Tag: Spring Practice

Last Grass

FieldTurf announcement comes at the right time


During the first half of the Blue-Gold game, athletic director Jack Swarbrick joined Alex Flanagan on television to break the game’s biggest news. After years of struggling to maintain the natural grass surface inside Notre Dame Stadium, the university will be installing a synthetic surface inside the stadium.

The handling of the news was noteworthy. With a press corps watching the game from the press box, the university shared the news with their fans on television first, a group far more surprised than the media, who all but knew the decision was more a matter of when, not if.

The grass will come up in the stadium right after commencement in May, with the new surface hopefully ready by mid-August. While Swarbrick hit the standard talking points with Flanagan on the air, the official release provided more of the rationale behind the decision.

“We had a strong predisposition to stay with a natural grass field,” Swarbrick said in the statement. “However, the reality is that in two of the last three seasons since we moved Commencement to the Stadium we have been unable to produce an acceptable playing surface. That, combined with the likely impacts of future construction at the Stadium, led me to conclude that we would continue to struggle to maintain a grass field that meets the expectations of our student-athletes and fans as it relates to appearance, performance and safety.

“Synthetic turf will assist our game preparation because our team will be able to play and practice on the same surface. We will also be able to utilize the Notre Dame Stadium field for practices on home football Fridays and other occasions, whereas that is currently unrealistic. Additionally, this change allows us to eliminate the risk to players posed by the asphalt perimeter that has to be maintained around our current field.”

Brian Kelly talked about the decision after the game, echoing Swarbrick’s sentiments, and actually surprised that the question wasn’t the first one he fielded.

“I think you look at the conditions of the field today, going out there and it’s really about getting a surface where there’s some consistency week‑in and week‑out for our players,” Kelly said. “I think today was an indication. We can’t even practice out there.

“We want to be able to get out there with our team. We want some safety issues to be not part of the equation. I think everybody is in agreement. If we can get the best surface there in grass, we’d love to have that. We just haven’t been able to get to that. This is my fifth year here at Notre Dame and we haven’t been able to get to that.”

While some bristled at the handling of the news, this isn’t the first time Swarbrick mentioned that the decision was being weighed. When Notre Dame’s expansion to the stadium via the Campus Crossroads project was announced, Swarbrick acknowledged that the university was weighing their options of retaining natural grass or putting in a synthetic surface.

After researching many of the successful natural surfaces that are maintained in northern climates (there aren’t many, over three-quarters of the NCAA FBS programs in the Midwest and Northeast utilize an artifical surface, including 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams), Swarbrick knew extensive structural changes were needed inside the stadium.

We will do one of two things,” Swarbrick told The Observer in December. “We will either go in and really rip the whole thing out, I mean, go way down and create a whole new sub-surface, and everything about the field will be re-done, drainage, sub-surface. Or we’ll go to synthetic.”

Multiple times, Swarbrick has mentioned the significant cost savings associated with bringing in a synthetic surface. And while some fans bristle at money being a factor when the university sets forth on a $400 million dollar initiative, there’s no proof that a hybrid natural surface would work throughout the renovation process, as the grass would need constant monitoring and growth year round, necessitating the addition out of a greenhouse apparatus.

Those explanations surely aren’t enough to calm a certain subset of the fanbase, who expects tradition to be upheld with natural grass (and no videoboard, luxury suites or ticket price hikes.) But junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell all but spoke for the players after the game.

“You see how terrible it was out there? Come on now,” Russell told the Chicago Tribune. “When we played USC last year that field was terrible. So I’m excited.”

Spring Practice: Day Two report breakdown

Greg Bryant

The Fighting Irish took the field Wednesday morning for their second session of spring practice. With two weeks off and the university’s spring break sandwiched between practice two and three, it’s certainly an interesting time for the football program to get work done.

Yet it’s clear that there’s work to be done and the team is eager to get started. After our deep dig into episode one of UND.com’s spring coverage, here’s another over-analysis of a spring practice report:

0:08 — Jack is back and rolling in with a vintage Adidas track jacket. Perhaps one of the least discussed parts of the transition from Adidas to Under Armour is Nolan’s wardrobe. Does the Adidas gear just get pitched? Is there some island country that can wear it? It’d be a shame to see all that issue gear go to waste.

0:24 — Head coach Brian Kelly spends a little warm-up time talking with quarterback Everett Golson.

0:31 — New turf in the Loftus Center. Knew it looked spiffy.

0:45 — Took 45 seconds, but Jack didn’t let us down. Another coat of snow for campus this morning. A mighty tough winter. Spring break couldn’t come fast enough for this crew.

1:15 — That wonderful mood music setting the scene for practice? Icescape A by John Charles Fiddy & Sammy Burdson. (Thanks, Shazam.)

