SOUTH BEND — Life after Aaron Lynch launched Saturday, with 600-plus
sets of eyes mulling the mood of the Notre Dame football program as
much as they tried to absorb and decode the quarterback sideshow.
The soon-to-be University of South Florida defensive end, by all
accounts, was on the minds of many of the coaches and media in
attendance at the semi-open practice, a day after the freshman
All-American announced his intentions to transfer.
And what the attendees of the ND coaching clinic and the regulars who
cover the program took in was a smorgasbord of semi-normalcy.
Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly’s decibels were audible but
controlled. Incumbent starting QB Tommy Rees, plunged into a four-way
competition for his job, ran the ball ... on purpose ... for an
eight-yard gain. That matched his season-long jaunt in 2011 and was 64
yards more than he ran for total last season (he amassed minus-56
It was colder than what was forecast and fittingly gray. Fifth-year
senior Kapron Lewis-Moore was lined up where Lynch used to be. And
none of the players afterward tried to pretend No. 19’s absence wasn’t
Here’s a snapshot of what the morning after looked like:Best Mystery:
It’s still the quarterback situation. And Kelly
added a little spice to it by adding the element of the QBs having to
check out of potentially bad plays at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s like anything else,” Kelly said. “If you’re confident and you
walk up there and you know what you want to do ... that goes a long
way. That’s what we wanted to see today — who commands respect?
“As I told them, even if you’re wrong, go up there with a certainty
that you know what you’re doing.”
Freshman Gunner Kiel had to do so with a heavy heart. His uncle,
former ND quarterback Blair Kiel, died of an apparent heart attack
“It’s really tough to lose an uncle who is so young,” Gunner said. “He
died at the age of 50. It was so sudden. God has a plan for all of us,
and that was his plan. Now I’m going to have a guardian angel who’s
going to be here for me all the time.”
All four quarterbacks were live during scrimmage periods, which means
they could be tackled. That will also be the format during next
Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.Best Distraction:
An Air Force F-15 fighter jet flew over the
LaBar Practice Fields Saturday during the two-hour, 15-minute session.
A little reconnaissance mission?
Well, Notre Dame and Air Force don’t play again until 2013.Best Drill and Driller:
The best sights and sounds came from a
punt coverage drill, in which real members of the punt coverage team,
one at a time, ran down field at full speed and tried to tackle a
stand-in punt returner.
Linebacker Justin Utupo laid a hit on walk-on Joe Romano that was so
loud, it could have been mistaken for thunder. It also knocked
Romano’s helmet off his head.Best Non-Conclusion:
A field goal competition between
senior-to-be Nick Tausch and rising sophomore Kyle Brindza. Distance
and accuracy weren’t a problem for either one, though Tausch did have
a low-trajectory kick blocked. Brindza’s long attempt from 50 yards
looked like it could have carried 65 yards. Easily.Best Incomplete Information:
Seniors Cierre Wood and Theo
Riddick were the deep men on punt return drills, but that doesn’t mean
either necessarily will be the top option when the Irish open the
season Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland.
Incoming freshman Davonte’ Neal. who arrives in June, will get a long
look in August.Best Excuse For Missing Practice:
Tight end Troy Niklas, a
converted outside linebacker who was out of pads with the flu. Given,
the problems Kelly had with the flu spreading through the team late
last season, not pressing Niklas into action seemed quite prudent.
Among the others missing in action: Junior outside linebacker Prince Shembo’s turf toe evolved into
an injury requiring surgery. The projected starter was in a cast
“I think his prognosis is six weeks,” Kelly said. “They had to put a
screw in there.”
Backup wide receiver Luke Massa, a quarterback when he came to
ND, suffered an apparent anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left
knee and is expected to have surgery.
He’ll likely be out five months, Kelly assessed.
Spring sensation John Goodman, a fifth-year senior wide receiver,
was in a protective boot and out of drills Saturday, the result of an
Kelly said if it had been a game week during the season, Goodman could
have played, but since it isn’t, he’ll hold him out of the rest of
spring practice, including the Blue-Gold Game.
Running back George Atkinson was shaken up and left the field
early, but Kelly didn’t deem the injury anything serious.
Best Face In The Crowd: Former Irish standout wide receiver
Michael Floyd was at practice, cheering on his old teammates.
Best Dilemma: Who to elevate to No. 1 at the field cornerback
spot — junior Lo Wood or sophomore Josh Atkinson?
“Both of them have different skill sets,” Kelly said of former
standout Robert Blanton’s potential replacement. “Josh has got great
speed. Lo is a technique-driven player. If you could get Lo’s
technique in Josh or put some of Josh’s speed in Lo, you’d have the
right guy there.”
Best Player To Light A Candle For: Junior running back Cam
Roberson. The 6-foot, 218-pounder tore both the lateral collateral
ligament and the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on March
He missed all of last season, and his progress this spring says more
about his heart than his prowess on the depth chart.
“He’s working as hard as he can,” Kelly said. “It’s been slow, slow
progress. It was as difficult an injury as you’re going to get. We
feel bad for the young man, because he loves Notre Dame, he loves
football, and it’s just been a hard road for him.”
Best Player To Jump On The Bandwagon Of: Junior nose guard Kona
Schwenke. The converted defensive end and least known of ND’s three
Hawaii products has passed the flavor-of-the-week stage and is a
legitimate candidate to open the season as the starter.
He is currently No. 1, ahead of junior Louis Nix.
“I knew once Kona could be Kona and he had the confidence, he’d do
fine,” Irish All-America linebacker Manti Te’o said of his longtime
friend from Oahu’s North Shore. “Now you see him making plays. That’s
the way it is with any player.
“You get that confidence back. You get that (swagger) back, and you
can do big things. And look at him now. He and Louis are neck and
neck. They’re just making each other that much better.”
Best Policy Regarding Transfers: Don’t get into a messy chess
game with releases, as Maryland coach Randy Edsall did with departed
quarterback Danny O’Brien.
Contrary to published reports, Kelly did not block Lynch’s transfer to
any other school — not that it was necessarily tested.
Some schools that were reported to be blocked didn’t request a release
for Lynch. South Florida, the school most likely to be Lynch’s landing
spot, did request permission to talk to Lynch and was not blocked.
Best Reason To Believe a Lynch-less Defense Could Still Be
Dominant: Manti Te’o.
The man who called Lynch “his little brother” seems more motivated
than ever, and it’s showing on the field.
His latest inspiration is the passing of his grandpa and close friend,
Louis Kapuhelani Santiago, in late January. Santiago died at age 70
after a long battle with cancer.
“The other night, I was on my phone and I was going through my old
voicemails,” Te’o said, with tears rolling down his cheeks. “And there
were three voicemails he left me during the season. I listened to
them, and it was hard knowing I won’t be hearing them anymore.
“He used to call me after each game and tell me how well I did, just
telling me how proud he was of me.”
One of Te’o’s favorite memories was riding in the car with Santiago
when Te’o was young.
“He’d be playing the old Hawaiian music,” Te’o recalled. “And he
wouldn’t sing the words (correctly). He’d just sing one word:
‘Myyyyy.’ The guy (singing) wasn’t saying ‘my’ the whole song. The
things I would do to hear that ‘my’ again. I miss the guy. I’ll have
another angel watching over me, so it’s going to be special.”