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.


Practice Report: Day Nine update

Slaughter Utah

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Jamoris Slaughter was seen taking reps at cornerback yesterday, cross-training at a cover position while Austin Collinsworth took first-team reps with the safeties. The move makes sense on the surface, with Slaughter’s versatility and cover skills always one of his assets, and Lo Wood not yet proven at the field cornerback position, where he’ll be tasked with covering a lot of field.

“We know Jamoris can be a great safety for us,” co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks said. “By moving him out and seeing what he can do at other spots, that gives us an opportunity to develop some young guys.”

With the graduation of Gary Gray and Robert Blanton and the presumed loss of Tee Shepard, Cooks and safeties coach Bob Elliott will likely be looking for the right combination in the back end of the defense right up until the Irish ship out for Dublin.

Yesterday’s practice video from UND.com focuses on the cornerbacks, and gives us a nice look at the contenders for playing time. As usual, here are some observations.

  • 0:14 — Cinematic look at Brian Kelly’s patio door, with Jack Nolan rocking a nice green Irish sweatshirt.
  • 0:55 — An introduction to the usual suspects: Jackson, Wood, Jalen Brown, and Josh Atkinson. Neither Brown nor Atkinson looked good in the clip the guys used, so I’m not sure what that says.
  • 1:30 — Cooks identifies Jackson as the guy that’s ready to go. That jives with just about everything I’ve heard, too.
  • 2:30 — Some nice insight into Cooks, who saw his title ascend to co-defensive coordinator this year, likely keeping him away from other staff’s looking to poach him. Cooks made a parallel move joining the Irish staff after spending a long time with former college teammate Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, but the move looks to have paid off, even though Cooks started at the unfamiliar position of coaching outside linebackers.
  • 3:04 — Of course John Goodman is wearing pink just because. He’s an eclectic dude.
  • 4:04 — Cooks talking with Atkinson, a really important piece of the secondary puzzle this year.
  • 4:30 — Bennett Jackson says he’ll be 8 for 9 in practices this year. I like that all-business approach.
  • 4:45 — Atkinson looks like he’ll need a little work to be physical enough to play boundary corner. He seems destined to play on the field side, which is probably best with his legit track speed.
  • 5:38 — Chris Salvi struggles before righting himself in an open-field tackling drill.
  • 6:05 — Cam McDaniel looks good going after the ball in the air. Which makes sense, considering he was a running back and punt return option.
  • 6:35 — We see Cooks explain what “stack” means, as he describes the backpedal drill the Irish are doing, imploring his DBs to stay on top of the receiver.
  • 7:35 — Cooks celebrating nice work on a five-yard route. That’s the proper attitude and it’s consistent with the defensive philosophy of last year as well.
  • 7:44 — Nice work, Josh Atkinson.
  • 7:50 — Uh oh, Lo. Can’t get turned around. If that’s a USC Trojan and not Luke Massa, that’s six points.
  • 8:25 — Good proof that the cornerback position is the toughest athletically in the game.
  • 8:50 — Great plays, Bennett Jackson. Nice break-up on a well thrown deep balls to Daniel Smith and TJ Jones.



And now, some BONUS footage from some three-on-three work.

  • It’s Ishaq Williams (#11), Kona Schwenke (#96), and Stephon Tuitt (#7) on defense against what looks like Tate Nichols (#64), Nick Martin (#72) and Zack Martin (#70). Nice work by Kona, who looks like he’s grown into a defensive tackle. That’s some nice evaluation by the staff, who found a skinny 240-pound defensive end late in the recruiting process.
  • Second round is Carlo Calabrese (#44), Louis Nix (#9) and Manti Te’o (#5) against Christian Lombard (#74), Mike Golic (#57) and Chris Watt (#66). First round won by Lombard and Co., who do a nice job (running away from Te’o doesn’t hurt). Nice work by Nix shrugging off Golic’s block in round two. Tough to say who won round three.
  • Ben Councell (#30), Ishaq, and Danny Spond (#13) defend in round three against tight ends Ben Koyack (#18), Alex Welch (#82) and a third player I can’t see. Like the physicality out of both Spond and Councell, and Ishaq seems really impressive.
  • Last round is safeties — Danny McCarthy (#15), Zeke Motta (#17) and Austin Collinsworth (#28) against Luke Massa (#14), Daniel Smith (#87) and John Goodman (#81). Again, tough to say who won, but thought Collinsworth did a great job, and the defense certainly celebrated the win. (Notice Prince Shembo still out of uniform, though standing close by.)



