Saturday, March 31, 2007

1931 | by Pat

"Go on out there, go on out there and play 'em off their feet in the first five minutes. They don't like it! Play 'em! Play 'em! They don't like it! Come on boys! Rock's watching!"

-Knute Rockne

Friday, March 30, 2007

Spring haze | by Pat

Spring practice is already one-third over and it's still pretty tough to peer through the fog of coach-speak and all-too-brief video clips to figure any answers to some of our big questions about the 2007 Irish. Still, news is trickling out, however slowly. Here's a quick rundown of what's going on.

Before we dive in, those of you who haven't been able to enjoy the practice and interview videos on All-Access can now check them all out here on a Mac friendly page. Enjoy.

Getting Defensive. The first major position switch of the spring saw rising sophomore running back Munir Prince switch a blue practice jersey for a white one and join the defensive as a newly-minted cornerback. The move wasn't a total surprise, but not many expected it to happen so soon. According to Charlie, it's not a pure depth chart move, but rather a switch to see if Prince fits in better at corner.

"We're going to give it a fair go, a legitimate look," Weis said. "This isn't just an emergency move where you are moving a guy over there just to get another guy over there"....“He asked me to consider it and I said consider it done. He asked me to consider it, and we made the move (Saturday) morning.”
Two things jump out to me with the early position swap. First, our cornerback depth chart is now actually deep. And fast. And talented. Then again, we are talking about the Notre Dame secondary so any positive news should probably still be tagged with a "I'll believe it when I see it" label. The good news about Prince is that he's not a stranger to cornerback; he was named 1st Team All-State as a junior at corner. The second thing that jumped out at me is that early enrollee Armando Allen must really be impressing the coaches if they felt comfortable moving Prince already. The BGS expectation meter on Allen has now just been turned to eleven.

Busted. Speaking of cornerbacks, just when ND added another talent in Prince, injury took one away. Early enrollee Gary Gray fractured his arm during drills and his spring ball is over.
"It's not displaced, not all the way through, but it's enough where you have to put it in a cast for a minimum four weeks," Weis said. "We talked about it last night. This isn't something you wait. You just put it in a cast. There is no pin, no operation, you just let the thing heal."
Bad news for sure for Gray, but the good news is that he'll be healthy in a few weeks and it shouldn't affect him for very long.

Leaders. The captains were announced for the 2007 season and 5th year seniors Travis Thomas and Tom Zbikowski are repeating as captains. Joining them are5th year John Carlson and rising senior Maurice Crum, Jr. Unlike last year where Travis was the lone captain of the special teams, Weis said that all four captains have a say on special teams this year.

This and that. A few other quick notes that I've noticed while checking through newspaper updates, video clips, and the like. According to James Aldridge, he wasn't allowed to lift weights with his lower body all last season by order of the coaching staff. That had to have affected him during the season. Maybe we'll see a more powerful Aldridge with a spring and summer of lifting under his belt........With people focusing on rising sophomores Eric Olsen and Matt Carufel, rising junior Michael Turkovich seems like he's not letting go of that starting left guard spot. It's still early, but he may just line up next to his classmate and likely starting left tackle Paul Duncan......The defensive players generally seem happy with the new defense. Not that I'd expect them to come out and say they hate it. We still have no idea who the starters are going to be though. True to their word, the coaching staff are trying out guys in different variations to try and find a solid starting eleven. (For a daily update on the starting lineups being used, check out Michael Rothstein's Irish Insights blog.)

Getting to know.... In addition to the excellent and comprehensive spring coverage on Irish Eyes, Irish Illustrated, and Blue & Gold, here's a quick collection of links to online newspaper articles about Coach Corwin Brown, offensive tackle Sam Young, tight ends Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman, wide receiver David Grimes, offensive guard Eric Olsen, defensive tackle Chris Stewart, quarterback Demetrius Jones, and wide receiver D.J. Hord. Nothing too earth-shaking here, but a nice collection of stories on guys that figure to play a big role in how successful ND is next season.

Again, not too much in the way of big news as the various position battles are still underway and Weis certainly isn't tipping his hand about the QB battle. This Saturday the entire two-hour practice will be open to the media so there should be more interesting news following it, even if the practice is a special teams heavy practice like last year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tight End U | by Pat

The pipeline of top prep tight ends to ND continued with Cincinnati native Kyle Rudolph committing to Notre Dame on Monday. He's the fifth member of the Class of 2008. Rudolph visited Notre Dame earlier in March as part of ND's Junior Day and decided to end his recruiting early.

