Bennett Jackson 2

Spring Practice: Day Three report

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Saturday’s practice was already a victory with the Irish getting two big recruiting commitments along the offensive line. But with the team in full pads for the first time this spring, it also gave us a chance to take a look at the physicality of the team, with the UND.com practice video giving us a whole lot of action between the linemen.

This is about as in-depth of a breakdown as you can possibly get from seven-plus minutes of footage, but it should give you a crib sheet of what’s happening, almost down to the collision. There’s plenty to like, especially watching the young depth along the offensive line come together, and players like Jarrett Grace and Ishaq Williams come along.

  • 0:30 — Meteorologist Jack Nolan gives us the state of South Bend weather. If this is global warming, sign me up.
  • 0:39 — Mike Golic vs. Kona Schwenke. Golic wins early, Kona eventually overpowers him.
  • 0:44 — Tate Nichols vs. Aaron Lynch. Very impressive work by Nichols.
  • 1:07 — Prince Shembo breaks the team down to get practice started. Take a quick look on the right and you’ll see Tony Springmann in shorts and a hat. He’s a big dude, and that red hair is mighty impressive.
  • 1:20 — Matthias Farley vs. Chris Salvi. Impressive work by the converted safety. Looks very physical.
  • 1:26 — Cam McDaniel vs. Josh Atkinson. Wasn’t a pillow fight, but tough to give Atkinson the victory when he engaged low.
  • 1:33 — Robby Toma vs. Austin Collinsworth. You didn’t expect Toma to win, but nice work by Collinsworth.
  • 1:38 — Daniel Smith vs. Jamoris Slaughter. Nice work by Smith, who drove Slaughter backwards.
  • 1:43 — Luke Massa vs. Zeke Motta. Nicely done by Massa. I’m starting to like that kid.
  • 1:49 — Jalen Brown vs. Bennett Jackson. Slight edge to Brown, who looks impressive size wise and a legit six-foot-one, 200-pounds, something I wasn’t sure of before this.
  • 1:58 — John Goodman vs. Danny McCarthy. Even draw between the two fifth-year seniors. And apparently a mediocre one, because Kelly made them go twice.
  • 2:13 — TJ Jones vs. Lo Wood. Nice pop.
  • 2:20 — Toma vs. Collinsworth — Round two goes to Austin.
  • 2:28 — McDaniel vs. J. Atkinson. Give this one to Cam.
  • 2:30 — Farley vs. Salvi. Another W for Farley.
  • 2:35 — Nichols vs. Lynch. Big collision, but still leans Nichols way.
  • 2:43 — Golic vs. Schwenke. Another W for Kona.
  • 2:50 — Now we move onto the “rodeo” drill portion, which is basically one-on-one OL vs. Defender, with a running back having to go through the hole.
  • 2:51 — Louis Nix, mans game. Stands Golic up in the hole and makes a nice play on Cierre Wood
  •  2:55 — Chris Watt and Manti Te’o have a monster collision, with Te’o shaking off the block and making the play on George Atkinson. Not sure it was a victory by Te’o, but everybody was hopping around celebrating, so let’s go with it.
  • 3:04 — Tyler Eifert vs. Prince Shembo, and Shembo won the battle at the line of scrimmage, standing Eifert up in the hole and making the play on the back. Nicely done.
  • 3:12 — Our first Harry Hiestand appearance, who is very vocal about Matt Hegarty‘s performance against Kona. Not a great collision, as Schwenke tried to knife through the line.
  • 3:16 — Carlo Calabrese vs. Christian Lombard. Nice work by Lombard, who swallowed up the linebacker one on one.
  • 3:20 — After losing head up, Lynch got the better of Nichols in this drill, working off the block and swallowing up the running back.
  • 3:27 — Ben Koyack vs. Danny Spond. Nicely done by the junior outside linebacker, who looked physical while overpowering Koyack.
  • 3:33 — Conor Hanratty getting into the mix, doing a nice job on Tyler Stockton as Cierre Wood scoots through the hole.
  • 3:40 — Bruce Heggie does a good job powering into linebacker Dan Fox, but Fox makes a great play on Atkinson, and tackles the running back nicely, to the approval of Te’o and Bob Diaco.
  • 3:46 — Nick Martin does a nice job on newcomer Sheldon Day, who looks an awful lot like Emeka Nwankwo with the dreads out the back of his helmet. Robby Toma will some nice scoot through the hole at running back, showing the versatility of the hybrid position.
