Notre Dame defense practice notes 4-7

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Mike Elko is no longer at Notre Dame, but his imprint on the Irish defense was noticeable Saturday. 

Elko's focus on creating turnovers — or ball disruptions, as he called them — has carried over into defensive coordinator Clark Lea's unit as well. 

After the Irish dedicated a portion of their ninth spring practice on ball disruption drills, the defense produced real turnovers in a scrimmage setting. 

The first came on a deflection of a Brandon Wimbush pass that Chase Claypool should have caught. But when the ball bounced off Claypool, cornerback Troy Pride Jr. completed the interception and returned it for a touchdown. 

Later, freshman defensive back Houston Griffith knocked the ball out of tight end Brock Wright's hands with a big hit to force a fumble. The Irish had another chance for an easy interception near the end of practice, but cornerback Julian Love dropped it. 

Notre Dame's defense played with physicality for much of the day. Safety Nicco Fertitta made a few big hits, and cornerback Nick Watkins gave Wright a rude welcome on a tackle. 

The defensive line showed flashes of brilliance against the run and the pass. Defensive end Daelin Hayes stuffed a Tony Jones Jr. run, and defensive end Jamir Jones disrupted a Dexter Williams run. Hayes and Khalid Kareem each recorded sacks in the scrimmage portions of practice. 

The success of those defensive ends should alleviate the loss of senior Jay Hayes, who announced Friday that he will pursue a graduate transfer this spring. 

When the first-team defense took the field on Saturday it included the following players: defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, nose guard Micah Dew-Treadway, linebackers Te'von Coney and Drue Tranquill, rover Asmar Bilal, cornerbacks Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr., and safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. 

The second-team defense included defensive ends Julian Okwara and Adetokunbo Ogundeji, defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, nose guard Kurt Hinish, linebackers Jonathan Jones and D.J. Morgan, rover Isaiah Robertson, cornerbacks Nick Watkins and Shaun Crawford, and safeties Devin Studstill and Jordan Genmark Heath. 

The Irish had a few recognizable visitors taking in practice Saturday. Former Notre Dame safety Sergio Brown watched practice with assistant strength and conditioning David Grimes talking with him for much of it. The two were teammates with the Irish. 

Four-star defensive tackle Rodas Johnson, a 2019 target, stuck closely with the defensive line. Coach Mike Elston spoke with Johnson during the practice. 

Incoming freshman safety Paul Moala and 2019 safety prospect DaRon Gilbert were also in attendance. 

Notre Dame's Troy Pride Jr., (5) runs drills Saturday, April 7, 2018 during practice at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on the campus of Notre Dame. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA