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Notre Dame Football Spring Practice: Week 1 Recap

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Notre Dame Football Spring Practice: Week 1 Recap
Half-bionic Crist with knee brace and helmet camera.

The Fighting Irish began practice this past Wednesday and finished up their third workout of the spring Saturday morning. Here is a list of news and notes from over the past few days.

 

Quarterback Competition 2011 Update

Dayne Crist has been cleared for everything in practice (although he’ll still wear a red jersey) and appears to be very close to full health, or at least much further along than he was at this time last year with his previous knee injury.

Crist has said in multiple interviews that he feels great physically and is so much more comfortable with his place in the system and what the coaches want to see from him compared to last year.

Looking at the small amount of video and reading the reports from those in attendance at practice, Crist is performing really well and continues to impress people with his arm and overall talent.

This type of comment has been mentioned by virtually every returning player, as well as the coaches. Clearly everyone except the few freshmen are much more comfortable with the system this year.

Not a whole lot of talk about Tommy Rees at this point, although he has been sharing first team reps with Crist through three practices.

Rees appears to have added a little bit of bulk (especially in his arms) and is likely all of the 210 pounds that he is listed at this spring.

Various commentators have mentioned that Rees clearly lacks the arm of the other three quarterbacks, but I continue to be impressed by his compact and quick delivery.

While Crist and Rees were interviewed on und.com for the quarterback special on Friday, sophomore Andrew Hendrix continues to be a man of mystery with much less exposure.

While still not having the visibility of the other experienced signal callers, many continue to comment on how impressive his arm, mobility and overall talents are.

While there still isn’t a lot of film on Hendrix, he appears to have a very compact and quick release like Rees, except with a very strong arm that is capable of driving the ball down field in a hurry.

Freshman Everett Golson has been seen running the ball in a few videos and showing off his mobility. The coaching staff has said he needs a bit of work with his mechanics and fundamentals, but his arm is quite strong and accurate.

As of right now, it looks like Crist and Rees are battling for the No. 1 spot, but both Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Charlie Molnar have said Hendrix or Golson will play because of their mobility if they prove they can contribute and help the team win.

I’ll believe the two-quarterback system when I see it.

I definitely think this is a bit of mind game for 2011 opponents forcing them to prepare for any number of options that Notre Dame can throw at them.

Maybe at some point later in the season we’ll see Hendrix or Golson come in for a series or two, but I continue to believe that Kelly will run a one quarterback system until proven otherwise.

Does anyone think Hendrix or Golson are coming in on the third series against USF with the ball on the Notre Dame 18 yard line in any other manner besides the starter struggling?

Nevertheless, after Saturday’s practice, the consensus was that Crist simply looks like the best quarterback, and with the news of his good health, he appears to be the leader early in the spring.

Brian Kelly said all four quarterbacks did some nice things during the weekend session, although Hendrix struggled at times and threw a couple interceptions, while Golson was not sharp and consistent either.

It’s still early and all of the quarterbacks are sharing reps in drills, but the depth chart looks like Crist, followed by Rees, with Hendrix and Golson further behind.

 

Other News and Notes Across the Roster

The team practiced in full pads for the first time on Saturday morning and scrimmaged for a while as well. Brian Kelly said it was a great practice and it was highlighted by a few skirmishes and intense battling in some drill work.

Junior linebacker Manti Te’o continues to take it easy nursing his knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl against Miami. Although he has taken on a role of a leader and teacher for the younger players, you can tell by the interviews that he is not very happy sitting out parts of practice.

Both players and coaches continue to talk about the change that has taken place with WR Deion Walker. It was a hot topic for Friday’s interviews and all who were asked had the same thing to say: "Walker is more focused, has been working hard, and is ready to step up and grab some playing time."

Freshman OLB Ishaq Williams looks physically impressive with great height, although he is still pretty lanky and has plenty of room to add weight to his frame. Observers say he is extremely athletic and appears physically ready to contribute.

Sophomore Bennett Jackson has been adjusting to corner pretty well and is showing off his athleticism and playmaking ability. Reporters are commenting that Jackson is extremely tough for a receiver turned defender.

Brian Kelly mentioned after Saturday’s practice that junior running back Cierre Wood and junior receiver Theo Riddick will get more touches and have plays specifically run to get them the ball in the absence of Michael Floyd.

Numerous people have remarked how good Cierre Wood looks and are throwing around phrases like “elite” when talking about his athleticism and growth as a playmaker.

Riddick has looked impressive so far and told reporters he’s finally healthy for the first time in a long time. While continuing to polish his game in the slot as a receiver, Riddick is still preparing for a role in the running game (on jet sweeps, wildcat formation, etc.) and as a return man. He’s going to touch the ball a whole bunch in 2011.

Sophomore NT Louis Nix continues to impress, especially in drills. Urban Meyer (who was in town to speak at the coaching clinic) hung around for Saturday’s practice and said Nix, Ishaq Williams and Aaron Lynch were all players “he would have loved to have had at Florida.”

Sophomore linebacker Danny Spond has turned some heads with his play so far this spring. Spond was praised last year for his technique and smarts, and now appears to have added an increased physicality to his game that should make him a solid contributor in the fall.