  • 3:52 — Tight end Alex Welch takes on linebacker Ishaq Williams, who makes a pretty impressive play on the ball carrier, who goes flying. Nicely done by the new No. 11.
  • 4:02 — Freshman linebacker Jarrett Grace does a great job taking on walk-on lineman Matt Tansey and then makes an impressive play on the running back. Nicely done. Very nicely done.
  • 4:12 — That’s Jordan Prestwood doing a nice job on Stephon Tuitt one-on-one, before Tuitt makes the tackle.
  • 4:15 — Jake Golic does a nice job on linebacker Anthony Rabasa, driving him out of the play.
  • 4:22 — Louis Nix does a great job standing Mike Golic up in the hole, but Everett Golson manages to tip-toe his way around him.
  • 4:31 — Nicely done, Carlo Calabrese. He stands up guard Chris Watt and makes a nice tackle on the ball carrier.
  • 4:37 — Want proof that Zack Martin is the real deal? Here you go. He handles Aaron Lynch easily. (Is there a third Martin brother? If so, I hope Notre Dame has already offered him.)
  • 4:44 — Baptism by fire for Troy Niklas, who stands up Prince Shembo in the hole, with Shembo winning the battle at the point of attack. Shembo did the same thing to Tyler Eifert to put things in perspective. Scott Booker is there to immediately coach Niklas up.
  • 4:52 — Another nice snap by Christian Lombard, who takes on Kendall Moore and puts him on rollerskates.
  • 5:02 — Kapron Lewis-Moore looks fully healthy, shaking off Tate Nichols and making the tackle.
  • 5:07 — Another impressive rep by Ishaq Williams, who drives a tight end back and makes an impressive tackle. Perhaps the lightswitch has gone on for the youngster?
  • 5:17 — The video breaks into coverage routes now, with one-on-one routes being run and thrown. Robby Toma makes a nice adjustment to Gunner Kiel‘s throw and makes the catch on Jamoris Slaughter.
  • 5:25 — You see why the coaching staff is so excited about Bennett Jackson. Early in his backpedal, Jackson stumbles, which allows John Goodman to get a step on him, but Jackson recovers, looks to actually locate the ball, and makes a play on a poorly thrown football. He’s certainly raw, but that’s a tough play athletically and he looked good recovering.
  • 5:37 — Ben Koyack just outsizes safety Chris Salvi, who can’t defend six-foot-five very well.
  • 5:48 — It’s Jackson vs. Goodman again for two snaps. Jackson is all over him on an out cut, but lets Goodman beat him long on a nicely thrown ball. Savvy veteran move by Goodman on the push off, but the ref in attendance didn’t call it. (No word on what conference affiliation this ref has.)
  • 5:55 — Good deep ball by Golson, who just misses a streaking wide out long, with nice coverage by Jackson.
  • 6:02 — More Jackson. This time defending Eifert on the go route with Rees throwing it a little inside and long. Credit Bennett for boxing Eifert out and keeping leverage. Tommy also needs to throw that ball outside and high.
  • 6:10 — TJ Jones beats Lo Wood for a big play down the field. Nicely thrown by Rees. Is it just me or is this more deep throws in a two-minute highlight clip than we saw all last season? (Bravo if that’s on you, Chuck Martin…)
  • 6:16 — Prince Shembo breaks on a pass to Troy Niklas. Nice play by Prince, but TEs need to make that catch.
  • 6:23 — Andrew Hendrix delivering a strike on a dig route to Eifert between Josh Atkinson and Zeke Motta. Nice throw and catch.
  • 6:38 — One missed deep ball and one connection by Rees, both to TJ Jones. Wood was in nice position and so was Jackson, but TJ went over the top of Bennett for the play.
  • 6:50 — Nice throw by Everett Golson, putting the ball up for John Goodman to make a play. For those of you wondering, Goodman has always been a really impressive practice player. Will be interesting to see that happens on Saturdays this coming season.
  • 7:04 — That’s Chuck Martin giving a loud, “That’s it, Gunner!” to his rookie quarterback, who throws a nice out to a TE Alex Welch.
  • 7:15 — Another practice video, another long run for Theo Riddick, who bounces outside for a big gainer against the reserve defense, using his stiffarm to run away from Josh Atkinson.
  • 7:25 — Boot pass from Golson to Niklas, with Troy doing a nice job in the open field avoiding tacklers. (Sign me up for about two dozen of these next year…)
  • 7:35 — Thankfully practice video ends, as my eyeballs were about to bleed.

