Lost in the hysteria of Notre Dame deciding to install FieldTurf later this spring after commencement was the actual 2014 Notre Dame Blue-Gold game. Notre Dame battled itself this afternoon in the annual culmination of spring practice in what has turned out to be the last time a Notre Dame team will play a game on natural grass in Notre Dame Stadium.
Here are a few first impressions of the 2014 Fighting Irish from this afternoon’s scrimmage.
Notre Dame Offense
- Malik Zaire looked a lot more polished than I was expecting based on practice reports. I expected him to be pretty good, but he was a very pleasant surprise with how well he played. He stayed in the pocket a bit too long at times, but he showed solid accuracy and great velocity and moved the ball well. If he is the #2 QB this fall, Notre Dame is in great shape.
- Everett Golson looked a bit rusty early on. He missed a wide open Amir Carlisle on a 3rd and long on what would have been a touchdown early on and he was a bit too quick to pull it down and run but all of that is to be expected considering he missed all of last year.
- Both quarterbacks looked to have good command of the offense though and it seems abundantly clear that the Golson-Zaire combination puts Notre Dame in a much, much better position than the Rees-Hendrix combination last year. You can file that observation in the thanks captain obvious folder.
- Notre Dame is loaded at running back. Tarean Folston looked better than last year and Greg Bryant showed why he has been getting rave reviews all spring on a 51 yard jaunt in the 2nd half. With McDaniel as a third option Notre Dame has one of the best stables of backs we’ve seen in a while.
- Speaking of the backs, it was great seeing them involved in the passing game with some nice screens. The screen game has been really lacking the last couple of seasons but we got a glimpse of what Brian Kelly has in store for the fall with a couple of nice screens early on.
- CJ Prosise was really impressive on his touchdown catch from Zaire. He’s been described mainly as a big bodied wide receiver but he showed plenty of speed on his catch and run setting up what should be a great battle for the starting slot position with Amir Carlisle.
- Among the other wide receivers, Will Fuller, Torii Hunter Jr, and Corey Robinson all had their moments, but Chris Brown showed that he might be ready to step into an every down role.
- There were a couple drops by the tight ends on less than perfect throws but throws that need to be caught. There is a lot of talent left at this position even with Troy Niklas headed to the NFL, but it looks like Notre Dame has a little work to do here this summer.
Notre Dame Defense
- It’s tough to take too much from the defense in this game because the schemes were kept vanilla and the players are really still just learning Brian VanGorder’s defense, but one thing was very apparent – the bend, don’t break approach definitely appears to have left with Bob Diaco. Even with vanilla schemes the Irish brought a lot of pressure.
- Romeo Okwara looked like one of the biggest beneficiaries from Notre Dame’s new defensive philosophy. It’s hard to know how many sacks he would have had if this were a real game since the refs were quick with the whistle when the defense got pressure, but he was credited with 3 sacks in the game.
- You didn’t really hear Keivarae Russell’s name much other than when Mike Mayock was gushing about him. Expect that to be the case for most of the fall because teams are not going to be throwing his way.
- Russell’s counterpart at corner, Cole Luke, however, did find himself in the action and he looked up for the task. Luke and Russell are going to give Notre Dame a heck of a combo at cornerback this fall.
- Elijah Shumate had one really nice breakup on a pass from Golson to Carlisle that was a little late. An earlier throw would have been a completion but Shumate did make a good break on the ball and broke it up. Notre Dame desperately needs someone to emerge at safety this fall – maybe Shumate is that guy.
- Early enrollee Andrew Trumbetti looked better than expected given he is playing a position that is tough for a true freshman, let alone a kid that should still be in high school to make an early impact. If Trumbetti becomes best friends with Paul Longo and can provide Notre Dame with even just a few quality snaps a game, that would be a huge boost for the defensive line.
- In case you forgot how freakishly good Jaylon Smith is, he reminded us all in the first half when it looked like Folston had the corner for a huge gain. Not so much when the guy chasing you down is Jaylon Smith. Smith made what was an outstanding play look routine. He also looks like he packed on some good weight this off-season and obviously hasn’t lost his speed.
- Didn’t see a whole lot out of the linebackers today that aren’t named Jaylon and that could be alarming since the other linebacker positions are a major concern for 2014. Still would not be surprised at all if Nyles Morgan wasn’t starting or at the very least playing a significant role early into the season.