Practice video: Over-analyzing everything edition

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Our friends at UND.com have put out two new videos filled with practice footage from an eventful Wednesday session that gave an open look to the media and fans. There’s been thousands of words across the net dedicated to practice reports, but I figured I’d chime in with my own 1,300 or so and breakdown the footage the guys at UND.com gave us.

With things being intentionally kept under wraps as the Irish prep for the regular season, it’s still fun to try and go frame by frame hoping to pick up some morsel that could enlighten all of us in the days before the snaps starting counting for real.

Let’s get rolling through this footage and give you a way over-analyzed look at what you’re seeing.

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0:08Jack Nolan is back. All is right in the UND.com world.

0:47Zeke Motta looks like he’s ready for a breakout season. While it’s tough to tell if this is actually him making a great break on the ball, Motta has all the physical traits necessary to put together an excellent season.

0:52 — That’s freshman wideout Chris Brown (2) running away from Cam McDaniel (33) on the underneath route. He looks mighty skinny, but those rumors of Brown’s elite speed don’t appear to be recruiting propaganda.

0:56 — We’re into the rodeo drill portion of the program. We’ll focus on this more down the page, but I’ll point out a few nice plays.

1:02 — Yes, that was quarterback Andrew Hendrix taking the handoff and running through the gauntlet, evading the tackle of Ishaq Williams.

1:04 — Unfortunately, that was also Hendrix trying to force a ball late into Tyler Eifert. Bennett Jackson makes a nice play for an easy interception. Fast-forward a month and it won’t just be Brian Kelly turning purple if we see that again.

1:18 — In four years, I think I saw two good plays by Darius Fleming dropping back into pass coverage. In his first week in an Irish uniform, talented freshman Romeo Okwara (45) is showing some serious talent in space, making a nice play on Cierre Wood.

1:20 — Freshman Justin Ferguson (15) beats corner Jalen Brown (21) with a nifty catch… caught on camera from both angles.

1:33 — That’s talented freshman Davonte Neal (19) making the catch from Gunner Kiel on the speed out. I’m very excited to see what the lightning-bug freshman can do this season.

1:38 — Quarterback Everett Golson hits Wood on a nice throw. It looks like Cierre made a cut and would’ve been tough to catch after that play.

1:40 — Golson puts another throw in a tight window. Not sure it would’ve counted as a catch or been the correct read, but there was plenty of zip on the ball and it should’ve been caught.

1:44 — Senior Zack Martin (70) teaches freshman Sheldon Day (91) a few things about pass rushing.

1:58 — Brian Kelly can say all he wants about Louis Nix (9) and Kona Schwenke running even for the starting nose tackle job. I don’t believe him. Nix is an absolute beast, as seen here.

2:03 — Not sure who made the pretty throw, but John Goodman (81) gets open behind the coverage for a big gainer on a deep flag route.

2:10 — All-American linebacker Manti Te’o shows some improvement in his pass drops, getting a hand on a ball headed towards an open Davaris Daniels (10).

2:14Chris Brown gets plenty of good blocking as he breaks loose on a quick screen pass.

2:21 — Walk-on outside linebacker Connor Little (93) (from St. Paul’s Hill-Murray high school) lays a big stick on quarterback Gunner Kiel.

2:24Jarrett Grace (59) holds his own in coverage against Will Mahone (32).

2:30 — That’s Daniel Smith (87) making a catch for the cameras. Will that happen this season? Only time will tell.

2:33 — Nightmare revisited: Golson throws a screen pass into the hands of a waiting defensive lineman. The only good news? It was Kapron Lewis-Moore (89), not a Michigan defender.

2:40 — Want to know why my money is on Golson winning the job? This play right here. Great presence in the pocket to buy time and then find an open receiver.

2:55 — Don’t be surprised to see Cierre Wood run for six-yards a carry this season. (At least.) With great depth behind him to keep him fresh, Wood — no finesse back right now at 6-foot, 215-pounds — could be a load for defenses.

3:10 — Team huddle breaks down with a “Count on Me.”

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Now, for our favorite video… Breaking down the Rodeo Drill!

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0:10Braxston Cave (52) vs. Kona Schwenke (96). Victory: Schwenke, who does a nice job pushing the runner (Everett Golson)  over the pylon.

0:15Chris Watt (66) vs. Manti Te’o. Victory: Watt, who does a nice job of controlling Te;o while Atkinson runs by him.

0:20Zack Martin (70) vs. Kapron Lewis-Moore. Winner: Martin, who does a great job of turning the defender and opening the hole.

