Assistant coaches chime in on receivers, offensive line, quarterbacks
Daniel O'Boyle | Thursday, April 6, 2017
With less than three weeks until the Blue-Gold Game, Notre Dame’s offensive assistant coaches spoke about how their position groups have developed over the spring so far.
Wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander is one of the seven new Irish coaches for the 2017 season. Although he has previously worked with offensive coordinator Chip Long when the two were at Arizona State, he said he was approaching his role at Notre Dame like any other new job.
“New is new,” Alexander said. “Every time I move is new, and you approach it like this is day one. So even though Chip and I know each other, we have different guys on the staff. So in our communication, we can’t cut corners. The players are all new. They don’t know me yet so we have to build relationships. But every time you change jobs, you start with that new term and build on it.”
Alexander said one area he has been focusing on is ensuring his receivers play a physical game, in both pass and run plays.
“Physicality is how you play the game,” Alexander said. “You have to go after defensive backs, run or pass. So you don’t just try to run by them when a run is called or in an obvious run situation — we’re going to block and be physical.”
Quarterbacks coach Tom Rees said the young receiving corps provided a range of talents for his players to work with.
“We have a group of guys who haven’t done a whole lot,” Rees said. “[Junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown] has played a lot and [junior receiver] C.J. Sanders has played a lot, but the rest haven’t had a chance to go out and make plays for us yet. I think we have a lot of big bodied guys that we can use to box out — power forward types — then we have C.J. and [junior receiver Chris] Finke, quicker guys who can make some plays with their legs. Then we have some hybrids like [St. Brown] who can do a little bit of both. So I think we have a great balance of things we can do outside.”
Alexander singled out Finke for praise, stating that despite only earning a scholarship less than a year ago, the former walk-on was already a leader on the team.
“He’s one of those guys when you talk about leadership,” Alexander said. “He’s going to lead by example, he’s going to come in and take great notes. He’s going to go out and hustle, he’s going to go out and make plays when you call his number. So when you talk about leadership you have a guy that sets an example of how to approach the game. That’s how I use his leadership.”
The right tackle position remains one of the major position battles on the team. Sophomores Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer are both competing for the spot next to senior Alex Bars, who will be playing guard. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said he had confidence that either player would be capable of performing at the position.
“They’re competing really well,” Hiestand said. “They both have good qualities about them, they’re both really good at the basic fundamental things you look for in players. They’ve got a great work ethic, a great attitude, great ability and now it’s just time.
“… They’re both getting pretty equal reps and everybody’s kind of used to them now. It was a little harder when we started, but now Alex is used to both guys, so it’s becoming less of an issue. We’re not going to force it.”
Senior tackle Mike McGlinchey and senior guard Quenton Nelson both opted to return to Notre Dame in 2017 rather than enter the NFL Draft. Hiestand said the pair are both determined to improve in their final year.
“They’re committed to being great teammates and improving,” Hiestand said. “They didn’t come back to not get better; they came back to get better. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Rees, returning to Notre Dame as a quarterbacks coach after playing for the Irish from 2010 to 2013, said his first priority is instilling the right culture around his signal-callers.
“I think first we want to develop the culture we have there,” Rees said. “We want an extremely competitive environment and we want to support one another. Quarterback’s a very unique position because one guy’s out there a majority of the time, so it’s all about supporting one another and understanding your role. I think we have certain expectations with balls in jeopardy: we don’t want to have the defense touch the ball. We have certain expectations in attention to detail, that’s something we have to be good at. If our details aren’t great, we can’t lead. So it’s first continuing to learn the offense, then keeping the ball out of harm’s way and then growing as the leader of the team, bringing guys with us and exuding that confidence and leadership.”
Rees said he initially found adjusting to other players’ learning habits difficult, but believes he has improved in that area.
“When I first got here I had to take a step back and make sure that these guys understand everything,” Rees said. “And just because something makes sense to me doesn’t mean it’s going to click for them. You’ve got to go through and if they get it on the board or they get it on film, you have to think about how they retain it the best. For me it’s been a lot of fun challenging those guys and making it a competitive atmosphere. They’re really picking up what we’re trying to teach and they’re giving me positive feedback which is good, but continuing to grow those relationships and tailoring my teaching them to their learning is important.I’m not trying to teach them to learn my way, I’m trying to adapt to how they learn.”
Rees’ exact position with the team remains undecided. He is currently listed as a graduate assistant, but the NCAA will rule at the end of the month whether he can be listed as a full assistant coach. Rees said that no matter what, however, he will still be involved with the team.
“It’s out of my control,” Rees said. “I’m not going to leave these guys, though. I’ll be here.”