Practice Report: Day Six update

Bob Elliott ND

For Notre Dame fans looking to get to know new safeties coach Bob Elliott, today is your day. After having coached and mentored co-defensive coordinators Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks, Diaco was brought on to replace Chuck Martin, who transitioned to the offensive side of the ball. Elliott certainly is bona fide, having coordinated some of the nation’s top units at Iowa and Kansas State.

Tasked with replacing Harrison Smith with three safeties — Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, and Austin Collinsworth — that all earned significant playing time last season, Elliott will hopefully develop a position group that’ll need to help stabilize the cornerback position, where both Gary Gray and Robert Blanton are being replaced.

Working inside at the Loftus Center thanks to the spring’s first poor weather, today’s report is more of a compilation reel of the safety position. As usual, here are some thoughts and observations to get you through.

  • 0:15 — No weather report, no problem, for Jack Nolan. Sporting double-adidas with the Mike Brey inspired mock-neck and that funky mustard gold, Jack keeps it fresh, per usual.
  • 0:50 — You tend to forget, but Zeke Motta sure looks good in his uniform. He’d be one of the first guys I’d have getting off the bus.
  • 1:16 — Nice to hear from Bob Elliott. Haven’t had the chance to talk to him yet, but have heard nothing but good things out him.
  • 1:48 — No mention of fifth-year safety Danny McCarthy. I’m still waiting for the lightbulb to go on for him, even if I’m all alone sitting in this dark room. Either way, he was an amazingly talented two-way prep star.
  • 2:35 — There’s McCarthy (#15) in warm-up drills.
  • 2:42 — We’re supposed to be watching Jamoris Slaughter swarming to the football, but that’s a pretty impressive throw by Gunner Kiel across the field, showing a ton of arm strength.
  • 2:54 — That’s Matthias Farley (#41) getting coached up. He’s a pretty physical looking player, as we noticed a few practice reports ago.
  • 3:20 — That’s Elliott (back to us) tight ends coach Scott Booker, and director of football ops Chad Klunder yucking it up after practice and talking Kardashians. (You aren’t the only one who is surprised that I just typed that. I’ll defer to Jon Hamm on the subject.)
  • 4:25 — Great moment with Elliot and Zeke Motta, who drops a throw at the end of agility drills. “Zeke, you’re going to get about 10 to 15 chances at interceptions this year,” Elliott said. “You’ve got to get them all.” Truer words haven’t been spoken about an Irish defense desperately in need of forcing turnovers.
  • 4:42 — Elliott coaching up the Irish defensive backs on taking a proper angle. It might seem basic for some Irish fans, but when Denard Robinson is running around in the open field, this is a good lesson to fall back on.
  • 6:40 — Gotta hold onto that one, Danny.
  • 6:48 — Bengal Bouts champ Chris Salvi (#24) and Robby Toma (#9) in a nice little collision.
  • 6:55 — That’s werewolf Austin Collinsworth (#28) delivering the blow with CB Josh Atkinson (#43)
  • 7:00 — My guy Luke Massa (#14) winning the collision with Zeke Motta. Gotta believe the odds-makers got that one wrong.
  • 7:10 — Jalen Brown (#21) and Daniel Smith (#87). Jalen has the look of a football player. Now we’ll see if he can play.
  • 7:15 — The rematch goes to Zeke, powering Massa back.
  • 7:22 — Nice rebound by Josh Atkinson too, standing up Collinsworth.
  • 8:15 — Scott Booker getting excited. Nice to see.