Practice Report: April 9

Practice Report: April 9

A sun-drenched morning (seriously) greeted the Irish for their 14th and final practice before Saturday's annual Blue Gold game. The media was permitted to view the final 30 minutes of practice which afforded the opportunity to watch constant head-to-head action, both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11, though sans live tackling.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand had just eight healthy bodies to which he could turn Wednesday. Right guard Steve Elmer was out sick while center Nick Martin remained sidelined as he recovers from knee surgery and fifth-year guard Christian Lombard from a broken wrist suffered in a fall.

Spring center Matt Hegarty worked in Elmer's stead at right guard while Mark Harrell played center for the duration of practice. Head coach Brian Kelly noted Hegarty will have the opportunity to compete for a starting guard spot when Martin returns to the fray this summer.

Ronnie Stanley (LT), Mike McGlinchey (RT), and Conor Hanratty (RG) filled out the front. Reserves included McGlinchey and Harrell pulling double duty at tackle and center, respectively, with sophomores Colin McGovern (RG) and John Montelus (LG) filling out the second unit.

Kelly singled out McGovern when asked which player "exceeded his expectations" this spring, noting McGovern had lost a modicum of confidence after missing most of 2013 due to knee surgery at the conclusion of his high school career (November 2012). McGovern played right tackle for most of the spring (until circumstances today forced him back inside) but he'll compete for a second unit role at guard in the fall.

"He's had a really good spring. He's a guard, but by default he had to play some tackle. We see him as an inside guy. He has really good football instincts. If I was to take one guy (that exceeded expectations) in the entire offense, it'd probably be him."

-- Kelly added that the offensive line will go 15 deep in terms of scholarship players for the fall, plus will benefit from the addition of two preferred walk-ons.

7-on-7 and (passing) red zone

Slot receiver Amir Carlisle registered the first two big plays of the session, taking in a corner route from Golson in excess of 15 yards (between walk-on cornerback Conor Cavalaris and safety Elijah Shumte), while adding a nice catch going to the ground on a crossing pattern.

Cavalaris rotated often as a second string cornerback due to the dismissal of redshirt-freshman Rashad Kinlaw last week.

-- Redshirt-freshman tight end Durham Smythe added a nice catch in traffic over the middle on a strike from Everett Golson.

-- A well-covered Cam McDaniel could not hold onto a Golson bullet in the red zone. Credit a back seven that covered for more than five seconds with (literally) no pass rush on the play.

-- Senior tight end Ben Koyack secured a skinny post easily over linebacker Joe Schmidt to finish off Golson's drive for the score. Schmidt played Koyack to soft prior to his break.

-- With Golson again taking reps, sophomore cornerback Cole Luke broke up a potential touchdown to Torii Hunter at the goal line. Junior Keivarae Russell followed with a shot to Carlisle's back and another pass break-up on the next snap. Carlisle then scored an easy TD on third down when he lost John Turner on his route, thus forcing Schmidt to attempt to cover two open receivers.

-- Not much of a change in the first string back seven in sub packages with Max Redfield and Austin Collinsworth as safeties, Luke and Russell at CB, and Turner, Schmidt, and Jaylon Smith as LBs…

-- Cavalaris, Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown (CBs), Shumate, Eilar Hardy, and Nicky Baratti (S), and James Onwualu, Michael Deeb (LBs) and Matthias Farley (Nickel) rotated regularly.

-- Backup quarterback Malik Zaire's red zone reps included three passes to junior Chris Brown, likely because the speedster was matched vs. the walk-on Cavalaris. Zaire missed consecutive attempts, the first an airmailed pass to the left corner (a good throw might have had a chance), the second one likely thrown away to a well-covered Brown who had a safety come over to double team late.

-- Zaire then hit Brown for a TD in front of Cavalaris before missing high again on his final attempt (all to Brown).

11-on-11

The Irish offense rotated skill position players regularly during the final practice segments (all 11-on-11), but the "first unit" showed Golson at quarterback, Koyack at tight end, Will Fuller and Corey Robinson at wide receiver, Carlisle in the slot and RB Tarean Folston, though he received no more reps then did classmate Greg Bryant or Cam McDaniel.

Function of Kelly's Practice Plan

The defense, both the first and second string nickel, dominated for the bulk of the 11-on-11 period as Notre Dame's makeshift offensive line struggled to protect both Golson and Zaire in its attempts to deal with exotic blitzes shown by defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's unit. It should be immediately noted (before you proceed) that both quarterbacks repeatedly missed throws, Zaire throughout the session.

