Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly met with the media after Saturday’s fifth spring practice.
The Irish return to the practice field Wednesday morning. Assistant coaches will meet with the media afterwards.
Here are the notable takeaways from that press conference:
• Early enrollee freshman running back C.J. Holmes suffered a separated right shoulder during Friday’s practice, Kelly said.
Kelly said Holmes is “probably” out for the remainder of spring. Holmes will get an MRI and the team should know more about the severity on Monday. Holmes had an “open repair” on the same shoulder during his sophomore year of high school, Kelly said.
• Junior tight end Alize Jones made a number of standout plays Saturday. After sitting out the entire 2016 season due to academic suspension, Jones is climbing the depth chart.
“He’s virtually uncoverable in certain areas of the field. At any level. You can’t cover him, he just has that kind of talent. The one thing that really stands out to me in the few days is he’s committed himself to being a blocker and playing physical. If he continues to do that, we’re going to find ourselves with a lot of tight ends on the field.”
• After a standout performance Saturday in which he wowed onlookers, sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr. was complimented by Kelly for his play.
“He can catch the ball coming out of the backfield,” Kelly said of Jones. “Assignment correct. He can run elusively and get to the second level.
“He’s a pretty good back. Obviously he was noticeable today in his play. He got some work with the first group as well, he wasn’t just getting second team reps.”
• Defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s units are known for forcing turnovers, and Kelly said he can see things in practice that illustrate that. While it’s difficult to achieve all of those things against your own team — putting players in comprising positions, Kelly said — the signs are there.
“We're doing things we haven't in the past that will be reaping benefits for us. Defensive line is going to be batting down balls. You’re going to see guys stripping the football, getting the ball out.”
• Kelly discussed the right side of the offensive line. He said the right guard spot will be manned by senior Alex Bars, who started at right tackle last season. The right tackle position is a competition between sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg.
“Each one of them is a little bit different. Kraemer at times is a little bit more physical. Liam a little bit longer, maybe. Longer translates itself into pass (protection). Both of them are still on that learning curve but both are really good players.”
Kelly also said early enrollee offensive lineman Robert Hainsey has had a “really good” spring. Hainsey may find himself competing for that right tackle spot as well, Kelly said.
“He’s really been probably the surprise for us of all the guys with his maturity, his ability to really pick up what we’re doing. From a fundamental technique standpoint he’s been really good. I’m not saying he would unseat those guys, but he’s worth mentioning because he’s having such a good spring.”
Fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin has been asked to give up some reps in favor of the younger players, Kelly said, but the Irish will “crank him back up” next week and involve him in the right tackle battle as well.
• Former Irish offensive linemen Nick and Zack Martin were working with OL coach Harry Hiestand on Saturday.
“It’s great to see those guys come back,” Kelly said. “Especially the Martin boys. We immediately put them to work. Why not? Why not put an All-Pro to work right away?
“More than anything else it sends a message, the right message to all of our guys. We want to see you come back. Like pro day, a lot of guys came back. It’s the kind of message we want to keep promoting. You’re welcome to come back and we want to see you come back.”
• Kelly said cornerback Nick Watkins, who missed all of 2016 with injuries, is playing with confidence. Kelly said Watkins is long, coachable and benefited from a season off just learning the college game.
• Kelly on sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes, who is getting some first-team reps: “The athleticism is obviously what stands out. He’s extremely athletic, he’s fit physically. At 250 pounds and very strong. It’s the football knowledge, learning the techniques at the position which he plays is the piece where it’s just learning right now. This is the time to do it in spring ball.
“We have to be patient with him. He’s an explosive athlete. There’s 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 he wants to get better. We’re going to live with some of the mistakes as long as he’s the same kid every day.”
• After an offseason in the team’s new strength and conditioning program led by Matt Balis and his staff, Kelly said the results are already being seen on the field. During a long practice Saturday, the level of conditioning was really good, Kelly said.
There was no lagging or players on the ground, Kelly said. The team started indoors and then moved outside for most of the day.
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