Practice report: Notre Dame football 8/19

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – On another sunny morning in South Bend, the Irish took practice inside Notre Dame Stadium as reporters gathered in the press box for media day. The Irish pushed forward in search of depth in the final week of preseason.

The offensive line showed a different look with Conor Hanratty playing left guard with the starting unit. But the move didn’t necessarily reflect the starting five that will play against Rice, as head coach Brian Kelly clarified after practice. Hanratty stepped in to allow Matt Hegarty, the projected left guard, to work with the No. 2 unit at center. Hegarty would likely fill in for starting center Nick Martin if needed. Ronnie Stanley (left tackle), Christian Lombard (right guard) and Steve Elmer (right tackle) should all start against Rice with Hegarty and Martin.

Running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant continued to log the majority of carries in practice. Bryant showed a nice burst in a couple runs on the edge in 11-on-11 scrimmage. Folston displayed quick cuts in taking the ball up the middle. Cam McDaniel has showed improvement as a pass-catcher. In one-on-one drills near the goal line, McDaniel shook safety Nicky Baratti to catch a pass wide open in the end zone.

Starter Everett Golson proved to be the more reliable quarterback once again. Sophomore Malik Zaire looked shaky in one-on-one drills, sailing a couple short passes over receivers’ heads. The slot duo of C.J. Prosise and Amir Carlisle made their bids for best catch of practice. Prosise hauled in a beautiful pass in the back corner of the end zone from Zaire in the one-on-one session.

Carlisle saved his gem for the last play observed by reporters. He caught a 25-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with defensive back Matthias Farley just in front of him and a couple more defenders in the area. The pass to the middle of the field came from Golson, who stepped into the pass with an offensive lineman pushed right in his face by the pass rush.

The defense worked on a lot of nickel packages with Farley replacing linebacker James Onwualu and Elijah Shumate taking reps ahead of Max Redfield at safety. Defensive end Isaac Rochell will be relied upon in the absence of Ishaq Williams. In some passing situations, Rochell moved inside to get another defensive end on the field.

The second defensive line appears to be solidifying with Romeo Okwara and Grant Blankenship at defensive end and Justin Utupo and Daniel Cage at defensive tackle. Anthony Rabasa earned more playing time in scrimmage situations at defensive end than in previous practices. The starting defensive line looked iffy against the run, but linebackers Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt were able to fill the holes on some inside runs.

The emergence of Cole Luke and Cody Riggs at cornerback has lessened the loss of KeiVarae Russell, but the secondary’s depth will be challenged. Cornerbacks Devin Butler and Nick Watkins showed some flashes in pass coverage again on Tuesday. Farley will likely be asked to do a little bit of everything with his most prominent role being at nickelback.

MVP: Jaylon Smith. The sophomore linebacker was all over the field in scrimmage settings. His physicality will be tested against the run this year.

Biggest surprise: Ben Koyack. The senior tight end showed a couple new roles on Tuesday. He lined up next to Golson as an H-back in the pistol with a running back behind them. He also was part of a fake punt drill, which had the ball snapped to him and had him running the option with the punter.

Impressive freshman: Grant Blankenship. The freshman defensive end has become a solid backup option. His stature will allow him to hold his own, but he’ll be challenged to perfect technique to make plays. | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder points during practice on inside Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)