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Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s preseason continues with contact drills and ‘Players of the Day’

Notre Dame v North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 07: Jordan Cunningham #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels makes a catch against Nick Coleman #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the game at Kenan Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame has not yet begun thinking about Michigan, and will not for another week, per Irish head coach Brian Kelly on Saturday. Before that preparation begins, Notre Dame will focus on contact in preseason practice this week.

Kelly specifically cited wanting to see the converted running back duo of sophomores Jafar Armstrong and Avery Davis in tackling situations. Given how much they will presumably be needed in 19 days against the Wolverines, that pseudo-live action would make all the sense in the world.

Armstrong and Davis get lumped together all too easily. Exhibit A: The previous paragraph. They moved to a depleted running back stable at the same time and both offer a different skillset than a prototypical back would. That said, they are different.

“I don’t want anyone to leave here thinking they’re packaged together,” Kelly said. “That’s just one thing where we can get two guys on the field at the running back position that really add some flexibility.

“... Jafar is the closest thing that I’ve had to Theo Riddick since I’ve been here. Tenacious, can go all day, runs physical inside and has the skills to catch the ball coming out of the backfield. … We haven’t had that guy that can bang it up inside with that physicality.”

Davis, meanwhile, may be the master of creating something from nothing.

“Once we put the ball in [Davis’] hands, you think it’s three yards we’re looking at, and it’s eight or nine,” Kelly said.

That may sound like the ideal talent to put behind a punt return unit, but Davis has not seen much work there. For that matter, neither has Armstrong. (There it is again, that unnecessary coupling.) Senior receiver Chris Finke remains Kelly’s choice to return punts, with the likes of junior safety Alohi Gilman and sophomore receiver Michael Young his most likely backups.

“The big difference with Chris [compared to last year] is the strength, the added strength,” Kelly said. “Much more explosive, puts his foot in the ground and he can translate that explosiveness. He’s very confident in himself.

“That’s what you want for a punt returner, the ability to get you 5-7 yards. If you can make a mistake, he can turn it.”

At kick returner, the Irish continue to look for someone to step forward. One has to wonder if CJ Sanders would even have the job locked up if he had not transferred to SMU for his final season, given the struggles in kickoff return last season. Speaking in vague terms, Kelly mentioned senior safety Nick Coleman and senior cornerback Shaun Crawford as possibilities.

They may not end up there, but each has been deemed a special teams player of the day this preseason by Kelly, as well as earning the comparable defensive honors once apiece. They are the only players to make Kelly’s daily honor roll twice this preseason.

It is a new tactic taken by Kelly while at Notre Dame, praising specific players for their performances in practice. His logic to choosing the honorees is not newfound, though.

“For us, it’s about process and traits,” Kelly said Thursday. “If those guys bring it and really exemplify those things, I want to be able to reward them. That would be how you become a Player of the Day, if you’ve had a great day in all of those facets.”

In chronological order, tracing back to the first practice on Aug. 3, Kelly has recognized:
— Chase Claypool, Daelin Hayes and Jalen Elliott (special teams).
— Tommy Kraemer, Drue Tranquill and Nicco Fertitta (special teams).
— Miles Boykin, Troy Pride and Jafar Armstrong (special teams).
— Alizé Mack, Nick Coleman and Alohi Gilman (special teams).
— Sam Mustipher, Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman (special teams).
— Liam Eichenberg, Jerry Tillery and Shaun Crawford (special teams).
— Alex Bars, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Jordan Genmark Heath (special teams).
— Avery Davis, Julian Love and Justin Yoon.

Sophomore right tackle Robert Hainsey missed some of Saturday’s practice to get an MRI on his lower leg. Kelly speculated it was only a muscular issue, but opted for caution considering it is still only preseason practice.

In Hainsey’s absence, junor right guard Tommy Kraemer moved to right tackle, where he split time with Hainsey in 2017.

“We were going to get there next week anyway because we wanted these guys to play some other positions once we had our five,” Kelly said. “Now that will open opportunities for [senior Trevor] Ruhland and [sophomore Josh] Lugg to compete at the right guard position and get some work there.”

If junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg were injured, Kraemer would also be first to move there.

Sophomore rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah is also hampered by a leg issue, specifically scar tissue in his hamstring preventing him from getting loose. Freshman safety Houston Griffith experienced a balky hamstring over the weekend, as well.

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