Record high temperatures (86+) are on tap for South Bend today but Brian Kelly’s 2012 Irish began their first of 15 practices greeted by temperatures in the low 60s, ideal for their mandatory shorts/jerseys and helmets initiation to the spring gridiron.
Among notables on the walk from the Guglielmino Athletics Complex to the LaBar Practice fields was USC transfer Amir Carlisle who donned Michael Floyd’s former #3 – but also a pair of crutches and boot on his left ankle. Carlisle, injured in non-contact and voluntary 7-on-7 drills during winter conditioning, is expected to be back in action in June.
In attendance but not participating in the aerobic stretch was sophomore (redshirt-freshman) nose guard Tony Springmann as the Fort Wayne, IN product continues his recovery from off-season discectomy surgery.
Back in action nearly a full year after knee surgery was junior running back Cameron Roberson. The 2010 Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year has yet to play a collegiate down and sported a (left) knee brace but participated in running back drills with his teammates, a welcomed sign after a long recovery.
Sophomore (redshirt-freshman) Eilar Hardy was back on the practice field for the first time since suffering a torn ACL in August 2011.
First Look: Offense
As expected, junior Tommy Rees led the offense in its opening tempo drill though the 16-game starter was replaced (as schedule) mid-drill by classmate Andrew Hendrix. Joining the first team offense were wide receivers John Goodman and T.J. Jones, slot receiver Robby Toma, and running back Theo Riddick.
Expected starter Cierre Wood jogged outside the lines, cajoling his teammates. (Wood appeared healthy as he was the first through every running back drill thereafter. Of note, Wood emerged from The Gug pre-practice with a loud “Here we go!” as the rest of the coaches and players meandered across the street.)
Tight end Tyler Eifert joined the first group, replaced mid-drill by sophomore Ben Koyack.
The offensive line from left to right included returning starters Zack Martin, Chris Watt, and Mike Golic, Jr. They were joined by junior (redshirt-sophomore) Christian Lombard at right guard and his classmate, Tate Nichols, at right tackle. Nichols, like fellow junior Cameron Roberson, has yet to play for the Irish. Both were withheld from action in 2010 and injured in 2011; Nichols with a dislocated knee cap in mid-August, then shoulder surgery in late September.
5th-year returnee Braxston Cave walked the sidelines as he continues to recover from November foot surgery.
Second Unit: Wide receivers included junior Daniel Smith and sophomore (redshirt-freshman) DaVaris Daniels, with junior (redshirt-sophomore) Luke Massa in the slot. Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson led the group with classmate and 2011 kick return star George Atkinson as the lone back in the team’s shotgun set.
Alex Welch began the drive at tight end, replaced by newcomer to the position Troy Niklas, the latter conspicuous on a crossing route with his monstrous #85 sprinting through the end zone.
The second unit offensive line included (left to right): redshirt-freshman Jordan Prestwood, junior (redshirt-sophomore) Bruce Heggie, redshirt-freshman Matt Hegarty, redshirt-freshman Conor Hanratty, and redshirt-freshman Nick Martin.
No third unit appeared, with early enrollee freshman Gunner Kiel the only notable thus not involved in the drill.
Kelly with QBs; Cam’s new role, Toma’s new group
Though media witnessed just 30 minutes of practice and two position drills, one change worth mentioning was Robby Toma practicing with the RB/Slots and new position coach Tony Alford. Toma was the only “non-RB” among the group that included Wood, Riddick, Atkinson, Roberson, a removed Carlisle, and three walk-ons including returnee Tyler Plantz, an emergency addition to the unit last spring.
The perimeter wide receivers (Daniels, Smith, Goodman, Jones, and Massa are the scholarship guys) practiced separately with new position coach Mike Denbrock.
Sophomore Cam McDaniel is still listed as a RB on the team’s spring roster, an indication his move to the defensive backfield was likely the result of Tee Shepard’s exit from the University late last week.
Head coach Brian Kelly and new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin spent the bulk of unit work with the quarterbacks. Most of the drills available in the media viewing were of the warm-up variety, with Kiel the only one among the quartet sailing any passes (high, wobbly, or both), likely the result of nerves for his first spring practice.
Rees appears a bit bigger and one of his roll-out passes to the left sideline forced an Irish Eyes double take as the velocity was reminiscent of an Andrew Hendrix throw…Golson and Hendrix continue to display plenty of zip during drills…Kiel displayed quick feet navigating the pads (movement in the pocket is the purpose of the drill) as he was as adept as his veteran teammates in the pre-pass maneuvers…Not on the roster: walk-on #17 filled out the quintet of quarterbacks. Matt Mulvey donned the number last year and it might have been the graduating senior was helping out the unit for the spring prior to walk-on tryouts next fall.
Quick observations: Junior defensive lineman Kona Schwenke appeared slimmed down at 286 pounds…Robby Toma died his hair a darker shade of blond…Eye test winners include sophomores Troy Niklas and Aaron Lynch as well as grand champion Stephon Tuitt…There’s an unidentified and at least 6’2”/6’3” #84 among the perimeter receivers and he moves quite well...Early enrollee freshman defensive lineman Sheldon Day is a full head shorter than some of his position mates but was quite fluid when he turned and ran early in practice...