Tag: Aaron Lynch

Stephon Tuitt 1

Practice Report: Day Thirteen update


Apologies on falling behind a day with the practice reports. (If you didn’t notice, simply carry on…) As the Irish defense deals with the voluntary departure of one of the team’s most talented players, in seasons past, this could have been a death sentence.

Yet the loss Aaron Lynch has overshadowed a lot of the impressive depth the Irish have put together along the defensive line, and while it’s foolish to say Lynch won’t be missed, there are capable back-ups ready to take the field.

Almost on cue, the guys at UND.com gave us a look at defensive line coach Mike Elston’s troops. Led by fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore, who is all-the-way returned from a knee injury that ended his season early, the Irish should have plenty to offer along the defensive line.

As usual, here’s the practice report, with some thoughts and observations along the way.

  • 0:13 — While Jack Nolan tees up the particulars of this weekend’s Blue-Gold game (watch it live on NBC Sports channel, where you’ll get an appearance from some schmuck blogger…), you see the Notre Dame stadium crew putting in new field turf — just kidding, they are finishing up some drainage repair and laying new sod along the outside of the field.
  • 0:48 — It’s amazing to see the transformation of Kona Schwenke. The guy is just a monster now. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s merely one of those spring all-stars, or if this momentum carries into some significant stats next season, where he’ll likely benefit from the loss of Lynch.
  • 0:56 — We’ve already seen this play, but it’s impressive work by Kapron Lewis-Moore against Zack Martin. KLM looks all the way back from his knee injury.
  • 1:05 — “The Irish defensive line is a position group that remains one of the deepest and most talented units on the Notre Dame football team,” Jack Nolan unequivocally states (while sticking needles into his #19 voodoo doll).
  • 1:15 — Nothing not to like about Mike Elston. Smart guy, good guy, and a coach who took some lumps last year for the Irish special teams, maybe for reasons outside of his control.
  • 2:12 — Gotta love Kappy pushing to get blocker duty in special teams drills. Seniority is still seniority even in major college football.
  • 2:40 — Exchange of the video: “I don’t have swag?” Elston says (to what I’m guessing is linebacker Jarrett Grace). “What are you talking about? I’m dripping with swag. You don’t even know me.”
  • 2:52 — Of course, you’ve got to get defensive coordinator Bob Diaco into it. The guy might as well be the king of swag.
  • 3:06 — A good look at the two dog linebacker candidates, with Ben Councell and Danny Spond working some basic leverage drills. They both certainly look the part.
  • 3:56 — The transition “from speed to power” is a good fundamental to see in action. Especially with a 6-foot-7, 300-pound defensive end.
  • 4:10 — It’s amazing that Tyler Stockton, at six-foot, 285, looks small out there. He’s a product of a different recruiting system, and looks a little bit like strolling out  a Walkman instead of a iPod when you match him up with Tuitt.
  • 4:26 — Great to see Chase Hounshell back out there, after missing practice earlier with an injury. With Lynch gone, Hounshell,who many thought would redshirt last season, will now be a contributor if he can work into the regular rotation.
  • 4:40 — Elston coaching a basic sled drill, but drilling in the practical usage to Tuitt. Nicely done.
  • 5:07 — Seen this already, but Louis Nix does a great job beating Mike Golic, then tackling Cierre Wood.
  • 5:45 — Looks like we’ve got to work on the “club and slip” move again.
  • 6:20 — KLM puts Nick Martin on roller-skates.
  • 6:40 — Freshman Sheldon Day looks like he’s more than holding his own out there, doing some good work against Tate Nichols.
  • 6:52 — Call me crazy, but if I had to lose one defensive end out of Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, I’d rather lose Lynch. For the scheme the Irish run, Tuitt is more than the prototype, he’s next generation. Coming off the edge and snatching up that football is pretty ridiculous athleticism, as even Elston (and the UND.com slo-mo replay) acknowledged.


After return to campus, Lynch quits football program


After a swirl of rumors, an excused absence, a long weekend with family, and a return to football, defensive end Aaron Lynch has decided to leave the Irish football program, with plans to transfer from after the spring semester. The loss is a blow to the Irish defense, with Lynch counted on to be the team’s best pass rusher.

