Kelly praises conditioning, discusses position battles
Marek Mazurek | Monday, March 27, 2017
Saturday’s practice marked the fifth session of spring ball for Notre Dame.
And it was a long one.
The Irish went for about two hours and fifteen minutes, starting inside Loftus Sports Complex with position drills and then moving to LaBar Practice Fields for more drills and a live scrimmage.
Over the course of the longer practice, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he was happy with the conditioning his players displayed — evidence that the revamped conditioning system under Matt Balis, director of football performance, is working.
“I had a plan going into the offseason on how I wanted it to look,” Kelly said. “Matt sets the tone down there, there’s no doubt about it. He clearly understands how important it is to build a positive relationship with the players while building the grit and that mental toughness that you need.
“He’s done what I’ve asked him to do, which is to build this football team from a mental and physical standpoint. Both of those are crucial. As we know, last year, seven or eight of our games came down to the fourth quarter, and we lacked some of those components.”
The Irish return a crew of veterans along the left side of the offensive line and at center, but Kelly said the starting job at the right tackle position is up for grabs between sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg.
“It’s firmly established that … Alex Bars is going to be the right guard,” Kelly said. “It’s the right tackle position that continues to be a competitive situation with Kramer and Eichenberg working and splitting reps there. Each one of them is a little bit different. Kramer is at times a little bit more physical, and Eichenberg [is] a little bit longer, which translates itself into pass [protection]. Both of them are really good players.”
Another name Notre Dame fans may come to know soon is offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, as Kelly said the early-enrolled freshman is having a good spring practice season.
“Robert Hainsey’s had a really good spring” Kelly said. “He’s a guy who may find himself competing as well. He’s really been the surprise of all the guys, his maturity, his ability to really pick up what we’re doing as well as from a fundamental, technique standpoint. Not saying he would unseat those guys, but he’s worth mentioning, because he’s had such a good spring.”
On the defensive line, Kelly and his staff are investing into sophomore Daelin Hayes at the defensive end position, Kelly said. Hayes was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but injuries kept him off the field his first year at Notre Dame.
“The athleticism is obviously what stands out,” Kelly said of Hayes. “It’s the football knowledge, learning the techniques. And this is the time to do it, in spring ball. We have to be patient with him. He’s an explosive athlete. There are going to be some mistakes along the way, and I’m OK with that as long as he’s learning.
“Here’s the great thing about it: He cares a lot and wants to get better. So we’re going to live with some of the mistakes.”
Another important personnel decision for the Irish coaching staff is the rover position in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. For the most part, senior Drue Tranquill and junior Asmar Bilal have split first team reps at the spot, with Tranquill playing on the first unit during Saturday’s session. Sophomore Devin Studstill jumped into Tranquill’s spot at safety.
A potential blow for the Irish is the loss of freshman running back C.J. Holmes, whose Friday practice was cut short with an apparent shoulder injury. Kelly said Saturday that Holmes would likely miss the rest of the spring practices with the injury.
“He separated his shoulder,” Kelly said. “We’ll get an MRI and know a little bit further on Monday. He had an open repair on that same shoulder his sophomore year of high school, so we’ll get an MRI and see what that looks like and go from there.”