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It’s interesting that we saw mostly deep throws from Tommy Rees. While most people are down on the rising junior, if he can throw a more accurate deep ball, this offense would be just fine. Last year, defenses knew the Irish weren’t a risk to go over the top, and as the year went on, more teams dropped seven and eight guys into coverage, making it awfully hard to find space in the defense without going over the top.

It would’ve been nice to see Davaris Daniels get some work in the video, but Kelly said after practice that Daniels suffered a minor leg injury and should be back at work Wednesday.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”

Hiestand key to Ronnie Stanley’s ascent

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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With Ronnie Stanley ending Notre Dame’s top-ten draft drought (seriously, we are running out of things to complain about), the Irish left tackle became Baltimore’s answer for a cornerstone along their offensive line. And as Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens well-respected staff did their due diligence, credit was heaped onto offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“One of my very best friends in coaching is Harry Hiestand,” Harbaugh said. “I talked to Harry a long time…all about Ronnie and he couldn’t speak highly enough about his character, to his intelligence, to his toughness. So you have people you trust in the profession and that goes a long way.”

That opinion of Hiestand is hardly specific to Harbaugh. It’s actually one of the many reasons Brian Kelly hired Hiestand when the Irish and Ed Warinner parted ways. Here’s Notre Dame’s head coach from his initial press release introducing Hiestand as his new line coach.

“When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend,” Kelly said. “And Harry’s name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him.”

In an era where developing offensive lineman—not just at the college level but for play in the professional ranks—what Hiestand is doing is pretty special. Zack Martin certainly stands above the rest already, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro performer just two years after being a first round draft pick. Chris Watt was selected in the third round by the San Diego Chargers, and expect Nick Martin off the board by the time the evening is over.

 

For as surprising as Hiestand’s effectiveness is on the recruiting trail, maybe it shouldn’t be after you hear the raves that come from those that appreciate his work. That’s especially important as NFL coaches like Pete Carroll bemoan the lack of fundamentals some offensive linemen possess as they prepare for life in the professional ranks.

Here, CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini pulled an interesting snippet from the Super Bowl winning head coach, with the Seahawks taking the drastic approach of converting defensive lineman at the NFL level because they think they’re better suited for the physicality.

“The style of play is different,” Carroll said. “There will be guys that we’re looking at that have never been in a (three-point) stance before. They’ve always been in a two-point stance. There are transitions that have to take place. In the last couple years, we’ve seen pretty strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust how guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive and physical-oriented as we like them to be.

“It is different. There is a problem. I looked at a couple guys this week, and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and had to knock a guy off the football. There wasn’t even a play in the game. It’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s gonna be like. We learn to, but it’s not he same as it’s been.”

The good news for Irish fans, especially after having to replace back-to-back first-round left tackles, is that there’s more talent coming through the pipeline. Mike McGlinchey’s move to the left side is already taking root. Left guard Quenton Nelson has earned raves from Kelly. Projected starting right tackle Alex Bars sounds not that far off, either.

In Stanley, the Irish found a talented high school athlete and molded him into a first-round pick. They did so even as he battled injuries that made it hard to dedicate time in the weight room, and bounced him around the offensive line from the right side to the left to find him playing time. Yes, he was a four-star recruit. But as we saw last night, star-rating takes a very large backseat to development.

