Our friends at Fighting Irish Media had cameras rolling during day one of spring practice. They put together a highlight reel from the day’s work.
Let’s over-analyze it!
* Play one features Torii Hunter Jr. connecting with Malik Zaire, a pretty throw put perfectly between the underneath coverage from Nick Coleman and a late-arriving safety (Nicco Fertitta, maybe?).
Hunter’s emergence this spring will be interesting to watch. If you’re listening, it appears that he heads into the season as a presumed starter. That makes sense when you look at the departures, but it’s also a huge show of faith in a receiver who has yet to make an impact.
Things going for Hunter: His speed, for one. I certainly didn’t think the rising senior had 4.4 jets, but maybe that’s a product of not seeing him put in a position to use them.
* That’s Chris Finke welcoming Devin Studstill to college football. Even the walk-ons can burn you, Devin!
That’s not to say that Finke hasn’t been impressive. Hailing from the same high school that produced Malik Zaire, Finke caught Brian Kelly’s eye last fall, even earning some press conference mention as a guy who was sure-handed enough to be trusted in the punt return game.
Finke blows by Studstill, who was caught flat-footed, but then does a less-than spectacular job of transitioning from catch to run, hitting the ground instead of striding into the end zone.
Pete Sampson tweeted that he thinks Finke’s days as a walk-on aren’t for long. I’m in agreement, and maybe sooner than later if there’s an open spot or two in the 85 this fall.
* Everybody’s got their eyes on Nyles Morgan this spring. The heir apparent at middle linebacker shows some versatility, breaking up a DeShone Kizer pass to tight end Durham Smythe.
* Myles Boykin runs a hitch in front of fellow sophomore Ashton White. Both guys are intriguing young players who could start seeing some time on the field this season after redshirting. White was listed as a safety on the spring roster, but is playing cornerback here. That’s likely a sign that he’s got the type of positional flexibility that’ll help him find the field if needed.
* Pretty nifty play by cornerback Nick Watkins, who breaks on the ball from Kizer to sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown. Watkins gets a hand on the pass, tips it into the air where it’s intercepted by Drue Tranquill.
Yep, that’s right. Tranquill—a rehab freak—is out there running 7-on-7 less than six months after tearing his ACL, the second time in two seasons. The addition of Tranquill and Shaun Crawford back into the secondary is huge, two difference-makers who could immediately elevate the play of the unit.
Worth noting senior linebacker James Onwualu out there with Nyles Morgan and Asmar Bilal -- the closest thing to the first string as we’ll get on Day One. That’s where most people want to see Watkins, running with the starters and making plays.
It’s 7-on-7, so nobody should blow their stack just yet, but it’s a nice benefit of getting a start in the Fiesta Bowl and going into spring ball with momentum.
* Another nice breakup by Morgan. It’s as if the people cutting this video knew Irish fans were worried about Morgan’s ability to play well in coverage. (Weird!)
* We just heard about Corey Holmes’ 4.39 forty and 41-inch vertical. Seeing him hit the ground for a 4-yard gain on a quick slant from Malik Zaire does nothing to get us excited about that breakaway speed, but it might be the first pass we’ve seen Holmes catch.
After two seasons buried on the bench, it’ll be interesting to see how much Holmes can contribute. He’s always reminded me a little bit of TJ Jones, mostly because he’s a smooth athlete with nice speed, but also because physically there’s nothing overly intimidating about him. But as the personnel on this roster (especially among the skill players) has improved, it just takes time to break through, especially if you’re lacking a dominant trait.
* So THAT’s the Torii Hunter that has the coaching staff excited. Running under a beautiful deep ball from Kizer, Hunter torches rising sophomore Nick Coleman on a go-route.
Anybody worried that the vertical passing game was going to leave the offensive arsenal with Will Fuller gone can relax. There are plenty of guys who can get behind opponents, especially with the running game the Irish will likely feature.
* The president, Corey Robinson, makes a nice catch on a dig route. Another pretty ball by Kizer and nice concentration by Robinson, making a tough grab look smooth.
* That’s White stepping in and breaking up a pass to Finke, with Zaire throwing the deep flag route into man coverage.