Notre Dame Football Notebook: Practice No. 6 Review
After the first day off from training camp on Friday, Notre Dame held its sixth practice overall, and first on its home campus, Saturday morning.
Even prior to practice, the day began with the football office announcing the seven captains for the 2019 team. It was the second time in three years the Fighting Irish named a school record seven captains (it had four last year). It’s likely not coincidence that a greater volume has been named as captains since the 4-8 debacle in 2016.
The massive overhaul of the infrastructure back them has helped result in what head coach Brian Kelly refers to as a better consensus of leadership through the Spring/Summer Workout Accountability Team (SWAT) selected each January. Seven of the eight were named captains.
“It has much more to do with their ability to act as a unified group,” Kelly said of the number of captains. “…We have kind of laid the groundwork with the SWAT team, extended leadership within the organization. We set that model up where they operate better with more of a consensus.”
Here were some other top takeaways:
1. Cole Kmet Timetable/Tight End Situation
The junior tight end underwent surgery shortly after breaking his collarbone during Thursday’s practice. A plate and six screws were put in, and Kelly said the time line for his recovery can be anywhere from four weeks to as much as eight to 10 weeks.
He did not rule out the possibility of Kmet being ready for the Sept. 14 home opener versus New Mexico, especially with a bye the week prior, in part because Kmet is deemed a “fast healer.” He returned from a high ankle sprain last year well ahead of schedule.
In Kmet's place, classmate Brock Wright has continued to excel, which is not a surprise for someone whom Rivals rated as the nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect in 2017. Wright shed 10-15 pounds from last year and, per Kelly, that has enabled him to change direction and get separation much better than in his first two seasons.
With sophomores Tommy Tremble and George Takacs, Kelly does not feel a need to add any more bodies to the position, especially because of how well Tremble’s “athleticism fits in well at that position.”
The position also this month added 6-4 ¼, 249-pound Yale graduate transfer and former starter John Lager.
2. Linebacker By Committee
Junior Drew White (6-0, ¼, 230) continues to see the majority of snaps with the top unit at Mike linebacker because of his combination of instinct, technique, downhill skills and a stouter frame. White missed the final 12 practices of spring with an injury but has made his presence felt this month. Kelly refers to him as a prototype figure in the middle.
“One of the things we were really looking for is the Mike linebacker to pull those double teams off the two down linemen,” Kelly said. “(White’s) been really consistent at doing that and playing downhill, pulling those double teams off and allowing Myron (Tagovailoa-Amosa) and (Kurt) Hinish to make some plays at the line of scrimmage. That’s been his consistent forte and that’s what we need from that position.”
Fifth-year senior Asmar Bilal (6-2, 227), the starting rover last year, has cross-trained at both Mike and Buck, and also is a front-runner for a huge volume of snaps, although Kelly doesn’t want to commit too much to what might be an inside linebacker group by committee.
"We’re trying to find the guys that fit with their skill set,” Kelly said. “We’re really trying to find the strengths of each one of those linebackers and how they fit into the overall scheme of things on first, second and third down. I think we have a pretty good idea of who those guys are. Now it’s about finding what the best combinations are. We’re starting to see some combinations …and matching those skills sets.”
Junior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah continues to shine at rover, highlighted by an excellent read and interception in one red-zone situation.
3. QBs Balancing Safe With Taking Chances
With some more vertical explosiveness at receiver in the form of junior Michael Young and sophomores Lawrence Keys III and Braden Lenzy, taking more shots down the field has been a mandate with senior quarterback Ian Book. On occasion he has, with mixed results. Thus, there is also a lot to be said for playing to one’s strengths and not getting too reckless.
“Ian’s personality is not one where I don’t know if he’s going to get many speeding tickets,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t live on the edge. He’s certainly a lot more confident in pushing the ball down the field and we knew that’s something we had to be better at … He’s not a guy that’s just going to be feeding it in through traffic. He’s going to check it down. He’s a smart kid. He’s going to make the right plays and choices.”
4. Special Teams Work
Unlike in the first two open practices this month, both the field goal and punting units received work today.
The kicking competition was more limited this time with junior front-runner Jonathan Doerer and freshman walk-on Harrison Leonard, with the latter particularly impressing on Thursday while going 5 of 5, with a long of 42.
Today, both mainly kicked extra points while blocking schemes were worked on, but both also missed 28-yard field goal attempts wide right.
Freshman Jay Bramblett, who was also a productive high school quarterback while completing 68 percent of his passes as a senior for more than 2,400 yards, punted 11 times by our count for a 36.5 average, with decent hang time more often than not. He shanked one that traveled only 27 yards, but followed up with his longest one the next time, 47 yards with excellent hang time.
"He’s not a guy that’s turning it over 55-60 (yards), but he’s a 4.5 to 4.6 hang time guy, which is what we’re looking for,” Kelly said. “This is still about consistency and we just think he’s very coachable.”
Because Bramblett comes from a coaching family and has excelled at quarterback, Kelly has cited the poised make-up as a positive for the rookie.
“The moment is not going to be too big for him, we think he’ll be able to bounce back from a bad kick, that he’s got a short memory," Kelly said.
With a coy approach, Kelly noted Bramblett has “a terrific arm,” and also possesses the ability to rugby punt.
The three return men on punts were fifth-year senior Chris Finke, the starter the past three seasons, Keys and sophomore Joe Wilkins.
No kick return game was used, so there is no insight yet on who will be the return men there.
5. Kyle Hamilton Continues Playmaking Attributes
After making three interceptions in the first open practice to the media, and another in the second, the rangy 6-4 crown jewel of Notre Dame’s 2019 recruiting class turned heads again. This included a leaping interception of a Phil Jurkovec pass, and a huge hit on running back Jahmir Smith that forced a fumble that offensive tackle Josh Lugg caught in mid-air.
Kelly maintained he was not joking earlier in the week when he said he was not aware of Hamilton's three interceptions in the first practice while he was looking for other big-picture aspects in the practice.
“He’s now got my attention a little bit more, so I see him more in terms of what he’s doing,” Kelly said. “Good player ... no doubt.”
With sophomores D.J. Brown at safety and Houston Griffith at safety still hobbled, plus classmate Derrik Allen transferring, the secondary remains a unit in flux. Fifth-year senior Shaun Crawford, who had a quality practice, and Hamilton are providing the main depth at safety behind captains Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott.
Crawford and freshman K.J. Wallace both also saw work at nickel.
Regarding Allen’s decision, Kelly said he had faced-time with the safety’s father and respects the decision they made as a family.
“He’s going to find a place that best suits him and we wish him the best,” said Kelly of Allen.