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.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”

Hiestand key to Ronnie Stanley’s ascent

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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With Ronnie Stanley ending Notre Dame’s top-ten draft drought (seriously, we are running out of things to complain about), the Irish left tackle became Baltimore’s answer for a cornerstone along their offensive line. And as Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens well-respected staff did their due diligence, credit was heaped onto offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“One of my very best friends in coaching is Harry Hiestand,” Harbaugh said. “I talked to Harry a long time…all about Ronnie and he couldn’t speak highly enough about his character, to his intelligence, to his toughness. So you have people you trust in the profession and that goes a long way.”

That opinion of Hiestand is hardly specific to Harbaugh. It’s actually one of the many reasons Brian Kelly hired Hiestand when the Irish and Ed Warinner parted ways. Here’s Notre Dame’s head coach from his initial press release introducing Hiestand as his new line coach.

“When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend,” Kelly said. “And Harry’s name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him.”

In an era where developing offensive lineman—not just at the college level but for play in the professional ranks—what Hiestand is doing is pretty special. Zack Martin certainly stands above the rest already, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro performer just two years after being a first round draft pick. Chris Watt was selected in the third round by the San Diego Chargers, and expect Nick Martin off the board by the time the evening is over.

 

For as surprising as Hiestand’s effectiveness is on the recruiting trail, maybe it shouldn’t be after you hear the raves that come from those that appreciate his work. That’s especially important as NFL coaches like Pete Carroll bemoan the lack of fundamentals some offensive linemen possess as they prepare for life in the professional ranks.

Here, CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini pulled an interesting snippet from the Super Bowl winning head coach, with the Seahawks taking the drastic approach of converting defensive lineman at the NFL level because they think they’re better suited for the physicality.

“The style of play is different,” Carroll said. “There will be guys that we’re looking at that have never been in a (three-point) stance before. They’ve always been in a two-point stance. There are transitions that have to take place. In the last couple years, we’ve seen pretty strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust how guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive and physical-oriented as we like them to be.

“It is different. There is a problem. I looked at a couple guys this week, and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and had to knock a guy off the football. There wasn’t even a play in the game. It’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s gonna be like. We learn to, but it’s not he same as it’s been.”

The good news for Irish fans, especially after having to replace back-to-back first-round left tackles, is that there’s more talent coming through the pipeline. Mike McGlinchey’s move to the left side is already taking root. Left guard Quenton Nelson has earned raves from Kelly. Projected starting right tackle Alex Bars sounds not that far off, either.

In Stanley, the Irish found a talented high school athlete and molded him into a first-round pick. They did so even as he battled injuries that made it hard to dedicate time in the weight room, and bounced him around the offensive line from the right side to the left to find him playing time. Yes, he was a four-star recruit. But as we saw last night, star-rating takes a very large backseat to development.

With Stanley joining rarified air—he and Will Fuller make 66 first-round selections in program history—the Las Vegas native goes up on the wall as an aspiration for present and future Notre Dame lineman.

Just as importantly, he’s another tip of the cap to Hiestand.

 

For more reaction to the NFL Draft, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, my podcast with John Walters.