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.

 

Following spring practice, will Notre Dame continue habitual progress?

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By no means is Irish coach Brian Kelly going to measure Alizé Mack’s progress by if the junior tight end makes his bed every morning. Mack’s mother might—mine would certainly factor it in—but when Kelly cited the need to start the day with hospital corners, he was simply trying to make a point.

“He’s taking care of business off the field, which invariably it always comes back to this,” Kelly said Wednesday. “If you’re taking care of work in the classroom and you’re starting the day right, making your bed—I’m just using that analogy—if you start the day right, it’s going to trend the right way and it’s trending the right way on the field for him.”

Mack is the most obvious example of a needed change in habits. When you miss a season due to academic issues, reconfiguring your priorities becomes a topic of conversation. His instance, though, serves as a readily-cited example of a more widespread concern. Of all the optimistic conversation and concerted change following last season’s 4-8 disappointment, Kelly’s preaching of good habits simultaneously appears as the most abstract aspect and the easiest understood.

“It starts with guys being aware of it first,” Kelly said following Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. “Then once they are aware that they need to have these good habits to be good football players, then you start to see it show itself in good run support angles. You see it offensively, guys always lined up properly. We had very few penalties today, and that’s a product of some of the habits that are being built on a day-to-day basis.”

It makes sense. If a receiver doesn’t realize he lined up a few feet closer to the sideline than desired, for example, then he will make that same mistake the next time, especially if he still makes a catch on the play. Next time, the defensive back may be more able to capitalize on the gift of less route uncertainty.

It is unrealistic to expect anyone, let alone a 19- or 20-year-old, to display this exacting discipline on the football field without practicing it throughout the rest of the day. Successfully cutting corners in one area of life convinces the psyche it can be done anywhere. Thus, Kelly has needed to harp on his charges about their off-field activities, including—but perhaps not seriously—making their beds.

“I think we ask our guys to do a number of different things on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “First of all, understanding how habits carry over to what they do in the classroom and what they do on the football field.”

Kelly and his coaching staff have had four months to make this impression. The issue is, bad habits are hard to break. They’re usually more fun, anyway. As Kelly pointed out, the rewards of good habits are slow in coming. Delayed gratification, if you will.

“I think our guys understand that it takes time to build those habits, because some of them have bad habits, and to get rid of those bad habits, you really have to be creating good habits over a long period of time,” Kelly said. “That’s the process that is hard for these guys, because it takes time, and they want it to happen right away.

“Sometimes they forget and they just want to go out and play. If you go out and play, but you don’t do it the right way, it’s going to get you beat.”

This all sounds well and good, and some of the effects were evident Saturday. There were few penalties (none, in fact, according to the official statistics), the quarterbacks took advantage of the receiving corps’ size and missed their targets high. But soon comes the toughest time to continue this trend.

Kelly and his staff have worked on the Irish to internalize these lessons. Now, Kelly and his staff will cover the country in recruiting. In a few weeks, the players will scatter home for a break before returning for a summer session spent in the weight room and classroom. If they slip back into old habits, the last four months were spent fruitlessly.

Mack played well Saturday. The question has never been does he have physical talent. He undeniably does.

The question has been, is and will be: Did you make your bed today, Alizé?

What we learned: Hayes, Book star in Notre Dame’s spring finale

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Time spent on a traditional game wrap of a spring intrasquad exhibition seems misspent. Gold won Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold Game 27-14 led by rising sophomore quarterback Ian Book. The first-string defense (Gold) held the first-string offense to an average of 5.4 yards per play. For context’s sake: Last season Notre Dame gained an average of 6.1 yards per play and held opponents to 5.4.

With that abbreviated recap out of the way, what did Saturday’s pseudo-game environment show about the Irish? If the 20,147 in attendance paid attention, they had the chance to learn a few things:

Daelin Hayes will be ready to hit a quarterback in September
Notre Dame’s quarterbacks were off limits all spring. Bulls might charge when they see red, but the Irish defensive line has had to remember to ease up when they come across a quarterback’s red jersey. If sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes had forgotten that Saturday, Notre Dame might not have any quarterbacks left to play in the fall.

“At the end of the day, we’re on the same team,” Hayes said, dismissing any bitterness about the quarterbacks’ protections. “We have to keep our guys healthy. I wasn’t frustrated, but come September 2, you know.”

Officially, Hayes was credited with three sacks and another tackle for loss among his seven tackles. Admittedly, gauging sacks is tricky when the quarterback does not actually go to the ground. How many of Hayes’ three sacks and the defense’s 11 total would have been evaded if the defender needed to do more than touch the passer? That answer is highly subjective, but discounting Hayes’ numbers would miss the bigger picture.

“We showed [pressure] in as far as the quarterback wasn’t getting really comfortable, not having all day to throw back there,” Hayes said. “I think it’s been huge, buying into that process. Seeing it come to fruition today was huge.”