"Just being up there and being around guys who will be my future teammates ... the people are similar to the people I went to Catholic grade school with and Catholic high school with. It just makes sense."
At 6'7", 230 pounds, Rudolph will be a tempting red zone target for an offense that loves to feature the tight end. High school video highlights show that Rudolph is already adept at catching the jump ball TD pass, sometimes only needing one hand. Rudolph is also a very accomplished basketball player -- he's already a two-time conference player of the year in the GCL South -- and that shows up in his footwork on the football field, especially near the sidelines. If you want more highlights, you can check them out here and here. Rudolph's coach notes that he's a great player who will fit in well at ND.
"He's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime player," Ramsey said. "He has great hands, he runs great routes, and he's a great blocker. God gave him a lot of ability, but to his credit he's never rested on that and he works hard. I think he's in the perfect situation at Notre Dame, in an offense that uses the tight end a lot."
Rudolph chose ND early, but still had a pretty impressive recruiting cohort from which to choose. Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, Miami, Virginia, Boston College, and Louisville were some of the programs that offered Kyle. And while the recruiting rankings are still being formulated, Rudolph is named to the Rivals "Top 250 to Watch" list as well as ESPN's Top 150 list. Getting an Ohio prospect that was offered so early by Ohio State is perhaps the most noteworthy part of Rudolph's recruitment; the Buckeyes haven't lost many in-state targets lately.

It also deserves mention that as with three of ND's other four public commits, Rudolph is from the midwest, which is Corwin Brown's recruiting area. We even had a quote from Kyle about Corwin in our previous post about Brown's impact on recruiting. Not that ND has had trouble recruiting tight ends from Catholic high schools before, but helping to get Rudolph away from Tressel is another sign that Corwin Brown is having an impact on ND's recruiting fortunes.

With the Rudolph commitment, ND has now landed their first choice --by that I mean the first guy offered -- at tight end for three straight years. Kyle will join Konrad Reuland, Will Yeatman, and Mike Ragone to form an incredibly deep and talented tight end corp. It is impressive what has happened to the tight end position under Coach Weis and Coach Parmalee. Not only has the recruiting been outstanding, but in the first two years ND has had two different players (Anthony Fasano, John Carlson) become Mackey Award finalists, with Carlson a near lock to make it three years in a row next season. And when Carlson heads off to the NFL, there will be four very talented successors looking to continue the streak, Rudolph included.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Letters for Easter | by Pat

Last April, we covered the story of Easter Heathman, a witness to the Knute Rockne plane crash in 1931 who still to this day lives near the plane crash site. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend you do. Also, here's a short video on Easter that is well worth watching. An addition to the story is that this past September, Notre Dame recognized Easter and his role as unofficial caretaker of the Rockne plane crash site with an honorary monogram before the Notre Dame-Penn State football game.

Mr. Heathman turns 90 years old in a few weeks and this note was posted up by a friend of the family on ndnation. I think it's a great idea and am reposting it here for those that missed it the first time. If you have a few spare minutes this week, I recommend you write a short note to Easter wishing him a happy birthday and thanking him for all the help he has given curious ND fans who have made the trip to Bazaar, Kansas these past 76 years.

March 14, 2007

Dear Friends,

We would like to take this opportunity to keep in touch with just some of the wonderful people our family has met through Dad’s devotion to helping strangers visit the crash site over the years.

As March 31st approaches, some of you will realize that Dad’s birthday will be following on April 7th. This year, his 90th birthday will fall on the day before Easter Sunday, so it will be a busy weekend for many of us. Dad doesn’t want a big celebration, so we are keeping his party small. I am sure he would appreciate hearing from any/all of you, thus the request for a card shower.

On April 29th, PBS will air a film called “Flint Hills: Meditations From a Kansas Prairie.” There is about 5 minutes of Dad taking the filmmaker to the monument and being interviewed in his kitchen, standing in front of his 2 ND awards, proudly wearing his Honorary Monogram blazer. The rest of the film is about the grasslands, the flowers, the rocks, the burning of the pastures, etc.. There is even going to be a “premier” shown at The Hitchin’ Post in Matfield Green this Saturday afternoon! To view the film on the web, you can go to: flinthillsfilm.com. If you get bored with the flowers and rocks, just fast forward about 35 minutes to Dad’s interview. The last part about the prairie fires is interesting.

The Flint Hills will also receive national recognition in the April issue of “National Geographic.” There is supposed to be about 20 pages about our hills, so you might want to check that out too. No, Dad didn’t make their story.

We hope this finds everyone doing well, and until we meet again, take care and keep in touch.

Love,
Sue Ann and John

email:
eastersdaughter@yahoo.com

snailmail:

Easter Heathman
RR 1, Box 73
Matfield Green, KS 66862

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Deceptively fast | by Pat

It seems that Jeff Samardzija wasn't the only Notre Dame player last year who was deceptively fast. At the second Notre Dame pro day, Brady Quinn finally lined up and ran the 40, along with a number of other agility tests, and had great performances in all of them. Here's the take from nfl.com.

