4 Things We've Learned About Notre Dame Through Fall Camp So Far
Six practices into fall camp, Notre Dame football is off and running here in August with just 19 days remaining until the season opener against Rice.
The Irish returned to campus for practice on Saturday after spending the first five days of camp at Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly lightened the mood toward the end of the week at Culver, and before we turn the page to Week 2 of training camp, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned from the first week of practices.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Quarterback Competition Update
There are still no definitive decisions or timetables for the quarterback competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire.
Kelly spoke with reporters following Saturday’s practice and said it has been difficult to determine how much separation there has been between the quarterbacks because so much of the first week of training camp focuses on installation.
Kelly said as the second week of camp rolls along, the coaching staff will begin to aggressively chart the play at the position and start looking for separation.
As we examined in our analysis from the first week of camp, Golson has reportedly been taking the bulk of the first-team snaps, and it would still be a surprise if Zaire were named the starting quarterback over his older counterpart.
The Offensive Line Is Still a Work in Progress
Typically considered one of the most stable positions on the entire Irish team, the offensive line still has work to be done, according to Kelly.
Kelly first mentioned the development of the offensive line in an interview with WatchND’s Jack Nolan at the tail end of last week, saying the continuity is not there yet. Kelly said he thinks more offensive consistency will come once the group settles in a bit more.
It’s easy to forget the relative inexperience—at least at certain positions or working in specific combinations—along the offensive line. Ronnie Stanley (left tackle) and Steve Elmer (right tackle) have been working at new positions. Matt Hegarty (left guard) has started two games in his career. Even center Nick Martin and right guard Christian Lombard—the only two starters returning to the same positions—don’t have complete continuity, considering they both missed the end of the 2013 season with injuries.
“We’ve been in a lot of different lineups out there,” Kelly told reporters Saturday. “We’re trying to find the right matches there, and we’re probably going to have to start settling in. … We’ll have an in-depth conversation. That will probably be our No. 1 conversation as an offensive staff this weekend.”
The offensive line probably isn’t a major concern at this point, but the continuity should continue to be monitored.
Chris Brown Has Impressed
Heading into fall camp, the overly general assumption was that the wide receiver position was DaVaris Daniels and “everybody else.”
But junior Chris Brown has started strong in camp—following a solid spring—and could team up with Daniels to form the top-two wide receivers.
With Daniels somewhat limited through the first week of fall camp with a groin issue, Brown has really stood out, according to Kelly.
“He was clearly this week our best receiver consistently,” Kelly said Saturday, mentioning Brown’s route-running and releases.
As for what prompted Brown’s development, Kelly pointed to two specific factors.
“I think it started with first we had a great mentor in TJ Jones,” Kelly said. “I think [Brown] saw the growth in TJ and kind of mirrored that and saw an opportunity there when DaVaris was not with us [in the spring], Chris really by de facto was the veteran of that group. So he was put in a leadership position in the spring and really kind of took off.”
Expect Daniels to still be the top target. But if Brown can settle in as a reliable second option, the Irish offense should be more dynamic.
Depth Will Be Key as Injuries Crop Up
With reporters allowed to view the entirety of Notre Dame’s practice Saturday, there was no hiding the injured Irish players.
Out of uniform today for ND: Hunter, Councell, Hegarty, Mustipher. Butler left practice midway. Utupo and Russell mild tweaks of some sort.— Tim O'Malley (@timomalleyND) August 9, 2014
Kelly has already asserted the 2014 team is probably the deepest he has had in five seasons in South Bend, and that depth will be crucial as players get banged up.
Offensive lineman Matt Hegarty and linebacker Ben Councell both recently suffered concussions, Kelly said following Saturday’s practice. Both players have moved quickly through the concussion protocol and “are on the back end of it,” per Kelly.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. has a Grade 3 groin tear—“fairly significant,” according to Kelly—and will be out four to six weeks. Kelly said Hunter’s absence means more repetitions for freshmen wideouts Justin Brent and Corey Holmes. Still, wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on Notre Dame’s roster.
Freshman offensive lineman Sam Mustipher is dealing with a mid-foot sprain, but Kelly expected the rookie to soon be out of his protective boot and moving around.
While Hunter’s injury is the only major of the four setbacks, the weekly injury report is another reminder of the importance of Notre Dame’s depth in 2014.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.