Attention to detail more than a slogan for Notre Dame RB Josh Adams

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

CULVER, Ind. — The buzz of Notre Dame’s first football practice of the preseason Tuesday was slogan-laced T-shirts worn by the Irish assistant coaches and support staff.

Attention to Detail … Details Matter.

A new slogan, a new moral will be unfurled each day for the next four practice sessions — all staged at the purported distraction-free setting at Culver Military Academy, roughly 45 miles south of campus on the banks of Lake Maxinkuckee.

Irish junior running back Josh Adams was oh-so ahead of the curve when it came to the mantra game. Last spring, when he sensed his teammates were going through the motions more than moving forward, he delivered an impassioned wake-up call on precisely that subject the T-shirts were pushing.

“I’m not a big talker,” Adams understated. “I’m not a big verbal person. But when I do say something, it’s coming from the heart.”

“Attention to detail,” the speech began. “Every little thing counts. And if you think it doesn’t, then you need to go home.

“There’s no taking the easy way out. There was no easy way when my mom was working two jobs to get me and my brother and sister through school.

”When we were going through those shelters and them homes, there was no easy way out. She worked for everything she had to make sure we could have what we had. So that means when I hit that bag, I’m not taking the easy way out.”

Tuesday at Oliver Field, it was about translating those words onto the field. Even though it was just a helmets-and-shorts practice — with the first in full pads set for Saturday — all the offseason rhetoric has to funnel into a new reality, Adams, figured, or else it’s just empty words.

The time to do that starts now, not in the Sept. 2 season opener with Temple.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder looked the part and acted it Tuesday, so much so that he completely forgot what happened to him on the very first day of training camp last August on the same field.

A pulled hamstring that would linger with him until late October, mitigating his explosiveness and eroding his confidence.

“Mentally and physically it was rough,” he said, “but it was a learning curve. It was something for me to learn from and get better from. Just learning how to deal with that.

“Everybody goes through something. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. It was just about moving forward and getting better.”

Adams did get better and finished strong, with a career-high 180 yards on 17 carries in a 45-27 loss at USC in the season finale. That gave him 933 yards on 158 carries (5.9 average) in 2016, a year after setting the Notre Dame freshman rushing record with 855 on 117 totes (7.1).

“An explosive back, big, physical that can do a lot of things,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said of his expectations for Adams in 2017. “He’s stronger. I think we’ve handled that hamstring issue with the offseason training that we did.

“I thought we did a great job of addressing some hamstring issues with some of our players. So I don’t think he goes out here worried or concerned about a hamstring. And we expect him to be the kind of back we saw last year or better.”

Statistically, what Adams lacks in raw, Heisman-esque numbers, he makes up for efficiency. Georgia’s Nick Chubb comes to Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 16 and enters the 2017 season as the nation’s top active running back in yards per carry with a minimum of 300 career carries (6.4).

Adams, 25 carries below the minimum, actually has a slightly higher average (6.429), though USF quarterback Quinton Flowers is a wee fraction of a yard ahead of both of them (6.453).

“It’s a new year, with new opportunity,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that want to prove a lot of things to a lot of people, including themselves.”

And the Irish offense will be trying to accomplish that against a schedule that includes 10 teams with defenses that finished in the top 40 total defense nationally last season.

“It’s for my family,” the speech continued. “It’s for my family. Y’all my family, so when I hit that bag, I know y’all can count on me in the fourth quarter, when there’s five minutes left and I need to run through somebody when there’s a first down.

“Because that’s how we’re going to get better and that’s how we’re going to win a championship. When somebody’s not paying attention, we are. When someone’s not running the right route, we are. When somebody’s not blocking, we are.”

Adams said the details that need the most attention in his game are pass-blocking and route-running.

“I feel like I’m in better shape coming into the first day,” Adams said. “It’s amazing how hard we worked in the offseason, how much we prepared for this day. And I felt like we came out as a team a lot better on this day, with a lot more energy, with more focus.”

The rest of the running back stable, particularly junior Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones Jr., showed off their attention to detail as well. Jones, in fact, playfully asked Kelly to make him the focal point of his post-practice chat with the media.

“The star of this camp has been Tony Jones,” Kelly obliged as he looked for a reaction from the 5-11, 225-pounder who quickly lost interest. “He’s not even listening now.”

But they’re listening to Adams now, and it’s beginning to show.

“There are a lot of young guys on this team,” he said, “and I have to do a better job of not only making sure I push myself, but trying to push others.”

“We’re making sure that everything we do is taken care of,” the speech concluded. “Attention to the little things first, then we can worry about the big things later.”

Transfer time

Kelly got his first real look at his three transfers Tuesday, performing actual football movements and not just drills without the balls, as in June OTAs.

All three impressed.

Arizona State wide receiver grad transfer Cam Smith, in fact, took first-team reps, with junior Equanimeous St. Brown and sophomore Chase Claypool filling the other two starting wideout spots.

Michigan transfer Freddy Canteen was in the second group of receivers, with juniors Chris Finke and Miles Boykin. Navy safety transfer Alohi Gilman, the only one of the three whose eligibility to play for the Irish in 2017 is still in question, played with the second-team defense.

“They’re all Power 5 players,” Kelly said after practice. “They’re all guys that look that part. Certainly Cam is smart, knows the offense very well. Freddy has some skills that are going to have to be refined, but certainly is going to be a player for us.

“And Alohi is very smooth back there, has got good instincts for the football. All three of those guys are kind of what we thought that they would be. Now it’s just a matter of getting them comfortable within our system.”

Personnel matters

Starting offensive guard Quenton Nelson (back tightness), starting safety Jalen Elliott (cramps) and starting safety candidate Nick Coleman (ankle) all had their practice time Tuesday limited or abbreviated due to minor injuries/ailments.

• The physical transformation of sophomore cornerback Donte Vaughn (6-3, 206) has Kelly toying with the idea of perhaps using sophomore cornerback Julian Love at safety at times.

That would leave Nick Watkins and Shaun Crawford as the starting corners, with Vaughn joining them on the field when nickel coverage is called for.

“I think if Vaughn continues to come on,” Kelly qualified of the Love experiment. “He’s done so physically. Now (it’s a matter of) can he move forward (with his game) over the long haul and continue to do the things we’ve wanted him to do?”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (left) hands the ball off to running back Josh Adams during the first practice of fall camp for the Irish football team, Tuesday at Culver, Ind. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)