SOUTH BEND — The bells and whistles of the newly built Irish Indoor Athletics Center were hard to ignore during the early stages of Notre Dame’s eighth football practice this preseason.
A video board overseeing the 50-yard line displayed highlights of previous Irish seasons. Music from rap artists like Drake and Future pierced eardrums more than they would in ND's other facilities. Players and spectators began to sweat from the outside’s warm, humid air that had permeated the building.
Reporters stepped inside the 111,400-square-foot practice facility — for the first time since its construction finished this summer — to observe the stretching portion of ND’s session on Monday. But once the early portion ceased, so did the sights and sounds.
Distractions were no longer available for competing place-kickers Jonathan Doerer (scholarship) and Harrison Leonard (walk-on). As other members of the Irish scattered across the two outdoor practice fields at the LaBar Practice Complex, ND’s specialists and special teams units remained indoors.
For the first time this preseason, Doerer and Leonard alternated after each field goal attempt. In the prior two practices observed by reporters, Doerer had first dibs on kicking his handful of field goals before Leonard followed suit.
Doerer connected on all five of his 33-yard attempts. Leonard drilled just three of his six kicks, missing his first two and three of his first four.
The 5-foot-10, 203-pound freshman Leonard seemed to incorporate a shorter approach than usual. A tweak in mechanics might explain some of Leonard’s recent struggles. He missed from 28 yards in Saturday’s practice. His kicks had traveled at a low trajectory.
The Irish coaching staff’s involvement during special teams work might have been the most interesting part of practice. Later in the session, Doerer kicked on the opposite side as special teams coordinator Brian Polian worked with Leonard. Head coach Brian Kelly also assisted with Leonard.
What Leonard’s increased attention implies remains unknown. But the manner in which he and Doerer alternated suggested ND’s kicking situation is a full-fledged competition.
Doerer has been far from perfect through his first three observed sessions. He fell about 10 yards short from 50 and missed a 28-yarder last week. The more distance, the more apparent Doerer’s right-to-left slice and unpredictability becomes.
Freshman punter Jay Bramblett worked as the holder and senior John Shannon and walk-on sophomore Michael Vinson (walk-on) took turns as the long snapper.
The following groups were used when Notre Dame's offense went through its tempo drill early in practice.
No. 1 offense: quarterback Ian Book, running backs Tony Jones Jr. (backfield) and Jafar Armstrong (slot), wide receivers Javon McKinley, Michael Young and Chris Finke, left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey.
No. 2 offense: quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running backs Jahmir Smith (backfield) and Kyren Williams (slot), wide receivers Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin Jr., tight end Brock Wright, left tackle Josh Lugg, left guard Dillan Gibbons, center Colin Grunhard, right guard John Dirksen and right tackle Andrew Kristofic.
No. 3 offense: quarterback Brendon Clark, running back Mick Assaf, wide receivers Cam Hart, Kendall Abdur-Rahman and Joe Wilkins Jr., tight end George Tackacs, left tackle Quinn Murphy, right tackle Logan Plantz, center Zeke Correll, right guard John Olmstead and right tackle Cole Mabry.
Top receiver Chase Claypool participated in position drills but did not line up during the tempo drill or 1-on-1s. Gibbons displaced graduate student Trevor Ruhland, who worked as the second-team left guard in prior practices. Austin received more work than all three of his previously observed practices combined.
Tight end Cole Kmet (collarbone) and left tackle Quinn Carroll (right knee) remained sidelined.
The defense did not display its first-team group or backup units. Defensive backs Houston Griffith and DJ Brown returned to action after limited or no participation in the past two observed practices. Senior field cornerback Donte Vaughn looked limited and worked one-on-one with assistant strength and conditioning coach David Grimes.
The media watched less than 15 minutes of valuable reps pitting the offense and defense against each other. In 1-on-1 settings, it was the Claypool-less offense that dominated.
Young seems to make a difficult catch every practice. This time, the junior secured a deep pass with cornerback TaRiq Bracy in tight coverage. Young bested Bracy again on a slant route but created enough separation to haul in the pass with ease.
Sophomore receiver Lawrence Keys III also impressed with a deep catch over starting safety Alohi Gilman. Finke burned cornerback Avery Davis deep and Austin left freshman corner K.J. Wallace in the dust on his vertical route.
Two freshmen stood out: Williams and Abdur-Rahman. Williams showed off his quickness and route running on his touchdown reception from a corner route. He froze freshman safety Litchfield Ajavon to such a degree that his teammates bellowed out Williams' name.
Abdur-Rahman evoked a similar reaction after his circus catch. At the expense of standout freshman safety Kyle Hamilton, Abdur-Rahman stayed inbounds by a hair on his deep crossing route. The play might have even surprised Abdur-Rahman, who could hardly conceal his excitement. As Abdur-Rahman trotted back to the receiver line with a pep in his step, the Irish coaching staff urged him to finish running to the end zone.
Hamilton made amends with a jaw-dropping hit on Lenzy. The former five-star recruit jammed Lenzy roughly five yards off the line of scrimmage. His force, though, was so substantial that it knocked the sophomore on his backside. With a look of defeat, Lenzy began to trudge back to the receiver line.
The Irish coaches told Lenzy to finish his route, however. He did, but that resulted in Hamilton adding salt into the wound. He stuck to Lenzy like glue and broke up the pass. Lenzy did push-ups for punishment. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder lost a matchup to another freshman, cornerback Isaiah Rutherford.
Book and Jurkovec threw solid deep balls and rarely missed their target in the limited time observed by the media. Wright, Tremble and Takacs didn’t stand out much. Starting safety Jalen Elliott tallied a pass breakup against Wright on a slant route.