SOUTH BEND — Kyle Hamilton added two interceptions to his prolific preseason total in Notre Dame’s Saturday practice.
The standout freshman safety elevated his total to seven across the four full practices observed by the media. Junior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah marks the only other Irish player with more than one — and he has two. Starting safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott each have one, along with cornerbacks TaRiq Bracy and Isaiah Rutherford.
Hamilton’s interceptions felt different this time around. For starters, he tallied his first pick against starting quarterback Ian Book. The senior targeted wide receiver Chase Claypool deep down the middle, but Hamilton undercut the pass.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Atlanta Marist product made a similar play on backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec. The sophomore launched a deep pass intended for tight end George Takacs deep down the middle. Hamilton read the play and closed in on the ball for the interception.
Both picks were also Hamilton’s first in Notre Dame Stadium. While Hamilton’s interceptions almost seemed routine, they were a first for the hundreds of spectators in attendance. For the first and only time this preseason, the Irish allowed season-ticket holders and Notre Dame faculty and staff to watch practice.
Below are more in-depth notes and takeaways from the Irish defense.
Defense lining up
No. 1 defense: defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and nose guard Kurt Hinish, mike linebacker Drew White, buck linebacker Asmar Bilal, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, boundary cornerback Troy Pride Jr., field cornerback TaRiq Bracy and safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott.
• The No. 1 linebackers during tempo were Asmar Bilal (mike), Jack Lamb (buck) and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (rover).
No. 2 defense: defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola and nose guard Jacob Lacey, mike linebacker Shayne Simon, buck linebacker Jack Lamb, rover Jack Kiser, boundary cornerback Houston Griffith, field cornerback K.J. Wallace and safeties Kyle Hamilton and Shaun Crawford.
• The No. 2 linebackers during tempo were Bo Bauer (mike), Jordan Genmark Heath (buck) and Jack Kiser (rover). Crawford also saw work at field corner in tandem with Griffith on the opposite side. Temitope Agoro (boundary) and Avery Davis (field) also rotated.
No. 2 rover Paul Moala did not participate and sported a sling around his right arm. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Moala underwent surgery on a torn tendon in his right thumb this week and is expected to return early next week. Kelly added that cornerback Donte Vaughn should also return to full contact early next week. The senior has been limited with a quadriceps injury.
Any concerns about Notre Dame’s safety depth should not be of the short-term variety. Backup safeties Kyle Hamilton and Shaun Crawford are excelling in their increased roles. DJ Brown also had a solid day.
The Irish safeties made their presence felt in run support. Hamilton stopped running back C’Bo Flemister in his tracks on an outside run. Crawford met starting running back Jafar Armstrong on the edge for a minimal gain. Brown also tackled Armstrong near the line of scrimmage.
Maybe Crawford’s best play came against starting slot receiver Chris Finke. Crawford registered a pass breakup after Book attempted a jump ball to Finke. Hamilton lost both of his reps against receiver Lawrence Keys III in 1-on-1 work. Brown yielded an impressive catch to freshman running back Kyren Williams.
Sliding to boundary corner has been an adjustment for Troy Pride Jr. Dating back to spring football, the senior has yet to record an interception in front of the media this offseason. On Saturday, he once again struggled to contain No. 1 receiver Chase Claypool. He first lost all three of his 1-on-1 matchups — and two of them were by a wide margin.
Claypool overpowered Pride on a handful of jump balls in scrimmage action. Pride’s losses in these matchups might not be an indictment on him, though. It instead could be a testament to Claypool’s prowess.
None of ND’s defenders can seem to guard the 6-foot-4, 229-pound receiver — in 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work. No matter who lines up at field cornerback, most of the action comes to Claypool’s boundary side.
The No. 1 offense faced the No. 2 defense and the No. 1 defense challenged the No. 2 offense at certain times Saturday. Both defensive line and linebacker groups stonewalled the running game. Out of maybe 20 runs on the day, only a few of them went for more than five yards. The Irish recorded a handful of sacks and sealed the edge well on outside runs.
Defensive linemen Jamir Jones and Hayes both recorded sacks. Okwara, Ogundeji and Kareem also provided decent pressure. Third-team nose guard Jamion Franklin stuffed running back Tony Jones Jr. for a short run. Simon was credited with a sack on Book, though defenders were not permitted to hit the quarterback.
The Irish true freshmen on defense had maybe their best collective practice. Kiser performed well in his increased role. Buck linebacker Marist Liufau recorded a pass breakup and a sack. Safety Litchfield Ajavon registered a tackle for a loss. Defensive linemen Isaiah Foskey and Howard Cross III had their moments. And of course, Hamilton had another standout performance.
Junior Jonathan Doerer received a majority of the reps at place-kicker. He connected on field goals from 20, 21, 30, 33, 38, 42 and 44 yards but missed from 46, 50 and 50. Walk-on kicker Harrison Leonard drilled all three of his field goals from 21, 33 and 42 yards.
Doerer seems to have the upper hand (or upper leg) over Leonard at the moment. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian had Doerer working exclusively with the first-team unit. Leonard seemed to adopt a shorter approach to his kicks recently. His place-kicks are more consistent now and traveling at a higher trajectory than before.
Starting freshman punter Jay Brumblett once again had solid hang time. His punts were booted at a distance of 39, 44, 44, 44 and 31 yards. Receivers Chris Finke, Lawrence Keys III and Joe Wilkins Jr. returned the punts.
The following Irish players lined up with the punt team (from left to right): safety Alohi Gilman, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, buck linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath, long snapper John Shannon, linebacker Shayne Simon, safety Jalen Elliott and receiver Chase Claypool. From left to right, the three protectors in front of Bramblett were tight end Brock Wright, offensive tackle Josh Lugg and left guard Dillan Gibbons.