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Spring Practice: Day Four report

Mar 27, 2012, 11:42 AM EDT


As they have for the previous three practice sessions, has been on the field with the Fighting Irish, the only cameras allowed inside the LaBar Practice Fields. Thankfully, they’ve been churning out some great footage and this episode is no different, with the focus on running backs/slot receivers coach Tony Alford.

As we work our way through another seven minutes of footage, I’ll do my best to give you some insight into what you’re seeing, and hopefully spur some discussion with my observations.

(Note to readers: When I use the term “rising” when calling a player “rising junior” it’s simply to denote he’ll be a junior next football season, but is currently a sophomore. It’s not an assessment on his football abilities, but a commonly used term.)

Away we go…

  • 0:08 — That’s a different outfit for Jack Nolan, showing his flexibility with Irish apparel for the fourth straight episode. I hereby call on Jack to wear different ND gear for all 15 episodes.
  • 0:39 — Our first look at running back George Atkinson (#4) catching the football. He doesn’t look entirely comfortable making the play, but if he can run vertically out of the slot, this offense could look dynamic.
  • 1:05 — Keeping Tony Alford on the Irish staff should be a priority moving forward. You’ve got to think it’s only a matter of time before Alford gets his shot as a head coach, but he’s as valuable of an assistant as the Irish have had in the last 15 years.
  • 1:28 — Is that some creativity out of the Irish offense? I can count on one hand the “trick” plays the Irish ran last season, and hopefully Chuck Martin will add some this year, as they help keep a defense thinking.
  • 1:44 — That’s a re-run from Episode One with Theo Riddick‘s (#6) big run. We will not count that as additional proof that moving Riddick back to RB was a good move.
  • 1:52 — Irish fans should have a smile on their face watching Cam Robertson (#31) make that catch and run. After a nightmarish knee injury that could’ve been career threatening, seeing Roberson in full gear going through drills is a wonderful thing.
  • Nice quote by Alford on Chuck Martin’s work with the offense: “I think Chuck has done a great job with the offense, just as far as the energy level that he brings every day. He’s been phenomenal and the players pick up on that. You take the lead of your leader. On the offensive side we’ve been doing that, and there’s been very positive energy thus far.”
  • 2:40 — That’s Stephon Tuitt (#7) running by Alford. Man, that kid is huge.
  • 3:04 — It’s our weekly Amir Carlisle on crutches shot. This time, he’s watching intently as the running backs do footwork drills. Glad to see No. 3 is taking mental reps as he goes through his first spring practice with a boot on his foot.
  • 3:45 — “Put that ball on the ground and you won’t play,” Alford says. Think this staff is making a point on turnovers? (If so, good.)
  • 4:15 — Some nice coaching by Alford on the art of pass protection.
  • 5:20 — That’s a better job by Atkinson catching the ball.
  • 5:47 — In case you were wondering, that’s wide receiver Robby Toma (#9) running the counter and taking a handoff from the backfield. That’s more evidence that this position grouping isn’t coach speak and that there’s going to be some diversity in this offense. “Is it you, or is it me coaching?” Alford jokingly asks him.
  • 6:16 — George Atkinson is going to be very interesting to watch this year. He’s probably the Irish’s most physically imposing running back at six-foot-one, 210-pounds, and you see both Alford and Kelly coach him up to run aggressively.
  • 6:50 — That’s more Atkinson. It’s pretty clear nobody is going to catch him if he gets out in space.
Most of this video was committed to Alford’s work, and you can see how hard he’s coaching up returning starters like Cierre Wood and youngsters like Atkinson. There’s plenty of talent at the slot/RB position, so it should be interesting to see what kind of production they get from guys like Wood, Riddick, Carlisle, Atkinson, and Toma.
  1. nudeman2point0 - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    1. Atkinson looks poised to take a big step forward this year
    2. Atkinson looks TALL and fast
    3. Toma out of the backfield? OK, why not.
    4. TR looked very solid executing that handoff. I might need to reassess
    5. Alford seems like a guy I’d like to play for

    • brendanunderscoreg - Mar 27, 2012 at 6:43 PM

      Does Atkinson remind anyone else of Ricky Watters? Uncanny almost.

      • nudemanhd - Mar 27, 2012 at 7:29 PM

        It would be nice to see him play like Ricky Watters. He certainly looks good in spring practice.

