Carlo Calabrese, KeiVarae Russell, Bennett Jackson

Practice Report Breakdown: Weekend edition

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Things are starting to shake out as the season gets closer and closer. Just like every team, the Irish are getting their share of bad breaks. In addition to Danny Spond’s serious injury, Brian Kelly announced that Tony Springmann suffered a high ankle sprain, keeping him out against Temple.

True freshman linebacker Doug Randolph will miss the season as well, having surgery to repair a shoulder injury that he brought with him to South Bend. Randolph was a redshirt candidate to start with, but the front seven numbers aren’t quite where Kelly and company want them yet.

Much more to dig into this week, but let’s walk through yesterday’s UND.com practice report.

0:20 — Jack Nolan reports it’s the fifteenth practice of training camp. With “installation” all but complete, expect the depth chart to start working itself out shortly as the team begins preparation for Temple.

0:44 — Senior Prince Shembo gets really into breaking the team down, adding a bit more flair to the daily standard. Shembo is a downright terrifying football player.

1:09 — An interesting passing drill being worked on here, as Tommy Rees (11) hits Davaris Daniels (10) with an outside shoulder pass. Ball placement seems to be the key here and Rees puts the throw in perfect position.

1:11 — It looks like Romeo Okwara (45) is working on his drops into coverage, with Bob Diaco doing his best to play quarterback. With Danny Spond injured, it could mean more time for Okwara, who did slide over to the weak side of the field early last year when Spond was out.

1:13 — Tommy Rees steps up into the pocket and delivers a strong throw to Troy Niklas for a red zone touchdown.

1:17 — Rees hits TJ Jones on a crossing route in traffic.

1:21 — Bennett Jackson breaks up a corner route thrown into the end zone for Luke Massa (14).

1:24 — Davaris Daniels gets a step on Jackson in one-on-one coverage.

1:27 — Rees delivers a bullet to the back of the end zone where freshman Corey Robinson makes an incredible catch. While he still hasn’t suited up or played a game yet for the Irish, Robinson is already putting together a highlight reel filled with circus catches.

1:32 — A very nice play by Jalen Brown (21) breaking up the deep ball headed towards Daniels.

1:35 — It’s tough to make out who delivered the throw, but it’s a perfect one to Daniels who gets a step on Brown this time before Eilar Hardy (4) can come over to help. That’s a big play downfield by the offense.

1:39 — Not the best throw by Rees, who throws behind Jones in a goal line passing drills. 

1:43 — That’s a much better toss by Rees, who delivers a strike on the roll for a big gain. (Maybe to Ben Koyack?)

1:47 — It looks like the Irish ran that play out of the pistol formation, with Rees in the shotgun and handing it to George Atkinson (4). Shembo came crashing off the edge like a man on fire.

It looks as if Jaylon Smith has slid into the starting lineup, running with the No. 1 defense in this rep.

1:54 — We’re getting quite a serving of red zone reps here, with Rees throwing a strike to Chris Brown (2) for six points. 

1:57 — Another nice catch by Davaris Daniels, who comes right into your living room as he nearly takes out the camera man.

2:00 — Corey Robinson lined up on the outside and Amir Carlisle (3) lined up in the slot. The Irish could do a lot worse than that… especially with Robinson looking really, really lethal in the limited reps we’ve seen.

That’s the true freshman beating Bennett Jackson deep down the field.

2:05 — Some interesting twists on a standard handoff to George Atkinson, with Daniels coming around end selling the fake.

2:09 — Heckuva play by Lo Wood (23) going up over the top of Chris Brown to break up the pass.

2:10 — It looks like Greg Bryant has some room to work in the middle of the field. A nice run against the No. 1 defense.

2:15 — Eilar Hardy comes down hard in the box and makes a play in the backfield, getting Bob Diaco fired up.

2:22 — That’s another big time catch by Corey Robinson, beating Bennett Jackson again with the circus play. 

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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)

 

2015-16 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.