Notre Dame defense practice notes 8-7

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

CULVER, Ind. — They were back.

KeiVarae Russell. Joe Schmidt. Jarron Jones. Drue Tranquill. Everybody.

In Notre Dame's first practice of training camp at Culver Military Academy on Friday, many of the battered pieces of the Irish's injury-plagued 2014 defense were back to full speed. And none were more vocal than Schmidt.

As he did before suffering an injury eight games into the 2014 season, Schmidt commanded the defense on Friday, constantly barking out directions and pointing out coverages from the middle linebacker spot.

As for physical prowess, Russell — the 5-foot-11, 196-pound senior cornerback who missed the 2014 season due to an academic suspension — couldn't be missed. The Everett, Wash., native made play after play in one-on-one drills, repeatedly batting away passes intended for Notre Dame standout wide receiver Will Fuller. He also jumped an out route from backup quarterback DeShone Kizer and nearly intercepted it, a play that might have gone the other way for a touchdown in a game.

In his first practice in nearly a year, there was little visible rust.

Jones, who did not participate in the spring with a ligament tear in his left foot, was also back on the field, though he seemed to be lumbering at times. However, head coach Brian Kelly said after practice that he was satisfied that Jones was able to play even in the team's more high-tempo, physical drills.

Here are some more defensive notes from the team's debut practice.

Depth chart

Based on Friday's practice, here's the current two-deep on the defensive side of the ball. Few surprises here.

Defensive End: Romeo Okwara, Andrew Trumbetti

Defensive tackle: Sheldon Day, Jay Hayes

Nose guard: Jarron Jones, Jerry Tillery

Defensive end: Isaac Rochell, Grant Blankenship

Strongside linebacker: James Onwualu, Greer Martini

Middle linebacker: Joe Schmidt, Nyles Morgan

Weakside linebacker: Jaylon Smith, Te'von Coney

Strong safety: Elijah Shumate, Drue Tranquill/Avery Sebastian

Free safety: Max Redfield, Matthias Farley

Left cornerback: KeiVarae Russell, Nick Watkins

Right cornerback: Cole Luke, Devin Butler

Safety studs

There looks to be plenty of competition to be had at safety this season, and that started on Friday. As expected, junior Max Redfield and senior Elijah Shumate lined up as the starting safeties, and Redfield, Tranquill and graduate student transfer Avery Sebastian each made impressive pass break ups in one-on-one drills.

Notre Dame should be vastly improved in the secondary, and we saw flashes of why in Culver.


Graduate student linebacker Jarrett Grace missed Friday's practice to finish up some MBA study work on campus, a Notre Dame spokesperson confirmed. He should join the team this weekend.

Freshman mistakes

Though he had a strong spring and worked with the second team on Friday, freshman linebacker Te'von Coney committed several alignment errors that linebackers coach Mike Elston pointed out rather loudly. Still, for a true freshman in his first practice of camp? That's par for the course.

Defensive MVP: KeiVarae Russell. He was everywhere, which is hardly a surprise. And though he didn't win every individual battle against Fuller, Russell's competitiveness and athleticism were apparent throughout the day.

KeiVarae Russell: happy to be back.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) August 7, 2015//

Not a bad day for camp at Culver.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) August 7, 2015//

But hey, it could be worse.

— Tyler James (@TJamesNDI) August 7, 2015//