Notre Dame is a third of the way that is done with spring practice, and the tests to assess its progress are two Zoom sessions with Brian Kelly and players plus 15 minutes of video in total.
As the Irish hold their sixth spring training out of the 15th Thursday morning, there are still some major issues that remain unresolved – as one might expect for the time frame and circumstances. However, there is still enough information available to reach some conclusions about what has evolved so far.
Here’s a look at five things we’ve learned since Fighting Irish opened its spring practice on March 27th.
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. Jack Coan and Drew Pyne Splitting Reps
No matter how hard it is to overlook the experience gap between Wisconsin degree transfer Jack Coan and upcoming schooling Drew Pyne – and it’s hard – nothing is yet official as to the naming of a starting quarterback. Until then, they will likely continue to split first-team snaps.
“These guys get straight reps with the first and second group,” Kelly said. “A good match there. We assess it day to day. One day we see some good stuff from Drew, then Jack does some really good stuff. It is a struggle that continues to take shape. ”
Pyne attracted positive reviews for his leadership in winter training and his ability to quickly learn the offense. He did not give up the job just because Notre Dame brought an 18-game Big Ten starter that led a team to a 10-4 record and a division title. Coan still feels like the favorite to win the job in time. Pyne’s goal is to make the competition last longer than expected.
A name that is not in the mix right now is the first enrolled freshman Tyler Buchner, a top-125 player in the 2021 class. He is a gifted athlete and the best runner of the five quarterbacks, but owns a one-year starting experience from high school to his name. He did not play as a senior due to California’s COVID-19 restrictions. He has had good moments per. Kelly, but he starts from behind.
“Tyler has just come here and he hasn’t played football in a year,” Kelly said. “There is a certain development that must take place there.
“The basics are what he is trying to feel good about today. He has some work to do from this perspective, but he is a quick survey and a really good athlete. ”
2. Position moves
There are two position switches of note that Kelly addressed – one direct, the other smaller. Two-year start defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa moves to a defensive end on a strong side, as part of the defensive scheme adapts the new coordinator Marcus Freeman doing.
In the last two seasons, Tagovailoa-Amosa has collected 39 tackles, 8.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. Per Pro football focus, he had 34 driving stops during this time.
“He wants to play a defensive end for us, the big end position,” Kelly said. “He is certainly able to give us the solid technique needed to play the great final position. He has the size, has the strength, he has put some emphasis on. He’s excited about it. ”
By offense, it looks like Jarrett Patterson is destined for tackling after starting 21 games in the center. Kelly did not confirm it directly, but his comments after the first spring rehearsal suggested it.
“Josh Lugg must play by tackle, but will likely slip into the guard position when the season starts, ”said Kelly. “You’ll see a big fight for one of the tackle positions and one of the guard positions.”
The key phrase is “one of the tackle positions.” Both 2020 tackles are gone. Hair, with eight career starts, is a natural replacement. But he probably won’t end up there, Kelly said. No one else who is tackling has the previous equity to have earned a starting role at this point.
By deduction, that leaves Patterson as the only other candidate who could realistically ask Kelly to see one of the tackle jobs as locked. Kelly also called Patterson’s replacement, Zeke Correllthe starting center.
Patterson is not fully training in the spring as he recovers from foot surgery in November.
3. To be more
One of Freeman’s changes to the Notre Dame defense from Clark Lea‘s scheme will be more variation in the defensive fronts. Under Lea, Notre Dame had four defensive linemen on the field almost all the time, though one or two of them stood up. The exception was usually on the third down and in sub-packages, where a linebacker (sometimes two) would stand up at the line and either flash or fall in cover.
The three-man front will be more prevalent under Freeman and not just on the third down.
“Our defensive structure will incorporate at first and second down will incorporate more of a multiple look,” Kelly said. “We were much more of a four-down defense. We want a hybrid of three and four down on the first and second down. ”
The exercise video Notre Dame has released contains clips of the defense in three- and four-man fronts. The 6-3, 282-pound Tagovailoa-Amosa outward move is a logical one in a three-man lineup.
4. Blake Fisher gets a chance
Notre Dame has 14 early entrants from its 27-man course on campus this spring. So far, one of them has taken some first team reps in the available clips – Blake Fisher, the five-star offensive lineman who was the highest rated recruits in the group. Exercise video has shown him at left tackle struggling for second year Tosh Baker.
Baker himself is a former top-150 recruit billed as a future left tackle. While this ends up being his job, Fisher, who takes some first-team snaps, is important and a sign of how staff see him as a possible immediate contributor. At 6-6 and 330 pounds, he is already big enough to play there.
Baker is a year older, but not very experienced. He played in waste time twice in 2020. Can Fisher be the first freshman offensive lineman to start for Notre Dame since 2017?
“Left tackling is interesting,” Kelly said. “Blake Fisher out there with Tosh Baker, the two guys are fighting for it.”
5. Joe Wilkins Jr.s option
With increasing senior Kevin Austin Jr. by recovering from two foot surgeries, someone had to take first team reps at the border receiver in the spring. Many of them have gone to classmates Joe Wilkins Jr., a rotation player a year ago who got seven passes. He has often been included in the practice videos that Notre Dame has released.
Austin is expected back to camp. Given the buzz around him heading into last spring and Notre Dame’s need for a dynamic receiver, he’s getting a chance to be a top scorer. Former Irish recipient Chase Claypool raved about him in an NFL Combine interview in 2020. He shone in last year’s lone spring practice and in his short cameo against Louisville.
Until Austin is back and looks like the player many imagine him to be, Wilkins’ frontier work is. This spring is his chance to force himself into rotation in a certain capacity, no matter what Austin does.
Notre Dame’s staff relied on Wilkins to play in a close receiver rotation a year ago. He unleashed the passing attack in the season opener with four catches. He is a strong blocker and the Irish lost their two best blocking receivers. He can play border and field receiver. In a space card with documented goods, there may be a role for him.
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