over 44-45 yards, he made three kicks at the end of the game that either tied it or kept it tight. Those were pressure filled situations. We know he can do it on the biggest stage, so we’ve got to help him get back to those those mechanical, making sure that we’re rock solid mechanically, so then the confidence comes with that. I think Jon really was affected by the loss of the spring and part of the summer last year. There’s no doubt. He said as much. Physically, he didn’t feel like he did the year before. But look, we all dealt with it across the country and we got to battle through and I expect great things from Jon. I’m glad he’s back and I think he will have a terrific bonus year here exercising the COVID option and coming back. I’m really expecting big things from Jon.”

Polian addresses the “why can’t you just put Chris Tyree back at punt return?” question.

“As it relates to the punt return game, I’m glad this question got asked because there’s a lot of chatter out there about, ‘Why can’t we just put Chris Tyree back there to catch a punt?’ I don’t think that people understand how difficult it is to catch a punt and how specialized a skill that is. We recognize how good a football player Chris Tyree is, but in the end, the security of the football in the transition of it from our defense to our offense is the single most important factor, and if Chris is not yet comfortable and there are times when he articulates to us, ‘I’m not quite there yet,’ I’m not going to roll him out there on national TV if he’s not comfortable yet. We’ve had Styles back there catching which has been very encouraging. Riley has been catching balls. Keys has been back there. Tyree continuing to work. But in the end, whatever choice we make will be with ball security first in mind. That’s the priority, the transition of the football, and I think what you saw last year was when we made the decision to put Salerno back there because he catches the ball, we amped up our pressure and we blocked two punts and we’ve we’ve blocked some punts now the last couple of years, but there are a bunch of times that we get close and we force a 38 yard punt. Well, that’s a good thing. If we heat people up and we make them uncomfortable and we force a poor kick, that’s as good as an eight to 10 yard return. It will shift our mindset a little bit, but in the end, whoever’s back there, the first choice is going to be predicated on ball security, first and foremost.”

Of course that brings up the “fair catch central” talk, and Polian had something to say about that as well.

“There are two things here. First of all, I don’t think it’s fair to say that, ‘Boy, we’ve been fair catch central.’ Chris Finke averaged nearly a first down every time he returned a punt, which that’s our goal. We want to average 10 yards per return and take a first down away from the offense. Unfortunately, Finke had one touchdown called back against Duke. He got tackled on the five against Wake Forest. He got tackled on the three, which I thought happened just because Finke doesn’t like me. He just was mad at mean. He didn’t want us to have a punt return touchdown,” said with a laugh. “As it relates to when you look back to Tom Zbikowski and five, eight, 10 years ago, the game has changed. Punt has changed. Everybody in college used to look like the NFL with the two wide gunners and Mike Ainello out there and we’d have the vertical set, cup protection and we’d look like the NFL and you would get more returnable punts. But with the shield punt, with the college rules being different than the NFL rules, anybody can leave at the snap of the ball. So now you’re getting these big wide formations, you’re getting the three fat guys in the back forming the shield, which is what we do, and I was probably one of the last guys to transition to this. But that concept, that style of punt makes it harder. You’ve got too many people around the returner when the balls coming down. I think, in my opinion, you get one, maybe two really legitimate opportunities to return upon in a game and what we preach to the team as you never know which one or two it’s going to be and we’ve got to be working on on all cylinders every snap so that when we do get a legit return opportunity, that we can take advantage of it. That’s the challenge for us. But the reality of it is that the game has changed. The style of punt, the rugby punts, the balls on the ground, the amount of people that are around your returner as the balls coming down, that has changed dramatically in the last 10 years and if you don’t recognize that change and you’re just saying, ‘Boy, they used to return more punts than they do now,’ you’ve got to recognize that the game has changed.”.

Here is the full video with Polian as he discusses much more including Isaiah Foskey, Jay Bramblett, Michael Vinson, and more:

PHOTO GALLERY