With Stanley joining rarified air—he and Will Fuller make 66 first-round selections in program history—the Las Vegas native goes up on the wall as an aspiration for present and future Notre Dame lineman.

Just as importantly, he’s another tip of the cap to Hiestand.

 

For more reaction to the NFL Draft, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, my podcast with John Walters. 

Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller taken in first round of NFL Draft

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller were taken in the NFL Draft’s first round. Both came off the board on night one, with Stanley the first offensive tackle taken and Fuller the second receiver selected.

Stanley joins the Baltimore Ravens, a key addition to a franchise needed help along the offensive line. He’s Notre Dame’s first Top 10 pick since 1994, ending a draught that’s spanned since Bryant Young was taken by San Francisco.

Fuller will join a Houston Texans offense that just spent major money on quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller. To back up that investment, the Texans added college football’s most dangerous deep threat, trading up to spot No. 21 to pair Fuller with DeAndre Hopkins on the outside.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith was not selected in the first round. Both he and Myles Jack, widely considered to be Top 10 talents, slid down the board because of knee injuries. (Both also have loss-of-value insurance policies, cushioning that blow.)

The draft continues tomorrow with rounds two and three. Smith should be selected then, along with Sheldon Day, Nick Martin, and potentially C.J. Prosise.

Demetris Robertson set for Sunday decision (finally!)

Demetris Robertson
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Five-star recruit Demetris Robertson is ready to make a college decision. Finally.

Months after National Signing Day, the last recruit on the board for Notre Dame is ready to pick the place he plans to go to college. And after setting an announcement date for Monday, Robertson is even pushing things forward, with a Sunday decision now in the books.

For Irish fans still paying attention to the twists and turns of this recruitment, Robertson will announce his decision from the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. (An homage to Jimmy Clausen, anyone?)

Here’s Rivals.com with the news after talking with Robertson’s brother and guardian.

“We were going to have it on Monday, but things got mixed up so we moved it up a day,” Carlos Robertson said. “It will be at 1 p.m., right there in that 1-2 time frame, somewhere in there.”

But it’s happening.

“His mind’s made up,” Carlos Robertson said. “Everything’s locked, but he wanted to have it, have a little public deal, but I think he knows where he wants to be.”

Robertson also cleared up why the decision is being held in Atlanta.

“We’re not from Savannah, we’re actually from right below the Atlanta area, so it will give everybody, the aunts, the uncles, everybody a chance to come,” he said. “It only made sense.”

While this recruitment has felt like a soap opera, it’s worth pointing out that there’s absolutely no reason to fault Robertson for making this decision on a timeline that he decides. National Signing Day may feel like a holiday to college football fans, but it’s really just the earliest date a letter-of-intent can be signed.

With hopes of gaining admittance into Stanford, Robertson reportedly retook his ACT multiple times, trying to make a better score. Usually that’s cause for applause, not derision. He’s also spent time further evaluating his other options, some closer to home—Georgia, Alabama—others with a significant academic profile—Cal and Notre Dame among them.

The Irish’s pursuit of Robertson has been well documented, including a visit from the team semi-truck. It’s also a recruitment where most are still in the dark. While Notre Dame is certainly still in the running, there’s no gut feeling on this one way or the other, even among those inside the program.

After averaging 15 points a game as a guard for the Savannah Christian basketball team, Robertson is preparing to compete in the state track meet, running multiple sprint events and the long jump. That type of athleticism is what has the Irish coaching staff sold on Robertson as a wide receiver, a potential replacement for Will Fuller (and two other starters) as Notre Dame restocks a depth chart that’ll also feature spring star Kevin Stepherson and incoming freshmen Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley.

With some feeling home state Georgia has moved ahead in the race, Robertson’s brother Carlos says his younger brother did what was best for him, taking his time and making a decision for himself.

“It was totally his decision, lock himself in the room, however he had to do it. This was something he had to decide on his own,” the elder Robertson told Rivals.com.