Irish enter first day of spring practice healthier
Mary Green | Thursday, March 19, 2015
By the end of the 2014 season, injuries had depleted Notre Dame’s depth chart, and within two months, the Irish coaching corps had seen three assistants depart for different teams.
The Irish got a fresh start Wednesday morning in their first spring practice of the season, with several players coming back from injury and the coaching staff receiving new additions.
The defense in particular battled through a shortage of experienced players at the end of the season, competing without graduate student linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace, safeties sophomore Drue Tranquill and senior Nicky Baratti and senior defensive lineman Jarron Jones among others.
With the exception of Jones, the rest of the group participated in Wednesday’s practice — Grace and Baratti in all the drills through the first 30 minutes and Tranquill, sporting a brace on his left knee, where he tore his ACL, and Schmidt in some drills. Jones, who suffered a Lisfranc injury near the end of the season, watched his teammates from the sidelines without the aid of crutches, which supported him during Notre Dame’s bowl victory.
“It’s super exciting, just to have an opportunity to play with all of our guys again this year, and there’s guys still recovering, but right now, it’s just about getting better in the spring, taking it one day at a time and continuing to improve,” junior linebacker Jaylon Smith said.
Smith said Grace’s return to practice especially excited him as Grace has not seen the field since a leg injury knocked him out against Arizona State on Oct. 5, 2013.
“It’s definitely humbling for me, to see someone go through an injury like that and persevere through it,” Smith said. “He’s back, and he’s working hard and getting his speed back, and I’m really happy to be out there with him.”
Kelly also announced the addition of two new analysts to his staff — former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn on offense and former Irish intern Pryce Tracy on special teams. Notre Dame is still looking to fill the defensive analyst position, Kelly said.
While the analyst role is not a coaching job, the head coach said he will look for “more brainpower in the room and a lot of experience” from his new hires, especially Quinn.
“As we move forward, he’ll have different responsibilities in terms of offensive oversight,” Kelly said of Quinn. “It could be from a game-plan perspective, looking at certain things, detailed items that I’ve put together for him.”
Four new assistants made their coaching debuts for the Irish on Wednesday — offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, running backs coach Autry Denson, defensive line coach Keith Gilmore and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght. Kelly had praise in particular for Sanford, who is working in a position in which a clear-cut starter has yet to be determined.
“It’s exactly what I was hoping for in the first day,” Kelly said. “There’s no misunderstanding about what’s being taught and how it’s being taught and what’s expected. … It’s, ‘This is how we do it. This is how it’s taught,’ and he does it in a very professional, well-communicated manner that’s nonthreatening, but it’s clear and concise. I was impressed with the way that the quarterbacks handled it and looked today, on the first day.”
C.J. Prosise, still listed as a receiver on the roster, practiced exclusively with the running backs in the first 30 minutes of Wednesday’s practice as part of his offseason cross-training.
The senior said he will split time between the position groups, a change that is helped by their overlap.
“I’ll go back and forth, just here and there,” Prosise said. “I mean, this is my third year at receiver, and now I’m getting used to the system and know what’s going on, so I can still interchange, and I’m still seeing what’s going on with the receivers, especially when we come together because we’re together with a lot of the stuff we do.”
Kelly said he and his staff saw Prosise’s potential to cross-train between the receivers and the running backs last season.
“I think it was just more of a cumulative workload that gave us that, and certainly, his speed when he has the ball in his arm is pretty clear, even against SEC talent,” he said.
Martin back at center
Graduate student Nick Martin practiced at center with the first-team offensive line Wednesday. Though Martin started the final 10 games of last year at left guard, Kelly said he is more of a natural fit at center.
“He’s got the smarts to play center,” Kelly said. “He’s got the athleticism, and he really think he’s size to play there, so whether you put somebody on him, on his nose, he can handle him, but he’s athletic enough that he can move and be part of combination blocks.”