Practice Team

Practice report breakdown: Day One


Just because contact drills don’t start for a few days doesn’t mean we shouldn’t over analyze every frame of practice footage provided us.

As usual, here’s an overly critical look at the 90+ seconds of practice video released late Monday night by the FIDM staff.

Feel free to jump to conclusions at your own risk, but a very good first glimpse at the ’13 football team.

1:38 — That’s Bennett Jackson (2) breaking down the team before its first practice of the season. A nice spirited breakdown as you’d expect.

1:54 — That’s George Atkinson (4) running with the first string offense, taking the handoff from Tommy Rees (11).

1:56 — Even in just shorts and helmets, Louis Nix (1) is a ton to handle. New center Nick Martin (72) does his best against the preseason All-American.

1:58 — Malik Zaire (8) hits Luke Massa (14) on the crossing route while Tarean Folston (25) looks on.

2:01 –Here’s good on good. Bennett Jackson (2) covering Davaris Daniels (10). There’s plenty of fast twitch on that rep, as Daniels looks explosive in and out of his cuts.

2:03 — Welcome back, Lo Wood (23), who gets a bump on Chris Brown (2) before dropping back into his zone.

2:07 — That’s Kona Schwenke (93) fighting through the interior of the Irish offensive line. Look really carefully, and you see Conor Hanratty (65) watching from the right guard position.

2:10 — Brian Kelly looks on, taking in practice with athletic trainer Rob Hunt.

2:12 — That’s Amir Carlisle (3) hitting the breaks and flying right by freshman safety Max Redfield (10).

2:18 — Here’s our first look at freshman phenom Jaylon Smith (9), dropping back into coverage, getting a jam on fellow freshman James Onwualu (15).

2:21 — Not much Matthias Farley (41) can do when covering Troy Niklas (85) on the out cut. Niklas comes up with the catch even in tight coverage, and then dents the earth when he falls to the ground.

2:25 — What’s the ceiling for Prince Shembo (55) this season? I’m thinking he’s in line for double-digit sacks. Up to 258 pounds, he actually looks svelte and athletic as he powers through the blocking dummies.

2:30 — Check out freshman wide receiver Will Fuller (15), matching up with freshman cornerback Devin Butler (36). While he didn’t want us to read into it, Kelly mentioned Fuller’s burst during his post-practice comments with Jack Nolan. So I’m going to read into that.

2:35 — Nice explosion out of the three-point stance by Ishaq Williams (11).

2:36 — Blink and you miss it: KeiVarae Russell (6) breaks up a pass intended for Danny Smith (87).

2:37 — More Max Redfield (15).

2:40 — Danny Spond (13) in coverage on CJ Prosise (20).

2:42 — Alex Welch (82) looking healthy with the nifty catch.

2:44 — Our first look at Greg Bryant (1) certainly doesn’t disappoint. The freshman running back looks pretty smooth running pass patterns. Another guy Kelly mentioned by name.

2:47 — Cam McDaniel (33) could put on a seminar for how to run downhill. Just a really natural running back.

2:50 — That’s Malik Zaire (8) dropping back to pass.

2:53 — That’s true freshman Isaac Rochelle (90) going one-on-one with Steve Elmer (79). Give Rochelle the win on this rep. Rochelle reportedly notched 26 reps of 225 during summer testing, a really impressive number for a guy that came onto campus looking massive at 6-3.5, 280-pounds.




Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State

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.

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)


Equanimeous St. Brown

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


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.*


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


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.


Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention


Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, 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.