Quinn weighed in 233 pounds. He ran indoors on FieldTurf. He ran his 40s faster than expected (4.82 and 4.73). He also ran the short shuttle in 4.22 seconds and the three-cone drill in 6.79 (with tiny cones, not tall ones). In addition, he had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-7 broad jump.
Now, the 40 is largely a silly measurement for quarterbacks. Sure, ND fans will note that Quinn's 40 is faster than JaMarcus Russell's (4.83) and about the same as Troy Smith's (4.72), but ultimately that doesn't matter much. QB's are paid to read defenses and throw the ball, not run in straight lines for 40 yards. Still, Quinn's times, especially his short shuttle and three-cone times, are impressive. Personally, I think a bit of credit for that goes to Quinn's specialized combine training out in Arizona, where he specifically worked on lowering his time on combine drills. But to some degree impressive times are also a reflection on individual work ethic, which is probably about the only thing the more savvy NFL teams take away from QB agility drills.

Quinn likely isn't going to overtake Russell for the top spot in the draft -- which I think is a good thing as long as Kiffin and the Raiders hold onto it -- but with a second straight impressive pro day, he's really going to make it tough on teams like the Lions and Browns to pass on him.

Derek Landri also performed running drills for scouts for the first time since hurting his knee against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Results again thanks to nfl.com.
Landri (288 pounds) ran his 40s in 5.00 and 5.00. He also had a 32-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-1 long jump, 4.32 short shuttle, 7.08 three-cone drill and 26 bench presses.
Pretty decent agility numbers for Landri. He also increased his bench press result by two from the first pro day, which can't hurt. It will be very interesting to see where Landri ultimately winds up on draft day. He's not the ideal size for the NFL, but he's a good athlete with solid production on the college level.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The last time I checked... | by Pat

"I'm a big guy on tradition and on history, so instead of running from it I decided to embrace it and take on that lead role, because the last time I checked no busters wore number 3, so I'm just setting high expectations for myself."
-Demetrius Jones
I just thought this quote was great. Not just for Jones's willingness to welcome high expectations, but just for the way he phrased it. No busters wore number 3 indeed. While the Clausen storylines might be easier to write, you have to think many sportswriters secretly hope that Demetrius Jones takes over as starting QB, if only for more opportunities for quips like this one.

Of course, while we're talking jersey history, there is the little factoid that the last Notre Dame quarterback to wear the #3 jersey finished his career as a wide receiver. Buyer beware Demetrius. Then again, the list of successful QB's wearing the 3 is pretty lengthy. In addition to perhaps the most famous #3 in ND history, Joe Montana, memorable passers like Ralph Guglielmi, George Izo, Daryle Lamonica, Coley O'Brien, Rick Mirer, and Ron Powlus all wore the number. Not a bad group. And for a bit of extra luck, Harry Oliver also worked some Irish magic in the #3 jersey. Interestingly, no Heisman winners from this group, although Guglielmi did wind up in the College Football Hall of Fame.

While lacking the overall star power of a Joe Montana, Jimmy Clausen's #7 jersey actually has an equally successful ND history of quarterbacks. John Huarte, Joe Theismann, Steve Beuerlein, Jarious Jackson, and Carlyle Holiday are some of the more famous names to line up under center with the #7 jersey. And unlike #3, this number has a Heisman Trophy winning QB to its credit in Mr. John Huarte and another Hall of Famer in Theismann. Then again, the last Irish player to fight for a QB job wearing #7 is also currently a wide receiver. So maybe Jimmy should start practicing his route running too, just in case.

I'm afraid that history hasn't been too kind to Zach Frazer's #12. The last two scholarship quarterbacks (exempting Marty Mooney here) who wore that number, Ken Karcher and Gus Ornstein, both lost their QB derby battle and transfered -- Karcher to Tulane and Ornstein to Michigan State -- before winding up as backups in the NFL. I do have a bit of a question on Ornstein though. The all-time roster lists him as #12, but the photo I linked to his name has him with a #8 jersey. Can we get a ruling from the crowd? There have been a few talented running backs who wore #12 though, including Jack Chevigny, who scored the game-tying touchdown in the "Win One for the Gipper" game against Army, Ed Gulyas, who led the team in rushing in 1970, and Tony Fisher, who led the team in rushing in 1999.

Evan Sharpley's #13 jersey isn't really a traditional QB number, and given the number of players that probably strayed away for superstitious purposes, not too many famous Irish players have worn the number. The only QB's I could find on the all-time roster were backups Tom Cushing, Matt Johnson, and Greg Knafelc. We'll see if Sharpley can reverse this trend and give ND its first #13 starting QB. In the meantime, even though current NFL pro Bert Berry and Tom Carter wore #13 while at ND, the only player wearing the number that I can even find a picture of is Nicholas Setta.

