Notre Dame offense practice notes 3-24

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Alizé Mack made more contested catches on Saturday than in the entirety of the 2017 season.

Notre Dame’s fifth practice of the spring — which took place in the Loftus Center and was attended by a smattering of media and high school coaches — was a good one for the 6-foot-5, 244-pound soon-to-be senior tight end, who hauled in one-handed grabs and snagged back-shoulder passes from quarterback Brandon Wimbush in the end zone during offense vs. defense red zone drills.

Mack lined up as an offensive starter for the Irish on Saturday, along with Wimbush, running back Dexter Williams, left tackle Robert Hainsey, left guard Trevor Ruhland, center Sam Mustipher and a combination of wide receivers Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, Michael Young and Chris Finke. Rising sophomore tight end Cole Kmet also worked in with the first unit.

Notre Dame’s No. 2 offense consisted of quarterback Ian Book, running back Tony Jones Jr., running back/wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, left tackle Aaron Banks, left guard Josh Lugg, center Colin Grunhard, right guard Dillan Gibbons, right tackle Liam Eichenberg and wide receivers Freddy Canteen, Javon McKinley and Arion Shinaver.

Sophomore Avery Davis — who has also practiced some at wide receiver and running back this spring — threw the ball accurately on Saturday while working with the third-team offense. The only interception of the day was thrown by Book, who tried to fit a pass through double coverage to Claypool and instead was picked by safety Jalen Elliott.

In the ongoing competition at left guard, Ruhland — a 6-4, 295-pound senior — took reps with the starting unit for at least the third consecutive practice, though head coach Brian Kelly later noted that he is far from securing the starting spot.

Besides Mack, other ascending pass-catchers on Saturday included Claypool, Kmet, McKinley and Armstrong. Claypool — a 6-5, 229-pound junior — repeatedly bullied overmatched defensive backs for territory in the corner of the end zone in red zone drills. The 6-6, 255-pound Kmet continued to show consistency in his pass-catching as he pushes Mack for first-team reps. McKinley — a 6-2, 215-pound junior — has repeatedly made plays throughout the spring, and that continued with a deep completion on a crossing pattern against cornerback Julian Love in the 11-on-11 scrimmage portion of Saturday’s practice.

In a battle between two No. 8s, Armstrong made back-to-back catches against cornerback Donte Vaughn in red-zone drills. The wide receiver-running back hybrid has perhaps the most reliable hands on Notre Dame’s roster.

On the other end of the spectrum, early enrollee freshman wide receiver Micah Jones continues to struggle to gain separation from the Irish defensive backs.

Claypool and sophomore tight end Brock Wright continued to practice while wearing red no-contact jerseys on Saturday.

Three Notre Dame alums — quarterbacks Malik Zaire and Montgomery VanGorder and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey — attended Saturday’s practice. VanGorder even made himself useful, bending over to tie Eichenberg’s shoe when the right tackle ran to the sideline.

A pair of 2019 recruits — wide receiver target Garrett Wilson and tight end target Brayden Liebrock — were also in attendance.

Alizé Mack, left, and Cole Kmet, center, run drills during Notre Dame Football Practice Tuesday, March 6, 2018, inside the Loftus Center at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN