Notre Dame practiced in a spitting rain on Saturday morning, but that didn't stop ND Insider from observing the festivities. Here are some takeaways from the practice that wrapped up the Irish's first full week of fall camp.
With sophomore Josh Adams sitting out with a hamstring injury and senior Tarean Folston practicing lightly, freshman running back Tony Jones Jr. impressed while getting reps with the starting offense. Sophomore running back Dexter Williams also showcased explosiveness in drills, though he wore a red no-contact jersey and did not participate in the scrimmage periods. Junior Justin Brent sat out the practice as he continues to recover from a lisfranc injury to his foot.
As for the wide receivers, sophomore C.J. Sanders was perhaps the offense’s most impressive performer, catching everything thrown his way and twice burning senior safety Max Redfield for deep receptions in 1-on-1 drills. Senior Torii Hunter Jr. was also characteristically reliable. Sophomore Miles Boykin and freshman Kevin Stepherson both showed improvement after struggling with drops at times on Thursday. Junior Corey Holmes caught a touchdown on a crossing route during red zone drills, a highlight in an otherwise uneven practice for Holmes.
Across the offensive line, Notre Dame’s starters were Mike McGlinchey (LT), Quenton Nelson (LG), Sam Mustipher (C), Tristen Hoge (RG) and Alex Bars (RT). Senior Colin McGovern also worked in with the first team at the right guard position late in practice. McGlinchey stood out, as he so often does, repeatedly blowing Notre Dame’s starting defensive ends off the line of scrimmage.
Senior Durham Smythe and junior Nic Weishar both received starting reps at the tight end position and served as reliable receivers down the field.
As they have throughout fall camp, quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer shared starting reps on Saturday. Zaire led an impressive touchdown drive against the first-team defense in a scrimmage period. On the final play of the drive, Zaire eluded pressure, rolled out to his left and found Jones Jr. wide open for the score. Kizer later led the starting unit into enemy territory as well, though sophomore placekicker Justin Yoon missed the 31-yard field goal attempt.
Junior punter Tyler Newsome showcased his strong right leg on Saturday, repeatedly booming punts with excellent hang time. Sanders and sophomore Chris Finke worked as the Irish’s primary returners.
Notre Dame’s greatest offensive struggles came in the red zone, where the Irish repeatedly failed to score on a 7-on-7 drill from the 10-yard-line. Of course, the drill allowed only for passing plays, which gave the offense an immediate disadvantage. Head coach Brian Kelly said after practice that he is not concerned with the offense’s red zone performance.
The nickel defense became the go-to look for Notre Dame during Saturday’s practice. Both in seven-on-seven and the live scrimmage, the Irish opted to put an extra defensive back on the field for a majority of snaps.
The lineup could be a successful one this season as Notre Dame’s cornerbacks appear to be one of the strengths of the team through the first week of camp.
The starting unit brings Nick Coleman onto the field at cornerback and slides Shaun Crawford inside to nickelback to pair with Cole Luke. Drue Tranquill and Max Redfield remained as the safeties.
The Irish used both a three-man front and four-man front at times. The first three-man defensive line included Andrew Trumbetti, Jerry Tillery and Isaac Rochell with James Onwualu, Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini lined up behind them at linebacker. The four-man front included Jay Hayes, Jarron Jones, Tillery and Rochell with Asmar Bilal, Morgan and Onwualu at linebacker.
The No. 2 defense lined up in a scrimmage situation as follows: defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackles Pete Mokwuah and Elijah Taylor, linebackers Josh Barajas and Te’von Coney, cornerback Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr., nickelback Julian Love and safeties Jalen Elliott and Avery Sebastian.
In addition to cornerbacks Devin Butler and Nick Watkins being sidelined, defensive tackle Daniel Cage and safety Devin Studstill sat out of practice.
The defense was at its best against Notre Dame’s offense near the goal line. The Irish only scored one touchdown in 16 plays in those seven-on-seven scenarios. Luke, Coleman and Crawford prevented the receivers from finding much room to roam.
The seven-on-seven in the middle of the field was dangerous for the Irish offense too. Shaun Crawford nearly intercepted a pass early in the session and freshman linebacker Jonathan Jones intercepted a Brandon Wimbush pass thrown over the middle.
In the live scrimmage, Notre Dame’s defense was able to find some penetration. Tranquill wrapped up Zaire in the backfield on a bad shotgun snap. Tillery disrupted a run to tackle running back Tony Jones Jr. for a loss. Rochell and Tillery also combined for a sack.
Mokwuah brought down Kizer for a sack against the No. 2 offensive line as did Taylor. Daelin Hayes added a tackle for a loss.
The two biggest hits of the day belonged to Morgan, who smashed Josh Anderson on a run up the middle and leveled Chris Finke on a sweep.