With spring break over, the Irish are back on the practice field. Strapping the pads on Wednesday, our first true look at Brian Kelly's squad revealed quite a few interesting tidbits.
With coaches descending on South Bend for this weekend's coaching clinic, and two open practices to the local media, more news will be emerging. But there's plenty to get caught up on now, so let's get to it.
Christian Lombard and Will Mahone Lost for Spring
The first significant injury news of the spring broke Friday morning, when Brian Kelly announced that graduate student Christian Lombard and junior Will Mahone would be lost for spring after undergoing surgeries.
Here's the official release from Notre Dame's SID Michael Bertsch:
University of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly announced today that senior offensive lineman Christian Lombard and junior wide receiver Will Mahone will each miss the rest of spring practice.
Lombard underwent successful surgery for a dislocated right wrist on Thursday (Mar. 20). Adelbert J. Mencias, M.D., at South Bend Orthopedics performed the surgery.
Mahone suffered a fracture to his right foot and had successful surgery on Thursday (Mar. 6). Brian L. Ratigan, M.D., at South Bend Orthopedics performed the surgery.
Lombard was entrenched as the starting right guard, but has had two significant injuries in the last calendar year. Back surgery ended his 2013 early, forcing Steve Elmer and Conor Hanratty into the lineup. Now the wrist injury will give Hanratty another shot at right guard, while Elmer plays next to Ronnie Stanley on the left side.
Lombard will be healed in plenty of time before summer workouts, but it's another bit of bad luck for the veteran leader of the group, who spent 2012 in the starting lineup at right tackle.
Mahone was recruited to add some bulk to the Irish backfield, but we've yet to see him play. After redshirting his freshman year, a high ankle sprain suffered during fall camp took him out of the running for playing time at slot receiver, where he was taking snaps. Opening spring at the same position, Mahone's broken foot means another injury to overcome.
Notre Dame Pro Day Turns Out Some Impressive Performances
Representatives from all 32 NFL franchises were in South Bend yesterday as Notre Dame held its annual pro day. Fourteen former Irish players went through individual drills and testing, with hopes that they'll have a professional career in front of them.
Here's a quick run through of the Irish's movers and shakers:
- Louis Nix drew the attention of the Steelers' Mike Tomlin, who is likely looking for a nose guard to anchor Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.
- Dan Fox put up some very impressive times during testing, clocking a 4.59 40-yard dash, while also impressing with his shuttle and broad jump. Fox's time would've been good for the third-fastest among linebackers at the combine.
- Bennett Jackson improved his 40 time, dropping his time to a blazing 4.40 after registering a 4.51 in Indianapolis.
- Tommy Rees didn't break the 5.0 barrier in his 40, but did complete 32 of 34 throws for scouts. He also showed surprising hops, with his 31" vertical leap better than Tajh Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater and Jordan Matthews.
Here are the pro day results, courtesy of Notre Dame.
Five Players on the Rise
After the Irish's first practice in full pads, let's look at five players that caught Brian Kelly's eye.
John Turner: The local Indiana product has yet to make an impact on the field in his two seasons with the Irish. But Brian VanGorder's arrival might be just what the doctor ordered.
In Bob Diaco's base-heavy scheme, Turner didn't seem to have a home. But with the various sub-packages that VanGorder is installing, Turner's value to this defense showed up immediately, and his transition to outside linebacker utilizes his ability to play a hybrid role.
"John Turner has been an interesting player for us," Kelly said Wednesday after practice. "We think that with the position that we're looking at him right now, it seems to be clicking a little bit for John. Coach VanGorder really likes what he's doing right now.
"For whatever reason, sometimes a change does a guy good, right? He may be the beneficiary of that change. I think it's more the benefit that in the sub-package, it takes advantage of a long kid that's almost a tweener. He's almost a 'backer, he's that big... He's got a unique skill set."