    • nudeman2point0 - Mar 27, 2012 at 7:53 PM

      This nudeman thing is getting out of control.
      Ah what the hell … welcome aboard, hd

      • nudemanhd - Mar 28, 2012 at 10:18 AM

        Ditto brother!

    • bb90grad - Apr 5, 2012 at 5:09 PM

      comment number 6 (if i may):
      Alford just looks major pissed in his stock photo here (like someone stole his Gatorade bottle). Keith, can you switch to something else, maybe his mug shot from the media guide?

      Scares the crap out of me every time I open up a new blog. But I keep coming back just the same…

  2. kiopta1 - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    Nice coaching. Now let’s see the players use it on the field. Man these vids make these months slow.

  3. domer77blowsgoats - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    The offensive weapons on this team are truly a thing of beauty – MF will be sorely missed but it does force ND to develop an offense with a true identity instead of look for MF first then panic… now exectue and develop BK!

    Our RB stable is the best we’ve had since Thunder and Lightning were running all over UM – (thats Reggie Brooks and Jerome Bettis for you Nude2.0)

    Prepare for 2012 being another let down as far as Ws go but 2013-2014 are going to be BIG!!

    Go Irish!!

    and go new message board posting!! (just need to add a keyword search function so the same post about TR sucking can’t be made 48 times in two hours….)

    • nudeman2point0 - Mar 27, 2012 at 1:41 PM

      Knew that
      Did you think I thought it was Blanchard and Davis?
      Not that old son, even if I seem like a crotchety old guy most of the time

  4. mattnef - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    Atkinson. Wow.
    “There’s plenty of talent at the slot/RB position, so it should be interesting to see what kind of production they get from guys like Wood, Riddick, Carlisle, Atkinson, and Toma.” … and don’t forget Neal and Russel coming in the Fall. They may not be ready in 2012, but the team looks good at this position for the coming years.
    And I agree, Alford should be a priority. Between his coaching and recruiting, he is incredibly important to hold on to.
    p.s. Keith, thanks for taking my suggestion on the numbers.

  5. herringbonesports - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    Well, there was a lot of “other” news around the time Kelly announced the RB/Slot combo position under Alford and it didn’t get as much of a reaction. Now that we see Toma taking hand-offs with Riddick and Wood it might start to set in – it is likely we see an entirely different offense than anything we’ve been presented on fall Saturdays thus far under Brian Kelly.

    Favorite part of the video was a clip of Cam Roberson moving around. It’s WAY too early to talk about, but he’d definitely be a guy who’s eligible for Medical redshirt in the future and could possibly have another 4 years in the program to get closer to pre-injury health and be an impact guy. I love it.

    And does anybody not look good in blue and gold #3? Even on crutches that digit made Carlisle look dangerous. Go.Irish.

  6. nudeman2point0 - Mar 27, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    Article on each of the 4 ND QBs

    • irishbornraised - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:05 AM

      As I look back, my deepest respect for TR comes with the face that in his freshman year he was able to run a playbook that every other quarterback said “made their head spin”. That being said, now that they have about equal understanding, his physical skills are going to be what’s important.

      • nudeman - Mar 28, 2012 at 9:33 AM

        No comment

      • irishbornraised - Mar 28, 2012 at 2:28 PM

        Not sure if because there’s nothing to add, or because you don’t know where to begin with my stupidity and/or lack of understanding.

      • nudeman - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:37 PM

        It’s because I’ve been chastised for numerous posts on TR
        So no use going there for me.

    • irishbornraised - Mar 28, 2012 at 7:44 PM

      I just meant that there was a reason he started, and it didn’t make much sense earlier, but hendrix just had no idea what he was doing, neither did golson, but time has run out for him, now that they’re even on the playbook, the era of Rees is over

  7. irish9314 - Mar 27, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    Atkinson looks dangerous! Really hope we find 1 QB for the season and our DBs can hold their weight this year.

    Go Irish!

  8. bernhtp - Mar 27, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    There is a lot of talent/depth at the RB position – Wood, Riddick, Carlisle, GA3, Cam Roberson and the frosh. Is this better than last year’s combination of Wood and (healthy) Gray? I’m not certain, but it is great to have more depth because it is (sadly) frequently needed.

    The challenge is to get more of these guys on the field at the same time to give the opposing D difficult choices, so integration with the slot is obviously needed. Beyond Riddick (and Neal), it will be interesting to see if Alford lines other RBs at the slot periodically, or occasionally does two-back sets.

