SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly hasn’t closed the door on Notre Dame’s place-kicker competition.
But after Saturday’s practice in Notre Dame Stadium, junior Jonathan Doerer seems to be in control of if and when that opening shuts.
“Jonathan has done a great job of stepping up and proving that he is going to take that job and win that job,” the Irish head coach said following preseason practice No. 12. “We still have some more time. He’s put himself in a very good position.”
Doerer has been competing with freshman walk-on Harrison Leonard for the right to take over the place-kicking duties following the departure of Justin Yoon, the most accurate kicker in ND program history.
Doerer handled most of the field goals during Saturday’s practice, which was open to reporters, season-ticket holders and Notre Dame faculty and staff. A crowd of hundreds watched as the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Doerer made his first five field goals from 21, 30, 33, 38 and 42 yards to start practice.
But when pushed farther back, Doerer’s kicks sailed right. His three straight misses — once from 46 yards and twice from 50 yards — had plenty of distance, but he couldn’t keep the ball between the uprights.
Later during the scrimmage portion of practice, Doerer converted an extra point and nailed a 44-yard attempt.
“Jonathan has been really consistent in camp,” Kelly said. “He’s done all the things that we’ve asked him.”
Doerer, who previously served as a kickoff specialist, has only attempted one field goal in his Notre Dame career: a 30-yard make against Navy last season. He also made five of his six extra points while filling in for Yoon.
The practice schedule this month has been packed with opportunities for the kickers. Kelly said he can’t remember devoting more time to field goals during his career. It may be paying off with both Doerer and Leonard.
The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Leonard made all three of his field goals to start practice from 21, 33 and 42 yards.
“Harrison is very steady as well. Solid kicker,” Kelly said.
“What I liked is (Saturday) we had some consistency with two kickers hitting the ball, and it seemed easy. That’s a good place to be.”
The scrimmage portions of Notre Dame’s practice Saturday were full contact for everyone not playing quarterback. That led to hard hits from defenders taking down running backs on carries and wide receivers after catches.
Those parts of practice offer valuable opportunities for defenders to show their tackling ability and offensive players to show their toughness.
But during 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 segments, Kelly doesn’t want players on either side of the ball going to the ground.
He pointed to the daily battles between wide receiver Chase Claypool and cornerback Troy Pride Jr. as an example of how two players can be competitive against each other but also knowing when to hold off to prevent possible injuries.
“That’s where we want it to end up for everybody,” Kelly said. “Some of the younger players don’t quite understand how to get there yet. They’re trying to impress and sometimes they’re on the ground. We don’t like to see guys on the ground especially in 1-on-1s and 7-on-7s. That can put us in vulnerable positions.
“They’re growing. They’re understanding. Sometimes it requires us to remind them loudly to do so. But we’re getting there.”
The wear and tear of preseason camp kept a few Irish players limited or sidelined Saturday.
Second-team rover Paul Moala attended practice wearing a bucket hat, and a sling for his right arm. Kelly said Moala recently had surgery to reattach a tendon in his right thumb. Moala, a Penn High product, missed practice earlier in the week, but Kelly said they expect him to be cleared to resume practice on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Senior cornerback Donte Vaughn remained limited as he deals with a quad injury, Kelly said. Vaughn has been doing position drills but has been held out of live contact situations. Kelly said Vaughn may be cleared as soon as Monday or Tuesday.
Starting wide receiver Michael Young missed the last half of practice and left the field with trainers. Kelly said Young landed on his shoulder, but he didn’t receive any more information immediately after practice.
Wide receiver Javon McKinley and offensive tackle Cole Mabry rode stationary bikes during part of Saturday’s practice. Tight end Cole Kmet (broken collarbone) and offensive tackle Quinn Carroll (torn ACL) remained sidelined.
• As has become tradition, freshman safety Kyle Hamilton once again delivered on intercepting a pass during an open practice for reporters. He actually did it twice on Saturday: once each on passes from quarterbacks Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec.
Reporters have been allowed to observe four full Notre Dame practices this preseason. In those practices, Hamilton has made seven interceptions. No other Irish player has intercepted more than two passes in those four practices.
The only time Hamilton has failed to secure an interception in front of reporters came on Monday when only the first hour of practice was open for observation.
Hamilton caught both of his interceptions Saturday in the middle of the field during scrimmage action. Book’s throw was delivered late in the area of Claypool, and Jurkovec’s throw was intended for tight end George Takacs.
• With Young unavailable, the Irish offense deployed graduate student Chris Finke in Young’s place as the outside receiver and used sophomore Lawrence Keys III in the slot. Keys took advantage of his opportunity with a touchdown reception of roughly 20 yards. He caught an out-breaking route near the sideline for a first down and managed to stay in bounds and beat everyone to the end zone.
• Notre Dame’s second-team offense struggled with three holding penalties on one possession. Tackle Josh Lugg held defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji early in the drive. Then a screen pass that running back C’Bo Flemister turned into a touchdown was wiped out by another holding penalty.
The worst offense came next. On a play that started with a defensive offside penalty, Jurkovec failed to complete a pass downfield. But instead of receiving the free penalty yardage, the play was nullified completely because running back Kyren Williams was flagged for holding.