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Football: So it begins

Andrew Owens | Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Irish returned to the practice field Wednesday for the first time in nearly three months and, even amidst the absence of junior receiver Michael Floyd, still felt the momentum gained during the four-game winning streak that closed out the 2010 season.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said he was pleased with what he saw in the morning practice, especially with the progression of a few specific players.

“[Sophomore tight end Tyler] Eifert moves so well down the field,” Kelly said. “[Freshman linebacker Prince] Shembo on the perimeter playing at the drop can reroute receivers so much better in space. [Freshman linebacker] Danny Spond really looked, to me, athletically fit.”

Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar also heaped some praise on the young tight end, who caught 27 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns last season and emerged as a critical part of the offense once junior Kyle Rudolph went down with a hamstring injury.

“It’s really exciting watching Eifert right now because he looks like an All-American in the making. He really does,” Molnar said. “He plays with great confidence. He plays with great speed. He’s got great ball skills. Coach [Mike] Denbrock’s job is to bring him up another level as a blocker. He’s had a great offseason in the weight room, so his strength is going to be improved.”

The coaches also liked what they saw from the four quarterbacks competing for the starting position. Junior Dayne Crist, freshmen Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix and early enrollee Everett Golson will all receive extended looks from the coaching staff.

“We have to do a great job evaluating all the quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “We’ve got depth. We’ve got guys we believe have the ability to run this offense. We want to be able to evaluate all the things that they do.”

The coaching staff will have a new tool at their disposal to evaluate the signal callers — the Helmet Cam. The new technology, which places a camera on a player’s helmet to track his eyes, debuted at Wednesday’s practice.

“To make this a real competition, we’ve got to look at every area of their decision-making, and what the Helmet Cam allows us to do is track the eyes of the quarterback through his progressions,” Kelly said. “If he’s staring down a particular receiver, you’re going to see that. If he’s moving his eyes through his progression, you’re going to see that.”

Crist, who is wearing a knee brace as he recovers from a ruptured patella tendon suffered in October, was the first to sport the Helmet Cam.

“He didn’t know it was on there,” Kelly said. “He didn’t feel it.”

The Irish will hit the practice field for the second time this spring Friday morning at 8 a.m.