Notre Dame Spring Football ’17: Day 1 Practice Report

Notre Dame Fall Camp 2013

Notre Dame football officially kicked off 2017 spring practice today.  Here are some video highlights courtesy of BlueandGold.com.

With a new strength and conditioning program led by Matt Balis and a revamped coaching staff minus head coach Brian Kelly who remains despite the 4-8 disaster of 2016 the team is looking to be more energetic, more up tempo and more fundamentally sound.  From most media accounts it did just that.

Kelly says not to take too much into account about the depth chart this early in spring practice as it will be fluid and of course change as new offensive coordinator Chip Long sees fit.  Fingers crossed Long gets to mold this offense into using more of a run game/get the ball to the tight end which was seriously lacking in 2016.  Tight ends combined for 13 catches all season in 2016.  That’s unacceptable.

Here is how the offense lined up today in practice:

Offense

 1st Team2nd Team3rd Team
LTMike McGlincheyAaron BanksHunter Bivin
LGQuenton NelsonRobert HainseyLogan Plantz
CSam MustipherTristen HogeParker Boudreaux
RGAlex BarsTrevor RuhlandJimmy Byrne
RTTommy KraemerLiam EichenbergSam Bush
QBBrandon WimbushMontgomery VanGorderIan Book
RBJosh AdamsDexter WilliamsTony Jones Jr
WEquanimeous St. BrownMiles BoykinJavon McKinley
XCJ SandersChase ClaypoolKevin Stepherson
ZChris FinkeAustin WebsterDeon McIntosh
TEDurham SmytheNic WeisharAliz'e Jones

First thing that shocked me was seeing Stepherson on the third team after his productive freshman season. As Kelly mentioned don’t be too worried this early about the depth chart but after hearing rumors all offseason about Stepherson possibly being in the doghouse/transferring this doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that he could be on thin ice. Guys like walk-on’s Chris Finke and Austin Webster shouldn’t be getting more reps at this point but then again Kelly did stress he wants to keep Stepherson at the X receiver slot and both of those guys play the Z.

But overall if you look at the totality of the offensive depth chart it has to be one of the most impressive during the Kelly era. The offensive line is stacked with experience, talent and depth. Getting McGlinchey and Nelson back is huge for protecting the QB’s blindside and both of those guys should dominate during their senior season with more strength and endurance with the help of Balis.

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The QB position should be excellent this season with redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush going into his third season of college football off season training and by most media and coaching accounts the most talented of the QBs during the Kelly era.

Tailbacks are stacked with Josh “The Gazelle” Adams getting the majority of carries with Dexter Williams and Tony Jones looking to get 40% of the load.

The receiving core which was inexperienced last season comes back as a strength especially with the tight ends included. Any time you get talents like Equanimeous St. Brown, Chase Claypool and academic suspended tight end Aliz’e Jones back on the field it’s a good thing. Wimbush will have plenty of weapons to choose from. Even though he isn’t listed on the depth chart watch out for early enrollee Brock Wright at the tight end position. Wright provided a lot of oh’s and awe’s today.

Overall the tempo and energy of the offense was improved from what we saw last spring and it appears to everybody that Wimbush is the clear cut leader at the QB position. Hopefully this helps the team’s leadership and cohesion because it was a clusterfuck last year with Deshone Kizer and Malik Zaire battling it out.

Defense

Here is how the defense lined up today in practice:

 1st Team2nd Team3rd Team
WDEDaelin HayesJulian OkwaraAdetokunbo Ogundeji
NTJerry TilleryMicah Dew-TreadwayPete Mokwuah
DTJonathan BonnerElijah TaylorBrandon Tiassum
SDEAndrew TrumbettiJay HayesKhalid Kareem
MIKENyles MorganJonathan JonesJamir Jones
BUCKGreer MartiniTevon ConeyJosh Barajas
ROVERAsmar BilalRobert ReganDevyn Spruell
SSDrue TranquillDevin Studstill
FSNick ColemanJalen Elliot
CBJulian LoveTroy Pride
CBNick WatkinsDonte Vaughn

If Notre Dame is going to field a legit defense under first year coordinator Mike Elko they got to get pressure and push up front with their big linemen. Looking at the personnel it is clearly the weakest link on the depth chart. Trumbetti has to have a break out senior season. Hayes has to stay healthy and both turned heads today in practice with their performances. Daniel Cage didn’t practice and there are still concerns about his concussions even though he has been cleared to play according to Kelly during yesterday’s press conference. Not sure why he wasn’t out there because he would start next to Tillery. You can’t really tell much about the defense early on especially with the linemen but it did appear to be a more physical unit and hopefully will get stronger under the tutelage of Balis and play better with Mike Elston now moving back to defensive line coach.

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Bilal is the early leader to play the ROVER position and he looked OK out there. His speed and athleticism is good enough for him to cover RB’s and slot receivers but he still tends to over think instead of just playing. The linebacker core is solid but not spectacular. Morgan should be a beast but Coney and Barajas are too highly recruited LBs who need to step up now if this defense is going to be formidable.

I really like the secondary even though they are still considered young. Watkins and Coleman made plays all over the field this morning which is great considering Coleman struggled last year and Watkins missed all season with injury. The corners on the outside of Love, Watkins, Pride and Vaughn are all great athletes who with the right coaching and preparation should excel. The safeties of Tranquill, Coleman, Studstill and Elliott all have experience and smarts to play better than what they showed last year.

