Notre Dame Notes: Irish coaches moving defensive pieces around

Notre Dame safety Jordan Genmark Heath (2) takes part in a drill during a recent practice at the Loftus Sports Center in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame freshman free safety Houston Griffith

SOUTH BEND – Spring football is the time for experimentation by coaching staffs and that is definitely taking place at Notre Dame.

Entering the final week of preparation before the annual Blue-Gold Game Saturday (12:30 p.m., NBCSN); the Fighting Irish coaches took a look at moving a defensive piece in Saturday’s practice.

The Irish are loaded with comparable and experienced players at all four defensive back positions, but not so much at linebacker. So Brian Kelly wanted to give consideration to strong safety Jordan Genmark Heath at the weakside linebacker position.

“We think that his size, his instincts, his physicality, merited an opportunity to take a look,” Kelly said following the practice. “It’s really about giving us a sense of what he can do close to the ball.”

Genmark Heath is a bigger (6-foot-1, 211 pounds) athlete that would be battling juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill, as well as heralded freshman Derrik Allen for time at safety. But at linebacker, he can provide depth and also allow Kelly and first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea to keep redshirt junior Asmar Bilal on the outside at the rover spot, as opposed to cross-training Bilal to play both rover and weak side.

“We like (Genmark Heath’s) contact skills,” Kelly continued. “We like his instincts for the football.”

No time like the present

There are a number of freshmen defensive players that are intriguing prospects heading into the 2018 season, but none more so than free safety Houston Griffith.

The early enrollee has already seen work at both cornerback and free safety, but Kelly said Saturday that he has found a home and will be seen a lot by the Notre Dame fans.

“He knows what he is doing,” Kelly said of Griffith. “You never know until they get here and put the pads on them.”

The Irish coaches know what Griffith can do now.

The 6-foot, 196-pound athlete has a high football intellect, according to Kelly, and he will provide depth behind (or possibly surpass) senior Nick Coleman and redshirt sophomore Alohi Gilman, who is in his first season of eligibility with the Irish after transferring from Navy a year ago.

“(Griffith) has great instincts,” Kelly said. “He knows the game. He’s going to be a really good player here.”

When Kelly was asked further about WHEN Griffith would be a contributing player the coach didn’t mince words.

“He’s going to play for us in the fall,” Kelly said. “How that ends up, whether he is a starter or a back-up, he will play football for Notre Dame this fall. No doubt.”

Wimbush developing

The Notre Dame coaches haven’t exactly seen a great deal of separation from the top two quarterbacks (redshirt junior Brandon Wimbush and redshirt sophomore Ian Book) this spring, but Kelly did state Saturday that Wimbush is evolving in ways that please the coach.

“He’s building his consistency,” Kelly said. “His footwork has now put him in a position where he can now put the ball accurately where it needs to be and be so much more consistent with his progression reads.”

Kelly also said last week that Book had recently had his best practices of the spring and both players are expected to see extensive work in the Blue-Gold Game.

One of the aspects of Wimbush’s game that is leading to better play is simply a development of confidence, according to Kelly.

“He is in such a better place mentally,” Kelly said of the quarterback. “He is confident and knows his technique. He can trust it.”

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