Notre Dame practice notes 8-4

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

CULVER, Ind. — Notre Dame’s first football practice of preseason training camp saw minimal contact but plenty of highlights.

The Irish disallowed tackling and full-tilt blocking in Sunday's practice at the Culver Academies. Their first time to wear full pads will come in the next observed practice by the media, on Thursday, practice No. 5 overall. 

Below are the biggest observations, takeaways and notes from preseason practice No. 1. 

Defense lining up

Notre Dame’s No. 1 defense used the following personnel as its base group: defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and nose guard Kurt Hinish, mike linebacker Asmar Bilal, buck linebacker Jack Lamb, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, boundary cornerback Troy Pride Jr. and field cornerback Donte Vaughn and safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman.

The No. 2 defense included defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola and nose guard Jacob Lacey, mike linebacker Bo Bauer, buck linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath, rover Paul Moala, boundary cornerback Houston Griffith and field cornerback Shaun Crawford and safeties Kyle Hamilton and DJ Brown. Drew White (mike) and Shayne Simon (buck) also rotated at linebacker.

Hamilton and Lacey were the only true freshmen to crack the second-team lineup. The following freshmen also received significant time in the third- and four-team rotations: JD Bertrand (mike), Marist Liufau (buck) and Jack Kiser (rover).

Defense notes/takeaways

No player made more of a splash than Hamilton. The former five-star recruit, per 247Sports, tallied three interceptions. All three came from backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec, though two of the picks were tipped.

Hamilton’s first interception was his best. Sophomore wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. ran an out route on the wide side of the field against Hamilton in 1-on-1 drills. As Wilkins cut outside and Jurkovec released the ball, Hamilton used his closing speed and instincts to undercut the pass.

Jurkovec’s two other interceptions, though tipped, were poor throws. He first overthrew receiver Cam Hart, who managed to get a few fingers on the ball but knocked it in the direction of Hamilton. Jurkovec’s other deep interception floated in the air in traffic, resulting in Crawford batting it toward a diving Hamilton.

Following Hamilton’s third pick, Elliott bellowed out, “He’s a freshman!”

Hamilton gained 20 pounds in the offseason, and almost all of the weight seemed to go to his lower body. He appeared to experience leg cramps that held him out for a portion of practice but returned later. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Hamilton is the tallest safety to ever play for Irish head coach Brian Kelly.

Later asked what stood out about Hamilton, Gilman said, "He's like 10 feet tall."

The mass audition at linebacker dominated the conversation during spring football. The Bilal/Lamb/Owusu-Koramoah starting trio began preseason camp on the right foot. Owusu-Koramoah impressed the most among the three.

The junior from Hampton, Va., flashed solid closing speed when intercepting quarterback Ian Book’s pass intended for receiver Chris Finke. Book targeted Finke on an out route, but Owusu-Koramoah closed on the pass in a hurry.

Once Simon slid to buck (and even some mike) in the spring, Owusu-Koramoah presumably secured the rover spot. He's now cementing himself in the starting role, making more plays than any linebacker on the Irish, at least on Sunday.

As for the other linebackers, Bilal looks to be ND’s starting mike going forward. Genmark Heath held the starting buck job for most of the spring, so Lamb is not the certain starter. Lamb had a quality day, though, and brings solid pass-coverage skills.  

The defensive backs broke up a good amount of passes. The most notable news regarding the unit, though, comes from some tinkering at the position. The Irish opted to move Pride from field to boundary cornerback near the end of spring. Griffith remains at boundary, rotating with the second-team unit.

Donte Vaughn started on the field side. The senior struggled when replacing Julian Love at boundary in the second quarter of last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson.

Crawford, a top field corner and nickelback option, also saw time at safety near the end of practice. He called out plays when rotating at the latter position. 

Offense lining up

Notre Dame utilized the following players with its No. 1 offense: quarterback Ian Book, running back Jafar Armstrong, wide receivers Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Michael Young, tight end Cole Kmet, left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey. Running back Tony Jones Jr. also rotated with the 1s.

The No. 2 offense included quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running backs Kyren Williams and Jahmir Smith, receivers Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III and Javon McKinley, left tackle Josh Lugg, left guard Trevor Ruhland, center Colin Grunhard, right guard John Dirksen and right tackle Cole Mabry. Running back C’Bo Flemister also rotated with the 2s.

The No. 3 offense included quarterback Brendon Clark, running back Kyren Williams, receivers Cam Hart, Kendall Abdur-Rahman and Joe Wilkins Jr., tight end Tommy Tremble, left tackle Quinn Carroll, left guard Dillan Gibbons, center Zeke Correll, right guard Quinn Murphy and right tackle Andrew Kristofic.

Offense notes/takeaways

Finke and Lenzy stood out among the receivers, especially in 1-on-1 drills. Finke showed his shiftiness and sudden burst by creating a decent amount of separation on a double move downfield. Lenzy’s elite straight-line speed widened the gap between Crawford and himself, resulting in a long touchdown reception. 

Lenzy's day was cut short as he spent the latter portion of practice with the training staff. Claypool saw time but in limited fashion. The senior underwent minor ankle surgery over the summer. 

Book clearly looked like ND’s best option at quarterback. His poise and confidence outshined that of Jurkovec and Clark. Book’s worst throw came on an overthrow intended for McKinley, which Gilman intercepted. Owusu-Koramoah’s interception was more of a good play than a poor throw from Book.

The arm talent of Jurkovec showed during certain stretches and on some deep throws. But he seemed to take more chances deep than he should have. Two of Jurkovec’s interceptions were ill-advised deep balls. He had that same tendency during the spring.

Clark struggled with accuracy, especially on short and intermediate throws. He missed the mark on a handful of easier throws in the flat. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound freshman threw four straight incompletions during 1-on-1 drills. He recovered with three straight completions, which included a solid deep throw to Abdur-Rahman on a corner route.

Carroll and Kristofic, who both enrolled early, switched positions after spending the spring at right and left tackle, respectively. Grunhard leapfrogged Correll — another freshman who enrolled early — as the second-team center. Grunhard, a walk-on junior, missed the spring with an injury.

Special teams

The following players lined up as kick returners: Michael Young, Isaiah Rutherford, Chris Finke, TaRiq Bracy, Joe Wilkins Jr., Lawrence Keys III and Braden Lenzy.

Starting freshman punter Jay Bramblett booted 10 punts for an average of 41.3 yards and with a long of 48 yards. Place-kickers Harrison Leonard and Jonathan Doerer did not kick field goals during practice.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah continues to make a strong case for Notre Dame’s starting rover linebacker role.