    Beyond more diversity/options at the RB/slot positions, we will likely also see multiple TE sets used occasionally. Crazy thought: what would you do as opposing defensive coordinator if you saw ND line up with its elite set of four TEs at your five yard line? I would expect a discussion during a lengthy timeout.

    The offense will provide new and intriguing options this year, especially if the QB position is figured out favorably.

    • nudeman2point0 - Mar 27, 2012 at 7:58 PM


      4 TEs? Why not 9?

      “Point of diminishing returns”.
      You’d have to explain to me how 4 would be beneficial.
      Since your posts are usually rational I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and concede I might be overlooking something. .

      Then if successful we’ll work on the 9 TE set.

      • bernhtp - Mar 27, 2012 at 8:43 PM

        First, it’s unexpected and would be a bit of a gimmick. However, it does give lots of options, especially in the red zone. You have the power run option, either side. A QB like Hendrix has the read option or lateral option with extra blocking. Which TEs do you cover, and with whom? Think of the height and athleticism of Eifert and Niklas on fade routes. Anyway, its unexpected nature and dynamic capabilities present lots of problems. I would likely be forced to call a timeout as DC.

      • nudeman2point0 - Mar 27, 2012 at 9:56 PM

        OK, let’s do it

      • gtizzo - Mar 28, 2012 at 9:30 AM

        The New England Patriots at one time had 7 on there roster. I doubt Niklas will catch 30 balls this season, but he is going to clear a path for the running game. With a blocking option in Niklas, BK can move Eifert around and play “where’s waldo” much like he did with Michael Floyd last season. Eifert also adds size if lined up at WR, something the Irish could use. Also it frees up the other TE’s to focus on route running and learning the offense instead of pass blocking.

      • bernhtp - Mar 28, 2012 at 1:21 PM

        This opens up all sort of possibilities most important in the red zone, especially near the goal line where the offensive options are constricted – smaller field, no deep routes, importance of speed is reduced. A four-TE set would create options and near-impossible-to-defend match-ups for the D. Corners can’t bump/slow these guys much off the line and they cannot be effectively covered by corners, safeties and even most OLBs.

        Stanford did a light version of this to us last year. I still remember 6’8″ Levine Toilolo catching a jump all (way) over poor Gary Gray in the end zone. We now have the offensive personnel to do this, and more, to others.

        Line these guys up and the D will waste a timeout to substitute extra DLs and their biggest and most athletic OLBs for their corners and safeties. Until later on in the season when they see this on film, chaos will likely ensue.

    • mattnef - Mar 28, 2012 at 7:27 AM

      The flexibility with athletic TEs is endless.
      If Niklas is who we hope he is and Koyak takes the next step, they could line up in a tight formation with all 4 TEs and Wood in the backfield on short yardage forcing the defense to bring an extra DL or LB and then shift into a spread 4 wide with Eifert and Niklas wide and Koyak and Welch in the slot. I don’t know how you would defend this. If the defense doesn’t adjust you run a power run play or zone read.
      I love it! These TE/WR athletes are incredible weapons and I think Kelly understands their value, hence the move of Niklas.

  9. nudeman2point0 - Mar 27, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    Great article below by Pete Sampson on recruiting and Colin McGovern
    Couple interesting things:
    1) 6 of 8 commits so far are from the Midwest
    2) Of the first 10 commits last year, HALF NEVER MADE IT TO SB. Wow. Looks like they’re going after a different profile this year.
    3) I’m tired of hearing how unhappy Lynch is. What’s his issue? He’s actually doing well in school (3.0 GPA recently) and is a stud football player at the country’s most prestigious school. Not everywhere you go is Manhattan, bud. Grow up.
    4) Harry Hiestand and Bob Elliott are being very well received by players, other coaches and recruits.

    Pete Sampson Editor

    Notre Dame won.

    Summing up last weekend’s junior day doesn’t require much more analysis. For the first time in six months the Irish football program capitalized on a big opportunity.

    Notre Dame emerged with five commitments, filling needs on the offensive line and at quarterback while getting started at corner. The on-field impacts of Malik Zaire, Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern and Rashad Kinlaw are future tense, but Notre Dame got something very present too. It got evidence that last year’s missteps won’t be repeated.

    In a year when the Midwest offers more than complementary talent to Notre Dame’s pushes in SEC country and the West Coast, the Irish came prepared. Of the eight total commitments, six come from the Midwest. Most were making repeat visits to South Bend, meaning the Irish staff got ahead of the game.