“Aaron recently approached me about his desire to leave Notre Dame and return to Florida,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “I’ve always known and appreciated the affinity Aaron has for his home in Florida. However, the stark reality is you can’t make it at Notre Dame if your head and heart are not here. I am proud of the effort Aaron made in the classroom and on the field at Notre Dame. I wish him all the best in the future.”

After a string of rumors that reached a boil last weekend, Lynch also released a statement through the sports information department.

“I want to thank Coach Kelly for giving me this great opportunity to attend Notre Dame and be part of the Fighting Irish football family,” Lynch said. “This was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make, but I want to go back home to Florida. I’m grateful to Coach Kelly for understanding and allowing me to return home.”

There’s no question that the loss of Lynch on the field is a potentially devastating. Lynch lead the Irish in sacks and doubled the next closest Irish defender in quarterback hits, and looked poised to have a breakthrough sophomore season. While he plays a position where there’s plenty of quality depth, as a pass rusher, Lynch’s skills were unrivaled.

That said, while every coach would put on a brave face, there was resolve in head coach Brian Kelly’s words, evident in a press conference where he made Lynch’s decision a black-or-white issue. In a program that’s a pressure-filled and unique as Notre Dame’s, there’s no use trying talk any player into staying if he’s not into it.

“There’s a point where you’re either in or your not,” Kelly said. “When we’re recruiting, we’re laying our cards on the table. Here’s who we are, this is what you’re going to get when you come here. We’re not going to say, ‘You don’t have to live in the dorms.’ No, you’ve got to live in the dorms. We’re not going to say, ‘Hey, it’s easy in the classroom, don’t worry about it.’ We don’t say, ‘Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t snow here.’ The fact of the matter is, when you’re opened up like that, then you have to be that same way in the program, and we wish him the best.”

There’s long been rumors that Lynch has missed family, friends, and a girlfriend in Florida. While his mother moved to Ohio to be closer to her son, Kelly did acknowledge that these winter months of freshman year — like they do to so many college underclassmen — were when Lynch struggled. After giving Lynch a long weekend to reflect on being at Notre Dame and what he wanted to do with his future, Lynch and Kelly discussed his departure Thursday evening and Friday morning.

“Some of it is you’ve got a guy that’s young and you want to see him mature,” Kelly said. “And then you hit a point that it’s not about growing up, it’s where your heart is.”

Kelly was steadfast in stating that this won’t effect the morale of the team. “If this were doubles tennis, it might,” he quipped. And insiders close to the program have commented that Lynch never fully clicked with his teammates, with his bravado, and emotional outbursts — Lynch led the team in personal fouls last season — rubbing many players the wrong way.

Lynch’s future will be interesting. Notre Dame will likely control where Lynch can end up, and with Florida being mentioned in both coach and player’s statements, you can bet that he’ll only be released to schools in the sunshine state, squashing any Urban Meyer or Ohio State speculation. After a no-holds-barred recruiting war with Florida State, and retribution sought during the Seminoles recruitment of Ronald Darby, it’ll be interesting if the Irish release Lynch to the Seminoles. Lynch could likely end up at South Florida next season, where former Irish coach Skip Holtz mans the sidelines.

There’s little question Lynch will play in the NFL some day, and the decision to transfer away from South Bend could delay that eventuality. While any program that ends up with Lynch will file for an exemption and hope for immediate eligibility (like the Irish got with running back Amir Carlisle), it’s difficult not to look down on a decision made by an 18-year-old, and shake your head at its foolishness.

Yet football coaches have always talked about the forever unbeaten recruiter: the high school girlfriend. In this era of social networking and over-sharing, Lynch’s difficulties being away have been well chronicled, often times by Lynch himself. While the initial tidal wave of shock and anger from Irish fans is heaped on what looks like a petulant decision, Lynch isn’t the first or the last to make a decision that has generations older than him scratching their head.

Still, the polished head coach might have tipped his hand and shown his true feelings when he opened his impromptu media session. Stated quite clearly, from the very start, Brian Kelly’s opening words were likely his truest.

“As you know, Aaron Lynch has quit the football team.”

Other spring headlines (and Lynch Practices!)

