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The Journal Gazette

Friday, August 10, 2018 1:00 am

Irish back home for spirited practice

Defense outplays offense in full drills

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame conducted its first fall practice in South Bend on Thursday morning and the team appeared excited to be at the LaBar Practice Complex after spending almost a week working out in Culver.

“It's nice to be back, we have good showers here at the Goog (Guglielmino Athletic Complex),” cornerback Julian Love said, laughing. “That's something that's completely overlooked. We get to relax and do our thing.”

The Irish held a spirited 21/2-hour practice, spending the whole time in pads and using several sessions for full-speed, 11-on-11 drills. The team was energetic and competitive throughout the practice, two traits that were reportedly hallmarks of Notre Dame's summer workouts and have carried over into official practices in the last week.

“Our guys, they work so hard,” coach Brian Kelly said. “It's a hardworking group. They come to work. We've just gotta continue to focus them and refocus them.

“They come to practice with a purpose. They're very tuned into why each day is important. Last year, it was much more about, 'Let's do the right things.' Now they're demanding the right things be done and that's a nice leap for us.”

The matchups between the first-team offense and first-team defense generally went to the defense Thursday, with the offense turning in a somewhat inconsistent performance. Former Carroll linebacker Drue Tranquill, who had an interception in Notre Dame's first practice of the fall period Friday, nearly had a second pick. The fifth-year senior read the play perfectly on a swing pass and stepped in front of it, only to have the ball slip through his hands.

The offense nearly had a big play a few series later when quarterback Brandon Wimbush stepped up in the face of pressure and delivered a nearly perfect strike 40 yards down field to wide receiver Miles Boykin, who had easily beaten his man. The ball bounced off Boykin's normally sure hands, and the Citrus Bowl MVP had an overall negative view of his performance at Thursday's practice.

“(The wide receivers' job) is to make them look like the best quarterbacks in the country,” Boykin said. “Every day we step out on the field, that's our goal and that's what we try to do. Obviously I didn't come out the way I wanted to today and catch the ball for Brandon, but he had some great throws and I was just missing on them.”

Wimbush and the other quarterbacks were under pressure for most of practice in 11-on-11 drills. Kelly said at the first practice he wanted to ramp up the pressure on his first-team quarterback as the fall workout sessions progress, so Wimbush is prepared to face Michigan's supremely talented front seven in Week 1.

That ramp-up was on full display Thursday, and Wimbush was repeatedly flushed from the pocket and forced to make throws on the run.

“The guns were blazing today,” Kelly said of the pressure. “Guns were blazing today.”

While a deep group of edge rushers put the pressure on Wimbush, Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec, the secondary had a mostly solid performance against Boykin, Chase Claypool and the other Irish pass-catchers. Love especially seems much-improved from his work in the spring.

“I was putting so much pressure on myself to make all these plays,” said Love, a junior who was a Sports Illustrated second-team All-American last season. “I told you guys I wanted to get more interceptions, I wanted to go for it, but (Kelly) made me realize that's not what made me successful last season. ... I just need to do my job and do my assignment.”

Having good showers helps too.