    The recruiting gains were some proof Brian Kelly made the right moves reworking his staff. After waiting until the very end to land quarterbacks the past two cycles, Notre Dame got Zaire early with Chuck Martin at the position.

    “Coach Kelly believes that I can come in and play,” Zaire said. “That’s something that’s a great motivator to me, but at the same time I know I’ve got to compete and coach Kelly is pretty hard on his quarterbacks. That’s only going to push me to work hard, to be a great competitor.”

    That’s healthy recruiting, the kind that should help Notre Dame avoid a de-commitment replay. Of the first 10 prospects on board last cycle, just half will be on the roster when training camp opens. Instead of selling Zaire on immediate playing time, Notre Dame sold competition.

    Notre Dame kept it honest with its players too. On Saturday it staged a question-and-answer panel that included Aaron Lynch, who’s talked openly about how hard it is to make it at Notre Dame and how little there is to do in South Bend. Turns out candor can be a good thing in recruiting.

    “When I asked them questions it wasn’t like they were making up fake answers or giving off joking smiles,” said three-star linebacker Dajaun Drennon. “Talking to Aaron Lynch, he was the realest out of all of them, no lie. He gave me an honest opinion about what he likes and doesn’t like.

    “The question I wanted answered was what campus life was like and how playing time is, if everybody gets their fair shot to get onto the field. They said the school is not all that social, but it can be fun if you make it. They said playing time is whatever you make it. Every week you get a new start to try to earn playing time. You can be a starter one week and be the next man coming off the bench the next week.”

    Credit Notre Dame for getting ahead of the negative spins from other campuses. Kelly’s scorched earth sideline routine can be pitched as a coach out of control or one who’s just demanding. The academics can be onerous or challenging. The evolving depth chart can be unstable or opportunistic.

    In each case, Notre Dame made its case clear on its terms.

    Now the Irish could be close to adding more to its next class in running back Ryan Green, athlete Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Alex Anzalone, cornerback Tre Bell and potentially linebacker Jaylon Smith. Considering the stress on the Notre Dame program since the Champs Sports Bowl loss, that’s an impressive position.

    When Kelly reshuffled his staff in January it was an essential change for Notre Dame to recapture its verve. It’s impossible to fully evaluate changes before the season, but early returns from inside the Gug have been favorable for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and safeties coach Bob Elliott.

    Elliott has thrown himself into recruiting difficult regions but Notre Dame is leading with Ohio State for Ezekiel Elliott. Hiestand has already helped the Irish assemble potentially its best offensive line group in five years. Not only has the former Tennessee coach impressed recruits, he’s hit it off with his own roster too.

    “(The players) said they love him and it’s a big change for them,” McGlinchey said. “They said they love going to practice now and learning from him. They haven’t felt that the last two years. They said there is something special about him.”

    There could be something special about Notre Dame’s under construction recruiting class too. After a year of frustration and missed opportunities around South Bend, the Irish may have recaptured their stride.

    • bernhtp - Mar 27, 2012 at 8:11 PM

      Listening to the OL recruit interviews yesterday on Power Hour, it became clear how bit a hit Hiestand is, which is surprising given that recruiting was not an area where he had a good reputation. Very encouraging.

    • nudemanhd - Mar 28, 2012 at 10:46 AM

      Nude, you’re awfully sensitive. Lynch merely pointed out the reality for him, that there isn’t a lot of campus life, and there isn’t a lot to do. It’s South Bend Indiana, how much can there be to do? Not to mention it’s ND, where academics is stressed over being a “party school”. Relax, it’s a reality that every recruit should know before they fax in their letter of intent.

      • nudeman - Mar 28, 2012 at 11:11 AM

        This is about the 5th time in the last 6 weeks I’ve seen a story about Aaron Lynch bitching about ND and South Bend. The kid has the world by the short hairs. Which one of us would NOT want to be Aaron Lynch?

        How many universities are in great cities where there’s a ton going on? USC, UCLA, Miami, Northwestern and NYU. After that you’ve got a bunch of places like Norman, OK; Tallahassee, FL; Happy Valley, PA; Columbus, OH; Champaign, IL and wherever the hell places like U of Tennessee, U of Arkansas, etc are.

        He’s a friggin’ college kid; is he looking for world class opera and symphony to attend on Friday nights? SB is a college town, there are bars and girls. That’s pretty much all I needed.

