Kelly on Notre Dame's first practice: We pushed them pretty hard

Published: Aug. 6, 2016 at 4:48 PM EDT
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After a 10-3 season a year ago, Notre Dame opened up its 2016 fall camp with a 2-hour workout Saturday morning at Culver Academies.

"I thought we pushed them pretty hard today but you are acclimatizing to a lot of different things today. First day of football, first day in pads. I'd say overall, it's probably what I expected," Irish coach Brian Kelly said.

Certainly for many players it was fun to be back on the field a year removed from a 10-3 season.

"Oh man--its so exciting," says Irish tight end Durham Smythe. "This is the best time of the year. I can't wait for these next couple of months. The guys have a lot of energy. Hopefully we can keep that up through camp and through the season."

"We couldn't be any more happy to get out here and just start working," Irish safety Max Redfield says. "We have a goal of a national championship and we just want to make sure we do everything every single day so there are no doubts of having the opportunity to achieve that. We're just trying to come out every single day and do that on and off the field."

Of course, the big focus of training camp is on the quarterback battle between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. Zaire started 2015 as the starter but fractured his ankle in the 2nd game of the season. Kizer came in and let the Irish to all the way to a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

Brian Kelly said the quarterback battle may just go all the way until the point where's he forced to only put one quarterback on the field--and that's the season opener against Texas in Austin on September 4th.

"It's pretty much what I thought," Kelly said of the start of the quarterback battle. "They are a little bit different and what we want to do with them and that continues. We saw Malik on a breakdown, throw a great ball over the middle off a broken play. Kizer dumped the ball down off of his 3rd check. They continued to be who we thought they would be. I think we just continue to plow forward, continue to keep them sharp, continue to develop who they are."

And while it will certainly take a while to sort out who the Irish quarterback is, there is no question who the quarterback of the defense is. That role belongs to Nyles Morgan, who takes over for the departing Joe Schmidt.

"I feel like it's harder to play middle linebacker than quarterback," when asked on being the quarterback of the defense. "I know you have to throw the ball but I don't know where the ball has to go anywhere in the first place. It feels good. It feels good knowing that I'm out here working hard every single day. It doesn't change my work ethic, it doesn't change my competitiveness, my hunger--nothing but it feels good."

Morgan is establishing himself as the vocal leader of the defense that he needs to be and is getting praised not only from Brian Kelly but also from his teammates.

"He's incredible man," says Irish safety Drue Tranquill. "Dude's a warrior. Real tough guy. Knows the defense. Commands the defense so we are really happy to have him there."

Back on the offensive side of the ball, Josh Adams was taking first team reps at running back while Tarean Folston looked good in his return to full clearance. Folston suffered a torn ACL against Texas last year but was not sporting a brace on his knee. 3rd string running back Dexter Williams left practice early with a stomach illness. Freshman Tony Jones stepped up into the opportunity with Williams and Coach Kelly said impressed Jones impressed him more than any freshman during the first day of camp.

The Irish will spend the next five days at Culver Academies--they'll spend some time on the lake, enjoy the scenery, have some bonding time and then return for their first practice back at Notre Dame on Thursday.