We all know you won’t be able to learn much from watching a team practice for a short amount of time, but it is thrilling nonetheless to know that that fall practice has started and the greatest football team in the nation is preparing for a new season.
Here is a collection of various reports from across the Notre Dame community from the first day of fall camp.
Take what you will from it.
First, a few reporters have commented on the incredible pace to Notre Dame’s practice, especially those who have not seen the Irish run through drills in person.
The energy level for the players is sky-high right now and the high motor and aggressiveness of the coaches makes the atmosphere even more dizzying.
It’s pretty normal this time of year for a few players to stand out in their new appearance after a summer of work outs, but the praise has been heaped on nearly every player this year.
Clearly, Paul Longo is already paying huge dividends.
Every report says the Irish players look to be in tremendous shape physically, with muscle in the lower body for a lot of athletes noticeably higher.
And in case you didn’t notice from his press conference on Friday afternoon, head coach Brian Kelly has also lost quite a bit of weight.
Now here are some individual and unit reports:
*The offensive line looks a lot leaner, which should be expected with the transition to the spread offense.
*The big surprise so far has been fifth-year senior Dan Wenger stepping back into the starting spot at center in place of the up-and-coming Braxton Cave.
Apparently Wenger made some big strides during the summer and has impressed the coaching staff considerably. This is a position battle that will continue for quite a while, probably for the rest of the season as it wouldn’t surprise me if both players split time or are rotated quite frequently.
*Senior starting left guard Chris Stewart, listed at 6’5” and 351 pounds, is an absolute behemoth.
*The starting five right now is sophomore Zack Martin at left tackle, Stewart, Cave, junior Trevor Robinson at right guard and senior Taylor Dever at right tackle.
*Offensive line coach Ed Warinner mentioned that seniors Matt Romine and Andrew Nuss could see time at tackle and that there could be a rotation at some point in the future. Remember, Kelly said he thinks he has ten offensive linemen capable of playing championship level football.
*Freshmen Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols have impressed the coaching staff and Warinner stated that both are about as physically prepared as you can be straight out of high school, but will need to adapt mentally to the college game.
Although it will still be tough for either of these first year players to see the field, I don’t think it is set in stone that they will be redshirting this fall.
One observer pointed out that Nichols, listed at 6’8” and 303 pounds, looks insanely huge, yet is still lean and has more room to grow and add weight. Did I mention that Nichols is quite athletic and also played tight end in high school? He’s the RKG incarnate.
*Dayne Crist has impressed with his physical appearance, looking big and strong while moving really well. He’s still wearing the knee brace, although it may be removed sometime within the next week or two.
One observer commented that Crist has a great zip on his throws but tends to change his arm angle a lot. But this should be ironed out as he gets into a rhythm.
*Nate Montana’s throws and footwork looked “labored” in comparison to Crist, according to one reporter. He looks a little bit unsure of himself and his balls don’t have the same zip that Crist’s or some of the freshman do.
*Freshman Tommy Rees looks to have bulked up a little bit, but is still rather skinny. He has a quick but short-arm release that will probably be tweaked by Brian Kelly at some point.
*Freshman Luke Massa looks very tall—some say much closer to 6’5” than his listed 6’4”—but is extremely skinny and does not have a very fluid delivery. All signs point to Massa being a long-term project at quarterback.
*Freshman Andrew Hendrix looked quite impressive according to a few reports. He’s built solidly at 6’2” and 218 pounds, shows a lot of confidence, has good footwork, and is the most fluid thrower behind Crist.
In other words, he’s the most talented young quarterback. I expect him to move into the backup role rather quickly and surprise a lot of people this year.
*Senior Armando Allen looks noticeably stronger and has good burst and quickness.
*Senior Robert Hughes has dropped fat and added muscle.
*Junior Jonas Gray has added considerable muscle to his lower body.
*Redshirt sophomore Cierre Wood has added muscle and looks very impressive. Numerous reporters mentioned that Wood is the most fluid, shifty, and natural runner of all the backs. I can’t wait until this kid carries the ball.
*As expected, everyone marvels at the physical specimen that is Kyle Rudolph. However, he did tweak a hamstring and may be taking it slow for a while.
*Tyler Eifert drew some praise for his quickness, although it was mentioned that he still needs to add weight to his tall frame.
*Mike Ragone was dropped down to the third team, a possible sign that the talented athlete may not play in the season opener against Purdue.
*After the spring, the coaching staff mentioned that Michael Floyd would have to drop some weight in order to keep up with the fast-paced no-huddle offense. But he has come back to fall camp even heavier at 227 pounds.
All indications are that it is good weight however, with Floyd losing some fat and adding muscle to his frame.
*Coach Kelly was worried that incoming freshman Daniel Smith would grow into a defensive end, but was pleased that the South Bend native was in good shape at 208 pounds with very nice agility.
*By all accounts, freshman Bennett Jackson is F-A-S-T.
*Senior receiver Duval Kamara sat out practice with what’s been described as “incomplete paperwork.”
It doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal, but this isn’t a good sign for those who thought Kamara was on his way to having a Maurice Stovall-type season.
*Everyone commented that the defensive line looks much bigger and stronger.
*Junior defensive end Ethan Johnson has added a lot of muscle and looks very strong.
*Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Tyler Stockton was described as looking very strong and stout.
*Freshman nose tackle/man-child Louis Nix III reported to camp at an astonishing 350 pounds and looks enormous. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has said Nix will have to lose about 40 or 50 pounds to get to the preferred playing weight.
I wouldn’t put it past Longo to be able to drop that much weight off the big guy. But unless Nix is really blowing away the coaching staff this fall, I can’t see how he would step on the field this year. It’s probably better for him to save a year of eligibility and let Ian Williams, Sean Cwynar and Tyler Stockton plug the middle this fall.
*Senior linebacker Kerry Neal has shed some fat and added muscle.
Remember him? He hasn’t been talked about a lot, but if the defense is going to be successful this year they’ll need a solid contribution from the veteran.
*Manti Te’o has shed some baby fat and looks muscular as ever. He’s ready to roll.
*Junior Darius Fleming looks very impressive, very muscular and ripped according to one reporter. He’s pretty much all ripped up like Rambo.
*Not a whole lot of comments on the secondary other than to echo what everyone is saying about the team as a whole. Most of the players look a little bigger and in better shape. This bodes well for the future.
Practice continues today for the Fighting Irish as they continue to march towards September 4th against Purdue.
Wednesday’s practice will be in full pads and the media will be allowed another glimpse of the action.