Like Jay stated earlier, in the absence of true insider information -- Weis has curiously turned down our repeated requests for FedEx'd copies of practice film -- we have to turn to alternative methods to handicap the QB derby. And based on this entirely unscientific stroll down ND jersey memory lane, it looks like Jones has the slight edge on Jimmy. We'll just have to see if things change once they actually start throwing the football in practice.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

the Wire: shut down | by Jay

I'm officially pulling the plug on the Guenther/Zook stakeout. I know the Illinois AD has had other problems lately, but it's been a month since he threatened to go public with the results of his investigation. We were expecting him to indict Notre Dame somehow -- that's what he told reporters off the record, anyway -- and yet we haven't heard a peep. I guess we can file it under "internet bluster". Thanks for the baseless smear, Ron(s).

the Superfecta | by Jay

When I lived in LA, I used to go to Hollywood Park and Santa Anita a few times a year with a buddy of mine Kevin who was big into horse racing. It was through him I learned some of the intricacies of deciphering a racing form, which opened up a floodgate of information on which to base a wager. Soon it wasn't enough to simply consider how cool the horse's name was (a system I had used confidently -- if not profitably -- until that time); now I was looking at things like track conditions, lineage, who was the breeder and the trainer, was the race longer or shorter than what the horse was used to, fractional times, does he break early or late, and whether the horse seemed "focused" when we would run down to the paddock between races to take a look. (Kevin insisted a horse was "focused" when his hind hoof would step directly into the same space that his front hoof had just vacated. I insisted Kevin was full of crap, but he seemed to put some importance on the idea. Soon I was doing it too, trying to glean some gambler's edge from interpreting sneezes and whinnies in the paddock roundup. This is not unlike looking at five minutes of grainy practice videos emanating out of Loftus and insisting that a player looks "good" or "bad".)

Handicapping this quarterback race is a little like those nights at Hollywood Park, and I'm busy piecing together my own racing form (of sorts). For starters, some foundational, historical stuff: two really nice pieces by Lou Somogyi documenting QB derbies gone by: "QB Battles and Results", and "Gold Standard Not Always Based on Glitter".

Out of the Gate | by Pat

Spring practice has sprung, and with it comes the annual tidal wave of tidbits. UND.com has Charlie's presser, a practice report, and post-practice interviews ready for your viewing pleasure as part of the All-Access package. If you can't get to All-Access, BGI has a brief free video clip of practice here while Matt Cashore's pictures of practice can be seen here.

The transcript of the presser is here. I recommend reading the whole thing, but highlights include:

On the young makeup of the team: "As it relates to objectives going into the spring, it's been well documented that we have a bunch of guys that graduated from last year's team. Well, that's what players do. They graduate and then they move on.

As has been our theme since the season ended, basically tradition is something that should never graduate. So tradition never graduates, is the theme that we are emphasizing to our players. Because with several key players lost to graduation, it provides a great venue for both competition and opportunity for anyone who has been waiting in the wings or is new to the program."

On special teams: "Special teams, the mannerism in which we are coaching special teams has been tweaked. The entire coaching staff is now involved in special teams. Now Brian Polian and Bernie Parmalee will have big emphasis on defense as leaders of the pack, but the entire staff is involved in special teams and both return units and the defensive staff will handle the field goal block and both coverage units. We'll have to get used to that change in the spring but I'm putting even a bigger emphasis on special teams this spring than I did the first two years."

On the spring focus of the defense: "Now defensively, even though personnel will come into play, schematics are the one thing that we're dealing with in the spring. So offense, the tweaks are more personnel-related. Defensively, although personnel comes into play, the changes are more schematic, and you're going to put it in in its due course, and you're going to be very deliberate in how you put it in. So everyone knows what they are doing and you are building a system rather than just throwing a system at them."

On the health of the team: "Unlike the previous two years where we had several people coming off of injuries going into the spring, no one will be held out of practice on account of injury. Everyone is full-speed, and no one has any limitations with the exception of a couple guys who maybe will have a cast on their wrist or something. That will not limit them from any football activities."

On position switches: "As we begin spring practice, I'm going to move Travis Thomas to start off the spring. He'll be over at running back and Chris Stewart to start off the spring will be over on the defensive line."

On if Stewart will stay on defense: "It depends on how he looks. Athletically from what we've seen to this point, it's very, very encouraging. But if he looks like an offensive guard playing nose tackle, then he'll have to move back to offensive guard. If he looks like a nose tackle playing nose tackle, he'll just stay at nose tackle."

On Sam Young: "I've heard a lot of people just projecting Sam automatically playing on the left side because he played some in high school. He'll be starting off this spring at right tackle. That's where he'll be starting off this spring."

On Weis's focus: "Absolutely. I'm going to be heavily almost exclusively involved with the quarterback position. That's why I hired Corwin. I'm not going to be spending a lot of time on the field worrying about the defense other than when the offense is going against the defense. That's when I'll be able to watch the two.

Right now, one of the biggest jobs I have in addition to working with the offensive staff to establish an identity, based off of our personnel, is to make sure we've got a quarterback ready to play on September 1, and we will have one ready to go."

