Quick reads: Safety Brandon Joseph has impressive start for Notre Dame in Spring practice

SOUTH BEND — Saturday was the first full practice the media was able to watch under new Notre Dame head football coach Marcus Freeman this spring.

The live session integrated early-enrollee freshman with veteran upperclassmen as the team worked everything from kicking to 11-on-11 red zone execution.

Here are three things that stood out about Saturday's practice:

Safety Brandon Joseph could be a difference-maker

Joseph, a transfer from Northwestern, is projected to be a big part of Notre Dame's defense. Saturday, he flashed some of the potential that has his new team excited.

Joseph will presumably slide into the starting safety spot vacated by All-American Kyle Hamilton who is expected to be a top 10 pick in next month's NFL Draft. 

He looked up to the task.

During some four-on-four screen drills, Joseph — himself an All-American with the Wildcats — would fly in to disrupt plays. If he wasn't making the tackle, he opened the hole for a teammate to make it. And during 11-on-11, he batted down a couple passes.

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Perhaps his most impressive highlight came in 11-on-11 red zone scrimmage when the wide receiver faked inside toward the sideline and quarterback Drew Pyne left the ball hanging a little. Joseph undercut the route and made the interception.

"He's really intelligent. He's under control," Freeman said of Joseph. "It's good to see a guy play fast but under control."

Joseph also got his helmet dirty on run plays. Near the red zone, running back Logan Diggs took a handoff toward the right side and looked like he may get free for a score, but cornerback Clarence Lewis and Joseph closed out the angle quickly to make the tackle.

The offseason addition of Joseph can't be overlooked.

Keep it clean

Freeman likes the intensity his Irish are bring to the field in the first five Spring practices.

There was some chirping and hard-hits Saturday. During the 11-on-11 red zone, right tackle Blake Fisher was run blocking, and while the whistles were blowing, there was some back and forth with the defensive line.

Pushing, shoving, and trash talk as usual. 

When they huddled up, you could hear Fisher scream, "Let's go! Let's put this in." Next play, running back Audric Estime scored a rushing touchdown.

Notre Dame offensive lineman Blake Fisher (54) during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

"I love the energy," Freeman admitted. "I love the emotions. We are pushing you to the edge. It's really good to see."

Still, Freeman said he will not stand for fighting because it takes away from the learning process. 

Michael Mayer is a problem for defenses ... as usual

Ok, so this isn't exactly a big revelation for one of the greatest tight ends to suit up for Notre Dame. We've seen him etch himself into the records books his first two seasons in South Bend.

About the only thing that could stop him during Saturday scrimmages was a bad throw by the quarterback.

During one-on-ones, he was making every catch possible. When play switched to 11-on-11, Mayer made diving catches, one-handed grabs, and even caught in traffic. 

Mayer finished with three touchdown grabs and was a difference-maker for whoever played quarterback.

Freeman said Mayer still has room for improvement and feels the soon-to-be junior will take it up a level in 2022.

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer (87) runs with the ball during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Areas of emphasis, Freeman said, are block, route running and defensive recognition.

"I've talked to Coach (Gerad) Parker, long and at length about it," Freeman said. "We are continuing to make him grow."

If Mayer continues to ascend, he could be the next Notre Dame tight end to go in the first round of the draft.