Notre Dame at USC

Spring practice video breakdown: Part four

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Let’s get back to the over-analysis!

As we examine another two minutes of ND football players going through drill work, here are a few things I picked up, from either talking to people close to the program or reading other reports:

* It’s interesting to note that a broken collarbone for Amir Carlisle doesn’t mean his spring is over. You can see Carlisle taking actual reps during the practice video, wearing a helmet and participating in practice. (Same for Bennett Jackson, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.)

Again, not to say this isn’t what other programs are doing (or what the Irish did in the past), but it’s good to see that an injury or surgery means a wasted spring of development.

* I’m guessing somebody will ask what’s wrong with Davaris Daniels, who wasn’t wearing pads in the latest video. Ditto with Danny Spond. Not that either player really needs to prove themselves this spring, but worth monitoring.

* In the same interview that Denbrock talking wide receiver roles, he discussed senior Daniel Smith. The man best known for dating Skylar Diggins and his blocking might have a surprise season in him, with Denbrock raving about Smith’s athleticism and ability to catch the football.

Smith might not have the high-end speed needed to be an elite receiver, but he looks like he’ll be a useful part of this offense, doing more than just getting PT on running plays.

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0:14 — That’s Romeo Okwara (#45) breaking down the team. Also known as the biggest 17-year-old football player in the world. Do you think the guys are going to do something special for when he turns 18? Buy fireworks? Head to a riverboat casino? Hit up the voting booth?

Jokes aside, Okwara’s development will be really fun to follow. Could ND stash him on the sideline with a redshirt this season? Will he be too good to let them? (More unanswered questions?)

0:26 — Another video, another session of blocking drills! This one features Corey Robinson (#88) locking up with a DB about 1/3 of his height.

0:31 — That’s walk-on Gerard Martinez (#83) getting a rep.

0:35 — Keep those hands inside, CJ Prosise. That looks an awful lot like 10 yards from the spot of the foul.

0:40 — That’s John Turner (#31) doing a nice, physical job with Luke Massa (#14). Turner it the type of big bodied kid you expect to see on special teams this season. Wonder if he’s got the jets needed to play on the back line of this defense.

0:45 — James Onwualu (#17) has a big collision with somebody. (Looks like Matthias Farley.)

0:52 — Back-to-back reps of walk-ons getting reps. Nicely done guys. Use this YouTube clip to your advantage at Corby’s this weekend.

1:00 — TJ Jones (#7) does a nice job exploding on the block. Don’t look now, but Jones is primed to have a very nice senior campaign.

1:03 — KeiVarae Russell (#6) does a nice job of getting underneath Chris Brown (#2). Nice job initiating contact by Russell, who is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite players.

1:06 — Another big collision with Onwualu.

1:17 — A better job by Prosise this time. (Still a ways to go, though…)

1:22 — Good to see Austin Collinsworth (#28) getting reps out there. He battles the lanky Robinson.

1:25 — Nick Martin (#72) gets the best out of what looks like Justin Utupo. I get the feeling we are looking at the Irish’s starting center.

1:28 — Christian Lombard (#74) guts out a tough collision with Kona Schwenke (#96)

1:38 — There’s something very graceful about the way Corey Robinson catches the football. Should be a fun four years.

1:41 — Isn’t that almost the story of Jalen Brown (#21) so far? Big kid, athletic kid. Let’s a receiver catch a ball in front of him and then tries to tackle. Then again, in this defense corners can give up short, underneath throws all they want.

1:45 — Keep running hard, GA3.

1:51 — Nice hole shot by Tommy Rees, into the soft spot of a two-deep zone. Rees hits freshman Mike Heuerman (#9).

1:59 — TJ Jones makes a nice catch through traffic. Imagine that’s a lot easier than doing it when the bullets are live, but Jones displayed that kind of courage against Alabama in a sneaky good performance.

2:01 — Cam McDaniel with another big gainer. O/U on Cam’s YPC in 2013: 4.9.

2:09 — Russell shows himself to be a savvy DB. Mugs Chris Brown, then gets his hands off him fast enough to sell the purity of the play. (Before anyone complains, that’s just proper gamesmanship for a cornerback.)

2:22 — How excited was Bobby D? Jumping back bump, that’s how.

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.