SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame closed spring practice with the Blue (defense) team defeating the Gold (offense) team 54-43 in the modified scoring system used for Saturday’s Blue-Gold game that drew 31,652 fans to Notre Dame Stadium.
Here are some things Notre Dame was able to accomplish during spring drills:
Settling the offensive line
The Irish appear to have found the interior linemen they needed to replace center Braxston Cave and right guard Mike Golic Jr., who both graduated.
Nick Martin, a 6-foot-4, 284-pound junior, appears to have solidified his spot in the middle of the offensive line, and Connor Hanratty, a 6-4, 309-pound junior, appears set to take over for Golic at right guard.
They’ve done a great job, said left tackle Zack Martin, who is Nick’s older brother. They’ve stepped in and have taken control.
Top running back
George Atkinson III showed flashes of potential last season, running for 361 yards on 51 carries with five touchdowns. With Amir Carlise slowed by a separated shoulder, Atkinson had plenty of opportunities during the spring to show he could be the No. 1 running back.
Atkinson ran for 49 yards on 10 carries with a long of 17 yards in the Blue-Gold game.
He ran hard, coach Brian Kelly said. He’s got obviously some speed. We have seen that.
Notre Dame lost a lot when tight end and Bishop Dwenger product Tyler Eifert decided to enter the NFL draft instead of coming back for his final year of eligibility. Eifert had a team-high 685 receiving yards on 50 receptions with four touchdowns, and he was diverse enough to line up as a tight end or receiver.
Troy Niklas, a 6-6, 259-pound converted linebacker, proved to be a good blocking tight end last year, but the Irish will need the junior to factor into the passing game more. Niklas, who had five receptions for 75 yards with a TD last year, had two receptions for 46 yards Saturday.
Linebacker Manti Te’o’s graduation left a big hole in Notre Dame’s defense. Te’o led the team with 113 tackles and nine takeaways (seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries), and he was the leader of the unit.
Jarrett Grace, a 6-2, 248-pound junior, will likely not match Te’o’s production or leadership, but he has proved to be a strong option at one of the middle linebacker spots next to the rotation of Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese.
Grace and Ishaq Williams led the defense in the Blue-Gold game with eight tackles.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve mastered everything, but as far as getting better and improving, I’ve got that done, Grace said.