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:
|1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|LT||Mike McGlinchey||Aaron Banks||Hunter Bivin|
|LG||Quenton Nelson||Robert Hainsey||Logan Plantz|
|C||Sam Mustipher||Tristen Hoge||Parker Boudreaux|
|RG||Alex Bars||Trevor Ruhland||Jimmy Byrne|
|RT||Tommy Kraemer||Liam Eichenberg||Sam Bush|
|QB||Brandon Wimbush||Montgomery VanGorder||Ian Book|
|RB||Josh Adams||Dexter Williams||Tony Jones Jr|
|W||Equanimeous St. Brown||Miles Boykin||Javon McKinley|
|X||CJ Sanders||Chase Claypool||Kevin Stepherson|
|Z||Chris Finke||Austin Webster||Deon McIntosh|
|TE||Durham Smythe||Nic Weishar||Aliz'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.
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.
Here is how the defense lined up today in practice:
|1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|WDE||Daelin Hayes||Julian Okwara||Adetokunbo Ogundeji|
|NT||Jerry Tillery||Micah Dew-Treadway||Pete Mokwuah|
|DT||Jonathan Bonner||Elijah Taylor||Brandon Tiassum|
|SDE||Andrew Trumbetti||Jay Hayes||Khalid Kareem|
|MIKE||Nyles Morgan||Jonathan Jones||Jamir Jones|
|BUCK||Greer Martini||Tevon Coney||Josh Barajas|
|ROVER||Asmar Bilal||Robert Regan||Devyn Spruell|
|SS||Drue Tranquill||Devin Studstill|
|FS||Nick Coleman||Jalen Elliot|
|CB||Julian Love||Troy Pride|
|CB||Nick Watkins||Donte 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.
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