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SOUTH BEND - Notre Dame opened its football practice to the media Thursday and here are a few observations:
* Senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix used to be "a niche quarterback" according to Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly. Kelly has praised Hendrix's improvement throughout this training camp.
During an early drill in Thursday's practice, Hendrix displayed what he is known for, an athleticism and agility to move out of the pocket and run down field. He did so for a nice gain against the Irish defense at one point.
But Kelly has also intimated that the senior is behind classmate Tommy Rees in football intellect and Hendrix demonstrated why at one point.
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin had to interrupt a play during a late drill because Hendrix was in the process - it turns out incorrectly doing so - of checking out of one play and into another.
After Martin stopped the play and instructed Hendrix on what to do correctly, he said gruffly, "You're checking out of the play and you have no idea why."
* Kelly has also been effusive in his talk about redshirt freshman running back Will Mahone, who recently injured his foot after having a strong showing early in camp.
Mahone remained in a boot on his foot at Thrusday's practice, but at one point went off to the side to do upper body strength work with heavy ropes.
He is expected back sometime in early September.
* In light of Danny Spond's recent retirement, former Bishop Luers High School star Jaylon Smith is now getting lots of reps with the top defensive unit (see related story at News-Sentinel.com). He mixes in regularly with sophomore Ben Councell at the outside linebacker slot.
* South Bend native and Irish senior wide receiver Daniel Smith doesn't get talked about a lot, but during one moment Thursday, he threw a nice block, which freed up freshman wide receiver C.J. Prosise to tear off on a large gain and the Notre Dame coaches raved on Smith for his effort.
* The Notre Dame offensive backfield is a crowded one, but junior George Atkinson III has seemingly secured the top running back spot. He is getting a lot of work with the "ones" and he is showing a good mix of speed (which he is known for), but also power inside.
Kelly announced Thursday that Atkinson will also return kickoffs.
* Atkinson's brother, Josh Atkinson, has switched from cornerback to wide receiver, according to Kelly. The move was made due to the limited number of practice reps Atkinson was getting due to the depth at the position.
* A scary moment for Notre Dame fans occurred late in the practice, as junior All-American defensive end Stephon Tuitt got tangled up and twisted his knee. He remained on the ground writhing in pain as the training staff attended to him. He eventually walked off the field on his own power, and Kelly later said he would be fine.