Atkinson Jackson track

Rest easy, Irish fans. Aaron Lynch practiced with the Irish today. If everything we could possibly talk about wasn’t discussed here or here, well — feel free to fill the comments here or take to the message-boards with your thoughts.

We’re moving on to other interesting topics.


George Atkinson spent Easter weekend in Palo Alto, close to his Northern California home and also competing in the  Stanford Invitational track meet. Atkinson won his heat in the 100m dash, qualifying for the finals with a 10.61 sprint. He finished sixth in the final heat, clocking a 10.69. Atkinson also participated in the 200m dash, clocking a 21.53 run, eight in a field of almost 50 sprinters.

Of course, none of the other sprinters in Palo Alto are 6-1, 210 pound running backs in the middle of spring football practice. Atkinson’s elite speed, not to mention his impressive size and ability to play in space, will be a very intriguing piece of the Irish offense next fall, especially with the depth at the tailback position allowing him to play from the slot and move around the field.

Head coach Brian Kelly has made it known that he sees Atkinson as a running back first, and while he doesn’t have an elite set of hands, there will be plenty of opportunities to get the ball out in space and make plays, not to mention create some favorable match-ups when the Irish can potentially put Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Amir Carlisle and Atkinson on the field at once.

Sure, it’d be great if there weren’t a ton of unanswered questions at the outside receiving positions. But Atkinson — who has the size to line up outside — might be too good of an athlete to keep off the field, playing out of position or not.


Just when John Goodman was working his way back into the good graces of ND Nation, he spoke with Blue & Gold’s Wes Morgan about the quarterbacking battle. Even though no Irish fan wants to hear it, Goodman said Tommy Rees was leading the way in a four-man race.

“Coach is still working really hard with each one of them,” Goodman told Morgan. “One day one guy will start and another day another guy will start… Each one of them are doing really well. I think that Tommy is doing the best out of all of them, but that’s just my opinion. In the end it’s going to be the guy that runs the offense the best and also has the best timing with receivers and running backs.”

Any analytical approach to defending Rees falls on deaf ears. But while it pains a ton of Irish fans to hear it,  it’s no surprise that a quarterback that’s started 16 games over the past two seasons would be having the best spring camp among a redshirt freshman, an early enrollee, and a guy that got his first sniff of playing in the offensive system in the regular season finale. Dialing things back to the basics with new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin will only accentuate the advantage Rees has, as his core competency was never the issue. (Rees did walk in as a freshman in garbage time against Navy and march the Irish down the field after Dayne Crist struggled to do anything against the Midshipmen.)

Two years ago, when Rees was a rising sophomore battling incumbent (but injured) starter, the battle went well into the summer and fall camp before Kelly named Crist the starter. If any of the other quarterbacks are going to make a move, it’ll likely be during summer work, when there isn’t a clock governing study hours, and the team does its voluntary work together.


Much has been made about a reported fight between Aaron Lynch and right tackle Tate Nichols that occurred during practice before Easter break. Nichols and Lynch have seen a lot of each other this spring, going one-on-one countless times in drills and positional work, not to mention during scrimmages and team time. At 6-foot-8, 320 pounds, Nichols is a massive guy, a road-grader type that’s impressed coaches with his power and feet. Working under Harry Hiestand, who has lit a collective fire under his offensive line, it’s no surprise that Lynch, who practices like he plays, would mix like oil and water with the guy assigned to blocking him, who is also battling for a starting job.

While nobody wants it to happen, fights occur during practice. They’re also forgotten, as players and coaches move on. It’s certainly news-worthy information that an incident occurred. But it’s a pretty big stretch to think an in-practice fight would be enough to get someone to walk away from the football program. Again, nobody wants to see things come to blows, but when a near decade-long search for “nasty” football players has been at the top of Irish fans wish-lists, these kind of things happen.


A minor knee injury to linebacker Dan Fox will give linebackers Kendall Moore and Jarrett Grace a chance to see more of the field, as they’ll likely work in with Carlo Calabrese at the position opposite Manti Te’o. Grace was the first player to be dubbed a “werewolf” by defensive coordinator Bob Diaco (so that has to be a good thing), and has been really impressive this spring after almost working his way onto the field last season through a packed depth chart.

