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Notre Dame Practice Hot Takes: Defense

Analysis from the first day of practice for the Notre Dame football team

Notre Dame completed its first practice of the 2020 spring inside the Irish Athletics Center.


A full practice report will come out this afternoon, but here are initial thoughts from the opening practice on defense.

PRACTICE STANDOUTS

S Houston Griffith — Griffith smoothly stepped into the starting lineup on day one and stood out for the defense. The junior was barking out orders to teammates, looked comfortable getting into different spots and he made a lot of plays in the pass game. He was all over TE Brock Wright on a pivot route in the first one-on-one rep, breaking up the pass. He broke up a pass intended for TE Tommy Tremble on a later one-on-one route and forced an incompletion to WR Avery Davis during one-on-ones.

I only saw one pass completed on Griffith all day, and that was an in cut against off coverage. The junior was all over crossing routes and seam routes to his side of the field. He came down efficiently in the run game and was constantly in good position.

DT Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa — It can be challenging to evaluate linemen during practices without pads, but Tagovailoa-Amosa was noticeable during todays practice. His quickness off the line was outstanding and the senior spent much of the practice in the offensive backfield. The guards had a hard time handling his gap rushes, and Tagovailoa-Amosa even had a couple of good power rushes into the backfield.

Tagovailoa-Amosa anchored well when he got double teamed. He kept a low base and was able to stop the movement of the offensive linemen, which can be especially challenging when you don’t have pads on.

S DJ Brown — Brown is a player that needs a big spring in order to keep from getting buried on the depth chart, and on day one he was outstanding. Brown looked extremely confident and was assertive throughout the practice. He struggled in coverage last spring because he lacks ideal speed, but during the opening practice Brown appears to have adapted to his deficiency and played with better angles and anticipation, which helps him manage his lack of top-end speed.

He jumped an in route to TE George Takacs during one-on-ones and tipped the ball up enough to give himself a chance to pick it off. On his final one-on-one reps he jumped all over Tremble to the point where quarterback Ian Book decided not to even try and throw the ball. He carried that into team periods, jumping all over underneath routes and blowing up perimeter screens. His reads against the screens were outstanding, and he perfectly read QB Brendon Clark’s eyes during a 7-on-7 period and stepped in front of the throw for the interception.

OTHER NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS

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*** Linebackers Jack Lamb and Shayne Simon were both out with injuries today. Lamb could get back by the end of spring but Simon will be out all spring, as will defensive tackle Howard Cross III.

*** Sophomore Marist Liufau spent time at both rover and Buck linebacker today. He was at rover during pass drills and Buck during team drills. He has filled out some but is still skinny. What really stands out is how explosive he is athletically, and he’s extremely fluid. Liufau closes on the ball exceptionally well and his range is just outstanding. Liufau is constantly around the football. He’s going to be extremely hard to keep off the field.

*** Safety Kyle Hamilton had some strong moments coming down against screens and the run game, but he had struggles in coverage. He was late getting over to Tremble on a backside seam throw and gave up a touchdown. Hamilton was late reacting to out cuts and he grabbed Tremble on a one-on-one seam throw where the sophomore safety was sure to get beat because he was late reacting to the route.

*** Grad transfer safety Isaiah Pryor is a physically imposing playing. He was active coming downhill and was solid in coverage, which was a struggle for him at Ohio State.

*** Sophomore linebacker Osita Ekwonu is ripped and is very athletic. He spent much of the practice today playing Mike linebacker. He and classmate JD Bertrand spent a lot of time on the field together and their communication was quite good on day one when it comes to passing off routes and communicating when a receiver is coming into the other’s zone.

*** I was really impressed with the edge explosiveness that I saw from junior Ovie Oghoufo and sophomore Isaiah Foskey. Oghoufo had a number of excellent reps off the edge where he blew past a tackle, including senior Joshua Lugg. Foskey needs to learn how to finish off his rushes, but his burst off the edge is hard to ignore.

*** It was a rough day for junior corner TaRiq Bracy, who got beat early in one-on-ones. His coverage the remainder of practice was actually very good, but receivers Kevin Austin and Javon McKinley were just too big and strong for him, and the ball placement from the quarterbacks on deep balls was outstanding today.

*** A young corner that stood out to me today was Isaiah Rutherford, who got a lot of action with the first team with Shaun Crawford limited. Rutherford was efficient with his footwork and his length is outstanding. On a couple of reps his feet got crossed up and he was late getting out of his breaks, but on most reps he was clean with his technique, jumped routes and was physical in coverage. It was a strong first day for the talented young corner. He will need to play the ball better and finish plays off, but he was in good position for much of the day.

*** Sophomore KJ Wallace played both safety and cornerback during today’s practice. 

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