The offensive line is big and looks to be in great shape. Senior center Braxston Cave is sticking out as the vocal leader of the group, senior guard Trevor Robinson is in better shape, and junior Zack Martin is showing off his great athleticism.

Sophomore Luke Massa has been described as not looking “out of place” at wide receiver, which is a good sign.

Freshman DE Aaron Lynch looks incredibly impressive from a physical standpoint with tremendous height and plenty of bulk to play right away. He continues to receive praise from the coaching staff and is really sticking out in practice as someone with so much potential.

Sophomore Lo Wood has been playing well and picked off a pass during Saturday’s scrimmage. There were some worries that Wood might not be able to fight off others for the third corner spot, but he has come ready to compete this spring.

Sophomore running back Cameron Roberson suffered a knee injury on Saturday and had to be helped off the field. Brian Kelly said after practice that he will have a MRI on his left knee and we should have an update on Monday.

Because of this injury, the team is down to two backs on scholarship and will be holding tryouts for walk-ons Monday morning. This is really bad news no matter which way you look at it because it likely means the coaching staff will have to hold back the development of someone like Cierre Wood just to make sure he stays healthy.

Sophomore linebacker Prince Shembo has been running with the first team at the Dog position. He may not have prototypical height the coaches want on the outside, but his combination of size, athleticism and speed could make him a huge force in 2011.

Watch Shembo in any of the drills and you’ll see someone with NFL-type talent. I think we saw a sneak peak of his abilities last year but to me he looks like someone with All-American talent. He’ll still need to improve his game, but Shembo is the type of playmaker the Irish simply have not had at outside linebacker in recent years.

Junior tight end Tyler Eifert struggled in blocking during the three-on-three drills, getting abused on a few occasions by OLB Steve Filer, but is getting rave reviews for his fluidity and speed in the receiving game.

Sophomore receiver Daniel Smith has a very slight hamstring problem and was held back on Saturday, but should be ready to go on Monday.

Junior tackle Tyler Stockton was not in pads either, suffering a swollen PCL, but should be ready to practice soon.

 

Final Thoughts

Through three practices things appear to be going very well for the Fighting Irish. Aside from the injury to Roberson, there haven’t been any major injuries and the health of Dayne Crist at this point has to be considered a huge boost for the program.

The biggest take away for me is that we’re finally starting to see the effect of an entire years worth of time spent in Brian Kelly’s system for these athletes.

Everyone is saying how much more relaxed the coaches are during practice and you don’t see Brian Kelly screaming his head off all the time. In interviews, it was made clear that there was no time to waste last year and in order to start building this system, the screaming needed to be done.

At the same time, we’re seeing much more fire and passion coupled with precision and understanding of the system from the players, which is a tremendous sign to see without coaches screaming left and right.

I think more than being impressed by any one individual, it’s just great to watch an experienced coach like Brian Kelly finally able to put his fingerprints on this football program. To me, that is more exciting than watching a player make a big catch or a great tackle at this point.

Obviously the health of Dayne Crist is huge right now and a big plus for the team. The quarterback battle is far from over but if Crist is this healthy right now it is going to be difficult for anyone to start over him in the fall.

Still, it’s great to have three other quarterbacks who are all talented in their own way and who will each be able to make strides toward being capable leaders and signal callers in this offense.

Elsewhere on the offense, everything looks to be coming together nicely even with the absence of Michael Floyd.

There was some griping about the receiving corps not looking too great on Saturday but I’ll hold off judgement until we start hearing more information from the coaches.

I know Theo Riddick is going to be a monster this year and I believe TJ Jones can be a very potent receiver.

Missing Floyd hurts but this team can get by with a committee of players on the outside, plus I think this unit is going to have an added boost once Davaris Daniels and George Atkinson step on campus in the summer.

The injury to Roberson is something the team cannot afford right now, but we should at least be thankful it happened over five months away from the season. Hopefully we hear some news about the severity sometime later today.

Balancing that bad news is the play of Cierre Wood, who is making it pretty clear that he’s a special player.

Sometimes you watch a player and add up his skill set, the way he plays, the way he handles himself, and you just know he’s going to be a great player. I’ve always felt that way about Wood and I think it’s becoming really hard for people to ignore that sense right now.

On defense everything is looking gravy.

Up front this team is going to be scary big with lots of muscle and power. It can’t be stressed enough how important having depth in the trenches is going to be for this team.

Missing Cwynar in the middle hurts, but all that is really doing is giving players like Hafis Williams and Louis Nix more reps to get themselves comfortable with playing a lot or possibly starting.

The secondary was a bit of an issue going into spring but the safeties look great and the team has received tremendous play from corners Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson, to go along with the veteran leadership and talent of Gary Gray and Robert Blanton.

If the team can get Wood and Jackson in a position to be bona fide contributors before fall practice, this defense is going to be in a great position once the three freshmen show up.

What are your major takeaways from the first week of practice?

If you haven’t done so already, take the uniform survey!

 

From the FanTake blog: One Foot Down

 

Follow on Twitter: @OneFootDown

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