Notre Dame football kicked off its fall training camp with a week of practice at the Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana.
By rule, the Irish were limited in padding for the first few days, but on Friday the squad was able to hold its first full-pad session. Notre Dame will return to campus and practice Saturday at home for the first time.
Let’s check in on some of the main storylines from the first five days of camp.
We haven’t heard much on the quarterback front, as only the first practice was open to media members, providing a small sample size from which to extrapolate information.
Still, according to reporters at Monday’s camp-opening practice, Everett Golson took the first-team snaps.
Everett Golson took the first-team snaps for #NotreDame.— Andrew Owens (@BGI_AndrewOwens) August 4, 2014
It makes sense for Golson, the older and more experienced signal-caller, to take the first-team snaps, at least out of the gate. And, again, it was only one practice, but reporters lauded Golson’s play.
Everett Golson looked better than Malik Zaire. Obviously one day in but looked more comfortable. EG ran first team offense. #NotreDame— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) August 4, 2014
At the end of Monday’s practice, Irish head coach Brian Kelly analyzed one of the next phases in Golson’s development.
“You’re either fearful or fearless,” Kelly said to reporters. “And I think there was a time where he was a bit fearful at the quarterback position. I want to get him fearless. I think if we can get to that level where he’s fearless—I’m starting to see that move—that’s where we want to get him… If he gets to that level, it’s going to be fun and exciting to watch him play.”
Thought after viewing first #NotreDame practice: It's one day, and maybe no shock, but it'll be stunning if Everett Golson isn't QB starter.— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) August 4, 2014
Everett Golson on not being named #NotreDame's starter yet: "I'm not disappointed at all." Said competition should raise his game.— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) August 4, 2014
Kelly Fills in for Denbrock
On the eve of Notre Dame opening training camp, Kelly announced offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock will miss “the first few weeks of preseason camp” after a “recent surgical procedure.”
"I had surgery last week," Denbrock said in a press release. "I'm resting and feeling better every day, but I won't be able to join the team for the beginning of preseason camp. Safe to say, I'm already chomping at the bit to get back with the guys."
Kelly has assumed Denbrock’s duties during the absence, and the head coach shared his observations on the wide receivers with reporters following Monday’s practice.
“We’ve got really top-notch athletes at that position,” Kelly said. “Just spending a little bit more time with some fundamentals today on releases, transition, some of the things that I think really can help them develop a solid foundation because they’ve got a great skill set.”
Kelly said his added time with the wide receivers hasn’t greatly changed his overall ability to evaluate the entire offense. Offensive graduate assistant Ryan Mahaffey has handled wide receiver substitution when the position units all come together, and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur does much of the individual skill-based teaching with the signal-callers anyway, according to Kelly.
Kelly did add on Monday that the Irish are happy to accommodate Denbrock for whatever he is capable of doing. The offensive coordinator has access to the practice film, Kelly said.
Consistency and Comfort the Keys on Defense
With a young defense dealing with a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme, it should come as no surprise two of Brian VanGorder’s buzzwords have been “consistency” and “comfort.”
In an interview with WatchND’s Jack Nolan after the second practice, VanGorder said the idea of consistency is something of a concern. However, the new defensive coordinator didn’t want to overstate that concern after just two practices.
“[Consistent good play and more productive plays], that will all come,” VanGorder said.
VanGorder said the new rule allowing organized team activities (OTAs) in the summer was advantageous for the defense, maybe even more so at Notre Dame because of the new system.
ND ran mostly a 4-3 defense, with Williams-Jones-Day-Okwara up front. Smith-Schmidt-Turner LBs, Luke-Collinsworth-Redfield-Russell DBs.— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) August 4, 2014
According to VanGorder, getting his players to excel in that system comes down to comfort.
“They’ve got to get comfortable. They’ve got to be able to go out and play fast. That’s really the goal of all football players,” VanGorder said. “When they get a comfort level with all those things, now you have a player that’s playing fast. That’s when I think our scheme will become more effective and exciting for them.”
Perhaps the most important news item of the day: Brian VanGorder’s mustache is now a goatee. pic.twitter.com/ax4keqoB9B— Andrew Owens (@BGI_AndrewOwens) August 5, 2014
Young but Deep
The list goes on and on.
Notre Dame lost a slew of proven, frontline players from last year’s team, from TJ Jones and Zack Martin to Louis Nix and Prince Shembo.
But while the 2014 team may be relatively inexperienced and untested, Kelly thinks there may be unparalleled depth this year.
“Our depth is probably—in my opinion— as good as we've ever had [in my five years at Notre Dame],” Kelly said in an interview with WatchND’s Jack Nolan. “They’re not as experienced, but they will get a chance to show that.”
Kelly said he won’t hesitate to dip into the depth, assuring Notre Dame will play a lot of players on both sides of the ball.
Getting today's work in at Culver... pic.twitter.com/lxp8359U2r— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 5, 2014
When asked about players who stood out early on, Kelly highlighted some of those young, unproven players.
“I'd say it's the younger guys that played small roles last year,” Kelly said. “They are really starting to show themselves this season. Chris Brown is going to play a prominent role. Will Fuller is going to play a prominent role. I think you are going to see a lot more from guys like Devin Butler and Cole Luke. I think we all know that we are going to have to find some young guys to provide some pass rush.”
Notre Dame’s fate in 2014 could very well rest on the development of such young players, those asked to replace the Martins and Shembos of years past.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.