Notre Dame Postcard (cont.)
Posted: Sunday August 12, 2007 3:42PM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 6:49PM
2. Weis is going out of his way to emphasize to everyone -- players, fans, media -- his trust in first-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. After a personnel switch on one practice rep Saturday, the Irish defense wound up with just 10 players on the field. Action stopped before the snap, and Weis backed off to let Brown do the chastising. Brown then ran a penalty lap with the entire defense before animatedly discussing the gaffe with them again.
It's a necessary psychological tack for Weis, considering the Irish are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and the coaches need the players to buy in with full confidence. After finishing a mediocre 65th nationally in total defense in '06, they also need to buy into the 37-year-old Brown's assertive mindset. "We're definitely flying around a lot more, we're definitely more aggressive," said outside linebacker John Ryan, who converted from a defensive end in the 4-3. "It's a lot more simple, compact."
3. Losses to Southern California and LSU last year weren't a philosophical tipping point, but certainly validated a recruiting creed on display through some of the young Irish players this fall: Notre Dame needs to load up on speed, speed and more speed.
In freshmen such as tailback Armando Allen, receiver Golden Tate and tight end Mike Ragone, the emphasis is evident. "They all run very, very fast for the position they play," Weis said. "Having more guys that have the potential to score when they touch the ball ... that's important."
Taking the quarterbacks out of the equation for a nanosecond, there will be a playmaking onus on David Grimes and the rest of the wide receiver position. Weis has insisted all week he is pleased with his wideouts, while everyone else wrings their hands over the losses of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight (145 receptions, 1,924 yards and 27 touchdowns combined in 2006).
The Irish's top two returning pass catchers at the wideout spot are the 5-foot-10-inch Grimes (26 catches in '06) and 5-foot-8-inch George West (two catches in '06), meaning there will be at minimum a drastic physical difference on the edges this year. That is unless young receivers like Tate (6-foot) and fellow freshman Duval Kamara (6-foot-4) push for a spot, which Weis seems to think they're doing.
Keep An Eye On
Ryan, who converted to outside linebacker for the 3-4, and nose tackle Pat Kuntz. Both players are slotted in spots unique to an odd-man front for the first time and both have fairly critical responsibilities. Ryan must fold in pass coverage responsibilities while remaining stout at the point of attack against the run, and Kuntz must learn to deal with constant double-teams while occupying blockers.
"It's pretty important, because a lot of times, when a linebacker isn't making a play, it's usually because the nose tackle didn't do his job right," Kuntz said.
Weis said he has been impressed with the physicality of the defensive line, and after giving up 136.8 yards rushing per game last season, that's a start.
Factoid That May Only Interest Me
After one early season game in 2006, Weis was somewhat appalled to learn many Irish players didn't know the words to the Notre Dame alma mater. So he has instituted singing rehearsals, and the Irish freshmen serenaded the crowd after Saturday's workout.
"After watching that one game last year where half the guys didn't know the alma mater, it's been a pet peeve of mine ever since," Weis said Saturday. "I made the captains and (the freshman) come in early last night. They practiced in front of the team last night.
"The jury's still out. I think they know the words. You couldn't hear them (after the practice), but it was awful, just absolutely awful."
Senior Travis Thomas was re-converted to tailback after spending 2006 at linebacker, the better to lend some experience to the backfield. But Weis said Saturday he has five tailbacks he feels he can win with, leading one to wonder how ingrained Thomas is as the starter, or how much of a timeshare the position will be... Irish fans have bemoaned the secondary's proclivity to giving up big plays in recent years, but renewed depth in that department may help solve the issue. Weis said he won't hesitate to yank a player who isn't manning his post sufficiently. The hope is the added pressure of competition will hone the secondary's focus... Irish kickers were just 6-of-14 on field-goal attempts at the end of practice Saturday. Predictably, Weis said he is not ready to name a starter there... Safety Tom Zbikowski was a third-team All-American last season but played most of last year as a shell of himself after getting speared in the Purdue game and, according to Zbikowski, losing feeling in half of his body at that point. The injury damaged his NFL stock and more or less forced him to return for a fifth season, which could be motivation for a standout season. "I didn't come back to have a rebuilding year," Zbikowski said.
Brian Hamilton covers Notre Dame for the Chicago Tribune
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