Great stuff from South Bend Tribune writer Eric Hansen's Twitter feed of the live Notre Dame practice. Lots of interesting tidbits and nuggets on there, but these entries have really jumped out at me.
.... Depth-Chart Buster of the Day: Freshman kicker Nick Tausch. Has great leg strength and hang time on kickoffs; nailed his field goals.
Freshman Nick Tausch was 4-for-4 .... Good from 21, 33, 36 and 39-yarder that would have cleared 50 and got the team out of sprints.
in field goal kickoff - jr Brandon Walker 3-5 (made 21, 33, 39 ... Missed 36 and 39. Weis gave him mulligan on the miss from 39 (high snap).
Now, I know it was only one practice, but that's encouraging and discouraging at the same time. The encouraging news is that Nick Tausch sounds like he could be one heckuva kicker at Notre Dame if he's already playing this well as a true freshman. 4 for 4 in field goals and big leg strength in kickoffs is the type of production that we haven't seen in a long time at Notre Dame. He might be one of those special kickers who takes over at a young age and never relinquishes the job until he graduates.
The discouraging news for me is that the current starter, Brandon Walker, missed two field goals inside of 40 yards. Walker has been somewhat of a streaky kicker in his first couple years at ND. At times, he has looked great and plays the nice big draw from left to right. In the second half of last year, he started to really come on and actually made five out of six 40+ yard field goals. I went back and looked at his stats, and Walker didn't miss an extra point all of last year. Huh. I did not know that. Feels like he missed a couple, but I guess he didn't. Not too shabby.
While Walker definitely got a lot better in his sophomore year, I still don't feel like we're quite of the woods with him yet. He's got plenty of leg, but I sometimes feel like he's not always in control of his kicks. He missed several big kicks last year when the team really needed him to come through, and a couple of those kicks came late in the year. Maybe I've just become shell shocked by all of the bad kickers that we've had in recent years, but I'm not quite totally confident in Brandon Walker as our kicker.
So this news about Tausch is a good thing because competition is never a bad thing. I'm assuming that Walker will get the nod as the kicker to start the year, but I'm glad to see that Tausch is there if Walker starts missing big kicks. Hopefully we will not be in a position this year where Tausch is forced into duty as a true freshman, but he's a good insurance plan just in case.
I think it was a wise move for Charlie Weis to bring in those specialists in the most recent recruiting class. You need those guys. Kicker, punter, and a long snapper. If you can't get good production out of your kicking game, you lose field position and you give up points on the scoreboard if you can't make field goals. It's not flashy stuff, but there's always going to be a game or two where a strong kicking game can bail you out when some other things aren't clicking. One monster punt or a long field goal or a big kickoff can be a momentum changer.
The other thing I like about Tausch is that he's got a big leg for kickoffs. Finally! When was the last time we had a kicker who could kick it through the end zone?? How many times in the last ten years have we had a kickoff that the receiver caught at the 15 yard line and then scooted up to the 40 just because of how shallow the kickoff was?? We never seem to get those kickoffs that go all the way through the end zone on a fly that are unreturnable. That should always be the goal. Kick it through the uprights so they can't make a big return on you. If the other team is starting at the 20 every drive, they have a long way to go to put points on the board.
Field position and special teams are the most underrated aspect of a college football team. If your special teams are really good, it really does make a difference. This performance by Nick Tausch in the open practice could be something to keep an eye on.