Practice Team

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

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
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Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”