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Open Practice update: Saturday’s Six Pack of observations

Mar 22, 2014, 9:34 PM EST

Notre Dame at USC AP

Saturday morning, Notre Dame’s practice was open to visiting coaches and local media. That means a slew of reports coming in and one guy (me) to read everything and give you some interesting observations.

While I wasn’t in South Bend for a two hour window into spring installation, consider this a trip around the horn as we piece together interesting insights and observations from the Irish’s fifth spring practice.

Here’s your bonus Saturday six pack after an open spring practice.

1. John Turner is no longer a forgotten man. 

I’m resisting the urge to turn him into a spring star, if only because we’ve had breakout spring sensations turn into pumpkins before. (Remember when Kona Schwenke had overtaken Louis Nix for the starting nose guard job?)

But Turner has clearly found a niche in Brian VanGorder’s defense, and the rising junior seems to be taking advantage of his opportunities.

“He’s been given a great opportunity here. We all knew about his physical ability. Now he’s been given a chance that is an incredible opportunity,” Brian Kelly said after practice Saturday. “We knew he had the ability to do it. Now he’s been given the chance to do it. I don’t know if he really had the chance last year, to be quite honest with you.”

After struggling to build a personnel package that allowed the Irish to match up well in nickel and dime sets early in his time in South Bend, just about every viewing window into practice has shown the Irish playing from various sub-packages. With a lot of talented players in the back end of the defense, Turner looks like he’s filling a role as a nickel linebacker with coverage skills and the ability to tackle.

Converted wide receiver James Onwualu spent quite a bit of practice there as well.

2. Amir Carlisle has recaptured his mojo. 

One look at the latest UND.com practice report gives you an idea of Amir Carlisle’s resurgence after a tough 2013 season. Spending his time exclusively at the slot receiver position, Carlisle was a reliable target, making multiple tough catches in traffic and being utilized in the passing game.

Kelly talked about the step forward Carlisle’s taken now that he’s plugged in at the slot.

“He’s just kind of going through the process of finding a home in a sense,” Kelly said. “Last year he didn’t really get into a rhythm offensively at running back, and then he’s playing a little bit of slash slot.

“Now he’s playing full-time at the receiver position. I think he’s getting into a consistent role. I think that’s very, very important for him. It’s helping a lot.”

Carlisle broke his collarbone early last spring, shortening his developmental process in the Irish offense. Getting all 15 practices this spring will really help him focus on the nuances of the position while building a rapport with his quarterbacks.

We’re still a long way from the last day of August. But Carlisle is a really talented football player who might now be playing the right position for him.

3. Everett Golson still has a little rust on him. 

It’s hard for some Irish fans to remember, but in the last three years Everett Golson has only played in 12 football games. Twelve? Twelve. (And three of those, he failed to break the 50 percent marker in passing accuracy.)

So while everybody expected Golson to immediately be the tonic that solved the Irish’s offensive struggles, it’s going to take more than five practices for Golson to get on the same page with a rebuilt offense.

“I don’t think he’s feeling comfortable yet. I think he’s still trying to find that,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t have any of the guys. He doesn’t have TJ. Daniels isn’t here. All the guys that he had a little bit of that timing with, he’s working with all new guys. He doesn’t have any of that. It’s really like he’s working with a whole new cast of characters in that sense.”

The early reviews from Saturday’s open practice called Golson more steady than spectacular. But any sense that the rebuilding defense would be overwhelmed by a high-powered offense this spring hasn’t happened yet, as the timing has been off and the offense is far from hitting on all cylinders.

4. Even though Golson will win the starting job, Malik Zaire could have an important role in this offense.

One of the biggest surprises of spring camp seems to be the athleticism of Malik Zaire. Put candidly, he’s a far more dynamic athlete in the open field than Golson. That shocks a lot of people, and could give Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock another fancy car in the garage as they start to game plan for next season.

After all the grumbling about patching together the offense with multiple quarterbacks, Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated asked Kelly after practice Saturday if he’d be comfortable doing it again in 2014. The answer shouldn’t surprise you.

“I’ll do anything to win. If I felt like when we got to August, that is where we were, I’m all in,” Kelly said. “I can handle that. I think the ideal situation is one, but (Zaire) definitely has shown in himself to be ready to compete in some of those areas that you mentioned. I want to see him compete in all those areas. That’s a really good thing.”

