Practice Report: A closer look at eleven-on-eleven

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Another day, another UND.com practice report. But if you wondered whether or not 2012 was going to be different than last season, look no further than the practice videos. With media access at practice scant, video access is some of the only looks at practice we’ll get until the Irish open up in Dublin.

While we’re seeing some great stuff from Jack Nolan and the Fighting Irish Digital Media crew, it sure feels like we’re getting parceled out exactly what the coaching staff feels like sharing.

Which is good is enough for me.

Here’s some good footage of some eleven-on-eleven scrimmaging. I’ve done my best to break this down frame-by-frame, giving you a crib sheet of the latest action.

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0:08 — Here’s a nice look at All-American Manti Te’o. Interestingly, the running back (it looks like it could be Will Mahone (32), but tough to tell) got a nice juke in, causing Te’o to false step, but there’s a quickness and lightness of feet that Te’o didn’t have last season after injuring his ankle.

0:13 — That’s Danny McCarthy (15). He’ll likely be the third safety on the field in nickel packages, so coming up and tackling should be something he gets used to doing.

0:16 — The defensive line works on some drills with the sled. It’s worth noting that Justin Utupo (53) is back working at end. He had worked with inside linebackers the previous season but with the departure of Aaron Lynch, perhaps the staff wanted to get his speed up front.

0:20 — Coach Harry Hiestand has stressed better hand use among the offensive linemen. Here it is in action, first with Tate Nichols (64) and then our first look at freshman Ronnie Stanley (78). (We’ll see Stanley in action in a few seconds.)

0:26 Ishaq Williams (11) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (89) work on their swim moves with the blocking dummy. That’s a lot of force behind KLM’s swim.

0:31Cierre Wood (20) makes a play in the flat against cornerback Jalen Brown (21).

0:35 — Nice play on the deep ball by John Goodman (81) getting behind Bennett Jackson (2). You can hear offensive coordinator Chuck Martin yelling in the background, “Excellent, Goody. Excellent, Goody!”

0:38 — It’s the tight end portion of the video, with Troy Niklas (85) making a grab on the quick out from Everett Golson (5) before All-American Tyler Eifert (80) catches a pass from Andrew Hendrix against the back-up defense.

(If you’re looking way too deep into this trying to determine who’s playing with the ones, don’t. Eifert and Hendrix are paired with rookie Davonte Neal and reserve lineman Bruce Heggie.)

0:42 — Freshman wideout Justin Ferguson (15) beats walk-on safety Connor Cavalaris (40) on the slant route before fellow rookie Chris Brown (2) gets vertical on cornerback Josh Atkinson (43), adjusting to the deep ball and making a big catch.

For some perspective, thats’ Brown running by a guy that ran a sub-10.4 100m dash and then coming back and making an even better play on the football.

0:52 — He’s not doing us any favors wearing his jersey like that, but it looks like KeiVarae Russell (6) makes a terrific play on a deep ball thrown to junior TJ Jones (7). That’s an impressive play and good ball skills by the youngster.

0:56Everett Golson throws a bullet on the out route to Davaris Daniels (10) with Jalen Brown giving big cushion and Kendall Moore (8) coming from the inside to help.

0:59Andrew Hendrix looks a bit like a deer in headlights as the No. 1 defense bears down on him with a suffocating pass rush. It’s not the reserve lines’ finest hour: Tate Nichols is beat by Prince Shembo (55), Nick Martin (72) is overwhelmed by Stephon Tuitt (7), and Manti Te’o came around the outside with Ishaq Williams.

1:03 — Hendrix hangs in and throws a strike to Brown, who makes a big play against what looks like the No. 1 defense.

1:07Ishaq Williams (11) beats freshman Ronnie Stanley for what would’ve been a sack on Hendrix.

1:13 — File this one under Unstoppable: Eifert beats Jamoris Slaughter (26) on a well thrown ball with a perfect pattern and nifty one-handed catch.

1:18 — Te’o with what would’ve been a big-time tackle for loss against George Atkinson (4). A healthy season from big No. 5 would be mighty fun to watch.

1:20 — Watching Everett Golson run in the open field is a lot of fun. Watching him hold the football like a loaf of bread isn’t.

1:26 — All-American Te’o breaks up a pass aimed at All-American Eifert. Then gets a little air-bump from defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.

1:32 — This time it’s Prince Shembo that beats Stanley around the left edge, with Tuitt and Te’o coming on strong as well. It may be against the reserve offensive line, but there looks to be plenty of speed in this Irish pass rush.

1:37 — Great deep ball by Golson to Eifert, who beats Jalen Brown on the go route. That was Cierre Wood running a deep route down the seam as well.

1:44Hendrix hits Ferguson for a nice gainer.

1:47Golson looks off Niklas in the flat and finds Eifert deeper down the field. Sign me up for more packages with those two on the field together.

1:52Atkinson tries to run against the first-team defense.

1:57 — Bravo to the camera man for hanging in there with 6-foot-7, 260-pound Troy Niklas rumbling towards him out of bounds. Braver man than I am.

2:01 — Give Robby Toma (9) a 20-yard head start and nobody can cover him. Don’t blame Zeke Motta (17).

2:08 — Either that’s a repeat of earlier, or Chris Brown beat Josh Atkinson on another deep ball. (On a repeat viewing, it’s not a re-run. That’s just another impressive rep by the true freshman.)

Photo property of Matt Cashore

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…)

Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators

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You didn’t hear? Notre Dame plays Notre Dame tomorrow. Here, let’s make this easy.

WHO? Notre Dame’s first-string offense against its first-string defense, and the Irish second-string defense against the second-string offense.
WHAT? It’s called the Blue-Gold Game, but there are two flaws to that title. One team will be wearing white, not gold, and while it is structured as a game, it is really nothing more than the 15th and final spring practice.
WHEN? 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 22, 2017 A.D. Yes, I am worried you might mistake this as occurring more than 2,000 years before the time of Christ.
WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, but if you can’t make it there, tune in to NBC Sports Network.
HOW? Oh, not going to be at a TV? NBC still has you covered at this link: ndstream.nbcsports.com or on the NBC Sports app.

With those essentials out of the way, let’s pull a few quotes from this morning when new Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long and new defensive coordinator Mike Elko addressed the media. Hopefully, these might provide some general context for what to learn from tomorrow.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the individual players

Elko on how much of his defense he has successfully installed this spring:
“We’ve gotten close to 50 percent of all of it up and running. We’ve spent a lot of time defending this offense this spring, so we’re going to have to spend some time defending the offenses we play moving forward. That’s probably where a lot of the learning curve has to come.”

Elko on the most notable defensive improvements:
“We’re disrupting the football better. We’re leveraging the football better. We’re playing harder.”

Elko on what fans should look for from the Notre Dame defense Saturday:
“I hope they see a defense that is flying around. I hope they see a defense that is disrupting the football. I hope they see a defense that has their eyes in the right spot and is executing at a high level. All those things that we’re preaching aren’t going to change tomorrow. It’s not going to be different. It’s not going to be different when we line up against Temple.” (more…)