While Moore might have been the biggest loser when it came to Te’o returning for his senior season, he’s too good of an athlete and playmaker to keep off the field, and Fox’s injury should give Moore a chance to end spring with some momentum. The Irish will focus on recruiting insider linebackers, but there’s some intriguing depth that will give the Irish a chance to find a Corey Mays type player, someone who spent most of his career on special teams before earning his shot to start, before heading to the NFL.

Lynch returns to campus, other notes

aaron lynch Sack

It appears the drama surrounding Aaron Lynch‘s absence from practice before Easter Break has come to an end. Both Irish Illustrated and IrishSportsDaily.com are reporting that Lynch is back on campus. One source has confirmed the same for me as well. As noted by Brian Kelly when he spoke with the media last week, this has always been the plan.

That said, with a long holiday weekend and not much football to discuss, rumors and speculation were rampant, and Lynch’s return to the field Wednesday will likely be the only thing to end a mysterious absence that was simply explained as “personal reasons.” Whatever the reason for heading to his mother’s home in Ohio, the Irish defense is certainly fortified with Lynch in the lineup, and he’s expected to build off a freshman season that saw him lead the Irish in sacks.

We’ll hear more from head coach Brian Kelly on Wednesday, but for now any national crisis seems to be over.


While 2013 recruiting commitment James Onwualu isn’t the most decorated prospect on the Irish board, he has done more than his fair share to help build recruiting momentum for Notre Dame, working with quarterback Malik Zaire and offensive lineman Steve Elmer to help bring the once slow-blooming recruiting class into double digit commitments.

ESPN RecruitingNation’s Jared Shanker wrote an interesting article about the Cretin-Derham Hall running back/wide receiver, and the training regimen that’s helped turn him into one of the Midwest’s better prospects. Under the tutelage of Ted Johnson, another former Cretin running back and now a trainer in the Twin Cities that counts Michael Floyd among his clients, Onwualu has built power in a very untraditional way.

Johnson’s program is all movement and technique based. Instead a stack of 45-pound plates, the only weight working against Onwualu is his own frame. The emphasis is improving Onwualu’s posterior chain, an area Johnson said is where most athletes suffer injuries at in the collision sports.

At the Under Armour junior combine, Onwualu was one of the worst testers at the bench press, but he ran circles around his competition at the remaining drills.

Surprisingly still, strength is what separates Onwualu from his peers, his quarterback at Cretin-Derham Hall says.

“His strength allows him to break tackles anywhere on the field,” quarterback Conor Rhoda said. “He can turn a 10-yard hook into a 60-yard touchdown.”

The gripe with normal weight lifting programs, Johnson said, is they are set up to accommodate the lowest common denominator and not the elite athletes. A close friend of former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, Johnson said that was the case with the strength and conditioning program there, and it is the same issue with the programs throughout the country.

“You walk into a facility and see what the philosophy is: They got five million pounds of weights and that’s all they do,” Johnson said, “and it doesn’t necessarily translate into performance. All we need is space.”

The strength and conditioning program during the Weis era has already been beaten and buried, so there’s no use rehashing that now. But it’s interesting that Johnson has stayed in touch with Weis, and it’s clearly a different training perspective that Johnson adhere’s to, and one that’ll likely be healthier for maturing athletes still in high school.

Onwualu will be an interesting prospect to watch develop. He’s a unique athlete — as this article attests to — and his testing results at various combines show some of the skills that he’s developed. While his forty time isn’t at an elite level yet, he’s shown explosiveness in shuttle and short burst exercises, which help explain why he’s impressed so many schools. Combine that with the off-the-field intangibles and leadership that he’ll be bringing to Notre Dame, which are on display just about daily with his work on other Irish recruits, and its easy to see why Onwualu has been one of the Irish’s most valuable recruits.


Over the weekend, veteran scribe Lou Somogyi had a great answer when asked if he could remember a more maligned returning QB than rising junior Tommy Rees. His response was one that should raise more than an eyebrow or two of Irish fans, and serves as a wonderful reminder that college careers aren’t defined after two seasons. If they were, most people would have long forgotten about national champion Tony Rice.

Rice was one of the most maligned, doubted QBs I ever saw after that first varsity season of his. Tons of people saw him strictly as a one-dimensional athlete who was “not the answer” to take Notre Dame to the Promised Land as a quarterback.