5. Don’t expect Christian Lombard’s injury to cost him a starting job. 

After some speculation across the interwebs had Christian Lombard’s wrist injury a potential Wally Pipp situation, Kelly threw some cold water on that Saturday afternoon, all but assuring his return to the starting lineup at right guard.

“I would think he’d be really hard to beat out. He’s such a veteran, a senior,” Kelly said. “It just puts Harry (Hiestand) back to nine guys again, which he’s used to, unfortunately. Just makes us thinner at offensive line. You’d be hard-pressed to get a guy to unseat Lombard in there, he’s such a tough guy.”

While Conor Hanratty will do a solid job filling in to finish spring practice for Lombard and Matt Hegarty is doing the same at center for Nick Martin, it appears that the offensive line is coming together.

Ronnie Stanley, LT
Steve Elmer, LG
Nick Martin, C
Christian Lombard, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

6. KeiVarae Russell expects the team to play a whole bunch of man coverage. 

Notre Dame’s best cornerback was available to the media after practice and opened up about the difference in responsibilities for cornerbacks under Brian VanGorder. Put simply? There’s going to be a lot more man coverage.

BlueandGold.com’s Lou Somogyi caught up with the fast-talking cornerback, who sounded more than excited about the opportunity to play aggressively in VanGorder’s defense after mostly playing zone coverage under Bob Diaco.

“Coach D, he wanted to keep everything in front because big plays really cause losing,” Russell told Blue & Gold. “In 2012 we played a lot of zone as well, but we didn’t give up any big plays. Last year, the games we lost … it’s always big plays that cost us.

“Coach D’s philosophy was great but we never could really cause many turnovers just because we weren’t really aggressive. This one, there will be a lot of turnovers caused … (VanGorder) wants you to cover every single route. Two-yard curl, he wants you on it. That’s his mind-set: Don’t give them anything.

“Coach Diaco, it was more, ‘Give them this, give them that, give them the five-yard out, because it won’t beat us.’ Coach Diaco believes that big plays cause losing, and Coach VanGorder is, ‘Whatever happens, happens. But we want you on it and go from there.'”

Most that have seen Cody Riggs play expect him to walk in and play immediately at corner or nickel back. Cole Luke has the ability to be a very good cover corner. While Devin Butler recovers from shoulder surgery, the Irish staff got great things out of him during his freshman season. Sprinkle in contributors like Matthias Farley and this is the deepest cornerback group I can remember in South Bend.

 

 

  1. irishdog80 - Mar 22, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    Golson has always struck me as the type of player that if forced to do exactly what the coaches say, he will look a little wooden and not natural…he is thinking too much. Once allowed some free rein, I am confident Golson will be the Golson that we saw make some spectacular plays against Michigan State, Oklahoma and Pitt among others. That said, I am glad Zaire is looking formidable and capable of not missing a beat in case of injury to Golson.

    On another note, thanks to Bob Diaco for 2012, but I am glad he is gone. We should have been a lot more aggressive on defense last year against the Pitt’s of the world. We now have the athletes to dictate the action and a DC that knows how to disguise a blitz or two. It should be a lot more fun to watch than “bend but don’t break.”

    • dickasman - Mar 22, 2014 at 11:14 PM

      Y golson is not much of a thinker. They should simplify and let the plays happen but you know bk always trying to get too cute. Maybe as season goes on he can add some wrinkles.

    • ndfenian - Mar 24, 2014 at 1:38 PM

      I hope you’re right about the 2014 team having the right kind of athletes. I certainly think that should be the case with the cornerbacks, but I’m not as sure we will have the same combination of athleticism and experience in the front seven as we did in 2012. The defensive line and middle linebacker positions will be green!

    • irishdog80 - Mar 24, 2014 at 10:31 PM

      The 2012 defense had plenty of new starters on defense with a completely rebuilt secondary after losing Blanton, Gray and Smith. Tuitt had potential, but had not played as much as the departed Lynch as a freshman and Nix was still a question mark due to weight issues. We had also lost Darius Fleming and Brian Smith among others. It will be interesting to see who emerges this year…Williams, Day, a freshman? We will see.