0:25Alex Welch (82) vs. Danny Spond (13). Winner: Tough to call either guy a winner after both were seriously injured during practice.

0:30Mike Golic (57) vs. Louis Nix (9). Winner: Nix. There’s nowhere to push the stout defensive tackle, who clogs the hole effectively.

0:34Nick Martin (72) vs. Dan Fox (48). Winner: Martin. Nice rep by the youngster, who might find himself pushed forward in the rotation with Jordan Prestwood gone.

0:38Christian Lombard (74) vs. Sheldon Day (91). Winner: Day, who gets a great rep in by slipping Lombard and then planting the runner in the backfield. Impressive play by the freshman.

0:45Jake Golic (88) vs. Ben Councell (3o). Winner: Golic, with the assist of Neal motoring past the attempted arm-tackle of Councell.

0:49Matt Hegarty (77) vs. Tony Springmann (?). Winner: Hegarty, who got a handle on the tough-to-recognize defender, allowing Cierre Wood to dash through the hole.

0:53Connor Hanratty (65) vs. Carlo Calabrese (44). Winner: Hanratty, who buries Calabrese into the turf, allowing Golson to fly by.

0:59Tate Nichols (64) vs. Kapron Lewis-Moore (89). Winner: Nichols, who smothers Lewis-Moore as he forces the veteran defender into a backpedal.

1:03Ben Koyack (18) vs. Ishaq Williams (11). Winner: Williams, who does a great job standing Koyack up and taking down Hendrix, no easy task with a 250-pound tight end pushing you backwards.

1:08Alex Welch (84) vs. Romeo Okwara (45). Winner: Draw. But nice work by the freshman Okwara finishing the drill and taking down senior Robby Toma (9), to the applause of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.

1:15Nick Martin vs. Jarrett Grace (59)Winner: Grace, who stands up Martin in the hole and dumps George Atkinson for a loss. Heckuva play.

1:25Christian Lombard vs. KLM. Winner: Draw. Nice work by KLM standing Lombard up in the hole, but he didn’t make the tackle. Tie goes to nobody.

1:30Mike Golic vs. Louis Nix. Winner: Nix, who gets bonus points for sporting the new Ireland cleats to practice. (Even more impressive considering the runner was Cierre Wood, who is hardly ever pinned in the backfield in this drill.)

1:34Connor Hanratty vs. Kevin Walsh (54). Winner: Hanratty, who got the walk-on linebacker into rollerskates as he drove him down the field.

1:40Zack Martin (70) vs. Sheldon Day. Winner: Martin, who shows the young pup a thing or two (understandably).

1:44Braxston Cave (52) vs. Kona Schwenke. Winner: Cave, who looked like a Greco-Roman star with his textbook leverage take-down of the big Hawaiian.

1:50Mark Harrell (75) vs. Tony Springmann (69). Winner: Harrell, who puts together a nice rep against Springmann, steering the back through the hole untouched.

1:54Bruce Heggie (51) vs. Kendall Moore (8). Winner: Heggie, who sprung a hole just big enough for Amir Carlisle (3). Carlisle looked pretty crisp and had a nice burst as he cut back and burned by.

1:59Ronnie Stanley (78) vs. Justin Utupo (53). Winner: The talented — and gigantic — freshman is too much for Utupo to handle.

2:04Troy Niklas (85) vs. Ishaq Williams (11). Winner: Draw. A ton of sheer force in a collision between two guys that used to wear the same practice jersey. Nice job by Niklas moving the pile and nice job by Williams holding on and taking down Hendrix.

Photo property of Matt Cashore.

 

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

rivals.com
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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman, Kona Schwenke, dies at 25

und.com
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Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, 25, reportedly died in his sleep Sunday morning. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Schwenke spent four seasons along the Irish defensive front, culminating in a 23-tackle senior season, in 2013. Attrition along the defensive line in his first two seasons forced Schwenke into playing time, costing him a likely fifth-year with much greater production. He played in 31 games total, making 30 tackles.

Part of a Hawaiian surge in Notre Dame recruiting, Schwenke joined the likes of receiver Robby Toma and linebacker Manti Te’o in coming from the island in 2009 and 2010. The first two committed during Charlie Weis’ tenure, but Schwenke made the leap at the very beginning of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, one of the first recruits to commit to Kelly at Notre Dame. Since then, sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has renewed the trend.

Schwenke graduated in 2014 with a degree in anthropology. He then signed with the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, moving around four different NFL franchises chasing his dream. Earlier this month he took part in a scouting event, The Spring League, gaining some notice when he forced Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel into a fumble.

Former Irish teammates took to social media Sunday afternoon celebrating Schwenke’s life and friendship.