Chris Watt,  Zack Martin

Practice Report Breakdown: Day Six


As the second week of camp begins, positional battles are starting to take shape. At cornerback, any thoughts that Lo Wood could make a run at KeiVarae Russell’s starting job were put on ice yesterday by head coach Brian Kelly, who called Russell the clearcut starter. At quarterback, it’s looking very obvious that a 1-2-3 pecking order is being established, with fans of Malik Zaire likely waiting until ’14 for a chance to see him if all goes according to plan.

With interesting battles at safety, offensive line, running back and inside linebacker all continuing to play out, let’s get into the way-too-detailed breakdown of yesterday’s practice report courtesy of

0:13 — Great texture to Jack Nolan‘s ND golf shirt, with the face of getting a sneaky weather report in while teeing up the action. (For those sticklers, I am aware that Jack’s calling this the 8th practice while we’re calling it Day Six. I’m guessing it’s because the team did two two-a-day sessions.)

0:30 — It’s Sheldon Day breaking the team down before they get to work. A day after writing about Brian Kelly’s heaps of praise for the sophomore defensive end, I continue to be fascinated by what Day’s emergence could mean for this defense as a whole.

(Friend of the program, Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, compared Day to current Bengals star Geno Atkins. That’s high praise, and there are a lot of similarities between the two of them, including body type.)

From a personnel perspective, Day could add to the handful opposing coaches face when dealing with the Irish front seven. Everybody knows about Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, but sleeping on Prince Shembo is a mistake, and today’s video gives you an idea of the improvement of Ishaq Williams. Throw in a wildcard like Jaylon Smith, who could come off the edge with 4.4 speed, and the Irish might have their most vaunted pass rush in years.

0:44 — Almost on cue, Prince Shembo and Day run a defensive line stunt that gets Shembo to the fictional quarterback in a hurry. With Prince in a three point stance, it looks like Day would slide inside, giving the Irish the opportunity to have Day, Tuitt and Nix all be interior pass rushers while Ishaq Williams could slide down to the other end position.

0:49 — TJ Jones makes a nice catch on a deep ball to the end zone. We don’t have the benefit of seeing who actually threw the pass, but whoever did has nice touch.

0:55 — Sophomore receiver Chris Brown takes a quick pass from Tommy Rees and cuts up field. (That ball will likely come out faster during the actual games.)

0:57 — Fancy editing won’t slow me down: Walk-on Nick Fitzpatrick (38), Luke Massa (14), Corey Robinson (88), freshman Will Fuller (15), Massa again, and CJ Prosise (20) make catches.

1:01 — All-American Zack Martin (70) wins another one-on-one rep with Stephon Tuitt (7) in a pass rushing drill. (A quick soap box speech. Just because you’ve seen three reps of Tuitt vs. Martin this spring, all of which seemed like Martin victories, doesn’t mean anything is wrong with Tuitt. It could just mean that Martin is very, very, very good. Again, these are the problems with practice videos. One guy looking good means another guy looks bad.)

1:05 — Prince Shembo hunts for a quarterback. Cam McDaniel (33) bursts through a nice hole. Freshman wideout James Onwualu (17) has an inside step on Jalen Brown and beats him for the catch. Andrew Hendrix (12) pulls the ball down and runs. (Interestingly, he’s taking live hits.)

1:12 — Justin Utupo (53) gets stood up by a blocker. (Tough to tell who.)

1:16 — Here’s another good look at freshman wideout Will Fuller (15). You can tell he needs to put a little meat on his bones, but the staff thinks they’ve got a guy who can run the top off a zone that also catches everything.

1:21 — That’s an explosive rep by Ishaq Williams (11), beating what looks like Ronnie Stanley (78) off the edge, with a little help from Jarron Jones (94).

1:26 — That’s a really impressive move by Kona Schwenke (96), blowing by Christian Lombard (74) and getting to the quarterback.

