Notre Dame football working to forge toughness


South Bend Tribune

CULVER, Ind. — The biggest stir on a day Brian Kelly wasn’t entirely interested in making one was sort of an out-of-context scare that turned out to be rather benign.

Seventy-five minutes into the Notre Dame football team’s first practice of fall training camp, starting left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley was carted off and away from the Culver Academies’ Oliver Field, ND’s home away from home for Monday and the four days that follow.

The initial runaway reaction that spilled into the social media streams was soon quelled by Kelly’s explanation post-practice that it was simply a matter of the 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive cornerstone needing some fluids via IV on a sweltering day.

“First day, I think we were probably just being a little cautious with him,” said Kelly, presiding over his fifth Irish training camp and first with the added responsibilities of substitute wide receiver coach.

Regular receivers coach Mike Denbrock, also ND’s recently promoted offensive coordinator, remains away from the action as he recovers from an undisclosed surgical procedure.

“Whatever Mike is capable of doing, we’re happy to accommodate him, so we’re running all the film to him on his iPad,” Kelly said. “This is strictly about what he’s capable of doing and when he’s capable of doing it. We’re hoping for a speedy recovery, but it’s out of our hands in terms of when that might be.”

What Denbrock missed in person Monday was more subtle than substantial, which suited Kelly just fine, given that retention from the new NCAA-permissible June supervised workouts was at the top of his day one goal list.

“I wasn’t out here yelling and screaming relative to what we were doing offensively and defensively,” he crowed.

If Kelly had been, he might have been drowned out by horses grazing and neighing nearby or new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder just talking in his normal high-decibel teaching tone.

The most significant part of the five-day Culver experience, only one practice of which will take place in pads, is supposed to happen behind the scenes anyway, when lack of air conditioning in the player barracks, limited access to TV and some planned activities tinker with team chemistry.

“Ideally, you want this opportunity for your team to come together,” Kelly said. “I think some of the great teams I’ve had and continue to have, you develop through camp and toughness – a mental and physical toughness. Certainly we’re working on the fundamentals of football, but you’ve got to come together, too. That’s what I’m trying to get by coming off campus and coming here.”

On the field, you could argue Chris Brown had the most eye-opening day, consistently mixing routine and spectacular catches. Senior Everett Golson, meanwhile, looked the part of a No. 1 quarterback, despite throwing an interception that ascending sophomore safety Max Redfield returned uncontested for a touchdown.

Golson, the 2012 starter back after a season of academic exile, took every first-team rep Monday. Sophomore Malik Zaire, hoping to upend the pecking order, worked with the 2s, while freshman DeShone Kizer ran the third team. VanGorder’s son, 6-1, 215-pound freshman walk-on Montgomery, looked like a more-than-capable scout-teamer in drills.

Golson was joined on the first unit by running back Tarean Folston; tight end Ben Koyack; wide receivers Brown, repatriated DaVaris Daniels and Amir Carlisle; and an offensive line from left tackle to right of Stanley, Matt Hegarty, Nick Martin, Christian Lombard and Steve Elmer.

“I use the term you’re either fearful or fearless,” Kelly assessed of Golson’s status. “And I think there was a time when he was a bit fearful at the quarterback position. I want to get him fearless. I think if we can get to that level where he’s fearless. I’m starting to see that move.

“And we want to keep moving him not being afraid and being fearless at that position. If he gets to that level, it’s going to be fun and exciting to watch him play.”

And how long will that take?

“If I knew, we’d all be very rich,” Kelly said. “I know we’re working toward that process, and it’s getting better and you can see it coming in his eyes. You can see it his tone in the way he communicates. I’ll know it and you’ll know it when we see it.”

Golson did a get a kick out of a Kelly quote in his Friday press conference in which the coach intimated Golson “rode” the bus rather than driving it to the national championship game in 2012.

“I think that's more so for y'all to eat up,” Golson said to the media with a laugh.

Personnel matters

One of the most impressive stretches of practice actually happened after it.

While a handful of his teammates were dispatched to doing post-practice interviews on the field and others broke for lunch, freshman wide receiver Justin Brent continued working for roughly 30 minutes after the final whistle, catching balls off a JUGS machine.

 Senior middle linebacker Jarrett Grace, recovering from four breaks in his right leg last October, was not wearing a brace on his leg Monday, but really didn’t participate in many of the drills or any of the scrimmage work. Grace had risen to starting status at the time of his injury.

Former walk-on Joe Schmidt figures to begin the season as the starter, though Kelly remains optimistic Grace will be able to strengthen the position at some point this season.

 Newcomer Cody Riggs joined the brigade to become ND’s next punt returner. The fifth-year senior cornerback and Florida transfer was the most impressive among the group fielding punts Monday. Running back Greg Bryant and C.J. Prosise were the others involved.

• Very few of the June-arriving freshmen worked with either the first or second teams Monday, but cornerback Nick Watkins did garner some reps with the No. 2 defense later in the practice.

• Keep in mind depth charts, especially beyond the first team, are extremely fluid in August, but here’s how the No. 1 defense lined up Monday: Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara at end; Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones inside; Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt and John Turner at linebacker; Austin Collinsworth and Max Redfield at safety; Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell at cornerback.

The No. 2s on defense were Andrew Trumbetti and Isaac Rochell at end: Justin Utupo and Jacob Matuska inside; Doug Randolph, Michael Deeb and James Onwualu at linebacker; Matthias Farley and Elijah Shumate at safety; Devin Butler and Cody Riggs at cornerback.

• The second-team offense was Malik Zaire at QB; Cam McDaniel at running back; Corey Robinson, Will Fuller and Prosise at receiver; Durham Smythe at tight end; and an offensive line from left tackle to right of Mike McGlinchey, Conor Hanratty, Mark Harrell, Colin McGovern and Quenton Nelson.

• Wide receiver Will Mahone, who fell off the roster and left school after legal trouble this summer, wrote some impassioned apologies and words of appreciation to the Notre Dame community on Facebook and Instagram recently.

The junior from Austintown, Ohio, isn’t expected to eventually return to ND, however.

“I think Will’s going to look at other options,” Kelly said. | 574-235-6112 | Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson hands off the ball to running back Cam McDaniel during the first training camp practice Monday at Culver (Ind.) Academies. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)