Overall it was a good first practice. You never know how a team is going to respond after so many changes are made coming off one of the worst season’s in ND history but clearly they are out there battling and hustling to leave it a distant memory.

Originally published on SportsCrack.com and used with permission.  Matt Fairchild started SportsCrack in 2005 where you can find great t-shirts and sports merchandise.  Follow Matt on Twitter @sportscrack

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10 comments

  1. bruce johnson 3 months ago

    Rearranging deck chairs on
    The titanic

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  2. clueless 4 months ago

    With all of the practice film that I have ever watched, I cannot ever recall the QB practicing a pump fake. Like look left, fake a throw, then pivot right and throw. Is this a result of film editing not to show such a “tricky” [NOT] move, or do they not practice it?

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    1. Ron Burgundy 4 months ago

      Pretty sure your handle answers the question.

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  3. Townie_Fan 4 months ago

    Does anyone else question the move to a 4-2-5 defense? Linebackers are something that Notre Dame recruits fairly well, and it seems like we always struggle to keep depth and talent in the secondary. I know it’s a hybrid position, but can we get enough talent to fill the Rover and Safety positions?

    It’s different circumstances, but I worry it will be like the shift shit to the 4-3 under Tenuta (and again under BVG). We’ll wind up with positions we can’t keep stocked, while asking players to play out of position. We weren’t (before or after the switches) able to recruit and develop pass rushing 4-3 DEs and we wound up playing outside linebackers out of position. Notre Dame had had much better luck getting players like Prince Shembo, Kendall Moore, Darius Flemming, and Kerry Neal than players like Justin Tuck.

    Recently, our best strong safeties have been Zeke Motta, Harrison Smith, and Tom Zibikowski. Those guys would have made great Rovers, but then who would have played strong safety?

    We still haven’t shown we can recruit the players we need to run an effective 4-man front, and now we’re making a move to put more linebackers on the bench. We’re also thinning out a secondary that just doesn’t have the bodies or experience to compensate.

    I know that Mike Elko knows more about defense than I do. But the only times in recent memory that Notre Dame’s defenses have been dominant was when they were running a 5-2 or a 3-4. Each of those makes use of “tweener” DE/OLBs that can drop back into coverage or rush at the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame recruits these kinds of players well. We’re also able to put big bodies on the defensive line. NT is hard to recruit, but we have much better luck putting 3 big bodies down in the middle of the line scrimmage than we do putting pass rushers down on its edge.

    I just don’t know that we can get the edge-rushers and SS/Rovers we need year in and year out. We don’t have them now. We haven’t had them in a while. We do have a lot of talented young linebackers and a bunch of big bodies to put up front, because that’s what we’ve typically been able to recruit well (except under Weiss, who thought the defensive line would materialize in the tunnel on the way out to the field on Saturdays).

    I’m an optimist, and I really thing Kelly has done a nice job rebounding from last season. He’s our best coach since Holtz. But there is a reason why Wisconsin runs a pro-style offense and a 3-4 defense. It suits the players they can recruit. Notre Dame is Notre Dame, though, and we can get the skill position players we need. We’ll never hurt for QBs or WRs if an effort is made to recruit them. But that isn’t the case in the secondary and on the defensive line. We can consistently recruit big bodies to play DT in a 4 man front, or DE,NT in a 3 man front. We can recruit linebackers (because who doesn’t want to be the center of attention at Notre Dame stadium?) and we’ve had luck getting linebacker “types” who were athletic enough to play SS. But we’ve had two true “shutdown” corners in the past 20 years. On the edge, we’ve had Justin Tuck (who was a large edge rusher.) It’s the type of players we attract.

    I don’t know why that is. But for the same reason that we could still get the #1 or #2 fullback recruit in the nation if we wanted him, and will almost always have our pick of TEs and a top-10 QB, and can open up the screen door and yell for offensive linemen and they’ll show up–we can’t land elite hand-down edge rushers, or shut-down corners consistently. Diaco built a linebacking corps around Manti Teo, put 3 big studs in front of them, and we made it to the National Title with a Freshman RB starting at corner. What if Jaylon Smith had been 1 of 4 linebackers on the field in 2015? Suddenly Joe Smith’s athleticism isn’t a liability and Niles Morgan’s athleticism is on the field. We replace our inability to bring pressure from the edge with our ability to bring a linebacker from somewhere.

    Again, I’m not a defensive coordinator for a D1 college football team. But I do think that college football programs have identities, and those identities draw football players who have an identity to match. I’m not sure a 4-2-5 can become a part of Notre Dame’s identity.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 4 months ago

      Brevity please

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  4. Hunter 4 months ago

    I noticed:
    1. 89
    Matuska, Jacob
    TE
    6-4.5
    275
    SR
    Columbus, OH
    Bishop Hartley
    …………………
    Brandon Wimbush arm strength is ‘A’ quality)
    ………………..
    All three quarterbacks:
    Wimbush, Van Gorder, Books all look good to me.
    ………………….
    The offensive and defensive lines are vastly improved (from a first impression of the film)
    ………………..
    Adams is wearing a knee brace on his right knee I noticed.
    ………………..
    “Grade B+”

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    1. Jack 3 months ago

      He’s always worn that brace

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  5. Ray 4 months ago

    Winbush, very quick feet.

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  6. BILL shea 4 months ago

    Not sure about the statement, the QB position should be excellent this season, while I am excited about Wimbush, the back-ups are untested.

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    1. jeff 4 months ago

      All three are untested.

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