(While listening to Irish Sports Daily’s Power Hour podcast last week, analyst Sean Mele pointed out that Lombard’s troubles come when he stops moving his feet. That looked to be the case again here, though credit Schwenke for a nice move as well.)

1:32 — Chris Brown (2) beats Max Redfield (10) off the jam in man coverage and connects on a deep throw. Redfield bit hard on the inside move, helping Brown get separation. It’s doutbful a young safety ever gets put on an island in man coverage, but the silver lining seems to be Redfield’s speed, as he caught up with Brown, who might be the fastest guy on the roster.

1:38 — There’s some nice zip on that deep out by Tommy Rees to TJ Jones.

1:42 — A lot of contact between Onwualu and KeiVarae Russell (6) on a pass that sails incomplete. From a defensive perspective, that’s a nice rep by Russell. From an offensive perspective, Onwualu might deserve a flag for contact down field. But it’s good to see Russell get physical with a bigger receiver, giving credence to the reports that Russell is bigger, stronger and more comfortable in man coverage.

1:50 — Center Nick Martin (72) does a nice job handling Louis Nix (1) in the trenches. We’ll get into it more later today, but it seems like Kelly already feels really comfortable with Martin at center.

1:53 — Matthias Farley (41) takes CJ Prosise (20) to the ground. Ishaq Williams (11) gets to the edge against Troy Niklas (85) in a pass rush drill. James Onwualu (17) and KeiVarae Russell (6) do battle in the open field. Isaac Rochelle (90) battles Ronnie Stanley (78). Lo Wood (23) stays tight on Davaris Daniels (10), before Daniels gets inside and makes the catch.

2:02 — That’s freshman Greg Bryant (1) cutting to daylight before being tackled, while fellow freshman Tarean Folston (25) makes a catch out of the backfield.

2:06 — Another Zack Martin (70) and Stephon Tuitt (7) battle. Martin holds up once again, though he gave up some room to Tuitt.

2:10 — That’s the type of explosive pass rush Irish fans want to see out of Ishaq Williams (11) as he blows by Ben Koyack (18) to the inside.





Mailbag: The head coach, Malik and the running game

Notre Dame offensive line

bearcatboy:  The “fire coach Kelly” thing is getting a bit over-blown, particularly in the twitter-verse (ad nauseum). I hate asking this question (I think its reached the point where it’s warranted), but as a rational person, what has Kelly done to make you truly believe he can win a title, or even big games for that matter, at ND?

Consider this an answer to the roughly 40 different posts asking the same question. So apologies if this gets a little meandering.

The big thing for me—and something that most people calling for change are doing their best to ignore—is that Brian Kelly already got his team to one title game. If you’re trying to run him out of town based on this season, you can’t ignore that season. This isn’t figure skating, where you throw out the high score but not the low.

Ultimately, my biggest reason for sticking with the status quo, is that it’s hard to win. Period. And it’s really hard to win at Notre Dame. Besides that, all coaches, at least when they’re under your microscope, are going to have flaws that drive you nuts.

Let’s go through the wish list of Notre Dame coaches: Urban Meyer just lost to a 20-point underdog this weekend, and he’s still one of the game’s two best coaches. Dream candidate Tom Herman lost to Navy and just got blown out by SMU, another huge underdog.

You want someone who has some tenure? Well, former Irish assistant Dan Mullen lost a few terrible games this year that are head-scratchers and Dak Prescott is getting smaller in the rearview mirror. David Shaw’s team is losing. Mark Dantonio’s team is losing. Dave Doeren’s team is losing. Jim Mora’s team is losing.

This isn’t the old college football. This isn’t even Lou Holtz’s college football. It’s a hyper-competitive industry, and while there are a few institutional advantages that Notre Dame still certainly has, there are quite a few negatives that are truly barriers to winning.

We’ve watched Kelly and Jack Swarbrick attack some of the major ones—and Kelly has it better than Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis when it comes to others. But certain things—academics, the way the university handles  student life, fifth-years and redshirts—they might not ever change.

