Notebook: DJ Brown grabs practice spotlight as Notre Dame resumes spring football

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly came up with a flavor of the week on a day in which much of Notre Dame’s spring practice restart was sort of a blur.

Special teams progress? Wait ‘til Saturday.

When asked specifically about kicker Jonathan Doerer’s progress, Kelly volunteered that the long snapper, John Shannon, was an impressive part of the place-kicking operation.

Development at the nickel position? Still to come.

Any semblance of a linebacker depth chart? Waaaay off.

So converted cornerback DJ Brown’s adaptation to the safety position on Tuesday highlighted the Irish head coach’s thoughts after an 11-day practice hiatus due to spring break.

“He really stands out with this athletic ability,” Kelly said after practice No. 4 of 15 this spring. “We have to see how the other part of his game comes together when we fit him into our run fits and start to play 11-on-11 football.

“But when we talk about 7-on-7, 1-on-1, the individual drills, things like that, he looks really good, looks fluid.”

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound sophomore redshirted as a freshman last season, with his only game action coming in a road blowout at Wake Forest.

The Irish return both starters at safety, seniors Jalen Elliott at strong safety and Alohi Gilman at free safety. Two of Brown’s classmates, Derrik Allen and Paul Moala are looking to get in the playing rotation as backups.

Freshman Litchfield Ajavon and Kyle Hamilton, the latter a five-star prospect, join the mix in June.

Pro Day redux

Five years after completing 32 out of 34 passes at his own Notre Dame Pro Day, current Irish QBs coach Tommy Rees will be throwing to 2019 NFL Draft hopefuls Wednesday at the most recent iteration of the NFL Combine-style workouts.

Presumably catches passes from Rees in position drills will be wide receivers Miles Boykin and Corey Holmes, tight ends Alizé Mack and Nic Weishar, and running back Dexter Williams inside the Loftus Center in front of NFL scouts, coaches and personnel types.

“Good thing there is no defense to throw it to!” Rees tweeted Tuesday on his anticipated Pro Day appearance.

A Kelly Era-record 17 players will participate in varying degrees, with the eight NFL Combine invitees likely to do the least of the individual skill measurements.

Three of the 17 players — Holmes (Morgan State via Purdue), safety Justin Brent (Nevada) and cornerback Nick Watkins (Houston) — finished their careers elsewhere.

“We always work really hard to try to build that bridge, so they feel comfortable coming back,” Kelly said.

Those three are among nine players at ND’s Pro Day who did not receive invites to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis three weeks ago.

Over the years, roughly 15 percent of combine snubs end up getting drafted. However, the only Notre Dame player in the 2000s to hold that distinction is Mike Richardson. The cornerback was selected in the sixth round by New England in the 2007 Draft. He’s currently a sales rep for Eli Lilly and Co.

The player with the best chance to join Richardson is center Sam Mustipher, a three-year starter at center for the Irish.

The other combine non-invitees are Weishar, safety Nick Coleman, punter Tyler Newsome, kicker Justin Yoon and nose guard Jonathan Bonner.

The eight combine invitees were linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, cornerback Julian Love, offensive guard Alex Bars, Williams, Boykin and Mack.

Testing trivia

Seven Kelly Era quarterbacks have been timed in the 40-yard dash, either at the combine, ND’s Pro Day, their transfer school’s Pro Day or a private workout.

Here’s how they rank from fastest to slowest: 1. Andrew Hendrix 4.69 seconds, 2. Jimmy Clausen 4.76, 3. Everett Golson 4.82, 4. DeShone Kizer 4.83, 5. Malik Zaire 4.95, 6. Dayne Crist 4.97 and 7. Rees 5.09.

• The fastest 40-yard dash testing times during the Kelly Era are 1. Will Fuller 4.32, Darrin Walls 4.39, Bennett Jackson 4.40 (improving from a 4.51 at the combine), KeiVarae Russell 4.43, Chris Brown 4.44 and 5. (tie) Matthias Farley and Cody Riggs 4.45.

Squibs

• The Sportsbetting.ag website on Tuesday released 45 early betting lines for major college football matchups, including three games involving Notre Dame.

The Irish are early 11.5-point underdogs at Georgia, 8.5-point underdogs at Michigan, and 11.5-point favorites at home against USC.

• Sophomore running back C’Bo Flemister is starting to get work at running back, per Kelly, after a patella tendon strain limited him in the first few practice sessions.

• Sorting out the rover and linebacker positions is the biggest reason why the Irish haven’t spent much time on the nickel so far.

Ideally, Shaun Crawford will eventually be able to step back into his former role, though he’s out of contact drills for the spring as the graduate student-to-be rehabs from his third season-ending leg injury in four years.

“He’s done everything that we’ve asked him and more,” Kelly said. “We hope that he’s 100 percent and that we can plug him in. We know that he’s a capable player for us, so he will get every opportunity to compete for that position.”

Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec runs as head coach Brian Kelly looks on during a recent spring football practice inside the Loftus Center.