Notre Dame football opened spring practice Thursday. Here are some early observations
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame's first spring practice of the Marcus Freeman era started before the sun came up. The players were in the Irish Athletic Center as numerous players had the chance to practice while others worked off the side nursing injuries.
Here are three observations from Thursday's practice:
1. Wide receivers worked on fundamentals
There are questions about whether Notre Dame is thin at the receiver position, but new receivers coach Chansi Stuckey had them working on Monday.
When the team broke off to individual workouts, Stuckey gave them a little pep talk, and then it was time to work.
► Chat transcript: Talking Notre Dame football as Spring practice is set to commence
Stuckey first had them work on watching the center snap the ball. Receivers make the mistake of jumping because they hear a certain cadence. The receiver's coach repeatedly told his guys to watch, not listen.
Footwork was next as they caught the ball while moving their hips side to side and keeping their feet moving.
Sometimes a quarterback has to throw on the run, under pressure, or with players in his face, so he isn't going to make the perfect throw. Stuckey made sure they practiced that by having the receivers run in a straight line, but he threw behind them. Then throwing passes almost into the ground so they could reach down and grab it. Finally, the tall passes that only a giant or someone wearing the 90s pump Nike's could catch. Naturally, the receivers showed off their vertical ability.
Lastly, Stuckey had them practice against a dummy in press coverage so that it could help with footwork. Once the receiver made his move, the ball was thrown over their shoulder so they could make the touchdown grab.
The new receivers coach looks like he will work carefully with his guys on fundamentals so whoever is in the game has no excuse.
2. All eyes are on the offensive line
The Irish have a rich history of sending great offensive linemen to the NFL. That is because of the work offensive line coach Harry Hiestand did in his first stint at Notre Dame and is back after two seasons with the Chicago Bears and three years off.
The offensive line had the pleasure of working outside; as their breath showed early in the morning, they began by doing one-on-ones. One player held a bag, and the other hit it. Blake Fisher faced off against fellow offensive lineman Joe Alt.
Other players participating first in offensive line drills were Zeke Correll snapping the ball in place for injured center Jarrett Patterson and Andrew Kristofic for Correll.
Freeman has big plans for his lines.
"I believe in our O line, our D line being the foundation of our team," Freeman said. "So, I'm excited to see if that can become our identity. That's my vision."
He believes both will be a strength for this team.
Freeman explained it as "to be a team that can run the ball and stops the run."
3. Freeman's Agenda
Again this is Marcus Freeman's first spring practice as the head coach, so he will do things differently than Brian Kelly. He said Thursday that he will be listening to his players' input to see what is working.
During his media session, Freeman was asked some things he wanted to accomplish this spring.
a. "Challenge everything."
"It means be aggressive, do not play timid, do not play scared, think outside the box offensively and defensively schematically," Freeman said. "Be okay with taking chances."
b. "How do we get tougher?"
"I want to see how much this group is going to be willing to sacrifice for each other," Freeman said.
c. "Competitive spirit."
"We have to have a mindset, every drill, every rep, we're gonna win," Freeman said.
As for the first day, Freeman seemed loose after practice, joked around with the media, and wore a smile for most of his press conference. He also wished some Irish luck to the men's and women's basketball teams as they journey through their respective NCAA tournaments.