As they have for the previous three practice sessions, UND.com 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.
Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.
Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.
Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.
Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.
Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.
Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.
Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.
Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.
“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”
Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.
Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.
Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.
Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.
Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.
Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.
Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.
The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.
Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.