<span class="vcard">Keith Arnold</span>

New York Post

Spring Practice breakdown: A look inside (Finally!)

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Allow me to sit on the front-porch rocking chair and wax nostalgic. Back to the days of practice reports with minutes upon minutes of footage, a chance to pause and rewind dozens of times, getting a glimpse at the future of Notre Dame’s football team.

Sure, we jumped to some terribly misguided conclusions. (I’ll let you guys remind me of those.) But they also provided some wonderful clues.

Nine practices in, it feels like a return to the good old days. While I miss Jack Nolan‘s weather reports and unending Adidas swag, yesterday’s practice update from FIDM and young gun Jac Collinsworth was a winner.

So let’s dig way too deep into it and see what we can pull out.

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0:15 — It hard to miss the monster in the middle of the team huddle. But with his jersey tucked into his shoulder pads, you might not have noticed Jarron Jones (94). But having one of the keys to the Irish defensive line in uniform has to be one of the biggest victories of the spring season, as Jones’ recovery from lisfranc surgery must be on track.

Don’t expect to see him taking heavy reps or even playing in the Blue-Gold game, but it’s great to have him on the field.

0:58 — Jones wasn’t ready for a team breakdown, though. That honor went to walk-on senior running back Josh Anderson (48). Get ready to see that little bowling ball get some reps during the Blue-Gold game.

He reminds me of a young Timmy O’Neill.

1:13 — There’s a lot to like (including the slo-mo) in this collision between Daniel Cage (75) and Steve Elmer (79). After playing much sooner than many expected, Cage looks the part of an impressive nose guard.

1:21 — Speaking of young players, we watch tight end Tyler Luatua (13) lock onto a block with Romeo Okwara (45). Watch Jerry Tillery (more later) give Nick Martin (72) all he can handle, while Jay Hayes (93) gets turned inside by Mike McGlinchey (68).

1:29 — So that Tillery kid (99)? There he is in the backfield meeting Greg Bryant (1), though Malik Zaire (8) pulls the ball out on the read and finds his way up field.

1:33 — In the spirit of 50-50, the next snap is Everett Golson (5) running the football. Red jersey or not, tuck it away, Ev!

(Blink and you might have missed it: After missing a few days, Andrew Trumbetti (98) is back at practice.)

1:39Ronnie Stanley (78) 1, Isaac Rochell (90) 0. On the opposite side, McGlinchey gets a nice lock on Okwara. Gotta love O-line drills.

1:42Amir Carlisle (3) catches an out-route from Zaire with linebacker Greer Martini (48) asked to make a tough cover.

1:45Justin Brent (11) holds on in the corner of the end zone for a nice catch outside. Brent’s season will be an interesting one to watch. Kelly certainly has challenged the Indianapolis native who made headlines for all the wrong reasons last season.

2:00 — Interesting comparison by Collinsworth: C.J. Prosise as TJ Jones from the 2013 offense.

Though Prosise’s size at 220 pounds makes him more of a battering ram capable of moving the pile in short yardage, race-to-the-boundary runs. He’s also probably faster than Jones, adding an even more dynamic element.

If you can’t tell, I’m bullish on Prosise in 2015.

2:13 — Is this the year Bryant explodes? It feels like we’ve been saying this forever, but he’s entering just his sophomore season of eligibility.

2:25 — Remember the Chris Brown (2) that had everybody so excited after going long against Oklahoma in 2012? Well, it’s time to see the finished product.

Talking with Collinsworth yesterday, he’s convinced Brown is primed for a breakout season. He certainly has the physical tools to do so. (Remember, Brown would’ve been the Big East triple jump champ… as a high school junior.)

He’s fast enough. He’s got legit size at 6’1.5″ and 195. But there’s no time to waste in the battle for the No. 2 receiver spot across from Will Fuller.

The drops are what’ll kill Brown’s productivity. Because beating Jesse Bongiovi (34) on an out-and-up certainly isn’t going to be what it’s like against Texas come September.

2:46 — We’re talking about the safeties here, but that’s sophomore Nick Watkins (21) running with the No. 1 secondary.

3:13 — Another nice catch by Carlisle, this time on Matthias Farley (41) in the red zone. Any thought that a guy like Carlisle might have been on the bubble to return for another season looks to have been a silly one.

 

 

Opportunities await Notre Dame’s running backs

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Autry Denson‘s running back room has to feel lonely sometimes. With just Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant as scholarship backs, C.J. Prosise‘s cross-training this spring at least brought another voice into the room.

And while a crew of walk-on runners have filled some chairs—and will likely fill the stat sheet in the upcoming Blue-Gold game—the room should never feel empty. Because the shadow of one of college football’s premier backs should be felt on a daily basis.