  2. viktory2013 - Mar 22, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    Don’t worry about Golson scrimmaging poorly; seen him in enough game situations not to be concerned. That having been said, if Zaire is so athletic (something of which I have no doubt), what was he doing warming the bench all season behind Turnover Tommy?? Had he played a few games we still would have had 9 wins and he’d be ready right away this season. Still, it’s good to know we’ve got two electric QB’s running the show instead of Rees/Hendrix.
    And let’s keep the sprinkling of Farley to a minimum. I’m sure Riggs and Luke will handle the position well enough without the Wiff King.

    • ndoneill - Mar 23, 2014 at 1:39 AM

      re Zaire not playing last year: roster management at QB position.

  3. fnc111 - Mar 23, 2014 at 6:49 AM

    I don’t think it’s shocking at all. Gunner Kiel is a better athlete than Golson too. EG can keep a play alive, unlike Rees, but Alabama proved he is not that athletic. He runs a 4.8 40.

    • penick44 - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:05 AM

      Kiel isn’t half the athlete Golson is.

      • ndgoldandblue - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:42 AM

        Actually, if you’re looking at forty times, bench press numbers, and all the other garbage that you see at the Combine, then fnc is right. Kiel is technically a better athlete than Golson. His forty time was faster than Everett’s when he was with the Irish. But, like fnc, I don’t care about any of that nonsense.

        Hendrix was a much better athlete than Rees, but we all saw the deer in the headlights look that Andrew would get as soon as the pocket collapsed. Athleticism won’t get you very far if you freeze up and make bad decisions when the pressure is on. In one of the first practice videos from this spring, I saw Zaire do the same thing as Hendrix while Golson managed to elude the pressure and make a smart decision. Malik may be a far more dynamic player in the open field than Golson, but you have to get into the open field first.

      • jimbag1983 - Mar 23, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        “Malik may be a far more dynamic player in the open field than Golson, but you have to get into the open field first.” Same could be said for GAIII, fastest player on the field, just had a really tough time getting past the line of scrimmage…

    • heartofgoldandblue - Mar 23, 2014 at 9:16 AM

      Have to disagree…there is far more involved in athleticism than inline speed. I’d have to argue that EG has better lateral agility, acceleration and reaction. Just because someone can run 40 yards from a three point stance faster than another certainly doesn’t prove they have better athleticism and have to remember EG was also a D-1 basketball prospect as well. I’ll take agility and quickness over a faster 40 any day but that’s just me.

      • irish13pa - Mar 23, 2014 at 10:55 AM

        Maybe EG should be playing on the basketball team too… they were horrible this year.

    • irishdog80 - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:55 PM

      Rees ran a 5.08 40 and I can guarantee you that the first 10 yards were glacially slow and then he got some momentum going to clock the 5.08.

      Golson would likely win a 10-20 yard race against Kiel. QBs don’t have to be fast, they have to be quick in space…slide a little to make a charging DE/LB miss or a quick step up in the pocket to step up into a pass. WRs have to be fast to stretch the field and create some space for themselves, RBs are ideally fast to hit the home run…though it is more important that they also be quick in space. Golson knows how to make people miss. If you judged somebody as an athlete because they are “faster” than someone else, track athletes would be great football players but most are not.

  4. domerboyirish - Mar 23, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    Whoa there big fella’!

    “So while everybody expected Golson to immediately be the tonic that solved the Irish’s offensive struggles…”

    Everybody? I know for sure that I am one of a few posters here that have been vocal about not getting our hopes up on EG until we actually see it. 2012 was carried by the defense. EG needed a pinch hitter on more than one occasion and a few games with less than 50% completion percentage. He was young and inexperienced, he improved as the season went on and I doubt we’ve seen his ceiling. However, just because he is more athletic than TR, and he spent time with George Winston, doesn’t mean that he even is taking us to the promised land.

    I could very well be wrong here but I am very skeptical and believe it when I see it. Even through he is the most logical choice based on his experience, I’m certainly not ready to just anoint him the starter.

  5. fnc111 - Mar 23, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    Pen,

    You’re wrong in one aspect. Kiel ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at ND while Golson was tested at 4.8. I know Kelly wants a Denard Robinson but EG is not a “fast” guy. He’s a solid athlete but nothing in the special category. Which is fine because all we need him to do is keep plays alive. He can do that. We don’t need him running by design and getting concussed.

    Double digit thumbs down on Vik’s post? Laughable, because everything he stated was accurate. Some need to stop being complete homers.

