SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s practice Tuesday featured a healthy dose of deep balls.
One drill emphasizing the deep ball was introduced for the media to observe for the first time this spring. One receiver after another ran go routes as one defensive back trailed. Quarterbacks Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec took turns firing passes to them.
The best throw of the drill came on Jurkovec’s heave to Lawrence Keys III. His pass glided over Jalen Elliott — who was in coverage — and nailed the sophomore in stride for the touchdown. Jurkovec also connected with receiver Kevin Austin Jr. deep in a 7-on-7 and scrimmage portion.
Jurkovec placed another deep ball perfectly to tight end Tommy Tremble during a 7-on-7 setting. In a scrimmage portion near the end of practice, Jurkovec extended the play with his legs and delivered an impressive throw to running back C’Bo Flemister down the sideline.
Beyond those five throws, it was a tough day for Jurkovec. The sophomore threw a spring-high (for observed practices) two interceptions — both of which came on deep throws. Jurkovec seemed to struggle with accuracy on intermediate throws and made some poor decisions.
Safety Alohi Gilman record the first pick, undercutting a throw in double coverage during a 7-on-7 portion. The second interception fell into the hands of Houston Griffith. The cornerback hauled in Jurkovec’s pass intended for Austin on a deep route. Jurkovec also blundered on an exchange with running back Kyren Williams, which resulted in a fumble.
In hopes to advance his game this offseason, Book has focused on deep balls and taking more risks. Book took a big step in Saturday's practice, delivering a handful of deep, accurate throws to receiver Chase Claypool. On Tuesday, Book again showed a willingness to test defensive backs when needed and a capability to drop the ball in the bucket.
He still played it safer than Jurkovec, but Book raised eyebrows on a couple throws. In the first scrimmage setting, Book delivered a strike to receiver Michael Young. The pass fell into the junior’s hands right before he trotted out of bounds.
Practice No. 13 of 15 for the Irish this spring — held at the Loftus Sports Center — concluded with two quality back-shoulder throws from Book. Both were to Claypool, who faced Griffith in one-on-one coverage. The first pass traveled nearly 40 yards and timed well with Claypool’s turn toward the ball. Claypool’s second reception came in the end zone.
Cornerback Troy Pride Jr. held his own against Claypool, winning a couple battles against him in 1-on-1 drills. That was not the case in Saturday’s practice. Claypool secured a couple more passes throughout practice, but the senior’s back-shoulder receptions were the highlights of his day.
Slot receiver Chris Finke continued to shine in 1-on-1 drills. No Irish defensive back can seem to cover the senior one on one in space. Finke looks faster than he did last season, and Pride admitted as much in an interview a couple weeks ago. Finke edged Griffith twice (1-on-1), safety DJ Brown (1-on-1) and looked smooth in the scrimmage portions.
Austin snagged more deep balls than any Irish receiver. He caught a couple jump balls by using his athleticism. Young and Keys had their fair share of impressive plays. Sophomore Joe Wilkins Jr. created plenty of separation on a reception against cornerback TaRiq Bracy during 1-on-1 drills.
With Cole Kmet sidelined, Tremble popped out more than any other Irish tight end. He continued to flash versatility with his 6-foot-3, 237-pound frame. Wright won matchups against safety Derrik Allen in a 1-on-1 drill and the deep ball drill. He lost in a 1-on-1 against Gilman, though. The Irish used Tremble down the field more than Wright in scrimmage settings.
Flemister and Williams saw the field more with running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Jahmir Smith sidelined. Flemister made the catch of the day (mentioned earlier) among ND’s running backs. Williams also earned more time and made a couple nice catches in 7-on-7 drills. Junior running back Jafar Armstrong registered an impressive outside run as right tackle Robert Hainsey sealed the edge.
The Irish continued to test Josh Lugg at center. The junior intermingled with early enrolled freshman Zeke Correll on the No. 2 offense. Luke Jones’ transfer, which became public on Saturday, left a need for depth and experience at the position. Senior Trevor Ruhland also remains injured.
When the Irish began practice with their tempo offense, the first unit included left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer, right tackle Robert Hainsey, wide receivers Chase Claypool, Michael Young and Chris Finke, running backs Kyren Williams and Jafar Armstrong and quarterback Ian Book.
The second unit consisted of left tackle Andrew Kristofic, left guard Josh Lugg, center Zeke Correll, right guard John Dirksen, right tackle Quinn Carroll, wide receivers Joe Wilkins Jr., Lawrence Keys III and Javon McKinley, tight end Tommy Tremble, running back C’Bo Flemister and quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
Receiver Braden Lenzy dressed out but did not participate. Tight end Cole Kmet participated in limited fashion and sat out during most sessions. Tony Jones Jr. did not don a helmet but hovered around the running backs during practice.