I'm going to go off the beaten path a little today, and try to give you a more detailed sense of how the practices are now run here at Notre Dame. So, rather than give general impressions of the day, I am going to go into detail about one particular drill.
Prior to this drill, the offense had gone through walkthroughs, installing a 3 WR set (the first team had Grimes in as the 3rd WR). They were walking through various plays, and the second and third teamers were standing in as defensive players. At this same time, the defense was doing installations on the other field.
After the installation, and prior to the drill I detailed, the quarterbacks ran a drill with the receivers where all 5 quarterbacks would do their drops together as 5 receivers went into routes. All 5 QBs would throw to their respective receivers. There were no defenders. This was (presumably) just to work on the timing between QBs and receivers.
Finally, the drill I took detailed notes on began. The offensive skill players were matched up (in formation) against the defensive backs and linebackers (also in formation) who had come back from their installation on the other field. The linemen for both offense and defense were doing their own drills elsewhere.
This drill started with the first team offense matching up with the first team defense. There were three receivers (McKnight and Grimes split out, Samardzija in the slot), a tight end (Carlson got the nod at first, but they rotated in Freeman with the first team as well), and a back (Walker, but Prince got a few reps with the #1s as well). The first team defense was Wooden and Richardson at safety, Zbikowski and Ndukwe at safety, and Thomas, Crum and Thomas lined up at linebacker (although I think I remember seeing some other LBs rotated in - I was having trouble keeping my notes accurate with the substitutions). The drill itself ran very quickly, so I could only keep brief notes about the action. Also, there were a lot of substitutions, so if it suddenly seems as if Darius is working with the third team or Gallup is working with the first team, that's becauase they were. I didn't have time to record who was working with who on each play.
One of the first passes thrown was a perfectly placed ball thrown by Brady to Rhema, who made a nice diving catch near the sideline in tight coverage. This was nice to see: Rhema was clearly back in shape and making athletic plays, Brady's accuracy (which had been off in some of the drills) seemed even better under pressure, and our defense had excellent coverage in place (McKnight was in double coverage).
As I said before, Prince got some reps with the first team, and another of the early passes was a dumpoff to him in the flats, where he took the ball and started a nice run. Something I noticed that he needs to work on is that he jukes too much. When a defender challenges him, rather than a quick move and then turning on the jets, he does a couple too many moves, and other defenders are able to catch up. His speed is impressive, and if he can learn to use it like Reggie did at SC, he will be special.
Carlson ran a great route on the next play, and got himself wide open in the middle of the field. Brady threw a nice pass over the linebacker who had just gotten beat (I think it was M. Thomas, but not sure), and Carlson had his hands on it, but couldn't haul it in. He needs to work on his hands, 'cause we need to be able to depend on him to take advantage of those opportunities so that Brady has confidence in throwing to him.
Demetrius Jones was the next quarterback to step into the drill, and I wasn't impressed.
One one of his first passes, he delivered a bullet to Barry Gallup, Jr, who despite the ball hitting hi in the chest, couldn't haul it in. One of the defenders (I didn't catch the number) made a spectacular diving pick. Gallup's hands looked suspect in practice today. I had previously seen him bobble a couple of kicks during punting drills, he was the only receiver to drop a pass in the 5 QB drill, and he couldn't haul in a pass that hit him in the chest.
Demetrius (for the third straight day) didn't deliver passes down the field. He seemed hesitant in the pocket, and would always check down to his tight end or running back. His check downs displayed incredible accuracy on both touch passes and bullets for short passes, but he just wouldn't throw down the field. Prince showed some impressive route running against the first team, catching a nice bullet pass thrown by Demetrius while being blanketed by Travis Thomas (who looked great in coverage).
Darius caught a nice pass in the flats and showed his now familiar moves in the open field. Prince caught a couple more checkdowns from DJ, and showed good speed, with too many juke moves.
Jones also had a problem with telegraphing his passes to the defense. On one pass, where Demetrius had looked downfield, thought about throwing, and then didn't, Steve Quinn jumped all over DJ's check down route, and picked his pass to the running back, taking it to the house. DJ's throw to the back was slow and indecisive as well.
Quinn threw a great pass into tight coverage for #46 Michael Planalp (TE), but he couldn't haul it in, despite a great diving effort.
Junior Jabbie got excellent separation from Vernaglia on a short route, and DJ threw a perfect pass hitting Jabbie in stride, which Jabbie followed with one good move before being wrapped up. Overall, the defense was very solid throughout.
On the next several plays, Jones continued to look hesitant about throwing downfield before dumping it off short. Marcus Freeman had a few good catches during that stretch, showing good hands, if not great speed.
Zach Frazer impressed during this drill. He has a good arm, and can throw bullets with good precision. He looked confident and decisive compared to DJ. He had a superb bullet pass (medium range) to Konrad Reuland, who hauled it in in stride, but was wrapped up immediately by the defense.
