Notre Dame football spring training brings a change in the mindset of coaches


SOUTH BEND — A scary moment took place near the end of Saturday’s two-hour practice at Notre Dame when sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles collapsed to the ground.

Senior safety DJ Brown hit the upper body solidly breaking up a pass attempt on a shallow crossing road during a live contact period. A delay of several minutes ensued as Styles received the attention of the team coaches and his teammates huddled together in silence.

Eventually, Styles was able to walk away unaided after being knocked down by the wind, but he made it clear he was unhappy with Brown.

Irish coach Marcus Freeman admitted he held his breath after the incident. He told the whole team about it at the end of practice.

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“It’s a physical group that I try to keep teaching them exactly how we want them to practice,” Freeman said after Practice No. 5 this spring. “You can’t play against each other all the time.”

Moving from defensive coordinator to head coach for the first time, Freeman noticed the change in his mindset. Rather than primarily looking at one side of the ball and wreaking havoc, he must now find ways to bring the whole roster.

“It’s tough because I’m trying to push competitiveness but also being able to take care of each other,” Freeman said. “We went from just attacking in defense – we have to be dominant – to how do you take care of your team? How do we practice to the standard that we have to train to, but take care of each other? »

Chris Tyree out with a sprained ankle

Senior wide receiver Joe Wilkins and super senior safety Houston Griffith also had to leave Saturday’s practice with head athletic trainer Rob Hunt.

Wilkins, who suffered a series of lower leg injuries during his career, was fine after having his leg “wound up”, according to Freeman, but did not return to training. Neither did Griffith, who needed an ice pack for his upper right leg for the last 30 minutes or so.

Running back Chris Tyree, who is also the leading kickoff returner, watched Saturday practice in shorts after twisting his ankle this week. He was held back as a precaution and is expected to return soon.

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Second-year wide receiver Deion Colzie recently emerged from concussion protocol and wore a red bib over his jersey as he participated in non-contact drills. His helmet hit the ground in one of the first two practices, but he should be a full participant by Tuesday’s session, Freeman said.

Linebacker JD Bertrand, the 2021 tackles leader who just had surgery on his left wrist in January, continues to be limited.

First-year cornerback Jayden Bellamy is still recovering from a sprained ankle suffered during the first spring training.

Ol’ Zack (Martin) is back in town

Dallas Cowboys All-Pro offensive lineman Zack Martin was among the visitors at Saturday’s practice.

While Martin had the chance to visit Harry Hiestand, his former line coach at Notre Dame, several attendees of Friday’s Pro Day stayed to offer their ideas on and off the court to players hoping to replace them.

Among those spotted were former Ireland quarterback Jack Coan, nose tackle Kurt Hinish, safety Kyle Hamilton and placekicker Jonathan Doerer.

“You have one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL coming back to really hang out with Coach Hiestand but also with our players,” Freeman said of Martin. “It instantly tells you Coach Hiestand’s credibility, and I think that’s amazing. He’s not the only former player to come.

Freeman has made it a priority to reconnect with former Irish players and invite them back into the fold. Under Brian Kelly, the former Notre Dame greats weren’t seen around the program as much.

“They built this place,” Freeman said. “For anyone who comes here and acts like it’s about one person, you’re crazy. It’s about the people who came and drove and built Notre-Dame where it is. This is their home and it will always be their home. I want to make sure it is clearly stated that they are always welcome here.

Quarterback Battle Rating

Quarterback prospects Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne continue to divide first-team work into five practices.

Another intense session in the red zone on Saturday saw Buchner struggle early with his throwing accuracy before rallying late, especially with his RPO readings.

Conor Ratigan, son of the team’s orthopedic surgeon, made a bounding reception in the corner of the end zone on a well-placed Buchner pass, prompting a raucous celebration as his teammates rushed to congratulate him.

Buchner and Pyne rushed for touchdowns.

“It’s so hard to assess them sometimes,” Freeman said. “As a defensive guy, you’re looking for touchdowns and you’re looking for scary interceptions. But it is decisive. That’s what I hear sitting with Coach Rees in meetings with these guys. Did he make the right decision? It’s the number one thing.

The second biggest ask, Freeman said, is to avoid turnovers.

Kyren has a fan in Mel Kiper Jr.

Kyren Williams beamed after Friday’s Pro Day when he learned he had a big belief in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

Raw speed isn’t one of Williams’ primary attributes, but he checks many other boxes that NFL teams look for in their running backs. Kiper noted that NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash decades ago.

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“I didn’t know that,” Williams said after cutting his 40 time from 4.65 at the NFL Scouting Combine to 4.54 on Friday. “It’s fire. I saw the post that (Kiper) had me in the top five.

Kiper said Williams was “underappreciated” during a media conference call Wednesday.

“People are going to watch this 40 times, and (it) doesn’t matter,” Kiper said. “I don’t care about 40 times for running backs. Speed, instinct, vision, broken tackles, blocking, receiving (that’s what counts).

Kiper said he plans to keep his fourth-round projection for Williams, after back-to-back seasons of 1,000-yard rushing.

“Kyren Williams is a good football player so I’m not going to change my rating on him,” Kiper said. “I think he should be a fourth-round pick.”

Kevin Austin is a latecomer

It’s not exactly “the helium project,” as they call it, but former Notre Dame wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. continues to be an eye-opener after a strong performance at the combine.

Kiper projects Austin will enter day three of the NFL Draft, likely in the fourth or fifth round.

“I think Kevin Austin Jr. has progressed,” Kiper said on the conference call. “He cleared most of the drops and became a lot more consistent, the go-to kind of guy (in 2021). Throw it away and he went to get it. He managed to “point” football. He certainly has the ability to beat you vertically on the ground.

Austin has just one year of rookie-level production in college after multiple foot surgeries and off-court issues.

“Consistency is always evolving,” Kiper said. “But it’s a work in progress and he’s come a long way this year.”

Writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and Email him at and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.


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