On off-season stars: "The heroes from the off-season were Travis and Carlson. They were like men amongst boys. It was not even close for second, but you'll see some names pop up. Like I don't want to raise expectations too high but I'll give you a for instance.

If you ask me to call out like one player, I'll call out a player like John Ryan. Not too many people know a heck of a lot about John Ryan other than he was a defensive end backing up Victor Abiamiri and now he's an outside linebacker, and at 6'4", 6'5", 245 pounds, he's your prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker. Whereas in a 4-3 defense, I don't know if he had ever been prototypical either way."



A few thoughts on the presser and notes about the updated spring roster.

• I think the biggest surprise of the presser was the news that special teams is now the responsibility of the entire coaching staff. It's great to hear Charlie promise to dedicate so many resources to it, but at the same time I suppose it's disappointing that it had to come to this. Honestly, it reads like Polian's responsibilities as the ST guru are being diffused, with Weis making sure that everyone has a stake in special teams improvement.

• The fact that everyone is healthy for spring practice is a great boost to a team looking for new starters at multiple positions. It also greatly benefits the defense since everyone will be able to get reps working on the new schemes. Charlie also had a nice subtle dig at some of the rumors about Clausen's arm, saying "By the way, just so we can clear that one up, the only one who will answer for the health of our players will be me. So next time, we can just keep it that way, because I'll do the answering for the health of our players." Nice.

New Jerseys. Demetrius Jones switched to #3. Gary Gray is the new #4 while Armando Allen dons #5. Jimmy Clausen is lucky #7.

• Already big last year, Sam Young picked up over 20 pounds and now checks in at a massive 6'7", 315 pounds. Weis mentioned Young will be staying at right tackle, which leads me to believe that paired with a tough right guard most of ND's runs are headed towards the right side of the line. As ND's biggest offensive lineman, Young won't have to worry as much about keeping fast defensive ends away from the new QB, and he can focus on mauling ends and linebackers. Of course, the open left tackle spot suddenly is a big item of interest. Paul Duncan is the early favorite to land the spot.

• Other players of note that bulked up: inside linebackers Joe Brockington and Toryan Smith (234 and 244 respectively), fullback Luke Schmidt (up to a huge 252), and new defensive tackle Paddy Mullen (up to 285). Chris Stewart is still the biggest player on the team at 340 pounds, but that's 27 pounds less than he weighed in last season. A more complete list of weight changes can be found here. Take them with a grain of salt. For example...

• Jimmy Clausen appears to be the biggest benefactor of the traditional roster height and weight boost. He's listed at 6'5", 207 pounds. I don't really think he'd hit 6'5" even with the spikiest of hair. This post uses trigonometry to try and figure things out.

• He may not play at all this coming season, but walk-on running back Dex Cure still has the best name on the team. "Dex Cure" -- that's outstanding.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

the New Road Ahead | by Pat

Heading into the third spring practice since BGS opened up shop, one thing struck me as I reviewed my previous Top 5 Spring Questions posts. The past two year, for the most part, the team on the whole wasn't much of a mystery and we were able to focus on the specifics. Who will play right tackle? Which backup will switch positions? The program was already street legal, and we were just deciding on the few finishing touches before heading out on the interstate. Now, however, the car is up on blocks and we're looking at a total engine rebuild. Some parts will fit better than others and ND has a scant few number of practices to get them integrated before kickoff later this year. Time to get to work.

In some respects, this marks a new beginning of sorts for Charlie's tenure at ND. The starting roster is nearly a clean slate and Weis will switch from managing and fine-tuning incumbent starters to making tougher, complicated personnel decisions for the multitude of new faces, many of whom have had limited, if any, playing time. And on top of that, Charlie is bringing in a rookie defensive coordinator who will attempt to implement a brand new defensive scheme. It's the kind of thing that makes fans giddy with anticipation and coaches wake up in a nervous sweat.

A few questions, among many...

1. Who will be Notre Dame's starting quarterback?

The obvious, A-number-one thought on everyone's mind? Of course. But there's no getting around that this is one of the most interesting position battles in the past decade at ND. It's a position that offers incredible amounts of celebrity and invites equally incredible amounts of criticism from fans and foes alike. There are four contenders and all four are under the microscope starting now.

Fairly or not, Jimmy Clausen brings the "LeBron James of football" tag with him and anything less than taking the starting job this spring will lead to mutterings of "overrated". The chatter about bone spurs and the uncertainty about the health of his throwing arm only serve to add more intrigue to the most heralded ND football recruit since Ron Powlus, the position coach now helping to oversee the QB battle. Demetrius Jones brings a lot of charisma and adds a mobility factor that makes him an intriguing choice. While still a passer first and runner second, Jones does present an additional skill set not found in the other candidates. Plus, he requested the heralded #3 jersey for the year, which to me is a great sign of a player who has confidence in his own abilities and isn't scared to raise the level of expectations on himself. If the race has a dark horse, it's Zach Frazer. Overlooked by many ND fans, Zach has a very strong arm, comes from a pass-friendly offense in high school, and has the size to take the punishment that usually comes with revamped offensive lines. Last but not least, Evan Sharpley (above, right) is the only one of the four that has actually taken a snap during a game for ND. Then again, Sharpley beat out David Wolke last spring when Wolke was the only one of the two with game experience. Will history repeat itself or will Sharpley be able to hold off the talented trio of young QB's?