Boise State’s Jay Ajayi ran for 1,823 yards in 2014. He had 347 carries, a shade under 25 a game. He caught 50 passes for 535 yards. He scored 32 total touchdowns.

Those aren’t numbers. Those are monster numbers.

As a runner, Ajayi wasn’t just more productive than Notre Dame’s entire 2014 backfield, he was essentially the Irish’s entire 2012 ground game, too—but double the rushing touchdowns.

As a receiver, Ajayi would’ve finished behind only Will Fuller in catches. He put up essentially Corey Robinson’s receiving numbers, and that’s after carrying the Broncos offense on his back as a runner.

Put simply, opportunities await.

So while the collective focus this spring is on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, Denson’s running backs should feel like the big winners of the coaching shakeup.

Notre Dame’s ground game has been better-than-average just once in Brian Kelly’s five seasons in South Bend. So give Kelly credit for bringing in Sanford to do more than just coach quarterbacks and (potentially) call plays. He brought him in to help renovate a running game that’s been operating at well below efficiency.

Boise State ran the football 57 percent of the time in 2014. That number should be in big, bold font as a reminder to the running backs that if they’re dominant, they’ll be getting the football.

So while the room might feel empty this spring, the opportunities are everywhere. Especially after seeing the Irish offense succeed when they committed to a ground game in their victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl.

 

Sanford trying to quantify quarterback competition

Brian Kelly
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With all eyes on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford has a lot on his plate this spring. Still a newcomer to South Bend, Sanford’s not only got to get to know the quarterbacks in his meeting room, but also help decide who will be in charge of piloting the Irish offense.

Joining Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock in a still-evolving org chart atop the offense, Sanford is tasked with coaching up the quarterbacks this spring, all while evaluating their performances.

And just months after the 2014 season and offensive efficiency nosedived as Golson’s turnovers sky-rocketed, the Irish coaching staff is going to great efforts to quantify every rep taking this spring, all part of an objective evaluation of the most important position on the roster.

Asked about that process on Wednesday, Sanford shed a little light on not just how the spring competition has gone, but how it was being evaluated.

“What we’re doing is quantifying it as much as we can,” Sanford said about the quarterback battle. “Statically, we’re getting graded on every rep and we want those guys to feel like there’s accountability for every rep that they take.

“They’ve done a good job of understanding that and I think we’ve laid out a very clear picture of what we’re trying to get done at the quarterback position but also giving them some feedback about what they’re doing and how they stack up in terms of their quantifiable data that we can give back to them.”

Put simply, every snap matters. And the film is always watching.

Whether it’s seven-on-seven or ones-versus-ones, every rep taken by a quarterback is counted. Not just interceptions and touchdowns, but catches, drops, missed reads, graded, tabulated and evaluated by the coaching staff.

Even situational IQ is scored—with Sanford and the Irish coaches trying to engrain into a position that was doomed by turnovers that every single decision and snap is critically important.

“We’re breaking down all of our concepts and how each quarterback is operating within each concept,” Sanford explained. “And then beyond that, I’m basically quantifying, ‘Did you do your job on this play, yes or no?’ ‘Did you get the job done?’ And if they are, it’s a plus. If they don’t, it’s a minus. And then we give them notes about exactly what corrections could be made.”

https://twitter.com/JJStankevitz/status/583357117924581378

Sanford’s utilized this process before, both last season at Boise State and before that at Stanford. It helped add some objectivity to a four-headed running back battle with the Cardinal, and put an added value on practice reps, which led to carries on Saturdays.

As Kelly stated before offseason workouts commenced, the theme of spring practice would be competition. The quarterback battle—while largely staying out of the media this spring—will be one that defines the season.

It’ll also be one of the first position battles that Sanford has presided over. Between Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan at Stanford and fifth-year quarterback Grant Hedrick at Boise State, Sanford thinks the competition has energized the quarterback position group.

https://twitter.com/BGI_AndrewOwens/status/583346311891525632

“I’ve always been of the accord that I absolutely love when there’s competition. I think competition always is going to breed the betterment of each individual player in that position room,” Sanford said.

While talking up the progress of redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer, Sanford mostly praised his two top contenders. For those wondering if Golson has one foot out the door, Sanford praised the fifth-year senior’s “buy in.” He also raved about Zaire’s athleticism, good enough to play multiple positions.

But after watching the Irish offense fall apart as Golson struggled to keep mistakes from compounding, the analytical approach this spring will take away any mystery. That should go a long way towards clarifying the situation for both players, and ultimately a team and offensive unit that’s looking to the quarterback position to lead the team.

“I think [the evaluation process] helps them in their progression but it also helps them understand that we’re not going to make an arbitrary decision about who’s the starter,” Sanford said. “We’re going to work through the process of deciding that.”