1:20 — Let’s start the Greg Bryant (1) highlight reel! Here’s the sophomore running back catching a slant across the middle and breaking into the open field.

1:24 — That’s Will Fuller now wearing TJ Jones’ No. 7 jersey. He gets behind Matthias Farley (41) on a vertical route and makes the catch on a ball that looked pretty well thrown. Lotta speed there.

1:28 — Bryant breaks another long run up the middle!!! Oh wait, everyone’s in shorts and just touching. (Get the paper bag out and start breathing if you find this too exhilarating…)

1:30 — Ishaq Williams (11) goes against Mike McGlinchey (68) in one-on-one drills. McGlinchey holds up until a late move helps Williams get past him.

1:33 — Justin Utupo (53) against Steve Elmer (79). You can see physically how much size Utupo gives up to large interior lineman. But he does a nice job getting up field.

1:35 — Frankly, any catch made by Corey Robinson (88) in spring that doesn’t include acrobatics or a one-handed grab doesn’t rate. But it’s still a pretty smooth route by the rising sophomore, beating Cole Luke (3) who was very tight in coverage.

Not the best highlight to make the claim, but I think Luke is going to be a VERY good cover corner for the Irish.

1:38 — Sheldon Day (91) 1, Christian Lombard (74) 0. That’s a pretty impressive move by Day from an inside spot on the defensive line.

1:40 — Mike Heuerman (9) hits the out cut and makes a nice catch. Heuerman’s a pretty fascinating test case for the undersized tight end. Could he be used as an H-back type of a player? There’s snaps to be had.

1:42 — That’s not gonna get it done, Romeo Okwara (45), who gets stuffed by Ronnie Stanley (78) at left tackle.

1:46 — Blink and you might miss it, but that’s Chase Hounshell (50) going against rising sophomore John Montelus (60). Both appear to be healthy, which is good news.

1:48 — If I swung and missed on a projection last year, it was Amir Carlisle (3). That said, I still think he’s going to be a very productive player for the Irish this season. Getting him in the slot could solve some problems. But Notre Dame’s got to commit to making the slot receiver a priority in the offense, carving out opportunities for Carlisle, Torii Hunter Jr., or whoever ends up winning the job. 

1:50Matthias Farley does his best to earn 15 yards, but Corey Robinson beats him anyway. We haven’t seen Farley’s two best highlights, but it’s still an intriguing position switch that could be a good one.

Farley’s most likely going to be asked to be a Cover 2 cornerback, so you’re not going see him going one-on-one all that often.

1:56Cole Luke baits a bad underneath throw and cuts under Robinson. I think Irish fans would sign up for more of that.

1:58 — That’s redshirt freshman Colin McGovern (62) doing a really nice job standing up Romeo Okwara. That’s an impressive rep from a young player.

2:01 — Tricky pattern by Ben Koyack, who shakes off Max Redfield (10) and gets up field.

2:04 — Notre Dame fans have to be happy seeing Everett Golson outside the pocket, running away from Anthony Rabasa (56) and turning up field to square off with John Turner (31).

2:09 — Wearing two knee braces, you’d think Chase Hounshell was coming off knee surgery, not two shoulder injuries. But he looks athletic getting past Steve Elmer. 

2:19 — Nicky Baratti (29) is back and practicing. Here he takes on Mike Heuerman (9) who makes the catch in front of him on the out route.

2:22 — You can understand why Brian Kelly says his defense doesn’t like tackling Greg Bryant. He looks like a load cutting up field. Any worries about hesitation from Bryant after injuring his meniscus can be forgotten.

2:25 — A nice move upfield by rising sophomore Isaac Rochell (90), getting past McGovern on this rep.

2:29 — Looks like Anthony Rabasa might have gotten a sack there on Everett Golson. Rabasa could be an intriguing wildcard, especially playing as a 4-3 defensive end, a position more in line with his body type and skillset.

2:32 — Brian Kelly teaches Malik Zaire. New quarterback coach Matt LaFleur looks on.

2:40 — Great coverage by Josh Atkinson (24). Better catch by Will Fuller. 



Practice Report: Day Eleven update

Chuck Martin 2

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Notre Dame has a new offensive coordinator. Not just any offensive coordinator, but a guy who just got done spending two years coaching safeties. And his pedigree? Before being a defensive position coach he was ran a D-2 football program in Michigan. National championships or not, that’s got “small-time” written all over it. From a glance, Brian Kelly, at an inflection point in his tenure at Notre Dame, chose a guy that has never coached offensive players in major college football to fix the Fighting Irish offense and a four-headed quarterbacking conundrum.

