SOUTH BEND — Life without Cole Kmet could take an adjustment for Notre Dame.
The Irish used Brock Wright and Tommy Tremble as their primary tight ends after their starter suffered a broken collarbone this week. Not only did neither Wright nor Tremble stand out in Saturday’s practice, but also both struggled in their increased roles.
A simple dump-off pass to his tight end wasn’t so easy for starting quarterback Ian Book. He learned that the hard way when targeting Wright in the flat on one occasion. The 6-foot-5, 246-pound junior couldn't create separation from linebacker Drew White, who prevented Wright from catching the football, which popped the ball up for safety Jalen Elliott to intercept.
Both Wright and Tremble failed to create much separation on their routes. Neither tight end caught a pass beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage. Offensive coordinator Chip Long harped on Tremble again for lining up incorrectly as well. Given the sophomore’s versatility at 6-3, 235 pounds, Tremble is asked to line up in a variety of ways.
The Irish have 23 days to patch up their tight end situation before their Sept. 2 season opener at Louisville. After starting the preseason with six practices this week, Notre Dame will hold 12 more sessions before game week.
Plenty more insights came from Notre Dame’s return to the LaBar Practice Complex. Below are more in-depth notes and takeaways from preseason practice No. 6.
Offense lining up
No. 1 offense: quarterback Ian Book, running back Jafar Armstrong, wide receivers Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Michael Young, tight end Brock Wright, left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey. Running back Tony Jones Jr. and tight end Tommy Tremble also rotated with the 1s.
No. 2 offense: quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running backs Kyren Williams and Jahmir Smith, receivers Braden Lenzy, Javon McKinley and Lawrence Keys III, left tackle Josh Lugg, left guard Trevor Ruhland, center Colin Grunhard, right guard John Dirksen and right tackle Andrew Kristofic. Tight ends Tommy Tremble and George Takacs also rotated with the 2s.
The Irish had a more creative look when first lining up in 11-on-11 action. They featured a three-receiver set that included Armstrong (slot), Claypool (middle) and Finke (outside) with Jones serving as the running back.
Freshman Quinn Carroll, who lined up as the second-team left tackle on Sunday, saw sideline work. He tore the ACL in his right knee during practice this week.
Book threw one interception in the two prior practices observed by reporters this week combined. This time, he threw three picks. Only one of Book’s interceptions was an ill-advised throw. Though, he wasn’t finding much success during the 11-on-11 portions.
New schematic elements incorporated into the Irish defense made Book’s job tougher. Unlike the previous observed practices this preseason, Notre Dame’s first-team unit used some of its nickel and dime packages and blitzed more.
Jurkovec found more success deep than Book. Field cornerback TaRiq Bracy intercepted one of Book’s few deep throws in 11-on-11 settings. Book forced it to receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. on the wide side of the field. Starting rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah undercut Finke’s crossing route to intercept Book’s pass at the goal line.
The 6-5, 227-pound Jurkovec provided an encore to his bounce back Thursday practice performance. He connected with Lenzy on a deep post route for a touchdown of nearly 70 yards during the early 11-on-11 portion. The sophomore also found freshman receiver Cam Hart and Keys (blown coverage) for deep touchdowns.
Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton recorded his fifth interception from Jurkovec in the three observed practices. He undercut Jurkovec’s pass intended for Williams. Jurkovec almost threw another pick on an ill-advised pass on the far sideline, but safety Shaun Crawford dropped the interception.
Claypool lost a few battles to top cornerback Troy Pride Jr. but made a living off his 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 action. Young might have come down with the catch of the preseason in the back of the end zone during 1-on-1 work, but his feet did not stay inbounds. The junior came down with a few impressive catches in Thursday’s practice.
Pride is the only defensive back that can at least match Lenzy's straight-line speed. However, Lenzy continued to deal with minor injuries in practice. This time, he received attention after jamming the middle fingers on his left hand. Lenzy nearly dropped his 70-yard touchdown. On Lenzy’s other deep route, the 5-10, 170-pound Bracy easily obtained leverage with his hands.
McKinley is becoming a reliable backup. The senior attracts a decent share of targets and displays a knack for catching the football even if he doesn't have as much speed as some of the younger receivers. Jurkovec connected with McKinley in the back of the end zone for a touchdown in 7-on-7. Sophomore receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. received his most action this preseason and flashed on occasion.
Armstrong and Williams showed their receiving abilities. The former beat Hamilton on a corner route in 1-on-1 work and later scored a touchdown on a crossing route during 7-on-7. Williams registered a couple impressive receptions.
The offensive line reversed from their dominant ways in Thursday’s practice. The first-team unit took all it could handle from the revamped defense. The Irish defensive line stonewalled the running game for the most part. Even defenders like rover Paul Moala and Bracy were getting to the backfield. There was also a high snap from Patterson for the first time in a while.
Place-kickers Jonathan Doerer (scholarship) and Harrison Leonard (walk-on) once again underwent a competition of sorts. This time, referees weren’t present to signal if field goals were made or missed.
From our vantage point, it appeared both kickers missed one field goal. Doerer missed from 28 but connected from 20, 20, 20, 28 and 28 yards. Leonard missed from 28 but drilled his kicks from 20, 20 and 28 yards. Walk-ons Michael Vinson (snapper) and Nolan Henry (holder) handled most of the kicks. Scholarship snapper John Shannon participated some.
Freshman Jay Bramblett seemed to have better hang time on his punts. He booted nine punts for an average of 39.1 yards with a long of 47 and a short of 33. None of his punts observed by reporters this week have traveled 50 yards or more so far.