Senior end Jay Hayes (no relation) notched two sacks and sophomore end Ade Ogundeji came the closest to tackling a red jersey when he stripped junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush from behind. The defensive line has been expected to be a weak point for the Irish moving forward, but the spring performance indicates it has a chance at holding its own. These accomplishments bear further merit considering Notre Dame’s offensive line is widely-considered one of its few spots of expected quality.

RELATED READING: Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

“I think it’s pretty clear Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’d have to watch the film, but it seemed like [sophomore end] Julian Okwara was a hard guy to block coming off the edge, as well.”

Ian Book provides some peace of mind
Book was not spectacular, but he was also far from incompetent or intimidated. In his first action on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, Book completed 18-of-25 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by a 58-yard connection with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson. Meanwhile, junior Brandon Wimbush completed 22-of-32 passes for 303 yards.

Bluntly, one has not needed to follow Notre Dame for very long to fit that “long enough” qualification. Last season’s backup, Malik Zaire, saw competitive action against both Texas and Stanford. In 2015, DeShone Kizer came off the bench to start 11 games after Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury. (more…)

What Notre Dame players should you actually watch? Plus, catch up on reading

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If technology does its part, this will post as its typist meanders toward finding his credential for the Blue-Gold Game to conclude Notre Dame’s spring practice. If technology doesn’t do its part, well, then this will be lost to the cobwebs of the internet. Such as it goes.

This space has spent much of the past week discussing what to look for in the 12:30 p.m. ET exhibition. Worry about the big picture, not the individuals. Fret about the macro, not the micro.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the indivdual players
Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators
Four defensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game
Four offensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game

But, if insistent on focusing on singular players, look to the inexperienced, the names you are unfamiliar with. The 15th and final practice of spring may be no more than a practice in reality, but it is in front of nearly 30,000 fans in Notre Dame Stadium. Some players do not have so much as that minimal experience.

“The Blue-Gold Game, specifically, is a time for us to emulate a game-like situation,” senior safety/linebacker/rover Drue Tranquill said. “Especially for guys like freshmen, second-semester guys coming in, it’s a great opportunity for them to get that game feeling, but also continue to take steps in the process to get better.”

The question on the tip of your tongue is a fair one. If you are unfamiliar with the names, how are you supposed to focus on those players? How are you to know who fits the appropriate tunnel vision version of perspective?

Let’s turn to Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mentions from Wednesday–primarily, sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara, sophomore long snapper John Shannon, senior kicker Sam Kohler, sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem and sophomore safety Jalen Elliott.

Obviously, that is just a sampling. Less obviously, this post’s purpose may or may not be to link to previous reading material and remind you of the vague but pertinent purposes to today’s endeavor. It is neither be-all nor end-all. It is simply another opportunity to gauge what may come down the line.

But hey, how about a prediction? Per Kelly, the first-team offense and second-team defense will be in blue, against the first-team defense and second-team offense in white.

PREDICTION: Blue 37, White 21

HOW TO WATCH
As a recurring reminder, the Blue-Gold Game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, as well as streamed online at ndstream.nbcsports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

Friday at 4: Four offensive positions to watch in Notre Dame’s spring game

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There are two common ways of looking at the annual spring game.
It is the last action involving Notre Dame football readily available for public consumption until Sept. 2, 133 days away.
Or it is an exercise rife with contradiction exacerbated by hype, yielding little-to-no reliable intelligence.
Like much of life, the most accurate assessment falls somewhere between those two views.

If junior running back Dexter Williams breaks off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs, does that mean he will have multiple big plays in 2017? Not at all. It does mean he will likely have more opportunities for them, though. Just like in spring’s previous 14 practices, the Irish coaches will take what they see and apply it moving forward.

The past—and as of Saturday evening, the Blue-Gold Game will qualify as the past—does not dictate the future, but it can influence one’s approach to it.

Aside from Williams (see the second item below for more on him and the running backs), what other players/positions could influence their future roles the most with their performance to close spring?

BIG PASSING TARGETS: Alizé Jones and Co.
In this instance, big is meant literally. Notre Dame has an embarrassment of riches of tall, long, physical tight ends and receivers. Junior Alizé Jones earns specific mention here due to his inaction last season. Irish fans and coaches alike have a better idea of sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and junior receiver Miles Boykin. They have 2016 film to look at.

Jones, however, sat out the season due to academic issues. His on-field performance largely remains a question mark, but if he combines this spring’s praise with his 6-foot-4 ½ frame holding 245 listed pounds, that could turn into an exclamation point.

“He’s a perfect fit,” new Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said Friday. “That’s why I recruited him like crazy when I was at Arizona State. He’s a prototypical [tight end], a guy who can run, who can catch.

“The biggest thing about Alizé is he’s taking great pride in his blocking ability right now, his presence of being an end-line guy, his protection and his overall physicality. When you think like that, you’re going to become a better receiver.” (more…)