SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame football has returned to campus for its 2014 training camp and Saturday's first of two practices was the initial time that the Fighting Irish were in pads and the media was allowed to observe the workout.
Here are a few observations from the practice session:
* Former Bishop Dwenger standout Keenan Centlivre is walking on with the Irish and is getting reps with the third group of wide receivers. The 6-foot-6 Centlivre brings a dynamic (length) that only Corey Robinson does to that particular unit. He didn't get many opportunities during the practice, but late in the session he took advantage of a broken defensive coverage, particularly by safety Matthias Farley, and hauled in a pass. The play got him some notice by the coaching staff.
* It appeared that Everett Golson has secured the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback over redshirt freshman Malik Zaire. The junior took all of the reps with the first unit and simply appears more confident and definitely is more accurate. Though Golson wasn't exemplary with his play Saturday, he has an unbelievably strong arm and Zaire is simply too inaccurate at this point. Even in drills Zaire makes his receivers reach for the ball too often. However, afterward, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said next week is when the coaching staff would begin to chart the progress of the two players more aggressively and see if there is separation. That didn't happen in the coach's viewpoint this past week.
* To that point regarding Zaire, he was picked off on consecutive passes late in the workout, once by defensive back Cole Luke and the next play by Cody Riggs. However, both passes were tipped before being caught.
* The base defense for the Irish is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but don't let that fool you too much. The unit will be multiple in its looks and at times Saturday even appeared to have a 5-2 look to it, as new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had a linebacker creep down onto the line.
* All-America sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith has spoken about playing “inside” a lot this season, but again, don't let that fool you. What that means is that the former Bishop Luers High School star will team up with “Mike” 'backer Joe Schmidt and play “inside” the tackles. But he'll still be the outside (positionally) linebacker. Smith will rarely come out of games and will be roaming all over the field. On Saturday, he displayed incredible speed in coverage as he hung every step of the way with Irish running back Tarean Folston on a deep route.
* No. 3 slot receiver Torii Hunter, Jr. is out 4 to 6 weeks with a “significant” groin injury, according to coach Kelly. That will result in that position being manned by only senior Amir Carlisle and junior C.J. Prosise, who looked really good in Saturday's workout. Prosise brings the added dimension of size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) to the slot, and is 30 pounds heavier than Carlisle. Robinson spoke afterward on the progress of both Carlisle and Prosise (see attached video).
* Senior safety Austin Collinsworth had a nice day, particularly in the red zone drills. Coach Kelly spoke afterward of how the fifth-year player would be “quarterbacking” the secondary. However, early in the scrimmage, Prosise abused Collinsworth with an inside-out move that showed Prosise's ability to get deep into coverages.
* With the emergence of both Carlisle and Prosise, as well as the increased pass-catching duties that are expected out of the three running backs, there will be no shortage of guys making plays through the air this season, though their names may not be that well known. Top receiver DaVaris Daniels is being handled cautiously due to a nagging groin issue, according to Kelly, and with Hunter's injury, other guys, including Robinson, William Fuller, and Chris Brown have really stepped up.
* Speaking of Brown, the junior has been tremendous not just this week, but ever since last spring, according to Kelly. When Daniels was suspended due to academics last spring, Brown assumed the leadership role and has is working on becoming a more versatile receiver, not just a burner.
* Fort Wayne freshman Drue Tranquill had his left ankle taped heavily during Saturday's workout and didn't get many reps. However, I was told by a Notre Dame staffer that the former Carroll High School star hadn't missed any practice and the injury wasn't unusual at this stage of camp.
* Kelly has lost much of his voice as this week has gone on, and that may be in part to his coaching much more than usual. In the absence of Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock (surgery), Kelly has assumed the role of coaching the receivers. Robinson spoke of learning an inordinate amount of football this week due to the individual attention of his head coach (see video).
* Denbrock made an appearance at Saturday's practice, and though he didn't coach, Kelly said he was in good spirits. “He was yelling at the officials,” Kelly said. “That's how I knew that he was feeling better.”
* Kelly spoke afterward of freshmen wide receivers Justin Brent and Corey Holmes needing to get a look due to injuries to Daniels and Hunter. However, during one drill against no defense, Brent dropped a ball and got yanked out of the drill by Kelly.
* Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell was limited in practice Saturday, but Kelly said afterward that “We are just being careful with him.” That opened up opportunities for Riggs and senior Josh Atkinson to get a lot of reps and Atkinson played very well. The secondary will have the most competition in years among the corners and safeties this season. New Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder shouted “That's nice coverage (Josh). That's in somebody's grill!”
* While Smith has little difficulty in coverage, Schmidt got burned on a crossing route by Brown, which is understandable. The return of middle backer Jarrett Grace may happen early in the season, but Kelly said afterward “We haven't turned him loose yet.” So it still remains to be seen when Grace will be back on the field.
* As stated earlier, Golson wasn't perfect Saturday. At one point, sophomore safety Max Redfield picked off Golson on a bad overthrow. Kelly said he is pleased with the talented Redfield, but he won't be running the secondary this year. “We don't want to put too much on Max's plate right now.”
* Robinson seemingly catches every ball thrown to him, but did have a drop in the end zone during a red zone drill. The fact that I can single out the one time I've seen him drop a pass should be viewed as a very positive thing.
* Defensive back Devin Butler left practice early due to a hydration issue.
* Senior running back Cam McDaniel appeared to get the majority of work with the first unit in Monday's season-opening practice; however, both sophomores Greg Bryant and Folston got a lot of work with the unit Saturday. All three will have significant roles this year, though Kelly said he is waiting for Folston to seize the top job, but the talented athlete simply hasn't.
* Golson drew the ire of Kelly late due to his not running the offense quickly enough. That will be a point of emphasis all training camp, as the coach feels this is the first time since he's been in South Bend that he can truly run the type of offense (both play calling, as well as tempo) that he desires.
Part two of the first two-a-day is in the books! No practice tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/mxMjzMu4gt— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 9, 2014