Spring Practice: Weekend Breakdown

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With the Irish set to hit the practice field tomorrow (which hopefully means a new UND.com video coming soon), here’s another frame-by-frame breakdown from this weekend’s practice. While we’ve been bringing you overly obsessive video breakdowns for years, it has come to our attention that we’ve got competition in our YouTube breakdowns… That just means we’re going to bring the heat!

(Kidding, do yourself a favor and read Pete’s, too. You could learn something.)

As usual, here is a way-too-in depth look at this weekend’s UND.com practice report:

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0:23 — There’s two ways to look at this play. 1) Corey Robinson is really good. 2) Cole Luke gets eaten up. That’s going to happen against a physical mismatch like Robinson and we saw that quite often last year on UND.com practice videos, when the freshman went up against team captain Bennett Jackson and made the veteran look bad.

All that being said, if the Irish are switching to mostly man principles, Luke better get used to this match up and embrace the opportunity at practice. Because these reps don’t count on Saturdays.

Also worth noting, that’s a heckuva ball thrown by Malik Zaire on a route the Irish quarterbacks just haven’t had much luck with since Jimmy Clausen left South Bend.

0:30 — That’s a great pattern by freshman Justin Brent (11) as redshirt freshman Rashad Kinlaw (26) leaves his jockstrap with the slant route and gets beat on the double move.

Nice finishing skills by Brent, who still doesn’t look completely smooth yet, but certainly brings a physicality and size that we haven’t seen in a while.

0:38 — That’s Amir Carlisle pushing his coverage deep and breaking back for Everett Golson‘s pass. Just the first of many nice looking plays by Carlisle on this highlight clip.

0:41 — Manly time! That’s redshirt freshman Jacob Matuska (89) battling with Hunter Bivin (now wearing No. 70). I’m impressed that Matuska is such a big body.

0:43 — Tough to see who Kinlaw is going up against, but it looks like he got the better of him. After a triple-freeze frame, it looks like it could be Will Fuller (7).

0:44 — Veteran Austin Collinsworth (28) lines up against Torii Hunter Jr. (16). Not exactly a fair fight.

Collinsworth will be an interesting test case this season. It’s clear that Brian Kelly wants to infuse some athleticism into the back end of the defense. But he’s also got to have a leader who understands what’s going on. Collinsworth closed last season strong with three interceptions, so he’ll likely stay plugged into the mix, even if guys like Elijah Shumate have a better skill set.

0:47Matthias Farley (41) vs. C.J. Prosise (20). That’s an impressive rep by Prosise, who could be doing some blocking in the open field as a 220-pounder.

0:51 — Golson throws to the corner of the end zone where Torii Hunter comes back and makes a nice play on a post-corner route. He beats Cole Luke on the throw. While Fuller and Robinson have been the talk of spring football so far, there’s a reason why Hunter was one of the top recruits in his class.

0:54 — That’s Amir Carlisle making a tough catch in traffic while bracketed by James Onwualu (17) underneath and Nicky Baratti (29) over the top. Credit Zaire for sneaking a ball in traffic and Carlisle for beating the coverage.

It’s a good sign that the Irish offense looked more efficient on the previous two snaps in the scoring area than for most of last year.

0:59KeiVarae Russell (6) gets a nice jam (and handful of jersey) on Corey Robinson, stopping his release. If there’s a worry about Robinson this fall, we could be seeing it right here.

(Then again, I can see Brian Kelly’s face get a few shades more red if that’s happening to his starting wide receiver.)

From a defensive perspective, this is the type of coverage we want to be seeing Russell play. In his third season, this is the shutdown work that should be expected this season.

1:04 — That’s All-American blocking sled work by Jaylon Smith (9).

1:08Max Redfield (10) makes contact with unknown walk-on (83). A nice collision.

(Video breakdown controversy: Our friends at Irish Illustrated have this listed as Cam McDaniel. But a look at the McDaniel at the 1:40 mark has him wearing black shoes. This could be a different day of practice, but it sure looks like a No. 83 jersey, not 33.)

1:10Josh Atkinson (24) and Chris Brown (2) engage in hand-to-hand combat. I think we’re probably not all that likely to see either doing much of this next season.

1:12Justin Utupo (53) goes up against a much bigger Steve Elmer. This is the type of battle Utupo needs to hold his own on if he’s going to be a significant contributor for Brian VanGorder up front. All things considered, it’s a pretty good rep by Utupo, who gets his hands on Elmer first.

