Notre Dame football returned to campus after four days at Shiloh Park for its first practice session open to the media.
Head coach Brian Kelly has a good feeling about the first week of camp, saying that this is some of the most competitive practices he’s coached in a long time.
“It’s fast football,” he said. “As fast as I’ve seen at Notre Dame.”
The media was confined to one sideline for most of the practice, so I didn’t get to see as much of the defense (which ran several drills on the next field over) as I’d have liked, but here are a few observations that I took away from the Friday, Aug. 9, session:
- Not many surprises in the first-team offense. The tempo drill offense included Tommy Rees at quarterback, George Atkinson in the backfield, receivers TJ Jones, CJ Prosise and DaVaris Daniels, tight end Troy Niklas and linemen (from left to right) Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Nick Martin, Christian Lombard and Ronnie Stanley.
With Conor Hanratty out with a minor injury, Lombard shifted from right tackle to right guard and Stanley filled in at tackle. Kelly said the coaches are “still sorting the right side out.”
- Speaking of Rees, the senior quarterback is a bigger, stronger, more confident and – dare I say it? – more athletic version of his 2011 self. Rees commanded the offense Friday and looked confident rolling out of the pocket to evade pressure. His pitches to running backs during speed option drills looked crisp and strong.
“He’s kept some plays alive that he has not been able to do in the past,” Kelly said of Rees.
- I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, receiver Corey Robinson catches everything in his area code. Kelly downplayed Robinson slightly, saying the 6-foot-4 freshman has a wide catch radius but still requires a lot of fine-tuning before he can be a consistent presence on the field.
- Another freshman that impressed on Friday was running back Greg Bryant. No surprises there, but having never seen Bryant in person, it was fairly astonishing to see how big he was. He looks more like a college junior than a true freshman. Bryant’s built like a veteran starter, but got reprimanded by coaches enough times for minor missteps to remind you that he’s a rookie.
- A few players were out of action, including cornerback Bennett Jackson, receiver Daniel Smith, linebacker Danny Spond and offensive lineman Conor Hanratty. Freshmen running back Tarean Folston was also limited for several position drills. Kelly didn’t go into specifics, but assured that no one was injured severely enough to miss the opening game against Temple.
“If it’s something significant, I’ll report it to you,” he said.
- Ben Councell moved up to the first-team defense in place of the sidelined Spond, which made room for explosive freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith on the second-team defense. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese shared the inside on the first-team defense the entire practice. Add Jarrett Grace to that mix for a nice three-man rotation.
“It won’t be a two-person rotation,” Kelly said. “That’s three right now, and who knows, it could be four.”
- The abysmal punt return team saw some new faces Friday. TJ Jones, Amir Carlisle, Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston rotated punt return reps. My early guess is that Carlisle will come away with the job.