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Spring practice begins for Irish

Mar 21, 2012, 12:50 PM EST

Spring Practice

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.”

  1. dickasman - Mar 21, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    What about the WR position Keith? Wait…ok I assume you are working on it along with the TE position.

  2. fnc111 - Mar 21, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    WR might hurt ND more than the QB position this coming season. The defense better get in real good shape being that they will be on the field all game. If Kelly loses to scUM again then gets beat at MSU does he get fired after three seasons? The three losses he has to those programs are inexcusable. I hope Kelly can find a way to 8-5 again because this schedule is murder. Btw Golson is not the answer. Unproven. Kelly tied himself to Rees last year. Would be shocked if Rees doesn’t start versus Navy.

    • jimbasil - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      I see it a little different. Having a weak armed, immobile QB, not too accurate a passer (in tight games) at the helm weakened the receiving corp by shortening, not lengthening the field. With AH, EG or even Kiel in there, Kelly/Martin will have more room in which to effect the offense with throwing – and with the run.

      The receiving corp should be able to do more with less. Last year, ND relied upon Floyd to be the one who made plays. He couldn’t all the time because with decent defenses, he had no room to move around in.

      This is still on the QB play in my book. The receiving talent is good, not great, and strong enough put up points and help win games. Speed is the other factor. ND has some. I hope Martin uses it (he likely will).

      I think a stat Kelly put out there was very interesting. When the O didn’t create a negative play on a drive, they scored a TD over 90% of the time. When the O created a negative play on a drive(penalty – sack – yds lost), they scored less than 20%.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2012 at 7:21 PM

      WOW, 16 and 14 thumbs downs for that WR comments? It’s a legitimate AOC(area of concern). Jon Goodman must have one hella family or 2012 irish fans are all past the age of 97 years old.

      • joeschu - Mar 22, 2012 at 4:47 PM

        First of all… any post that has Rees as a starter is going to automatically draw a lot of down-thumbing. Then you pile on the words Kelly and fired in that sort of proximity, and he’s right on pace for an all-time record on the thumbs down button.

        Sadly, the good point he made (WR is a concern) was lost in the other two.

  3. fnc111 - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    I hope you are right. I’m in the boat of think the worst hope for the best. The thing that stings is this last recruiting class. Needed a strong finish but didn’t get it. After a sub par ’12 the scumbag coaches around the country will trash ND. It’s going to be another small recruiting class and the heat will be on BK just like it was on Weis in ’09. 2013 has to be BCS or we have to suffer through more hell as a fan base. How do ticket prices keep going up? I was at the BC game this past season. Most boring game I’ve ever been to and it was because Kelly wouldn’t pull the starting QB.

  4. kiopta1 - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:49 PM

    I have been hearing that Daniels has been looking very strong.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2012 at 7:22 PM

      I just hope he keeps the grades up!

    • nudeman - Mar 22, 2012 at 1:49 PM

      I have heard and read that too
      But on the podcast today, Prister and Sampson both commented on how he still looks very thin, perhaps not up to the rigors of a full season of D-I football

  5. mtndguy - Mar 21, 2012 at 4:58 PM

    I love the “blame Kelly” talk, and even the let’s fire him, or will he be fired talk. Kelly has done a good job. It’s not all the coach’s fault. The coach can’t throw the ball, catch it, run it, block, tackle, it’s the kids that have to step up. TR made a lot of mistakes last year, but apparently Kelly and the rest of the staff thought he was the best option. Given that out of all of us Kelly and the rest of the coaches are the only ones who are at every practice, I think they know a lot more about the capabilities of the other quarterbacks than we do. I’m no TR fan, but I have to believe that he was the best option last year, otherwise Kelly would have played someone else. Kelly wants to win. He’ll play the best quarterback available. Hopefully someone steps up and takes the starting job away from Tommy.

  6. don74 - Mar 21, 2012 at 5:37 PM

    I just checked out some photos of the first spring practice. This post is to tweak Nude……One of the pictures was of a kid in a red jersey wearing #11. He had a full mustashe and looked like he spent time, a lot of time in the gym. Said another way, the kid doesn’t look like a the paperboy any longer. Starting to look all grown up. Should be interesting.

    • nudeman - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:07 AM

      Don,
      He could have a mustache, 20 lbs of new muscle and whatever else
      He isn’t gonna’ start

      I hope

      • nudeman - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:16 AM

        Don,
        OK, I just saw the clip.
        Looks like the same old Tommy to me.
        Thank God

  7. fnc111 - Mar 21, 2012 at 7:03 PM

    mt,

    No one wrote he should be fired. It’s just what happens to ND coaches when you don’t win enough games. Kind if like death and taxes ND fires its football coach because of whatever reason. Kelly had no blame for the embarrassing loss at Michigan State? Has no blame for choosing to pass instead of kicking a FG versus Tulsa? Has no blame for pulling the starting QB against usf? Who was doing the awful play calling at Michigan last year when TR couldn’t stop turning the ball over throwing into triple coverage? I definitely want the ND job now that you say Kelly has no responsibility for what happens on the field. Laughable.

    • dickasman - Mar 21, 2012 at 7:25 PM

      Thanks FNC….Your first line exactly. Its not about fire BK, etc… I don’t care who you are, you only get 3 years here at ND buddy especially when you keep losing universityofphoenixrealcollegebutfakeonline.com bowls. That’s why you get paid the big bucks buddy. The money you make at ND in 3 years=the money you make at Cincinnati in 8 years.

    • mtndguy - Mar 22, 2012 at 9:55 AM

      I never said that coach has no responsibility. Obviously he does, but he needs time to build the program. I’m a lifetime, hardcore ND fan. I want to win as much as anybody. I also know that it takes time to build a winning team. You can’t blame a coach if he inherits a team where the best quarterback on the team can’t get it done. It doesn’t matter how good your play calling is if your quarterback makes bad decisions. There is no doubt that ND was a better team last year minus the quarterback play.

  8. mbroermann - Mar 21, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    While I realize it is not all the coaches fault isn’t it the coach that recruits his players and trains them I what to do. Our qb’s should be better equipped to handle situations. Kelley will have his recruits and be able to train them in his system. Crist and Rees were patches I think we will see the offense we all hoped and wanted when BK was hired with Folsom or Kiel at the helm

    • nudeman - Mar 22, 2012 at 12:49 PM

      “Folsom”
      Inside joke?

      • joeschu - Mar 22, 2012 at 4:49 PM

        Damn you autocorrect!

  9. fnc111 - Mar 22, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    If Kelly can beat scUM and go 8-4 I will be the first one on here saying keep him on here as long as he wants. I want to see ND just start building some sort of consistency. This is by far the best ND board out there.

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