1:16Chase Hounshell (50) gets lower than Conor Hanratty, but can’t hold up in the trenches. At this point, I’m not sure what to expect from Hounshell. That he’s taking part in full-contact reps this spring is a plus, but how much we can expect from? That won’t likely be determined until he’s in fall camp and has another six months of strength training behind him.

1:22 — He got beat, but you’ve got to like Cole Luke‘s coverage here… but credit Chris Brown for running a good route and the quarterback putting the ball in the perfect place.

(I realize we’ve mentioned Luke here mostly on the wrong end of the highlight, but that doesn’t have me worried. He seems like a more than serviceable No. 2 corner, and if he’s No. 3 with Cody Riggs coming this summer, that’s a good thing for the Irish defense.)

1:29 — Our first look at Mike Heuerman (9), an intriguing piece of the offense. He’s not big enough to be an attached tight end yet, but you get an idea of the type of mismatch he presents as he runs by Eilar Hardy (4). While he’s not a prototype tight end for the Irish, reps like this help you understand why Heuerman was such a high priority to schools like ND and Ohio State.

1:32Will Fuller 1, KeiVarae Russell 0.

Nice work getting off the line, creating separation and getting up field. Next time, tuck the ball away before you get blasted by a safety.

1:38 — That’s Cam McDaniel in the open field running patterns. His weight didn’t look adjusted on the spring roster, but he’s moving pretty well here. I’m of the mind that a McDaniel that’s 10 pounds lighter is a better McDaniel.

1:43John Turner (31) gets some coaching from Brian VanGorder. VanGorder continues to tutor James Onwualu (17) who takes the next rep.

1:57Everett Golson hands the ball to Tarean Folston (25) then continues the zone read. This looks like 1s on 1s, and we see Austin Collinsworth at safety in run support while Joe Schmidt (38) and Jaylon Smith (9) converge on the tackle.

2:02 — A nice cut by Folston, who makes something out of nothing, bouncing things back inside.

2:06 — Golson throws a strike underneath to Fuller, who cuts inside and turns up field in front of KeiVarae Russell.

2:10 — Heckuva play by Ishaq Williams (11), who shrugs off a block and meets Greg Bryant (1) in the hole. Jarron Jones (94) does a nice job stuffing the gap as well.

2:15Amir Carlisle gets some separation on the inside slant route. It feels like we didn’t see much of that last year in the current offense.

Eilar Hardy chases Carlisle down before Baratti makes the hit.

2:18 — Zaire dumps off a throw to Folston, who turns up field for a nice gain in the flat.

2:22 — That’s Onwualu stepping up into the hole to take on Greg Bryant. Romeo Owkara and crew help slow Bryant done.

2:26 — The hit of spring (and maybe all of our UND.com practice reports). Eilar Hardy delivers a crushing blow that topples Durham Smythe (80), but the rising sophomore tight end holds on. Credit Zaire for putting the ball in a bracket.

Will Hardy be the guy that forces himself onto the field? He’s made some big plays in his limited time on the field, but his suspension during the Pinstripe Bowl was a tough way to end last season.

2:29 — That blur coming off the edge was defensive end Isaac Rochell, who burst into the backfield and brought down Greg Bryant. If the Irish can get productivity out of Rochell they’ll be in a much better place, as Notre Dame is in desperate need of a breakthrough season by an unheralded defensive lineman.

2:34 — Pretty nifty design on this goal line zone read, and really nice work by Zaire running the fake. That’s Mike Heuerman pulling around the corner with a lead block and Zaire faking out half a defense before he prances into the end zone.

 

 

 

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman, Kona Schwenke, dies at 25

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Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, 25, reportedly died in his sleep Sunday morning. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Schwenke spent four seasons along the Irish defensive front, culminating in a 23-tackle senior season, in 2013. Attrition along the defensive line in his first two seasons forced Schwenke into playing time, costing him a likely fifth-year with much greater production. He played in 31 games total, making 30 tackles.

Part of a Hawaiian surge in Notre Dame recruiting, Schwenke joined the likes of receiver Robby Toma and linebacker Manti Te’o in coming from the island in 2009 and 2010. The first two committed during Charlie Weis’ tenure, but Schwenke made the leap at the very beginning of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, one of the first recruits to commit to Kelly at Notre Dame. Since then, sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has renewed the trend.

Schwenke graduated in 2014 with a degree in anthropology. He then signed with the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, moving around four different NFL franchises chasing his dream. Earlier this month he took part in a scouting event, The Spring League, gaining some notice when he forced Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel into a fumble.

Former Irish teammates took to social media Sunday afternoon celebrating Schwenke’s life and friendship.