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New offensive coaches getting feet wet during spring ball

| Friday, April 3, 2015

NCAA rules allow only 15 practice sessions, including only eight that allow live contact. Just over halfway through Notre Dame’s spring practices, it can be hard to get a read on who has made a jump or what the depth chart might look like come fall, especially when the team can’t get on the field more than two or three times a week.

Spring practice, however, is crucial for new faces among the Irish coaching staff. New running backs coach Autry Denson said that he has only looked at film to understand the offense, not as much the players.

“I was still able to remain objective, and every guy was a new start,” Denson said.

New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford emphasized the communication among the staff as a reason he has been able to hit the ground running.

“The thing that’s great about our situation here is that obviously Coach [Brian] Kelly’s a tremendous resource,” Sanford said. “And also what’s been told to the quarterbacks, he gives me a great understanding that makes the transition really easy. The communication between he and I has been just outstanding, seamless.”

Sanford and Denson are the two new hires on offense, joining defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore. The key to integrating their philosophies with what the players have learned from previous coaches is tailoring ideas to each specific player, Sanford said.

“The biggest thing is, you don’t come in and say, ‘I have all the answers, this was screwed up before I came here,’” Sanford said. “But you want to have a clear and direct way of communicating what you want to get done, and then laying out the expectations and working through that process. … There’s certainly some things from a learning standpoint that I’ve been associated with and I’ve been exposed to at the quarterback position that I want to impart on those guys. Ultimately, just make them more efficient throwers, make them a better pocket player. We’re making tremendous strides.”


Who’s under center?

Not surprisingly, Sanford spent a great deal of time addressing the quarterback competition between graduate student Everett Golson and junior Malik Zaire. Although no decision has been made, Sanford said he is using quantifiable metrics to grade the quarterbacks so there is some concrete feedback regarding their performances.

“We want those guys to feel like there’s accountability for every rep that they take,” Sanford said. “I think it helps them in their progression. It helps them understand it, that we’re not going to make an arbitrary decision about who’s the starter. We’re going to work through the process of deciding that.”

Sanford echoed Kelly’s statement last week that, during practice, the first-team quarterback reps are being split down the middle between Golson and Zaire. Sanford did, however, hint at a decision timeline for the quarterback battle.

“Ultimately, I think that the progression of one over the other, as it starts to separate, we’ll make that decision,” Sanford said. “I think the timeline, you like to be going into fall camp feeling like you’re in fall camp, and you have a very clean definition of who the starting quarterback is.”


Development of running backs

Denson is also dealing with a position in which two players, juniors Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, split time last fall. Those two are in fact the only scholarship running backs on the Irish football team, while senior wide receiver C.J. Prosise has cross-trained at running back this spring. After losing a captain from Cam McDaniel’s graduation, Denson said he was pleased with the way Folston has stepped up.

“More than anything, he’s leading,” Denson said. “He’s played probably [the] most in the room, so he’s bringing the other guys along with him. He’s taking coaching very well.”

To get to the next level, Denson said Folston has been continually working on the mental aspect of the game.

“Getting the concepts and really being another quarterback on the field, so that’s when the game really starts to slow down,” Denson said.

Regarding Bryant, Denson said he was impressed with his eagerness to learn this spring.

“He has a great work ethic, and I don’t want to place a ceiling on him,” Denson said.


Smythe leads tight ends, for now

Whoever starts for Notre Dame at tight end this fall will have to follow in the footsteps of Ben Koyack, who played more than 1,000 snaps last fall.

Furhter, he will have to follow the five tight ends that preceded Koyack, all having started in various circumstances in the NFL.

Right now, it looks like junior Durham Smythe will get that chance.

“I guess I’ll differ those things to Coach [Kelly], but I do know that Durham has really done everything we’ve asked him to do so far as far as his development,” Irish tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker said. “I like where he’s at right now, April 1st.”

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About Brian Plamondon

Brian is a senior History major. He is a Maryland native that has been to 16 different countries including Italy, where he studied abroad. He loves all things hockey, especially the Washington Capitals. He's just doing this so he won't get fined.

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