Ultimately, I don’t know if Notre Dame can compete with Alabama—if that’s the standard you want to set. But then again the Crimson Tide had a star defender arrested for drugs and guns on a Thursday and he played on Saturday. Max Redfield is looking for a place to finish up his degree.

I think Brian Kelly’s a good football coach having a really tough season. Can he bring Notre Dame to the promise land? Not sure.

But he had them within 60 minutes once and last year had a roster that was ravaged by injury and had his team within a field goal of probably getting an invite to the playoff. So I’m not rolling the dice yet, and wouldn’t unless the change is a clear upgrade. And I’m not sure who that’d be.


blackirish23: Malik Zaire has been less than impressive when given the opportunity. Do you think Malik’s heart just isn’t in being a back-up QB and thus has lost a bit of his passion for the game which affects his play when given the opportunity?

If somehow Kizer decides to return to ND next season, should the coaching staff discuss a position switch with Malik similar to what happened with Carlyle Holiday and Arnaz Battle (and even Braxton Miller at Ohio State)? If so, what position would Malik be best suited to switch to?

Thanks for the question, it’s certainly not the first time someone has wondered how to utilize Malik if it isn’t at quarterback. To address that point first, Malik isn’t Arnaz or Carlyle, and he certainly isn’t Braxton Miller. Those guys have the speed to be NFL receivers, something Malik doesn’t possess. Does that make him a tight end? H-Back? Running back? Probably not one who is good enough to get onto the field for the Irish.

As for his heart, I don’t think that’s something I can speak to with any certainty, though I do think he’s pressing. Give a guy known for “making plays when things break down” a limited amount of reps and it’s human nature to press. That explains to me why he’s breaking out of the pocket and scrambling when the initial look isn’t there. Or trying to juke a defender and make a play instead of throwing the ball away on a reverse.

Lastly, if Kizer stays-or-goes, I think Zaire would owe it to himself to look around and check out his options after he earns his degree. A graduate transfer might be the best thing for his football career if he wants to be a starter. Because Brandon Wimbush is a very talented quarterback with an elite set of skills and there’s no telling if Zaire will beat him out for the job next year, let alone Kizer.


ndgoz: ND has consistently been producing high-level NFL draft picks on the O-line. The running game is predominantly zone read plays, which rely on isolating and attempting to deceive a defender. If ND has the quality offensive line that the NFL draft suggests, why doesn’t ND put more emphasis on a power running game?

If you have more size and skill than your opponent, you don’t need to trick them – just overpower them. You can still take advantage of the QB running ability with bootlegs and rollouts to keep the defense honest.

I’m not the guy to go to if you’re looking for astute offensive line breakdowns. For a while, I think there was some validity to the criticism that Notre Dame’s ground game was a bit too vanilla. Inside zone, outside zone, repeat.

But I don’t think the zone read game is as simple as you make it out to be. Deception is a piece of it, but there’s plenty of physicality and winning at the point of attack, something we just haven’t seen that much of this year.

Kelly’s running game looked great last year, a big-play machine with a talented offensive line.  No, they weren’t a lock to convert every short-yardage attempt, but then again—Alabama isn’t either. And with CJ Prosise and Josh Adams and a very nice offensive front, these guys were hitting home runs.

The zone read can drive certain fans nuts. But asking why Kelly doesn’t put more of an emphasis on the power running game kind of ignores the fact that he’s not running that system. So when you say that the offense could get production from DeShone Kizer on bootlegs and rollouts, I think you’re discounting just how impactful Kizer has been as a runner these past two season. He’s run for 17 touchdowns in the 19 games he’s played since Virginia last year and he’s on pace for double-digit touchdowns again this season.

We’ve seen Kelly and Harry Hiestand do things to help get the ground game going—pistol, pulls, traps, and a few other wrinkles. But a lot of the issue is breaking in four starters at new positions with only Quenton Nelson in the same position as last year. This group will gel. But it might be a while before they can just go out and dictate terms.



How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.