Greg Bryant

Spring Practice: Day Two report breakdown

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The Fighting Irish took the field Wednesday morning for their second session of spring practice. With two weeks off and the university’s spring break sandwiched between practice two and three, it’s certainly an interesting time for the football program to get work done.

Yet it’s clear that there’s work to be done and the team is eager to get started. After our deep dig into episode one of UND.com’s spring coverage, here’s another over-analysis of a spring practice report:

0:08 — Jack is back and rolling in with a vintage Adidas track jacket. Perhaps one of the least discussed parts of the transition from Adidas to Under Armour is Nolan’s wardrobe. Does the Adidas gear just get pitched? Is there some island country that can wear it? It’d be a shame to see all that issue gear go to waste.

0:24 — Head coach Brian Kelly spends a little warm-up time talking with quarterback Everett Golson.

0:31 — New turf in the Loftus Center. Knew it looked spiffy.

0:45 — Took 45 seconds, but Jack didn’t let us down. Another coat of snow for campus this morning. A mighty tough winter. Spring break couldn’t come fast enough for this crew.

1:15 — That wonderful mood music setting the scene for practice? Icescape A by John Charles Fiddy & Sammy Burdson. (Thanks, Shazam.)

1:20 — Let’s start the Greg Bryant (1) highlight reel! Here’s the sophomore running back catching a slant across the middle and breaking into the open field.

1:24 — That’s Will Fuller now wearing TJ Jones’ No. 7 jersey. He gets behind Matthias Farley (41) on a vertical route and makes the catch on a ball that looked pretty well thrown. Lotta speed there.

1:28 — Bryant breaks another long run up the middle!!! Oh wait, everyone’s in shorts and just touching. (Get the paper bag out and start breathing if you find this too exhilarating…)

1:30 — Ishaq Williams (11) goes against Mike McGlinchey (68) in one-on-one drills. McGlinchey holds up until a late move helps Williams get past him.

1:33 — Justin Utupo (53) against Steve Elmer (79). You can see physically how much size Utupo gives up to large interior lineman. But he does a nice job getting up field.

1:35 — Frankly, any catch made by Corey Robinson (88) in spring that doesn’t include acrobatics or a one-handed grab doesn’t rate. But it’s still a pretty smooth route by the rising sophomore, beating Cole Luke (3) who was very tight in coverage.

Not the best highlight to make the claim, but I think Luke is going to be a VERY good cover corner for the Irish.

1:38 — Sheldon Day (91) 1, Christian Lombard (74) 0. That’s a pretty impressive move by Day from an inside spot on the defensive line.

1:40 — Mike Heuerman (9) hits the out cut and makes a nice catch. Heuerman’s a pretty fascinating test case for the undersized tight end. Could he be used as an H-back type of a player? There’s snaps to be had.

1:42 — That’s not gonna get it done, Romeo Okwara (45), who gets stuffed by Ronnie Stanley (78) at left tackle.

1:46 — Blink and you might miss it, but that’s Chase Hounshell (50) going against rising sophomore John Montelus (60). Both appear to be healthy, which is good news.

1:48 — If I swung and missed on a projection last year, it was Amir Carlisle (3). That said, I still think he’s going to be a very productive player for the Irish this season. Getting him in the slot could solve some problems. But Notre Dame’s got to commit to making the slot receiver a priority in the offense, carving out opportunities for Carlisle, Torii Hunter Jr., or whoever ends up winning the job. 

1:50Matthias Farley does his best to earn 15 yards, but Corey Robinson beats him anyway. We haven’t seen Farley’s two best highlights, but it’s still an intriguing position switch that could be a good one.

Farley’s most likely going to be asked to be a Cover 2 cornerback, so you’re not going see him going one-on-one all that often.

1:56Cole Luke baits a bad underneath throw and cuts under Robinson. I think Irish fans would sign up for more of that.

1:58 — That’s redshirt freshman Colin McGovern (62) doing a really nice job standing up Romeo Okwara. That’s an impressive rep from a young player.

2:01 — Tricky pattern by Ben Koyack, who shakes off Max Redfield (10) and gets up field.

2:04 — Notre Dame fans have to be happy seeing Everett Golson outside the pocket, running away from Anthony Rabasa (56) and turning up field to square off with John Turner (31).

2:09 — Wearing two knee braces, you’d think Chase Hounshell was coming off knee surgery, not two shoulder injuries. But he looks athletic getting past Steve Elmer. 

2:19 — Nicky Baratti (29) is back and practicing. Here he takes on Mike Heuerman (9) who makes the catch in front of him on the out route.

2:22 — You can understand why Brian Kelly says his defense doesn’t like tackling Greg Bryant. He looks like a load cutting up field. Any worries about hesitation from Bryant after injuring his meniscus can be forgotten.

2:25 — A nice move upfield by rising sophomore Isaac Rochell (90), getting past McGovern on this rep.

2:29 — Looks like Anthony Rabasa might have gotten a sack there on Everett Golson. Rabasa could be an intriguing wildcard, especially playing as a 4-3 defensive end, a position more in line with his body type and skillset.

2:32 — Brian Kelly teaches Malik Zaire. New quarterback coach Matt LaFleur looks on.

2:40 — Great coverage by Josh Atkinson (24). Better catch by Will Fuller. 

 

 

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
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Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”