Cierre Wood Pitt

Back to football: Practice report video

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Can we purge yesterday’s Shamrock Series uniforms and get back to football? Let’s hope so. Until early October, let’s just not speak of that helmet, which can go hide in the corner of the internet with the FreakBass video for all I care.

But on to football!

Yesterday, we got our first (and only) look at the assistant coaches, with local media getting their chance to catch up with the reassembled coaching staff, and a selection of players.

But before that, the Irish practiced inside the Loftus Sports Center. As usual, Jack Nolan and the UND.com team were there keeping eyes on everything for us.

Here’s the video. As usual, you’ll get my observations below:

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0:15 — The honorable Jack Nolan mentions it’s the 15th practice of fall. By my very amateur calculations, expect the “installation” period of camp to be over. As head coach Brian Kelly mentioned, the Irish begin preparing for Navy on Monday. (As you’ll see later in the video, they might have started already…)

0:38 — Come on Jake Golic (88). You can’t dance along? And what’s up with that big cast on your right hand?

1:08 –Time to wake up, Kapron Lewis-Moore. Time for practice…

1:12 — Enjoy this time of year, Irish fans. Ben Turk (35) still hasn’t missed a punt yet. (Snark over.) Kelly mentioned yesterday that Turk has had a great camp.

1:14 — Set to the soundtrack of a Wes Anderson movie, we see Theo Riddick (6) working on the punt return drills we’ve heard mentioned. The senior will get another shot at returning punts this year, after short-circuiting last season early with a few muffed kicks.

1:26 — Great flow, Bob Diaco.

1:29 — Nice cut and run by Riddick, bursting through a hole.

1:32 — Our first Tommy Rees sighting of the year. The quarterback, exiled for game one, and basically held out of drills for much of camp, hands the ball of to Cierre Wood (20).

1:33 — Rapid fire edits! Tyler Eifert (80) beating Josh Atkinson (43) on the underthrown go-route. TJ Jones (7) beating Lo Wood (23) on the slant. Chris Brown (2) having a pass knocked from his hands by Bennett Jackson (2). Eifert beating Jalen Brown (21). That was so easy it should be illegal.

1:40 — Pass rusher Ishaq Williams (11) would’ve had Everett Golson (5) dead to rights before holding up. Getting some productivity in that area from Williams would be huge.

1:42Andrew Hendrix (12) hits Eifert for a nice gain.

1:47 — That’s Davonte Neal (19) catching the quick out.

1:49Manti Te’o sniffs out another screen pass, laying off George Atkinson (4), instead of putting him into orbit.

1:53 — If the Irish can get more of this out of Davaris Daniels (10), there could be some promise in the passing game this year. That’s just plain and simple beating Jackson one-on-one for a big play.

2:02 — Rapid Fire! Robby Toma (9) trying to put a juke on Ishaq, Golson properly executing the option (?!?) against Romeo Okwara (45), and Kapron Lewis-Moore (89) using Matt Hegarty as a turnstyle on his way to a sack of Hendrix.

2:15 — Is it possible for a wide receiver to be handsy? Well, John Goodman (81) definitely fits the bill, winning the war of hand-checking with Atkinson before making an easy catch on an underthrown ball.

2:17Daniel Smith (87) getting a nice release off the line of scrimmage and beating KeiVarae Russell (6) easily on the slant.

2:30 — Team Up-Downs. One thing I’ll never miss from my football career. And also a good look at part of the No. 1 unit: Shembo, KLM, Kona Schwenke, Stephon Tuitt, Te’o and Ben Councell (30).

2:44Cierre Wood (20) also getting some reps in the return game. Always a showman that Cierre.

 

 

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.