Notre Dame v Air Force

Irish return to the practice field

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After two weeks off, Notre Dame returned to the practice field this morning. With pads on and live snaps taking place, any rust seemed to be alleviated with the Irish playing live for the first time this spring.

With plenty of reports coming in live from various local outlets that got a limited look at practice from inside Loftus, let’s run you through some of the interesting reports that I’ve seen this morning.

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First, let’s get to some of BK’s comments after practice.

Kelly talked about Notre Dame’s mediocre screen game, which was really good to hear after listening to hundreds of you bemoan the lack of creativity or productivity from that aspect of the offense. But with young offensive linemen learning their roles, it’s still very much a work in progress.

Kelly jokingly got off a pretty good dig on Steve Elmer, who is working at left guard next to Ronnie Stanley right now. The sophomore is doing a great job understanding his role at guard, but will use the spring to refine his game with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“I think that’s obviously a tandem that is working well together on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said of Stanley and Elmer. “We like what we see there. Steve is still learning the little. He knows big picture the offense very well. I think what Harry (Hiestand) is really trying to drill down with Steve is what he wants.

“Screens, for example, remember how lousy we were on screens? He’s worse. Things like that. He’s really trying to figure out some of the little nuances in the game. That’s the next step for him. Ronnie has done very well at that position. I think now for Elmer, really picking up the nuances.”

Before anybody thinks Kelly is calling out a player, he was joking first of all and secondly he’s also taking a shot at his own offense and it’s inability to capitalize on high percentage pass plays like screen passes. If that’s a focal point of this offensive transition under Mike Denbrock then that’s great news.

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Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Kelly talked about one of last year’s spring heroes, C.J. Prosise. While that didn’t translate into a lot of success last season, Prosise is a really intriguing athlete, especially considering he weighs 220 pounds.

“C.J. Prosise is an outstanding athlete. I don’t like to call any guys out, but he can give us even more,” Kelly said.  I think if there’s a ceiling there, I think we can get more out of C.J.

“He doesn’t have a typical body type for that position, he’s a big kid. But he’s an extraordinary athlete. I think there’s more there and we’re seeing it. He’s got speed. He can catch the football, and we think he can be a really good blocker as an inside guy for us. He’s kind of a unique player at that position. You usually don’t get them big. I think he’s got a high ceiling as well.”

Prosise started in the secondary for the Irish, an obvious place for a 220 pound thumper who can run. But with the Irish shifting away from two tight end sets, Prosise could be a beneficiary in this offense.

Also receiving glowing reviews from Kelly was rising sophomore Will Fuller. After putting up a ridiculous 26.7 yards per catch average last year, Kelly all but said the sky was the limit for the Philadelphia native.

“Will Fuller, that kid is just a matter of how far he wants to take his talents,” Kelly said. “Weight room is going to be huge. Getting stronger. Attention to detail, all things that great players need to do. He’s a pretty good one.”

Some bozo last week said Fuller had the chance to be a 1,000 yard receiver this season. I’m feeling better about that prediction after hearing Kelly talk about Fuller.

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It may be a surprise, but Jaylon Smith spent time at inside linebacker when the Irish went into a nickel package. Playing next to him was Joe Schmidt, while transitioning wide receiver James Onwualu also took some snaps there as well in the nickel set.

For Smith, it’s part of the transition to being the leading man of this defense. After playing primarily the dog outside linebacker spot last season, getting Smith into the middle of the action is just one part of utilizing the team’s best defensive playmaker.

“We’re finding that out right now as to what he can do,” Kelly said. “We’re overloading him quite frankly with a number of different looks.

“We don’t want offenses to know where he is. We’re going to play him in a number of different positions. He can be inside, outside, we’re moving him all over the place.”

Last year, the Irish passing defense really struggled on underneath routes, especially with Jarrett Grace, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox in coverage. In 2012, Manti Te’o made seven interceptions playing a glorified shallow center field for the Irish. Consider what Smith can do with his freakish speed and athleticism?

The move of Smith inside is likely as much a part of getting him in the center of the defense as it is about solidifying a clear weakness. A savvy and smart move that shows this staff did their homework during the offseason.

 

VIDEO DROPS:

Here’s some great practice footage from IrishSportsDaily.com:

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Here’s some more from our friends at IrishIllustrated.com, including a pick six by Joe Schmidt on Everett Golson:

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Here are BK’s comments in their entirety, courtesy of UND.com:

 

 

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)

 

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.