It's likely that a starter won't be announced in the spring and the competition will carry over into the fall. But by the Blue and Gold game the race likely will be down to a two-man race. According to Coach Weis, everyone has a 25% chance right now, but most ND fans have already picked out their favorites. In order to get a good snapshot of the current fan consensus, we invite you to take this BGS QB poll. We'll discuss the results later on as a true leader emerges.

BGS QB POLL (View Results)

2. What will ND's front seven look like on defense?

Almost as noteworthy as the battle for quarterback is the fact that ND will undergo a defensive makeover this spring in a move to a 3-4 defense. Weis has said that it will still be a 4-3 defense with "3-4 personnel", but schematic differences aside, the kind of guys who fit the "3-4 personnel" mold aren't always the ones who were natural fits in a true 4-3. In other words, last year's depth chart is pretty useless.

So what will the defense look like? Will Trevor Laws, a quick but undersized defensive tackle in the 4-3, find greater success at defensive end now? And if so, who among ND's inexperienced defensive tackles will step up to man the physically demanding nose guard spot in the middle of the line? Pat Kuntz and Paddy Mullen are two possibilities, though a bit undersized, while a jump to defense for large man Chris Stewart is a very attractive rumor for Irish fans looking to field a stout line. Derrell Hand also has the size to help out but he will have to avoid the injury bug that has plagued him during his time at ND. And what about veterans Justin Brown and Dwight Stephenson, Jr? It's just about their last shot to make a serious run at playing time.

At linebacker, it's very possible that sophomore former defensive ends Kallen Wade, John Ryan, and Morrice Richardson could see early time as newly minted outside linebackers. Of course, this would push Joe Brockington into the middle, where he would have to battle fan favorite Toryan Smith and veteran star Maurice Crum, Jr. Along with Laws, Crum is about the only sure starter on defense. It's expected that Travis Thomas will resume full-time offensive duties which will help to clear some room for veteran guys like Anthony Vernaglia, Steve Quinn, Kevin Washington, and Scott Smith.

With so many different ways to plug in players, look for different names and different lineups to be mentioned in every practice report. A few positions might be nailed down this spring, but as at QB, look the starting front 7 probably won't be nailed down until Georgia Tech week.

3. Who is going to run the ball?

Out goes Notre Dame's #4 all-time leading rusher and in his stead is a collection of very talented running backs. But with only one football, just how is the distribution of carries going to shake out? Travis Thomas (left) is a team leader and likely will be back on offense full time ready to pick up the slack in Darius Walker's absence. A battering-ram, Thomas has the experience, size, and speed to be an effective every down back. But James Aldridge is similarly talented and after a freshman year slowed by knee injuries, he could be ready to flash the potential that made him a 5-star recruit. Another intriguing prospect is early enrollee Armando Allen, a lighting-quick back from Florida. He's still on the way back from a leg injury that knocked him out of his senior year, but when healthy he could be the home run hitter than ND fans desire at the running back position. Munir Prince seemed to have an up and down year last year and ultimately might wind up at either receiver or cornerback if he is deemed to be more useful there.

My guess is that ND will use more of a running back rotation this spring and into next year in order to take maximum advantage of the strength of Thomas, the power of Aldridge, and the speed of Allen. With a new quarterback, the ability to help out in the blocking game will be a huge key to increased playing time, as will the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Rather than fret over which player will turn into ND's feature back, I'm genuinely excited that ND is back to having a solid and deep corp of talented running backs; one that will get even better when Robert Hughes and Golden Tate show up in the fall.

4. Who is going to catch the ball?

Until proven otherwise, it's a safe bet that ND teams under Coach Weis are going to throw the ball more than they run it. For a passing offense to work you need a strong group of receivers, but right now the 2007 Notre Dame Fighting Irish receiving corp is a huge question mark. Stovall, Samardzija, and McKnight are all gone and a collection of players short on either height or inexperience remain. David Grimes really had his moments last season and should start the spring as the leader of the receivers. But how will he adapt from being the 3rd or 4th option to being the main man and drawing the most attention from the defense? His classmate D.J. Hord is battling back from a leg injury that knocked him out for the year and will have to shake off a considerable amount of rust. But we're all hopeful he's the one player to add more of a speed threat to the Irish corp. Duval Kamara might be able to make an impact on the depth chart when he shows up in the fall, but this spring Darrin Bragg, Rob Parris, Richard Jackson, George West, and Barry Gallup all have the chance to prove to the coaches that they are the ones who will join Grimes in the starting lineup.

