Notre Dame shows glimpses of promise in training camp

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Enough with the superfluous talk and grand expectations directed at the impending season.

Tangible commodities will give the Notre Dame football team its necessary foundation.

Time to look under the hood, so to speak.

Thursday’s practice, open to the curious eyes of the media, gave a glimpse of what Irish fans could see when the bright lights come on Sept. 5.

Snippets are the essence of a team’s development. Put two hours of snippets together and it’s a practice. Put a string of practices together and it’s a trend. That trend, with a bend toward consistency, is the foundation of development.

Thursday had plenty of snippets, those brief displays, most of which are obscure except for the range of the eye in the sky — whether in a drill or a competitive environment — when an effort can make an impression worthy of a “Hmmmm.”

Lots of “Hmmmms” to go around.

One source of intrigue since the spring has been freshman Jerry Tillery. What youngster is good enough to be moved from the offensive line to defense before he ever stepped on campus?

Good decision. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound rookie busted through the line, grabbed running back C.J. Prosise (6-1, 220), spun him around, and tossed him to the ground like a rag doll.

That went from “Hmmm” to “Wow!” in a hurry.

For those still wondering, newly-minted starting quarterback Malik Zaire can throw the long ball: Forty yards in a tight spiral with a consistent degree of accuracy is not a stretch.

What Zaire also has is a touch in the red zone. One of the hardest passes for a young quarterback to throw is that fade to the back of the end zone that allows 6-5 Corey Robinson to go get it while still staying in bounds.

The degree of difficulty on the fade becomes more apparent when freshman Brandon Wimbush tries to throw it. There’s gotta be some “air” and the timing has to be right. It doesn’t just happen. It’s an acquired skill.

Unlike the athleticism it takes to dominate a receiver.

How tough are the Notre Dame corners going to be? There were some inklings Thursday. KeiVarae Russell is going to be “the man” in the secondary, but don’t get tempted to sell Cole Luke short.

Corey Holmes, a 6-1, 184-pound sophomore receiver, showed a little bravado when he went toe-to-toe with Luke, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, in a long passing drill. Holmes tried to muscle his way to the ball. Ain’t happening.

Then again, before they challenged each other, Shaun Crawford, a 5-9, 170-pound freshman corner, may not have completely understood just how special Will Fuller (6-0, 180, junior receiver) is. It took one rep, in which Fuller demolished the rookie, for the difference between the two to be painfully obvious.

Healthy, Jarrett Grace and Joe Schmidt were both dynamic inside linebackers. But after serious leg injuries, Grace (6-3, 253, hurt two years ago) and Schmidt (6-1, 235, last season) had some work to do in the recovery process.

Both ran well Thursday and did nothing to avoid contact. The position should be well-stocked.

Judging by his work with the No. 2 unit, DeShone Kizer seems to be the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to Zaire’s backup. The 6-5, 230 sophomore lofted a tight spiral 40 yards down the field with ease. However, he regularly wrestled with someone coming within five yards of it.

That can be a drawback.

Spoiled by the relative consistency of punter Kyle Brindza last season, Tyler Newsome is doing his best to discover that stratosphere. Head coach Brian Kelly said Newsome’s numbers are “ridiculous.” In his charted punts, Newson is averaging 51 yards, with a hang time before 4.06 and 4.13 seconds. Still had more clunkers than Brindza Thursday.

The Irish might be trying a ploy with their punters. The right-footed Newsome is No. 85. So is the left-footed Jeff Riney (who’s nowhere never Newsome’s skill level). One way or the other, No. 85 will be the punter.

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, the human megaphone, had his decibels in midseason form, getting his opinions across to his charges.

That’s a snippet that played out through most of the two hours.


Notre DameÕs Jerry Tillery during Notre Dame Football Practice on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN