Notre Dame’s first practice had just wrapped up.
It was a two-hour session where Notre Dame pumped in crowd noise and battled humidity.
And seconds after practice, Notre Dame gathered around head coach Marcus Freeman and he let them know the effort wasn’t good enough. Freeman used a few choice words to demand more from his team from a preparation standpoint as a few players didn’t make it through practice due to overheating.
It was a message Freeman had to send to set the bar as a trip to Ohio State is four weeks away.
“It’s got to be hard,” Freeman said in his press conference following practice. “It’s not changing. We’re not changing what we’re doing. It’s going to be hard. We had a couple of guys that couldn’t finish practice today and it’s their job to make sure they’re available for practice. It’s the trainer’s job to make sure they protect the player.
“I was trying to send a message to those players that, ‘Hey, whatever you have to do to make sure you’re available for practice.’ We had a couple of guys go out because of the heat. Whatever you have to do to make sure you’re available, we have to do it because we’re not changing.”
Freeman has downplayed the Ohio State game during the offseason, but it’s now crunch time and every move has been calculated – including the message to his team.
“I believe in what we’ve kind of scheduled out through this fall camp,” explained Freeman. “I believe this is what we need to be prepared to go. And we’re not going to change. We’ll always look at and review and debrief and say, ‘Is there anything we can do to enhance?’ But the length of practice, the effort, the way we’re going to challenge our players, that’s not going to change. If they’re looking for us to pull back, it’s not going to happen. They have to continue to do whatever it takes to make sure they’re ready to go.”
The Irish weren’t in pads, but multiple periods of 11-on-11 were filled with crowd noise piping through the speakers. It was by design. Sure, it will help prepare Notre Dame for The Horseshoe, but Freeman had another reason why he wanted the noise.
“The crowd noise, it’s not about anything other than I want the coaches to let the players play,” stated Freeman. “That was really a trigger. When you’re inside, you can’t hear anything. Outside, they can yell a little bit. But I want the coaches to let these guys start from day one, to learn how to communicate with each other, how to problem-solve without the coaches being on the field.”
Outside of a period of 11-on-11 scripted drives, Notre Dame conducted its 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work in the red zone, which was also by design.
“We started in the red zone, it was very intentional,” Freeman explained. “I think Al Golden was the one who said in the NFL they did that to really work the long run of the skill guys. I’m not trying to take it easy, but it’s a progression in terms of how long our wideouts and our DBs are running. That’s what we started in the spring, we’re going to start in the red zone and then we’ll work our way out to the middle of the field. That’s why we did that.”
The red zone is an area Notre Dame needs to improve as the Irish finished No. 32 in the country last year in red zone offense.
It was a mixed bag on both sides of the ball, so if you Freeman, it’s something you want to see.
“It went back and forth,” Freeman said. “It was really good to see. I think the defense has depth and that’s something to me that was noticeable. The offense, we’re not as deep as we want to be yet. We’ll continue to progress to that point. But it was good. You saw some good things from the offense, some good things from the defense.”
Freeman has also spent quite a bit of time around the offensive side of the ball during the offseason. He sat in on Tommy Rees’ meetings with the quarterbacks and on Friday, Freeman moved to every position group on both sides of the ball.
The knowledge has allowed Freeman to see the game from a different perspective and relate even more to his players.
“It’s been really good for me to really spend a lot of time with the quarterbacks to see their progress,” said Freeman. I tell them all the time, ‘You’re going to get blamed if things don’t go well and it’s not always your fault.’
“Perfect example today was Tyler (Buchner) threw a ball. It looked like it was a bad throw. I don’t know who it was running the route, kind of didn’t run the route exactly right. I looked at Tyler and I said, ‘Hey, that’s why you’ve got to hold people accountable because from my point of view, I looked and that was a bad throw.’ No, that wasn’t a bad throw. We’ve got to make sure we run the right route. So, a lot of things fell on those quarterbacks’ plate. That’s who I spend the most of time with and so it’s been eye-opening to see it from their point of view.”
And speaking of the quarterback position, Freeman says it’s an open competition. Buchner got most of the reps with the first team offense on Friday and the first-year head coach wants to name the starter sooner than later.
“It’s a two-quarterback battle right now between Tyler and Drew (Pyne),” Freeman said. “I think they all had major strides in the spring. Tyler missed the last two practices. One was the spring game and the practice before that. But, he got 13 really good practices in. I thought both of those guys had extremely good springs. Then Steve (Angeli) and Ronnie (Powlus), those guys had good springs in terms of progression. But what you’ll see is Drew and Tyler battle it out. They’ll both get reps with the ones. And again, when myself and Coach Rees and the offensive staff feel it’s to a point where there’s a quarterback that has shown us that he’s the starter, we’ll name him.”
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