If Weis wants to keep with the "tall" receiver theme established the past two years, look for Jackson or Parris to see plenty of balls thrown their way. And don't overlook the ability of the receivers to throw blocks too. Gallup and West certainly have the speed to contribute, with West already proving his worth on a nice end-around run for a TD against Purdue, but in the end the size of Jackson and/or Parris might be too much to pass up.

5. Who will have breakout spring?

This is the annual fun question heading into spring. What unsung player is ready to take that next step and really emerge as someone the team can't afford to keep on the bench? The list includes just about the entire roster this spring as nearly everyone will have a chance to show what they can do. Will David Bruton finally turn from special teams speedster to stud free safety? Can either Darrin Walls or Raeshon McNeil cement one of the open starting cornerback spots? Will Armando Allen steal the spotlight this spring?

I could go on and on with the names on this list, but in order to make it more interesting, I'll present a list of possible breakout names at positions that would be most beneficial to the team for 2007. Not all of these guys will emerge this spring, but if I could pick which guys I wanted to shine, this would be the list.

1. Derrell Hand (right) - ND needs a dependable nose tackle. A breakout player at this position is ideal.
2. Toryan Smith - A tough and stout middle linebacker is very high on my wish list.
3. Demetrius Jones - I want someone to challenge and push the veteran Sharpley and prep phenom Clausen.
4. Ryan Burkhart - For field goals and kickoffs, ND needs a strong kicker in the worst way.
5. Mo Richardson - In the 3-4, the outside linebackers are the key to a strong defense. Cue Richardson.
6. David Bruton - His speed plus proper positioning equals interceptions.
7. D.J. Hord - Keeping with the speed theme, a deep threat would greatly benefit ND's new QB.
8. James Aldridge - No more mediocre 3rd and short conversion rates. Let's get back to power ND football.
9. Paul Duncan - Locking down the tackle spot opposite Sam Young would be a boon to the new ND offense.
10. Tom Zbikowski - Time to shake off last year's performance and truly shine this coming season.

It's going to be a really fun spring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

BGS Bits | by Pat

Spring practice officially kicks off tomorrow, so look for posts on that starting later today. But before we dive into depth charts and roster moves, let's catch up on some ND news from the past week or so.

We're #1! A huge congratulations to the Notre Dame hockey team for winning the CCHA Championship Tournament with a 2-1 win over the Michigan Wolverines. UND.com has All-Access video of the on ice celebration and our friend Dan Maier sent us this great scoreboard picture as well as this shot of the team celebrating the win. It really has been a dream season for the Irish team and they have a full head of steam heading into the NCAA tournament. ND drew a #1 seed in the Grand Rapids Regional and will face 4 seed Alabama-Huntsville on Friday at 5pm. For the 7 people that have ESPNU, congrats, you can watch the game. Adding to the good news about this team, goaltender David Brown was named CCHA Player of the Year while Coach Jeff Jackson was named Coach of the Year. Both awards were firsts for ND hockey. And the awards might not be done yet as Brown was also named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. Congrats all around again for a fantastic season thus far for Coach Jackson and his team.

Fight Night. Zibby's charity boxing match went off well two weeks ago with a fun three round event against last minute sub Ryan St. Germain. The event raised money for Hannah and Friends, Make a Wish Foundation and Cystic Fibrosis Charities and Blue and Gold.com has a free video of the fight for those that weren't able to attend.

Throwing strikes. Samardzija's brief stint in Cactus League play is over and now the former ND receiver will continue his pro career with the Class A Daytona Cubs. A strong showing that included a 1.80 ERA over 5 innings pitched, only one walk, and a fastball that was hitting the high 90's could mean that his time in Single A ball won't be too lengthy.

Next stop. The Northwest Indiana Times has a quick update on Carl Gioia and his decision not to return to ND for his 5th year of eligibility. Gioia notes that his decision had nothing to do with his kicking and everything to do with his plans to move on with his career, which includes dental school this fall.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Returning to Glory Since... | by Jay

I was digging through some old BGS bookmarks over the weekend and came upon this bit from the great Allen Barra, writing during Willingham's first year.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Irish Wake | by Jay

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Early Returns | by Jay

It would be an understatement to say that Charlie has a lot riding on the Corwin Brown hire. In fact, I think even he'd agree that he's effectively wagered his ND future on this promising, but unproven rookie coordinator. Roll craps, and the Notre Dame legions will start gathering torches and pitchforks. But if it comes up seven...

The dice have been cast, but they'll keep spinning until the cleats hit the field this Fall. In the meantime, we've got some rosy indications that Corwin Brown has jumped into this job at a full run. Whatever else transpires with the defense, know this: we've got a bona fide recruiter on our hands. Check out these quotes from some '08 recruits who have had contact with Hurricane Corwin (all text culled from various Scout and Rivals reports).



