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SOUTH BEND - Tuesday was the final practice of the 2014 Notre Dame training camp in which the media was allowed to view. Here are a few observations from that session, which was conducted on the new field turf at Notre Dame Stadium.
• It will be interesting to see just how the running back rotation gets handled this season. During the practice, it appeared that Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant received more work with the 1s, than senior Cam McDaniel. However, in the post-practice presser, Fighting Irish coach called McDaniel “our best overall running back.”
• I'm not trying to be a Fort Wayne “homer,” but former Bishop Dwenger High School standout Keenan Centlivre continues to make really nice catches when thrown to. The 6-foot-6 walk-on wide receiver makes really tough catches and is a huge target. Maybe I'm wrong, but the kid might eventually get used at Notre Dame.
• With leading returning pass catcher DaVaris Daniels indefinitely suspended (again), this group of wide receivers doesn't have a prominent name. But that doesn't mean that the group lacks talent. I think that this is a deep and versatile group that will fare well this season. Chris Brown has looked awesome through camp, as has Corey Robinson and C.J. Prosise. On Tuesday, Amir Carlisle looked good at the slot position, as did Prosise, and Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said afterward that both Prosise and Carlisle could very well end up on the field at the same time. “There is ability there,” Denbrock said. “It's young and in some cases untapped to this point. But there is no doubt in my mind that we can be very dynamic as a group. I've just got to continue to help those guys mature and come along.”
• I'm not Brian Kelly or Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, but Malik Zaire continues to look inaccurate to me. Pass catchers continually have to reach for balls and he badly overthrew an open receiver (Corey Holmes) on a sideline route at one point in the practice. In 7-on-7 work, Zaire's initial pass was nearly picked off by safety Austin Collinsworth. He did come right back with a nice pass to freshman Justin Brent.
• As mentioned earlier, Prosise will have a nice year. He is a big, physical body at the slot position and has really good hands. In the four practices, I've seen, the guy just makes catch after catch. “The slot position has been something that hasn't been as dynamic the last couple of years as we've needed it to be,” Denbrock said. “I think both (Amir and C.J.) posses the ability to make explosive plays out in space. That's really geared towards how we're structured right now, to get guys like Amir and C.J. the ball in space and kind of do their business.”
• One receiver that wasn't showing any ability Tuesday was William Fuller. The sophomore was in pads, but spent time out of drills and on the stationary bike. “He's got a tib-fib outside,” Kelly said afterward of Fuller. No cartilage (damage). No ligament damage, just some soreness. We worked him out pretty hard (Tuesday). If we had to play on the weekend, he'd play.”
• Also on the injury front, linebacker Jarrett Grace was in pads, but wearing a red jersey and didn't participate in any drills. He appeared to have a slight limp to his walk, as well. But Kelly said he had “crossed a big threshold” in his rehab work recently and now “it's just a matter of time.” Kelly said the former starter could possibly return a couple of weeks into the season.
• To a player and coach, all are raving about the variances of the new 4-3 defensive scheme implemented by new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. In one package, he had nickel back Matthias Farley bringing pressure from the outside, while middle linebacker Joe Schmidt would stunt around the end. The defense (Schmidt, in particular) was able to get pressure on the quarterbacks at times. To compensate for the lack of experience along the defensive front, VanGorder will have to really stymie the various offenses in order to get pressure and keep the stress on the back end of the Irish defense to a minimum.
• With returning starter KeiVarae Russell suspended indefinitely, sophomore Cole Luke is getting a lot of work and had a nice break-up against bigger-body tight end Ben Koyack on one route.
• Luke and classmate Devin Butler worked corners together (though 5th-year player Cody Riggs is expected to start at one spot), while Farley was brought down in the nickel slot often.
• On a humorous note, Irish quarterback Everett Golson failed miserably on a couple of dunk attempts on the goal post mid-practice.
• Schmidt has appeared to struggle in coverage at times, but did a nice job on Koyack during red zone work.
• Brown has had a great camp, but Collinsworth and Riggs teamed up for nice coverage of him during red zone work.
• Robinson continues to impress everyone in a lot of ways, but particularly in the red zone. Golson looked for him several times during the short period, and he repeatedly made great catches, even showing physical strength at times and wrestling the ball away from defenders. He'll be incredibly difficult to cover in the red zone (see attached video) and I wouldn't be surprised if he scores the team's initial touchdown of the season against Rice (Aug. 30 in South Bend, 3:30 p.m., NBC).
• Golson continually showed the ability to move and keep plays alive, something that definitely did not occur with frequency last season with quarterback Tommy Rees. At one point, Golson saw no openings and easily scampered for a 10-yard gain. That nonchalant play would've proved very unlikely a year ago.
• Holmes is young, but showed nice ability by making several physical catches.
• Sophomore linebacker Doug Randolph and classmate Durham Smythe were both out of pads during the practice, but Kelly said afterward that he expected both back for game week workouts Monday.