 

(All quotes courtesy of JJ Stankevitz at CSN Chicago.) 

 

Irish draft hopefuls audition at ND Pro Day

BYU v Notre Dame
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Former Irish football players had their chance to audition for future employers today in South Bend at the Notre Dame Pro Day. It was a reunion of sorts as players from all over worked out inside the Gug under the watchful eyes of NFL scouts.

With Notre Dame only losing starters Ben Koyack, Cody Riggs and Kyle Brindza to the NFL, it’s not expected to be a big year for the Irish in the draft. But also returning to campus to audution were former captain Cam McDaniel, DaVaris Daniels, Jake Golic, Andrew Hendrix, Ethan Johnson, Kendall Moore, Justin Utupo and Alex Welch.

Daniels and Moore are back on campus even after last season’s suspension. They’re joined by Miami RedHawks Hendrix and Welch, who played out their eligibility under former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.

Golic returned to campus after playing at Cincinnati. Johnson is looking to return to the NFL after being a part of the concussion class action lawsuit and a cup of coffee with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Let’s take to social media to get you some results:

Here’s an update on Cody Riggs, who was a surprise to be not among the invites to the combine in Indianapolis, but certainly helped his draft stock by running as fast as you’d have expected.

It appears that Riggs tweaked a hamstring later in the workout, but not before taking a slo-mo leap in the broad jump:

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Ben Koyack, who was invited to Indianapolis, but didn’t run the 40-yard dash there, did so in South Bend. Per SID Michael Bertsch, Koyack ran right around a 4.7, with the fastest time listed at 4.68.

Koyack was at the Senior Bowl and Combine and is likely to be the first former Irish player off the draft board, though maybe not as early as previous Notre Dame tight ends.

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Also back on campus is McDaniel, who is days away from becoming a father. A fringe candidate to make a roster, McDaniel showed some versatility—needed if he’s going to be a special teams performer on Sundays.

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Kyle Brindza did a nice job updating us on his Pro Day. Here’s the former Irish kicker on his afternoon, where he showed off epic strongman skills in addition to a big leg on kickoffs.

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In a parallel universe, DaVaris Daniels was catching passes from Andrew Hendrix. The Elkhart Truth’s Rachel Terlep even has proof.

Daniels spoke with media at the event, doing his best to put his suspension and inability to return to South Bend into context.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Daniels acknowledged to The Observer‘s Mike Monaco. “I don’t hold any grudges. I just don’t really like thinking about the situation… it is what it is. At this point, I’m ready for the NFL. That’s my focus.”

Daniels estimates he’s got a little over two semesters left of work to complete before earning his Notre Dame degree. He said all the right things about moving forward and hopefully finishing up his course work, while also taking the high road about the frustrating time where all five suspended athletes waited to hear their fate.

Most importantly for Daniels, at least when it comes to his immediate employment future, is getting his speed and explosiveness back. Various reports had Daniels breaking into the 4.5-range on his 40, a critical threshold for him.

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If you’re looking for good news out of South Bend, defensive end Ishaq Williams—currently in football and academic purgatory—was on hand watching the festivities. Williams didn’t speak to any media but sat with his teammates for the festivities, though what to make of that isn’t clear.

While scholarship numbers are tight, Williams could be a great addition to a defensive front that’s looking for more bulk, and it’d allow him to finish his Notre Dame degree after a two semester exile.

NBCSN to televise 86th annual Blue-Gold game

Everett Golson
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Just because Notre Dame Stadium isn’t open for business doesn’t mean the Blue-Gold game will be interrupted. After considering off-campus venues like Soldier Field and Lucas Oil Stadium, Brian Kelly will hold his final practice of the spring, the 86th annual Blue-Gold Game, on the LaBar Practice Fields. And it’ll be televised by NBC Sports Network.

Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m on NBCSN. With limited seating options available due to the sheer logistical challenges of housing a spring game on practice fields no equipped with bleachers, Notre Dame won’t be selling tickets to the general public.

Monday afternoon NBC Sports announced that they’d still broadcast the annual scrimmage, giving fans the ability to see the progress made this spring by a promising Fighting Irish squad. It’ll be their first extended look inside the gates of the Irish practice facility.

The game will not only air on NBCSN, but it’ll also stream on the NBC Sports Live Extra App. Brian Kelly will be wired for sound, in addition to several players, along with interviews of current and former players.

After the logistics of this game were up in the air with Notre Dame Stadium undergoing significant construction as part of the Campus Crossroads renovations, finding a way to host this game on campus and still bring it to broadcast is a great final result, not to mention a nice consolation prize for fans used to making the annual trek to the spring game.

Notre Dame will also likely utilize the weekend for another recruiting event.