SOUTH BEND — Cornerback Troy Pride Jr. felt there was something different about Chris Finke in Notre Dame's Tuesday practice.
Pride had not faced the senior slot receiver in five days, as Finke missed Saturday’s session due to class obligations. Pride thought he looked faster. Finke backed that up with multiple long receptions. Last season, Finke caught just two passes beyond 27 yards.
Finke spearheaded perhaps the most complete spring session among ND’s starting receivers. Finke, along with fellow starters Chase Claypool and Michael Young, shined in 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and scrimmage settings. ND’s practice, held at the Loftus Sports Center, marked No. 7 of 15 this spring.
Quarterbacks Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec relied on Finke in the intermediate passing game. Screens and dump offs to Finke were often turned into large gains. Finke also created separation with ease, freeing him to make a few grabs well beyond the line of scrimmage.
The Irish defensive backs had a tough time keeping up with Finke’s shifty route running. Safety DJ Brown, who continues to raise eyebrows this spring, was left in the dust by Finke in a 1-on-1 drill. Finke burned Brown again during a scrimmage portion via a post route, making an easy catch in the end zone. Finke twice created plenty of separation against cornerback Avery Davis in 1-on-1 and scrimmage settings.
Claypool’s catch radius and hand strength carried him to a strong outing. He flashed both on a deep route against Pride, which resulted in the catch of the day. With his left hand on Pride for leverage, Claypool snagged Book’s pass with his right hand. There was no need for Claypool to secure possession with his left hand.
Claypool again beat Pride deep in a scrimmage portion. Later in the scrimmage, after running a crisp out route, Claypool secured a catch while falling to his side.
Sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy appeared to have some physical limitations and did not participate much. That helped Joe Wilkins Jr., Lawrence Keys III and Young accrue more targets.
Young and Keys saw their uptick through more jet sweeps and intermediate passes. One of Young’s more impressive grabs came on a tight slant route guarded by Pride, who had his worst media-observed practice of the spring. Young registered a long reception via a post route in a scrimmage portion.
Keys looked like the most fluid route runner among ND’s underclassmen receivers. The sophomore created separation with ease through his quickness and keen routes. Keys caught a long pass from Jurkovec early in the practice. He then created a gaping amount of separation against cornerback TaRiq Bracy on an out route during 1-on-1 drills.
It was an up-and-down day for Kevin Austin Jr. The sophomore receiver flashed his ability on occasion — like when he caught a deep pass over Davis. But then there were times where Austin dropped routine passes. Austin failed to create separation when matched up with Pride, and he lost a jump ball battle against Bracy.
ND’s tight ends did not perform like they did last week. Junior Cole Kmet came back to Earth after catching at least three touchdowns on Saturday. The Irish quarterbacks did not target Kmet often, and when they did, it came with little success. ND linebacker Asmar Bilal logged a pass breakup against Kmet.
The Irish quarterbacks struggled with their timing and deep balls. Book’s longer throws seemed to lose more steam than usual. Jurkovec tested ND’s defense deep more often but to no avail.
Claypool fell victim to a couple of Book’s overthrows. Book also found an open Kmet, but his underthrown ball gave safety Jalen Elliott time to catch up and defend the play. Jurkovec missed his wide open tight end, George Takacs, on an intermediate throw.
Book still looked more refined than Jurkovec. However, it seemed Book settled for checkdown throws more than offensive coordinator Chip Long would have liked.
There were no surprises on who started for the Irish offense. ND’s offensive line comprised of the usual: left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey. Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. rotated at running back. Book and Kmet started at quarterback and tight end, respectively.
Early enrolled freshman Zeke Correll emerged as one rotational player of note. He served as ND's backup center. Until this week, Correll rotated behind Luke Jones. The sophomore struggled with his snapping responsibilities in Saturday’s session. Jones might have just been limited in practice, though.
Running back Kyren Williams and receiver Isaiah Robertson raised eyebrows on a couple plays. The Irish involved Williams as a receiver in the form of two-back sets. He broke a long run early in practice and caught an intermediate pass during a 7-on-7 portion. Robertson’s diving grab on a deep, outside route in 7-on-7 rivaled Claypool’s one-handed reception.
Jones helped seal Finke’s promising day. Finke turned a screen up the field and had only Elliott to beat. Jones pulled ahead and blocked Elliott for 20 yards as Finke wisely trailed behind en route to a touchdown.
The following players missed practice because of class obligations: offensive linemen John Dirken, Josh Lugg, Dillan Gibbons and running back Jahmir Smith.
The following offensive players were limited to sideline work at practice: receiver Javon McKinley and offensive linemen Colin Grunhard and Trevor Ruhland.
Recruiting: Fort Branch (Ind.) Gibson Southern's Brady Allen, a 2022 quarterback, attended practice.