Said Kelly of facing VanGorder's crew: "It's a great advantage (for the future) and most would not allow it to go the way I allow it to go. By that I mean it would be controlled (by the head coach for the sake of the offense). I allow it to go at will. I want our quarterbacks to see it all. They've seen more exotics and more (packages) this spring than they will see at any one time this year. And it's difficult on them, it's really hard on them. I'd rather have it be difficult. We have great meetings that we can teach off of and get better. Our quarterbacks understand that. They know right now that when it comes to pocket presence and route progression, and how to protect themselves, they are not even close to where they need to be.

"What they're seeing is really some 500-level stuff. All good stuff. I'd rather have it that way then have (the defense) line up like ducks and then we get to the fall and it's like, 'That's the first time I've ever seen that, coach.'

"It's hard, and it's made for some tough meetings, but I'd rather be teaching at those meetings in the spring then just seeing (something easy)."

Golson threw incomplete on first down, scrambled for around five yards on second down, then missed a corner (might have thrown it away) to Carlisle (well-covered by Max Redfield) while rolling right.

-- Zaire's first pass was again intended for Brown but under thrown in the end zone with Josh Atkinson getting credit for a pass defensed (though it should have been six points).

-- Faced with the created scenario of "3rd and 4, 1:35 to play, no timeouts" Golson threw behind Robinson incomplete under pressure, then on fourth down, missed a diving Carlisle on a roll right. Farley had decent coverage on the play considering Golson's escape from the pocket.

Said Kelly to Golson, who complained that his receiver had at one point been held, "You have to put it (the pass) on him! You can't rely on an official."

-- Zaire's turn win the same down in distance produced quick escape for five yards (and a first down), followed by a nice seam pass to C.J. Prosise that was ruled a drop (it was likely a catch and fumble). Carlisle could be heard encouraging Prosise from the sidelines thereafter.

Zaire then missed Brown deep by more than 5 yards (wide open touchdown opportunity) and when forced to his right as a lefty, made a beautiful pivot and throw at full speed near the Irish sidelines. The remarkably tight spiral (considering how Zaire had to contort his body) though missed high.

-- Golson's turn under center. Again under pressure he missed high, then suffered from a dropped tunnel screen to Will Fuller, who's had a few issues catching the ball during our viewing sessions. Golson then threw behind Brown (who apparently messed up the route, per Kelly's instructions thereafter) and the pass was intercepted by Max Redfield, who might have scored on an 80-yard return had the whistle not blown it dead.

-- Zaire finished an ugly offensive day with a missed crossing route to Robinson, a forced throw-away by a blitzing Eilar Hardy off the edge, and a "sack" by a blitzing John Turner.

News and Notes

Hard to get a good read on the offense's continuous struggles today due to the makeshift offensive line, but both QBs missed passes they should have hit. As well, there were precious few running plays (sans a touchdown by Greg Bryant, the only one of the session), so the defense -- already blitz-happy and frenetic -- had free reign to attack with impunity.

-- Senior defensive tackle Tony Springmann (August knee surgery) and senior linebacker Jarrett Grace (two surgeries to repair multiple fractures in his leg) rode exercise bikes while senior center Nick Martin (November knee surgery) walked among his offensive mates in a jersey and shorts.

-- Sophomore cornerback Devin Butler (shoulder surgery) remains out of contact though he has been spotted wearing a helmet and uniform in drills of late.

-We continue to see walk-on Austin Larkin rotating inside in the nickel, this time because Michael Deeb was removed from the field by VanGorder following a mental mistake. VanGorder also scolded early enrollee Andrew Trumbetti: "Know the defense 98!! Know the defense!"

-- Rising springtime defender John Turner was chided by VanGorder in a red zone 7-on-7, "Quit route-reading! It's man!"

-- The defensive line rotated heavily throughout, due largely to the constant presence of the defense's sub package. The "first unit" included senior Anthony Rabasa as a pass rushing end, bookended by Trumbetti.

-- Isaac Rochell worked both inside and out, as did fifth-year defensive tackle Justin Utupo.

-- Zaire is noticeably quicker and faster when he tucks to run than is Golson, but also bails on his receivers working to get free much more readily.

-- The Blue Gold Game will again feature an offense vs. defense format, which a tailored scoring system that allows both units to accrue points throughout. The second half's running clock will ensure the game is finished in its allotted one hour and fifty-five minute timeframe by NBC Sports Network.

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