Spring Practice

Spring practice begins for Irish

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With almost three months to ponder the changes that were certainly coming after last season’s disappointing 8-5 campaign, the 2012 Fighting Irish took the field for their first spring practice, giving the media its first (and one of its only) looks behind the curtain.

While this humble writer wasn’t in South Bend to see in person the 30 minutes of open workouts, I’ve spent the morning reading dozens of reports, and here are some of the more interesting nuggets collected along the way:

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The battle on the right side of the offensive line is starting out as I had hoped. Many expected fifth-year senior Mike Golic to shift out to right guard and compete for Trevor Robinson‘s job, but the Irish opened with Christian Lombard at guard and Tate Nichols at right tackle, a good indication of the coach’s evaluation process.

With Braxston Cave still recovering from a foot injury that ended his 2011 season early, Golic took the early snaps with the first team offensive line, where Zack Martin and Chris Watt remained entrenched on the left side. It’ll be worth watching what happens with Golic once Cave comes back, but I’ve got a feeling that he’ll turn into a super-sub type player, rather than a starting caliber guard, where he might not be as physically up to the task as the other candidates.

The staff likely won’t say it, but there is plenty of confidence in both newcomers. Lombard’s ability was one of the reasons the staff didn’t bring Matt Romine back for a fifth year last season and Nichols — at a massive 6-foot-8, 320-pounds — is a prototype right tackle to replace the undersized but athletic Taylor Dever.

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With the flip of Troy Niklas to tight end (much more on the tight ends in a bit), the outside linebacker depth chart is going to be fun to watch. Head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco must be happy with Danny Spond and Ben Councell because there’s not a ton of depth at the position with only four players for two spots this spring.

Prince Shembo got the first shot to work at Darius Fleming‘s ‘cat’ linebacker spot. Ishaq Williams will likely get his chance, too. (Now donning No. 11 after giving up No. 1 to Tee Shepard, who never made it to the football field.) Councell looked to pass the eyeball test from the various reports on the web today, and he was looked at as the best option in space for the Irish even while redshirting. Spond has always had the trust of the coaching staff, but hasn’t seen the playing time to match.

With such a dynamic defensive line, the Irish might find themselves in more four-down situations, making depth here a little less important. But after spending two seasons without great structural fits as the roster transitioned, even though the depth isn’t there, the prototypes are, giving Diaco some intriguing options that should make for some more plays behind the line of scrimmage.

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It’s tough to tell what to make of the quarterbacking race, but newcomer Gunner Kiel acquitted himself quite well, and Everett Golson (who might as well be dubbed the people’s champ this spring) looked pretty good running the option during tempo work.

Kelly worked with the quarterbacks quite a bit, and while he kept Kiel out of the quick-paced drills that had so many heads spinning during his first season, he heaped praise on the talented newcomer that spurned LSU to play for the Irish.

“He’s a very talented young man. He wasn’t rated that way because he was not. He’s extremely talented,” Kelly said. “When we can get him comfortable, he’s got all the tools. Now it’s going to be how much can he learn to get him to a point where he can really be in there.”

As for Golson, it isn’t hard to notice he’s got a skill set unique to the position and one that’d immediately add a new component to the offense. Kelly didn’t disagree, while also trying to temper enthusiasm.

“He’s got quick feet. He’s got a strong arm. He’s got all the tools,” Kelly said. “Now, for me it’s about accuracy. Getting the ball out on time. Obviously having good football intelligence. Those are the areas that he’ll continue to work on because there’s no question about his footwork, there’s no questioning his arm strength.”

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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