Put him at running back, move him to receiver, have him return punts or kickoffs … but please, do not use him at QB. You can absolutely not beat great teams, like Miami or Michigan or USC, with an option QB. Miami especially proved that by the way it would stop Oklahoma option QBs such as Jamelle Holieway or Charles Thompson. (Of course, these same people didn’t note how Miami crushed drop-back passers even more.)

Somogyi went on to talk about the perfect prototype for the 1988 Irish offense: six-foot-five quarterback Kent Graham, who wowed Irish fans and reporters with his prodigious arm and high school reputation. At the time, the prevailing wisdom was — as Somogyi put it — “YOU CANNOT WIN AGAINST TOP TEAMS LIKE MIAMI WITH A #%^&*$ OPTION QUARTERBACK! WHEN IS THAT IDIOT HOLTZ GOING TO RECOGNIZE RICE CAN’T GET IT DONE!!!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by readers or Irish fans that Notre Dame will never be able to win — especially against top competition — with a one-dimensional quarterback like Tommy Rees. Thanks to Lou for pointing out the wonderful parallels between that offseason and this one.

Now if only the similarities continue between the ensuing seasons…

Lynch’s absence from practice sparks rumor mill

Aaron Lynch Blue Gold

There’s plenty of practice report video to get to, but the biggest news of the day was Aaron Lynch‘s absence from practice today. While rumors were burning like wildfire across the internet this morning after the rising sophomore defensive end was missing, Brian Kelly was quite clear after practice that nothing major was going on.

“We excused him from practice today. He needed some time to straighten out some personal matters at home,” Kelly said. “There were rumors that he quit or transferred or he went pro. All of that is not true. So we can end that right now.”

Lynch is expected back on campus Monday evening, per Kelly. School resumes after Easter on Tuesday, so his departure from practice might simply be an early getaway day from school, a logical explanation for a guy that isn’t battling for a job during spring drills. Lynch’s disappearance also took center stage on Twitter, where his mother refuted any notion that her son had gone to Florida or was transferring anywhere and instead stated that her son was “at home with me… Stop the rumors!”

Lynch’s relationship with South Bend has been the subject of message-board fodder lately. Some with knowledge of the situation do worry that Lynch’s struggles away from Florida, and his high school girlfriend, make this a situation that’s worth monitoring. But a logical assessment of the soon-to-be-sophomore’s options clearly show sticking it out at Notre Dame is the best option. If Lynch progresses as many expect, he’ll have the opportunity to enter the NFL draft after his junior season, meaning he’ll spend roughly 20 more months in South Bend, meaning it’s all downhill from here. That’s the shortest route to getting done with college, and quicker than any rumored transfer could be, where Lynch will have to sit out next season.

Of course, today’s absence will either be a minor blip in the radar or a massive shake-up in an offseason that already saw freshman Tee Shepard leave school before ever suiting up for a Notre Dame practice. Lynch is slated to be one of the best players on the field for the Irish next season, and any move by him would be the largest offseason news of the year for the Irish. That said, there’s just as likely of a chance that this is the encapsulation of the social-media tidal wave that’s taken over reporting in college sports, where rumors and fodder create and kill stories before a newspaper has time to print the morning news. Ultimately, we’ll find out by Tuesday, when classes resume and next Wednesday, the next scheduled practice.

Lastly, just to speak generally on teenagers and their collegiate choices, allow me a quick rant. The idea that 18-year-olds — whether they be students or scholarship athletes — chose their school based on the city that houses the institution is a bit ridiculous. Having picked a school when I was 18-years old, I can tell you that nobody I know considered South Bend when they chose to attend Notre Dame. Same with friends that went to Marquette, or big-time scholarship athletes that play football at a place like Florida. Gainesville is no mecca of culture, and has nothing on South Bend, but a few mild winter months and stifling summer humidity. USC — placed in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in south-central Los Angeles — still manages to draw people to school for both academic and athletic pursuits. There’s no doubt that geography is a factor for people choosing colleges, and staying close to home is clearly important to some kids. But to say that South Bend is a character in this subplot, might be looking at this a bit too close.