        So really, the kid needs to shut up, play football, work on his degree and enjoy what the hell he’s got in life. It’s better than what 99.999999999999% of 19 year old kids have.

      • nudemanhd - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:12 AM

        Nude, bars and girls? Count me in!

    • irishdog80 - Mar 28, 2012 at 11:03 AM

      I appreciate Aaron Lynch’s honesty. Ask any of his fellow freshmen at Notre Dame and they would say the same thing. Notre Dame is not a Florida State type of party school and the academics are demanding. The choice facing many of the athletes we recruit, especially the truly elite ones, are Notre Dame and its study first, maybe have fun later environment versus a party first, maybe study later and possibly end up with worthless diploma school.

      Aaron Lynch made his decision to play at Notre Dame for the right reasons. It was a lifetime decision for him that will pay off now and later in his life with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. The NCAA needs to conduct a “where are they now” study that shows what happens to many football athletes 10 years after they are done with their college career. With our graduation rate and the value of an ND degree, I am certain we end up light years ahead of our competitors.

      • nudeman - Mar 28, 2012 at 11:14 AM

        Agree 100%.
        But the next story I read on “Aaron Lynch doesn’t like ND or South Bend” will be about the 20th. Needs to keep his mouth closed. We’d all kill for what he’s got going on.

        And by the way, from what I’ve read he’s doing pretty well in school with a recent 3.0 GPA.

  10. ct111 - Mar 27, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    It’s great that ND got all of those commitments, but they need to win games in order to keep them committed.

  11. ndgiants11 - Mar 27, 2012 at 11:03 PM

    Interesting numbers on recruits. The best way to keep a recruit committed from the midwest? Keep them away from Urban.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  12. bernhtp - Mar 27, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    Just got a commitment from Corey Robinson (6’4″ WR), son of NBA great David Robinson. While still only rated a three-star, he shows athletic potential. It’s also good to get a great kid and a connection to a great family.

    • gtizzo - Mar 28, 2012 at 9:33 AM

      I was waiting for Corey Robinson to commit. I got the heads up from his dad when I met him at the NBA All Star game.

  13. degosavage23 - Mar 28, 2012 at 2:02 AM

    Atkinson is gonna be something special for years to come. Great vision, cutback ability, and speed off the edge. The coaching change-ups seem to be working quite nicely so far in recruiting and on the practice field. Should make things interesting on Saturdays. I definitely like how the offense is getting different looks with different plays and different players getting opportunities in ways they didn’t in the first two years of BK’s regime.

    • irishbornraised - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:21 AM

      Saturdays? try saturdays AND sundays

  14. 1historian - Mar 28, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Let me begin by repeating something I have been saying for the last few years – Brian Kelly is the right man for the job.

    In conclusion – as much as I admire Michael Floyd for his accomplishments over the last 4 years at Notre Dame, I predict that by halftime of the Navy game he will be forgotten, as in ‘what are we going to do without Michael Floyd?’

  15. dmac4real - Mar 28, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    There is too many damn Nude men on this board.

    • nudeman - Mar 28, 2012 at 11:20 AM


    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 28, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      Nudeman thought we were getting tired of reading his 10 posts per article, so the parent corp divested itself of several subsidiaries like hd, 2.0, etc. I had heard a rumor that he either had to do this voluntarily or the feds would break up his monopoly a la Ma Bell of the early 80’s.

  16. papadec - Mar 28, 2012 at 8:03 PM

    Notre Dame, the institution, and the staff involved in the football program must be doing something right. Families of former pro athletes (Atkinson, Collinsworth, Golick, Kiel, Robinson) are sending their children here. As for those who post that ND will have to win, to keep getting/keeping quality recruits, that doesn’t really seem to be the issue for those families & the real quality recruits. ND is building a top tier program, again – it is very close. Anyone with true vision can, or should, see that.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 28, 2012 at 8:26 PM

      Papa you’re right……..these are folks who have been around the block, have been recruited and sweet-talked themselves, know what they are looking for, know what they want for their kids, know what mistakes and pitfalls to avoid, etc. I hope BK and staff are emphasizing this to all those on the fence. Those with the inside knowledge are landing at ND and it’s no coincidence.

  17. olwhatshisface - Mar 28, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    Forget the trick plays. I want the team to develop core competencies first and to be able to execute those consistently in a game before they worry about the higher stuff. I consider consistency this teams biggest issue. For the record I consider misdirection as a small subset in those core competencies.

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