Amir Carlisle: After getting lost down the stretch last season, Carlisle has come out this spring and taken to the slot receiver position. It's a long way from the starting running back job—the spot Carlisle held down to begin last season, taking the first carry against Temple— but it's an important position where the Irish desperately need some productivity.
Kelly talked about Carlisle's difficult 2013, a season where it appeared the rising senior lost confidence after a critical fumble against Purdue. From there, he battled catching the football, a struggle that's seemed to disappear this spring.
"To look back on some of the things, we never gave him a great opportunity in the passing game, per se," Kelly said. "He had a couple tough go routes out of the backfield. I don't know that I would say that he lost his confidence in that sense.
"His role diminished as the season went on as Folston picked his game up. He may have felt like he was less involved in the game plan, but he looks pretty confident right now."
Will Fuller: While the Irish's best wide receiver is at home on academic probation, Kelly raved about Fuller, who led the Irish with a staggering 26.7 yards per catch last season. Now wearing TJ Jones' No. 7 jersey, Fuller has all the ability to fill Jones' shoes at an outside receiver position as a rising sophomore.
"Will Fuller, that kid is just a matter of how far he wants to take his talents," Kelly said. "Weight room is going to be huge. Getting stronger. Attention to detail, all things that great players need to do. But he’s a pretty good one."
That's a glowing review by a head coach that doesn't usually do too much of that.
Romeo Okwara: With the Irish showing a four-man defensive front, it appears that Romeo Okwara will be the team's starting defensive end opposite Ishaq Williams. One of the youngest college juniors in the country (Okwara won't be 19 until August), the 6'3.75", 258-pounder finally gets an opportunity to start, after being stuck behind a deep outside linebacker crop the past two seasons.
While he's flashed the type of athleticism that's made it impossible to keep him off of the field, serving as a defensive end is quite a spring transition for Okwara.
"I think we're really in that process of developing his skill set as an edge player," Kelly said. "That's going to take some more time. He's certainly athletic enough, he's strong enough, he's really a strong kid in the weight room.
"We're now trying to take that almost innate ability and really transferring it as a football player. He's not there yet, but we're making the progress with him. We'll need all of spring, we'll need preseason camp, but our expectations are that when we line up in the fall we'll get there with Romeo as a player who can really impact the game."
C.J. Prosise: After making a name for himself last spring, but fizzling during the regular season, Kelly wants more from Prosise. Teamed with Carlisle at the slot receiver, it's thunder and lightning for the Irish at the Z, with Prosise bringing truly unique athleticism to a spot where you don't often find 220-pounders.
Prosise only caught seven balls last year, though he did pitch in two during the Pinstripe Bowl. Kelly expects better from a player that's in a position to help immediately.
"C.J. Prosise is an outstanding athlete. I don't like to call any guys out, but he can give us even more," Kelly said. "I think we can get more out of C.J. I think he's an outstanding athlete. He doesn't have a typical body type for that position, he's a big kid.
"But he's an extraordinary athlete. I think there's more there and we're seeing it. He's got speed. He can catch the football, and we think he can be a really good blocker as an inside guy for us. He's kind of a unique player at that position. You usually don't get them big. I think he's got a high ceiling as well."
Special Teams Haven't Been Forgotten
It isn't hard for Brian Kelly to admit his special teams were awful last year. So while early spring's rough weather has kept the Irish inside, it hasn't stopped the team from working on special teams this spring.
"We've done special teams every day since we've been here," Kelly said. "It's the first time I've done it. We've had special teams in each of our spring practices."
During the offseason, Kelly talked about workshopping their schemes with other programs, both in the NFL and college.
That'll likely continue this weekend at the Notre Dame Coaches Clinic. Special teams will play a prominent role on the docket, with Detroit Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego one of the featured guests as well as recently retired Patriots coach Dante Scarnecchia, who spent the better part of two decades coaching special teams.
Expect to see Irish special teams coordinator Scott Booker hanging around Bonamego and Scarnecchia.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Follow @KeithArnold on Twitter.