Of course, Chuck Martin belies any bullet-point bio you assign him. And while the above paragraph doesn’t misstate any of the material facts, it’s a huge disservice to one of the best coaches on the Irish staff, and one of Kelly’s most trusted lieutenants. Spend any time around the Irish football program, and it isn’t hard to notice the impact Martin makes. That’s why when Charley Molnar accepted the UMass job Kelly didn’t hesitate to point the offensive in Martin’s hands. It may have ended up costing him offensive line coach Ed Warinner, but it’s helped breathe confidence into a unit that desperately needed it after falling apart down the stretch.

The crew at UND.com put together this look at offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and his work with the Irish offense. As usual, I’ll provide some thoughts along the way.

  • 0:14 — That’s the spirit Jack Nolan. Finish strong on this 15-practice Irish issue-gear apparel swag fest.
  • 0:46 — Martin states that nobody has taken control of this offense or football team yet. Mostly because nobody has earned it yet — through success. (Another indicator that Tommy Rees‘ 12-4 record isn’t going to do him any favors as the Irish evaluate the QB position.)
  • 1:10 — Watching the four candidates go through the same drop back and throw drill one thing is certain: Equipment manager Ryan Grooms has got his guys wearing a motley mix of mismatched helmets. Hopefully they’ll break out the gold domes for the spring game.
  • 2:13 — Martin says what he enjoys most about switching to offense and working hand-in-hand with Kelly is that they share the “same aggressive nature” when attacking defenses. After getting way too horizontal in their passing game and vanilla in their play calling, it’ll be interesting to see how differently the Irish attack defenses with Martin helping to script the game plans.
  • 3:00 — “We’re preparing for the fourth quarter at USC in front of 90,000 hostile fans in the rain, hail sideways, everything’s against you, injuries, and trying to find a way to make a big play,” Martin says. That’s all.
  • 3:25 — “If there’s a pathetic old Division-III free safety that can rattle you, I’m pretty sure the Mike linebacker at USC is going to scare the hell out of you,” Martin says. “If I can get you off your game, then we’re pretty certain you’re not the guy we want out there at USC to win the big game in the big moment.”
  • 4:07 — Daniel Smith, getting an earful from Martin. No week is more important than this one for Smith, who has all eyes on him with the depth chart dwindling.
  • 4:57 — For those wondering if the Irish are working on those horrifically scary, almost backwards swing passes, the answer is yes.
  • 5:15 — And equally scary is that the one rep we see with Andrew Hendrix and John Goodman gets dropped, with Goodman looking for the ball too late.
  • 5:16 — Before you freak out in the comments, that’s EXACTLY what spring practice is for.
  • 5:24 — “That’s it George,” Martin screams at running back George Atkinson. “You’ve got great hands, George. I don’t believe what anybody tells me differently. Your hands are fine.”
  • 6:08 — Irish working fade throws in the corner of the end zone. Martin gets on his QBs for poor throws. “Out of bounds, no reason. We’ve got a touchdown and you just took it from us. 81,000 people want to yell and scream touchdown and you just threw it out of the end zone.”
  • 6:30 — Walk-on wideout Nick Fitzpatrick from Mishawaka gets barked at, then praised, by Martin for getting dominated by Josh Atkinson on a deep ball, but then rebounds to catch a slant the next rep.
  • 6:44 — Robby Toma could have a very big year in Martin’s new offense. He looks very sharp running away from Austin Collinsworth on a flag, making a nice catch and nearly taking out the cameraman.
  • 6:55 — Danny Smith makes a nice catch on Jalen Brown, using his hands like a savvy veteran. “Hallelujah! Everett! He’s always open, awesome job!” Martin exclaims.
  • 7:05 — Cierre Wood looks pretty dynamic. So has Theo Riddick. This could be a very fun two-headed monster, especially if they don’t have to run on that slop Stanford called grass.
  • 7:25 — Chuck Martin, Academic All-American at Millikin University out-duels pre-med Andrew Hendrix in a game of mental jousting.
  • 7:33 — Martin gets on Gunner Kiel for missing an open Riddick down the seam. “High and outside and we’ve got a 30-yard completion. Pretty ball, incomplete… We’re going to lead the nation in pretty balls incomplete.”
  • 7:50 — “You’re convincing me you can’t do it. I believe you can,” Martin says to Tommy Rees.
  • 8:15 — Rees hits Tyler Eifert on a nice red-zone route. “That’s all you’ve got to do,” Martin says. “It doesn’t matter. He’s always open, if you throw it high and away from the defense. They can’t defend that guy unless we defend him.”
  • 8:30 — This time Hendrix throws a TD to Eifert over cornerback Cam McDaniel‘s best efforts. “I don’t know why you’d want to do anything else,” Martin says.