This just in - Richard Jackson is FAST, with really good moves. He got free past the corners several times. Frazer, unlike Jones, did have the confidence in his deep ball, and every time Jackson got loose, he delivered a rocket downfield. He overthrew Jackson every time he tried it, but he didn't underthrow it into coverage (which is nice) and showed that with some work on his timing and long range accuracy, that Jackson could be a legitimate deep threat that we've been looking for.
Barry Gallup did have one highlight reel moment in an otherwise unimpressive day, when he got excellent separation on a drag route, catching a bullet delivered by Frazer in stride before turning upfield for a decent gain. He also caught another short pass from Frazer, but on that play Frazer looked short too soon, as he could have hit Jackson downfield if he let the play develop. In fact, Gallup's short game wasn't that bad. He also caught a couple of curl routes from Sharpley. Gallup's only medium range catch was a perfectly delivered pass from Sharpley.
Frazer did make one bone-headed mistake, telegraphing his throw on a curl route, which Mike Richardson made him pay for, picking his pass and taking it to the house. That throw was also partly Robby Parris' fault as he didn't do a very good job selling his fly route before tucking into his curl.
Sharpley seemed confident and poised during his reps, but also struggled some with his accuracy. He threw a pass behind Freeman, which Marcus made a great adjustment to to haul in the catch. On the very next play, Sharpley overadjusted, overthrowing Prince, who was again blanketed by T. Thomas. He had a good throw to Gallup at medium range, but the very next play threw short on a pass attempt to Parris, who made an excellent adjustment, diving to make the catch behind him. Sharpley, like Frazer, wasn't afraid to go downfield, but he badly overthrew (who else) Jackson who had gotten past his defender for the third time.
Sharpley had excellent patience in the pocket, waiting for routes to develop, but without a pass rush, it was hard to tell whether he might have waited too long. He delivered several passes to Grimes, who had an excellent day all around; I never saw him drop a catchable pass, and he got decent separation fairly often. The last throw was a Sharpley pass that Terrail Lambert batted down.
So there you have it, my detailed coverage of the passing drill.
Brady Quinn will be Brady Quinn again this year. He has all of the tools, understands the offense, and has an excellent feel for when he can and can't deliver into coverage. He doesn't make mistakes, and is light years ahead of everyone else.
Demetrius Jones needs to develop some confidence. He plays hesitantly and doesn't really step into his throws. He has excellent touch on his passes. He is very athletic and will probably grow by leaps and bounds when he settles in. I still want to see him run, and see him throw a deep pass.
Frazer is very good. He has an excellent arm, and good confidence. He can make all the throws, although he has a tendency to put too much on every throw - he needs to develop some more touch. He also needs to study the playbook and mork on his decision making.
Sharpley needs to work on his accuracy. He understands the playbook, knows where the passes are supposed to go and when, but he just can't seem to consistently get them there perfectly every time. Maybe it's a little unfair to compare him to Brady, but I don't think he will ever develop to be a great passer. A very good passer, but not great.
Rhema McKnight is healthy and ready to go. He actually impresses me more at this point than Samardzija.
Jeff Samardzija's name didn't come up much during drills, and he didn't have a lot of passes thrown his way. However, every time a pass came near him, he caught it, and he is so unassuming and workmanlike in practice, I forgot sometimes to make notes of his catches.
David Grimes, right now, is the clear #3 guy. He understands the offense pretty well, makes catches, runs good, disciplined routes, and has very good speed.
Richard Jackson will be a star when he learns this offense. His moves and speed coonsistently dumbfounded the corners he lined up against. I can't wait for this kid to develop into a legitimate target.
Barry Gallup needs some time working on his hands. He dropped far too many balls today for me to get excited.
George West needs to work on his route running. He looks very good with the ball in his hands, but he doesn't get separation from the defenders so the QB can put the ball in his hands.
Parris also needs to work on his routes. I didn't notice him all that much, except when he made mistakes. He needs a lot more time to develop.
John Carlson is a great route runner with decent hands. If he can improve his hands from decent to good, he has the skills to be Brady's go-to guy inside.
Marcus Freeman has very good hands, but need to work on running cleaner routes.
Konrad Reuland has all of the physical tools to be succesful at tight end, but he still has a lot of learning to do in this offense.
I don't remember seeing anything from Will Yeatman. Sorry.
Darius is going to do what Darius does - consistent, hard running with good moves and unparalleled vision. His hands are good, and he is very good at securing the ball before looking upfield.
Munir Prince, who I have penned in as the #2 tailback with T. Thomas playing defense, is very fast. He needs to be more decisive and rely more on his speed and less on juking defenders. He needs to unlearn his high school habits.
Junior Jabbie looked good. He's fast with good hands, good moves and very good speed. He is a very complete back, but hasn't really shown me anything as far as power running.
I won't be at practice today, but I will hopefully get a chance to watch the team again on Friday.