FOOTBALL

Notre Dame football practice report 4-11

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

An emphasis on physicality has been one of the pitched storylines of Notre Dame’s spring football session.

The defense wants to be tougher. The offensive line wants to be tougher. On Saturday, the Irish got a chance to show that toughness in a practice filled will plenty of live scrimmage action.

The Irish quarterbacks were stripped of their red jerseys and given blue ones to designate them as fair game for contact. The end of practice consisted of nearly 60 plays of live scrimmage to get a better measure of how the team is developing in game-like situations.

Redshirt freshman Malik Zaire took snaps with the No. 1 offense. Senior Everett Golson worked with the second unit. Both finished the scrimmage session with a similar output – completing roughly half of their passes and each throwing one interception.

Zaire made a couple of nice runs in read-option situations. His first impressive run came near the end of the first series. He faked a handoff and kept the ball to slice through the middle of the defense. Safety Max Redfield made a nice open field tackle to bring down Zaire after a 12-yard gain to inside 10-yard line.

Then the momentum stalled. Defensive end Isaac Rochell wrapped up Zaire for no gain on 1st-and-goal. Zaire rolled right on second down and threw to Durham Smythe, who couldn’t complete the catch on the sideline. On third down, linebacker Jaylon Smith deflected a pass over the middle and Redfield tracked down the ball for an interception.

The No. 2 offense didn’t take long to do what the first offense couldn’t: score. Converted running back C.J. Prosise took a handoff around the right edge on the first play and ran away from the defense for a 70-yard touchdown. He lived up to head coach Brian Kelly’s billing as the team’s fastest running back in the open field.

The second unit stayed on the field and found more success on the ground with Greg Bryant and Prosise. Then Golson took his turn at throwing an interception. On 3rd-and-one, Golson lofted an errant deep pass in the direction of wide receiver Chris Brown that landed right in the hands of safety Matthias Farley.

The rest of the scrimmage was mostly won by the defense, who held the offense scoreless for the remainder. Zaire found Brown for a 44-yard catch and run, but that drive ended with a 36-yard field goal missed wide left by Tyler Newsome. Rochell and Sheldon Day combined for a sack earlier in the series.

Before the scrimmage, the team spent plenty of time working on individual drills. The defense spent an early part of practice working on forcing turnovers. The offensive and defensive lines got after it in a little inside run action. Redshirt freshman Alex Bars worked with the starting unit at left guard, leaving fellow redshirt freshman Quenton Nelson to work with the second team.

Day looked fresh and explosive on the defensive line. Wednesday was the first day he was unleashed for full participation following IT (iliotibial) Band inflammation in his knee.

For special teams work, the Irish focused on field goals and punts. Newsome fared better as a punter than as a kicker. When Justin Yoon arrives in the summer, he will take over the kicking duties. Bryant, Prosise and Will Fuller worked as punt returners.

Visitors: A number of noteworthy visitors took in Saturday’s practice. Cal transfer Avery Sebastian, who will join the team at safety in the summer, attended practice. Incoming freshman safety Mykelti Williams also made the trip north from Indianapolis.

Top 2016 offensive line targets Liam Eichenberg and Ben Bredeson followed around offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s group during practice. 2017 Cincinnati St. Xavier prospects Matt Bockhorst, an offensive lineman, and Sean Clifford, a quarterback, watched from the sidelines.

The Irish also hosted a group of players from Belleville (Mich.) High and New Palestine (Ind.) High. New Palestine won the Class 4A state championship this past season.

Best block: Jerry Tillery is indeed human. The freshman defensive tackle was taken to the ground by right tackle Mike McGlinchey. The elder lineman won this particular battle of two of Notre Dame’s most impressive trench athletes.

Biggest hit: Matthias Farley laid the wood to tight end Tyler Luatua late in the situational scrimmage portion of Saturday’s practice. Luatua hauled in a 10-yard pass from Everett Golson for a first down and was hit immediately by a hard-charging Farley. The hit excited the defensive sideline, but the offense made sure to let them know that it still resulted in a first down.

Offensive play of the day: C.J. Prosise’s 70-yard run was the only score of the day for the offense. He didn’t have to do much with good blocking on the right side, but he pulled away from the defense with an impressive burst of speed.

Defensive play of the day: Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield combined for an interception of Malik Zaire in the end zone. Smith used his long arms to get a hand on a pass across the middle and Redfield put himself in position to come down with the ball. It was one of two interceptions for Redfield during practice.

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame’s Everett Golson (5) hands off to C.J. Prosise (20) Saturday, April 11, 2015, at Notre Dame spring football practice at LaBar Practice Complex in South Bend. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