Malik Zaire

Spring Practice: Weekend Breakdown


With the Irish set to hit the practice field tomorrow (which hopefully means a new 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 practice report:


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 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 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.




Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.