- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- News, notes and quotes from Notre Dame's first practice of preseason camp on Saturday. The first 30 minutes were open for media viewing:
It was a humid day in South Bend, and rain showers began a few minutes into practice, drenching a bunch of unprepared sportswriters. So it wasn't a great day on which to throw the ball. Yet, all eyes were on the quarterbacks to start off the drills.
To no one's surprise, Dayne Crist took the first snaps with the first-team offense in the tempo drills that immediately follow stretching. Tommy Rees got the next reps with the ones, and then Andrew Hendrix was first in to lead the second-stringers. Everett Golson was fourth in line.
Crist -- who's still wearing a brace on his left knee for precautionary purposes -- has earned the right to take the first snaps because he's the veteran who lost his job last year to injury. Brian Kelly said he was happy with the way Crist practiced.
"After having two knee surgeries, sometimes you get a little protective of your lower body ... and you're feeling your way through that," Kelly said. "I didn't sense that at all. I felt he was really aggressive with his throwing. He was spinning the ball very tight. That wasn't what I saw in the spring -- I thought he was tentative in the spring."
Crist said he felt much better on Saturday than he did in the spring and that his footwork has greatly improved. Still, don't count out Rees, who has put on a few pounds since playing as a beanpole freshman last season. He said he was up to 215 this summer and is now at 212. I believe Hendrix and Golson are competing for the change-up, special package role, and if one falls behind the other, we could see a transfer.
The two happiest guys on the field were probably Michael Floyd, who finally got back to practice and didn't have to worry about his offseason troubles, and defensive line coach Mike Elston. He's got a deep and impressive-looking group to work with as freshmen Stephon Tuitt and Chase Hounshell join the ranks. Tuitt is an incredible-looking athlete listed at 6-foot-6 1/2 and 295 pounds, and showed good explosion in a pass-rushing drill.
The first-string defensive line on Saturday was Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson and Sean Cwynar at nose guard. Rookie phenom Aaron Lynch was with the second unit, along with the slimmed down Louis Nix. Now listed at 326, Nix is still humongous but no longer needs his own zip code.
Elston was clearly pleased with how the group looked (and keep in mind that on a first day of practice with no pads, you're judging linemen mostly by looks).
"You guys have been on your game, I know that," Elston said at one point.
In recent years, Notre Dame didn't always look like an elite program on defense. With specimens like Tuitt, Nix, Lynch and Ishaq Williams, that is changing fast. But they're still pups.
"We're a lot longer," Kelly said. "We wanted to be bigger. We needed size, we needed length, we needed some speed. Clearly, we have that now and we just need to refine that.
"I got a better sense during the morning when we were doing conditioning work. In the afternoon [at practice], those guys were swimming a little bit. So they don't play quite as fast. But there's no mistaking their size and athleticism; it will just take a little time to get them to where they can rely more on their athleticism."
It was just the first day of practice, the first step in a long journey of a season. Kelly summed it up:
"I'm just comparing it to where we were on the first day last year," he said. "I think I probably wouldn't have made the press conference if I didn't think we'd made significant progress. I would have been up in my office. But I'm here, so our guys have made significant progress from last year to this year. Our guys know what to do. We were a lot more efficient out there today."
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