Notebook: Getting the max out of Notre Dame safety Max Redfield
SOUTH BEND — The depth chart order in the first reps of spring practice typically concoct as many mirages as they do lasting status.
Perhaps that’s even more the case this year, as the Notre Dame football team began the first of its 15 spring sessions inside the Loftus Center early Wednesday morning with just nine starters returning from 2015, and some of those nine in hotly contested battles just to maintain.
The curiosity was freshman Devin Studstill, and not senior-to-be Max Redfield, lining up with the first-team defense out of the chute, and then Redfield again playing spectator when the second-team defense rolled out for the tempo drill that follows stretching.
It turns out Redfield was working through a minor foot injury. And eventually, Notre Dame’s leading returning tackler who ended the 2015 season suspended from the Fiesta Bowl for being late to meetings, did work his way into action during the 40-minute media window on Wednesday.
“Max is an interesting young man,” Kelly said after practice. “Anytime you come in with a lot of hype and praise and five stars, there are always a lot of expectations. And I think the game is one that he’s had to learn a lot about the position that he’s playing.
“He plays a position that requires a lot of football knowledge, and he didn’t have a lot of it at the position. He’s gained a tremendous amount of football knowledge in a very short period of time.”
Kelly said the Mission Viejo, Calif., product’s knowledge base needs to keep building this spring, but that Redfield’s focus is also on improving fundamentals.
“We thought he was a little short in his pedal, which put him sometimes too low to get over the top of some routes we thought he should have been in position. His running gait, he got a little mechanical. We’ve loosened him up there.
“The progress, I think, has been steady. It hasn’t been fast, but he’s at the cusp, I think, of really putting it all together for us.”
Way too early
You could tell Wednesday that Kelly expects to be prodded about the three-man quarterback competition in every single media availability from now through the April 16 Blue-Gold Game and that every answer will be parsed to the extreme.
“They’re all really good,” he said with a chuckle, when the subject first came up after practice.
In reality, there’s nothing to see at this point, or at least conclude. There’s timing to regain, chemistry to develop with a largely new group of front-line receivers, fundamentals to pound, film to study before meaningful separation can even become a possibility.
That senior Malik Zaire took the very first rep in the very first drill over junior DeShone Kizer and sophomore Brandon Wimbush carried less significance than the choice of first song to be blaring out during stretching.
The only thing Kelly and his staff are committed to as far as the QBs are concerned is to not commit to anything, to be as open-minded as possible to any outcome and any timetable.
That includes the possibility of Wimbush still redshirting in 2016 when all is said and done. But it made sense for Kelly to put him in a competitive situation in the spring for his development’s sake, rather than atrophy his skills.
That essentially happened to Kizer last spring during the Everett-Golson/Zaire depth chart battle. Given the lack of meaningful reps throughout spring or the chance to work with ND’s top receivers at all makes what Kizer achieved in the summer and as an emergency starter last fall all the more remarkable.
So if Wimbush does end up No. 3?
“I would talk to him about (redshirting). I wouldn't force anything on him,” Kelly said. “It would be a conversation that I would have with him and his family about that situation first, because we played him when he wasn't ready to play (in 2015). So it really would be his call.”
Strength in numbers
With offensive guard John Montelus’ flip to defense this spring, that gives the Irish a stockpile of nine interior defensive linemen to work with. And Kelly is determined the Irish will use many more of them, and the depth on the edge as well, in games in 2016.
That’s a stark contrast with last season. when starters Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara dominated playing time at three of the four defensive line spots. The only significant rotation came from Jerry Tillery and Daniel Cage at nose guard, as well as some late-season appearances from Andrew Trumbetti at end.
“They’re going to get a ton of work this spring and get an opportunity,” Kelly said of the Irish D-line reserves, a group that includes freshman ends Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem.
“They’re raw, but have tons of potential,” offered senior-to-be end Isaac Rochell, ND’s most experienced defensive lineman, of the two least experienced. “They’re athletic, and their movements show that. I think they’ve got a lot of upside. I’m excited to see how they end up.”
Montelus, meanwhile, can fill a niche role, per Kelly.
“He’s one of our most powerful players,” Kelly said of the 6-4, 310-pound senior-to-be, “and there wasn’t really light at the end of the tunnel for him on the offensive line.
“But he’s extremely explosive, he’s very strong, fit athletically and we just felt like he’s a guy at least that can give us some strong play inside. … Specific things. We’re not going to ask him to do a lot, and we know the job can get done.”