  6. fnc111 - Mar 23, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    Pop in the tape of the national title game mid-way through and you’ll see a play where there is all open field and no one in sight for Golson. He takes off running and it looks like a sure first down with just five yards to go to get to the chains. Two Bama LB’s come out of nowhere and Golson got no gain. Had to punt. Golson is a passer not a runner. Decent athlete, don’t lie to yourself.

    • mtflsmitty - Mar 24, 2014 at 12:56 AM

      A) No VHS, nor Betamax tapes to pop in. Sorry.
      B) Google or YouTube “Golson 2012 Highlights”. You’ll get dozens of plays where Golson accelerates around the outside or vertically through the defense for big gains.
      C) UNC BB recruited EG to the very end. Despite your expert opinion, big time hoops programs don’t recruit “decent athletes”.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:57 AM

      EG is shifty. He’s elusive and he rarely took sacks when he had a chance to make someone miss.

      That being said, I agree with the sentiment that he shouldn’t be asked to carry the burden of moving the chains with his feet, though I would much rather have a light-footed QB that is a threat to scramble for a first down than a QB that lacks this threat. The rub is that even at 200 lbs, BG doesn’t want getting hit 5-10 times/game, so you can bet that the designed runs, if any , will be bootlegs where EG tucks it and goes, or QB draws. I expect the read option this year to actually be along the lines of last year where it looks like EG’s reading the tackle/OLB but it’s really a designed handoff.

  7. shaunodame - Mar 23, 2014 at 10:55 PM

    I could not be more excited for this new defense. Also, I love that guys like John Turner who might have been an after thought in Diaco’s scheme suddenly have a second chance. While I initially loved the profile of players Diaco sought after, the 6’5″ 290lb + Dlinemen and 6’3″ – 6’4″ Outside linebackers etc. etc. I really came to believe he was perhaps a bit too selective and inflexible with his schemes, something that became especially apparent this past year. I’m most excited to see this more aggressive style, and also for “undersized” guys like Kolin Hill and Daniel Cage to get a chance to show that it’s not always about the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog.

    • domerboyirish - Mar 24, 2014 at 8:37 AM

      “I’m really excited to see us hire an aggressive DC! With our talent on that side of the ball, we should be beasts!”

      Words spoken by me shortly after signing Jon Tenuta.

      I’m not sold on VanGorder either. I want to see it happen first…

      • irishdog80 - Mar 24, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        I agree that Van Gorder has yet to prove himself. That said, our talent level is higher than it was with Tenuta on both sides of the ball. If your team is more talented than your opponent, you can take more chances. Tenuta took chances with a team that couldn’t back up the “bets” he was making.

      • mcirish27 - Mar 24, 2014 at 3:10 PM

        Definitely need to curb our excitement a bit but there’s reason for optimism with this new direction. I think BVG has a heck of a resume (as did Tenuta) but making a defensive scheme switch in general is a dice roll. That said, the personnel we had when Tenuta arrived on campus was abysmal compared to what we have now – he put Darius Fleming on the DLine out of necessity as a true freshman. That was never going to be a winning formula.

        The size that Diaco recruited will be a huge help in making this switch and I’m excited that there are some “out of profile” players that will also benefit. There’s talent to make this a very interesting experiment!

  8. coachmerritt - Mar 24, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    There are lots of question marks going into next season so I hope we all aren’t disappointed. My biggest question mark is with the defense.

    I know someone who played for our new DC at Wayne State and he says that VG is a great teacher of the game and a great coach. I was excited to hear that.

    I think the defense is the key to next season. If they are not one of the best in the country then I think it will be a disappointing season. I think we will be good on offense but not great.

  9. papadec - Mar 24, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    My son took a quick trip to Vegas this past weekend, with some of his friends. I had him put $50 on the Irish to win the NC this season @ 15-1. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. mtflsmitty - Mar 24, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    With all the talk of moving to a 4-3 (or at least mixing it in with the 3-4) thought you guys might be interested in a recent article penned by one of KA’s pals over at Bleacher Report. Matt Bowen, who’s doing an “NFL 101″ series covered the 4-3 is pretty good detail. Google: Matt Bowen NFL 101

    Good stuff.

  11. rossumnminor - Mar 25, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    Is kinlaw wearing 26?

  12. jimcapistrano - Mar 26, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    …how did Rees and Hendrix ever get looked at coming out of high school…

  13. jimcapistrano - Mar 26, 2014 at 2:06 PM

    …or is our player “development” that poor?…

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