Notre Dame Football Training Camp Notes: Irish corners looking good early, but will get even better

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly speaks with the media following practice Friday at Culver Academies. The Fighting Irish are holding training camp in Culver through Tuesday. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame's Dexter Williams (2) falls onto Daelin Hayes (9) during the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game in South Bend in April. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly chats with Irish defensive back Julian Love prior to a practice this spring at the Loftus Sports Center in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame's Michael Young (87) tries to recover a fumble between Alohi Gilman (11), Nicco Fertitta (28) and Troy Pride Jr. (5) during the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game in South Bend in April. (By The Associated Press)
2018 Notre Dame freshman defensive back Tariq Bracy
2018 Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr.
2018 Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Braden Lenzy
2018 Notre Dame freshman defensive back Paul Moala

CULVER – Veteran Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly was pleased with the mentality of his secondary following spring football and that belief hasn’t wavered as training camp is underway at Culver Academies.

“It’s a confident group,” Kelly said of his defense overall in the spring. “They run to the football. They are going to be attacking the football in the back end of the defense, which was at times frustrating. I think we’ve kind of come a long way from that perspective.”

The Fighting Irish are in the midst of five days of camp at Culver before returning to campus in South Bend Wednesday and following the opening practice session, Kelly specifically addressed the performance of cornerbacks Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr.

“I don’t know if they have hit their ceiling yet,” Kelly said of the two juniors. “These guys continue to grow.”

A year ago, Love had a season that was one for the ages.

He defended a Fighting Irish record 20 passes, which crushed the previous mark of 13 (set in 1969).

In the case of Pride Jr., he is battling veteran Shaun Crawford to start opposite Love, and he has momentum following last season.

Pride Jr. played in 12 games last season, but he started each of the final four.

“His on-body (work) and he is physically now able to re-route receivers with leverage,” Kelly explained Friday after practice. “That was a little bit problematic for him at times. He might not have been as strong as he needed to be.”

Since Pride Jr. came to South Bend two years ago, he has added 10 pounds of muscle and is up to 190 pounds.

While Pride Jr.’s evolution has been gradual, Love has excelled since he arrived as a freshman.

He played in 12 games as a freshman and earned Freshman All-American honors (247Sports.com), before being named as a second-team All-America selection as a sophomore.

This summer, he was named to the “watch list” for the Nagurski Award, which goes to the nation’s best defensive back. However, Kelly likes the approach that Love is taking as camp began.

“What I like about Julian is his demeanor,” Kelly said. “He is on all of these watch lists, yet he has maintained the focus that he has to have to be sound fundamentally. He doesn’t have to gamble to make plays.”

Love, Pride Jr., and Crawford will form depth at the cornerback position, but the group also includes junior Donte Vaughn, while true freshman Noah Boykin has already received work with the No. 1s, as well.

“I really like their mindset,” Kelly said of the cornerbacks, “their demeanors. I like what is happening with our safety position, as well. We are much more around the ball and in closing space.

WILLIAMS WORKING (SOMEWHAT)

There are questions surrounding the status of senior running back Dexter Williams regarding his being disciplined by Kelly throughout this off-season and what that means for the early games.

Kelly wouldn’t clarify over the summer whether Williams would play against Michigan on Sept. 1 (7:30 p.m., NBC) and he continued to be evasive on the topic Thursday when asked again.

“He’s going to be,” Kelly began, “you know, on our roster. We’ll see who ends up playing against Michigan, but he’s on our football team and I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished in the summer.”

During Friday’s opening practice, Williams was on the sidelines throughout much of the drill work as an observer and not participating. However, Kelly said that was due to him wanting to get other backs work.

“We’re trying to get a lot of young guys some work,” Kelly said. “He’ll continue to get reps. He understands that he has to keep competing, keep working hard and he has a great attitude, but we have so many young guys that we want to try and give them as much work as possible.”

RECRUITING WELL PAYS OFF EARLY

On both of the National Signing Days this past off-season, Kelly spoke of how the depth of his roster was improving through solid recruiting. On Friday, he explained more specifically, how that showed on the field even on the first day of practice.

“A lot of those younger guys that we feel like have the ability,” Kelly said, “watching today, a couple of the receivers, the young receivers look like they can do some things.

“Our depth is in that 65 to 85 (scholarship players improving), which is going to show itself probably in a lot of the special teams.”

Kelly had freshmen defensive backs Tariq Bracy and Paul Moala, as well as first-year receivers Joe Wilkins Jr. and Braden Lenzy working on Friday as both punt and kickoff returners.

“The plan for this is to upgrade in all areas,” Kelly continued on the topic, “but in particular, you would think you would see a big effect in the special teams.”

For more on Notre Dame football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis, and Instagram at tomdavis101010.

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