Friday morning marked the 10th practice of the spring for the Notre Dame football team, and just four workouts remain before the April 22 Blue-Gold game.
Head coach Brian Kelly met with the media after practice and updated various areas of the program.
St. Brown and Stepherson, the two leading returners at receiver, were both dressed out but did not do any contact work during the two-hour practice inside the Loftus Center.
Kelly said Stepherson’s hamstring, which appeared to have a wrap on it Friday, has been lingering throughout the spring. The Irish are treating it aggressively with anti-inflammatory measures, but the 6-foot, 180-pounder has not needed Platelet Rich Plasma therapy on the injury.
“He just hasn’t been right, he hasn’t been 100 percent,” Kelly said of Stepherson, who caught 25 passes for 462 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman.
St. Brown, meanwhile, has a less than Grade 1 hamstring injury, Kelly said. The Irish are being very cautious with the injury, which has meant more playing time for sophomore Javon McKinley, who is still recovering from a broken leg last fall.
Kelly said he anticipates McKinley playing in the spring game, albeit in a non-contact jersey.
“We want to get him competing,” Kelly said of McKinley. “We played him as a true freshman so we have a high opinion of him. He’s rusty. This is a good opportunity.”
Junior Miles Boykin, who impressed onlookers during a March 25 scrimmage, has continued to make a name for himself this spring.
“Miles is starting to build some bank if you will as it relates to consistency,” Kelly said. “I’m using the word bank as he’s putting a lot in the bank (in terms of) trust. We can trust that he’s going to go out there and give us the kind of performance that is going to lend itself toward playing time. He’s been very consistent as a ball catcher. He’s been very consistent in terms of assignments. His traits have been very evident in terms of attention to detail and his focus has been great. His attitude. He’s been gritty.”
The 6-4, 225-pound Boykin has stood out by making a number of tough catches.
“He gets a lot of those back shoulder throws where he’s got to go up and get it and lands,” Kelly said. “Physically he gets beat up a little bit but he keeps going back out there. I see him in there getting treatment. And he makes good decisions. He’s exhibiting all the traits that we’re looking for.”
Notre Dame continues to rotate its receivers all over the field, a product of Chip Long’s new uptempo scheme. In the past, the Irish receivers were typically locked into W (short side), X (outside) and Z (slot) positions, though that is changing.
“It is blurred. You have to play all three positions,” Kelly said. “There is a little bit of a specialty to the short side receiver, the boundary receiver. You won’t see as much of a Z receiver to the short side of the field because that’s where you get a lot of your individuals matchups. There’s a lot of changing of roles to the field between the X and the Z receivers.”
DEFENSIVE LINE PROGRESS
Prior to the spring, Kelly told reporters that he believes the Notre Dame defensive line is being underrated and is better than it is given credit for.
He stood by that statement Friday, updating the progress of a number of the team’s potential playmakers.
On the defensive ends: “Daelin Hayes continues to get better and better the more football that he’s exposed to. Julian Okwara is coming on and giving us the kind of edge presence that we expected. Andrew Trumbetti is getting better and more consistent as a pass rusher for us. Khalid Kareem has done some nice things for us. There’s four guys right there, and we’re even going to get Jamir Jones activated a little bit more. He’s up to 242 pounds, I don’t know if we’re ever going to be able to hold him back from being a bigger guy. I really believe those young players and Andrew are going to continue to develop and give us the kind of edge presence that we need.”
On the defensive tackles: “Jerry (Tillery) has done a really nice job. Daniel Cage has had his best spring, and that’s going to continue to transfer. Add Micah (Dew-Treadway), Brandon Tiassum had a good day today, he’s coming on. He’s been in a learning mode, and we’re seeing some signs.”
KELLY ON KIZER
Kelly was criticized nationally for some of the comments he made about former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer this week. In an interview on SiriusXM, Kelly mentioned that Kizer would’ve been best served to return for another year with the Irish and that he isn’t ready to start in the NFL.
The Irish head coach clarified his feelings Friday.
“Whatever was interpreted, I have a great deal of positive feelings for DeShone,” Kelly said. “He’s the best quarterback coming out.
“Everybody that comes to Notre Dame would benefit from another year when they don’t have their degree and can use college football to season themselves. DeShone isn’t in that category by himself. He’s got great character. I named him a captain.
“For that to be seen any other way but positive…the headline could’ve been, ‘Coach Kelly sees Kizer as the best quarterback in the draft,’ or ‘Kelly sees Kizer as having great character.’ But it wasn’t seen that way and there’s nothing I can do about it. I think the world of DeShone and he’s going to be a great quarterback in the NFL.”
ODDS & ENDS
• Junior safety Nicco Fertitta missed Friday’s practice. He did bike work throughout the morning.
• Notre Dame will return to the practice field Sunday afternoon. The Irish, who were not in full pads Friday, will hold a physical 60-play scrimmage, Kelly said.
• Kelly on sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr., who redshirted last season but has been impressive this spring:
“Honestly, he is in it,” Kelly said of Jones. “He is well ensconced in that rotation. He is a guy if at any time we wanted to call him a No. 1, we could call him the No. 1. He’s done all the things to build that trust with us in terms of protections, catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s earned that through his work this spring and quite frankly the time that he’s been here.
“That was a conscious decision on our part not to play him more so than he wasn’t necessarily ready to play. He’s in it, he’s going to be part of it and you’ll see a lot of him this fall.”
• Sophomore safety Spencer Perry announced Thursday afternoon that he is transferring from the program. Kelly said Friday that Perry can transfer anywhere he wants with no restriction.
“Spencer has been a great kid,” Kelly said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He expressed to me he felt like athletically that he needed to find a place that would better suit him. I guess if you read between the lines that maybe he wasn’t seeing the position in which he was playing nor the area of reps suitable for where he is right now in the program. He’s a great kid, we wish him the best.”
“He seemed to have talked to his family and made up his mind. I don’t want to put somebody in a position where they’re not into it. They may hurt themselves or hurt somebody else and we certainly don’t want that.”
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