Notre Dame offense practice notes 3-21

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Chase Claypool had an up-and-down day.

At times he was unstoppable, and cornerback Houston Griffith had a hard time covering the senior wide receiver. Other times, Claypool stopped himself. He dropped a couple passes and let defensive backs break up throws he should have caught.

After cornerback TaRiq Bracy ripped the ball out of Claypool’s hands during a 7-on-7 drill, Claypool picked the ball up of the ground and threw it at the wall inside the Loftus Sports Center. If Claypool is going to become the No. 1 wide receiver in Notre Dame’s offense this season, he has to eliminate those mistakes. Given his reaction, he clearly understands that.

Notre Dame’s fifth spring practice and first completely open to media wrapped up without many long-term takeaways. But it offered glimpses of the development of several players and an idea of what the Irish offense will look like.

To start practice, the Irish offense ran through its typical tempo drill running plays against air. The first offense utilized the following players: quarterback Ian Book, running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong (rotating), wide receivers Michael Young, Chris Finke and Claypool, tight end Cole Kmet and an offensive line of left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Josh Lugg, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey.

The second offense during this period featured quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running backs Jahmir Smith and Kyren Williams, wide receivers Joe Wilkins Jr., Lawrence Keys III and Kevin Austin Jr., left tackle Aaron Banks, left guard Dillan Gibbons, center Luke Jones, right guard John Dirksen and right tackle Quinn Carroll.

Lugg took most of the reps at No. 1 left guard during practice. Head coach Brian Kelly said earlier this month that Banks, the returning starter at left guard, would be limited as a precaution at times this spring.

When the Irish started its first scrimmage session of the day early in practice, Austin and Jurkovec connected for the first big play. The sophomore quarterback found his fellow sophomore on a deep post for a touchdown with safety Paul Moala in coverage. Austin had a decent day with a nice diving catch on the sideline coming in a later 1-on-1 drill. After Jurkovec and Austin connected for a deep pass, Book and Finke did the same without resulting in a touchdown. A slightly underthrown pass found Finke roughly 40 yards downfield with safety Jalen Elliott in coverage.

Keys may have had the most highlights. He broke a couple tackles on a jet sweep, made a tough catch in traffic and left Elliott looking silly by shaking him to run wide open in a 1-on-1 drill. Wilkins showed some flashes with a 20-yard catch and a touchdown during 1-on-1 at the goal line. Braden Lenzy showed his speed in tracking down a deep ball.

Offensive coordinator Chip Long noted earlier this month that he wanted his wide receivers to create more explosive plays with yards after the catch. Young and Finke delivered that Thursday. Both had long runs after catches by finding holes in the secondary.

All four of Notre Dame’s tight ends received action during practice. The Irish should be in good shape at the top with Kmet and fellow junior Brock Wright. Kmet made a nice catch on a corner route with Moala in tight coverage. He also caught a touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone.

Wright showed some elusiveness by undressing safety Derrik Allen on an out route. Wright also caught a touchdown on a similar route.

The running game didn’t provide many highlights Thursday beyond a handful of hard runs. The Irish were working on some jet sweeps to allow players like Finke, Keys and Lenzy to turn the corner and pick up some yardage. In the final scrimmage session of the day, Smith ripped off the longest run of the day to the right side behind Kraemer and Hainsey.

There was a clear separation between Book and Jurkovec in terms of accuracy. Jurkovec had more throws miss the target than Book, which shouldn’t be too surprising. But Jurkovec did seem to have some chemistry with some young receivers, including Austin.

The special teams portion of practice was devoted to the field-goal unit. There’s no doubt that walk-on freshman Harrison Leonard will have a chance to take the starting spot. Junior Jonathan Doerer missed his first attempt on an extra point. Backup long snapper Michael Vinson and holder Nolan Henry had a miscue that led to no field goal attempt on one rep.

Notre Dame’s offense wasn’t hindered with many injuries Thursday. Only wide receiver Javon McKinley, who has been conditionally reinstated to the football team following a Feb. 10 arrest, and offensive linemen Trevor Ruhland and Colin Grunhard sat out practice.

Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool (83) is run out of bounds by Michigan's Devin Gil (36) and Tyree Kinnel (23).