Brandon Beal: "I just spoke to Coach Corwin Brown yesterday and we text back and forth all the time. I like him because we just seem to click and he's a guy who can have fun and crack jokes with you or be serious and get the job done. I really think Notre Dame is in great hands with Coach Brown because he'll bring a creative and aggressive defense to match their excellent offense with young guys like Jimmy Clausen coming."

Robert Blanton: "I've been talking to coach Brown the last couple weeks. I think he's a great guy. We've had a lot of great conversations. I looked him up on the internet and I like his style. He's pretty wise and he knows a lot about football. Sometimes we talk about family. We talk about the campus, and about the type of players they recruit. He seems like a great person."

Sean Cwynar: "Notre Dame is interested in me as a defensive lineman. They like me in the five-technique (defensive end) in their three man front and playing three-technique in their four man front. They said they liked how I play in space and I talk to Coach (Corwin) Brown a lot right now. He's a great guy and just brings a lot of energy to everything he does. I think he'll really bring that defense to a new level. I went to Notre Dame for the junior day and was very impressed."

Cwynar: "I talked to coach Ianello for a while when I first got there. Then I talked to coach Corwin Brown. I really liked him. I probably talked to him the most. He's got a lot of energy and he seems like a straight shooter. He's just a really nice guy. He's a nice guy to be around. He's funny, he cracked some jokes and he seems like a good football coach. He seems like he's got a good football mind..."

Cwynar: "I'll be playing defensive end in their 3-4 which is different from what I'm used to coming from a four man front in high school," Cwynar stated. "Once Coach (Corwin) Brown and I broke down film together this weekend it really helped me become completely comfortable, and frankly excited, about what I can do in that scheme. I like it because there are a lot of things I can do with my size and speed in terms of dropping into coverage, playing contain, crashing against the run and rushing the passer from my position."...."The thing I really liked about Coach (Corwin) Brown is that he wasn't trying to sell me when we talked. He was a genuinely nice person who just gave me the facts and didn't speak in a negative light about any other programs I was looking at. He just helped to answer all of my questions and make me feel comfortable with Notre Dame in general. The coaching staff was definitely another reason why I decided to make this decision."

Cwynar: Cwynar learned plenty about the 3-4 look during his time with Brown...."Watching tape with him of the Jets, how versatile the defense is and how many things it can do really impressed me," Cwynar said. "I really wasn't familiar with the 3-4 front, but the meeting cleared up some confusion and answered questions about where I fit into the system."...Brown's personality didn't hurt Notre Dame's cause either...."He's definitely a great coach and has a ton of energy," Cwynar said. "It's just electric when you talk to him. He's excited about the program and where he can bring this defense. He really knows his football and is excited to get this defense back on track."...Cwynar is eager to help that cause too. While a handful of top defensive prospects shied away from the Irish last year following late season collapses against USC and LSU, Cwynar wants to be part of the class that turns the corner defensively in South Bend...."The offense is definitely rolling and the defense is definitely nothing but stock rising," Cwynar said. "Corwin, he's going to do great things with the defense and I want to be part of something special. I think the defense will be pretty amazing in the next couple years. With a good recruiting class this year, it will be exactly right up there with the offense."

Steve Filer: "I met coach Corwin Brown and I liked him. He's a really cool guy. He's real nice and real down to earth. He showed us some film of the defense while we were there. The defense that they're going to run is very similar to the Mount Carmel defense. He pictured me at the 'Will' or 'Jack' spot. He broke it all down for me and that's the position that I really like. It's a position that I get to run east and west and make plays. The defense funnels everything to the linebackers."

Darius Fleming: "I've been texting a lot with Coach Corwin Brown at Notre Dame too lately", Fleming explained. "He seems really cool and is from this area, so we have a lot in common. He really sounds like he wants to make the best out of each individual player and is a relationship builder."

Donnie Fletcher: "I get letters every day and Notre Dame sends me a lot of text messages," he said. "I'm getting real close with (new Irish defensive coordinator Corwin) Brown. I went to their junior day last Sunday."...It isn't often that Notre Dame recruits Glenville High School, but Fletcher's talent and his 3.5 grade point average could be just what the Irish are looking for...."They don't have my tape yet but they liked how I presented myself while I was there," he said. "I guess they saw me at a camp or something and said that I could fit in their program."...Fletcher has spent a lot of time talking with the Irish coaches and those conversations have helped him build a strong relationship with the Notre Dame coaches...."I talked to their defensive backs coach and the coach that is recruiting me, coach (Rob) Ianello and coach Brown," he said. "I like (Brown's) style of coaching; he's real intense."

Kyle Harris: "There was just some really important academics stuff that stood out to me"....When the recruits met with their positions coach, Harris met with Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator, Corwin Brown and linebackers coach Brian Polian...."There were two kickers there and they actually put us with the linebackers, so it was coach Polian and coach Brown. Coach Brown was actually the kicking coach at the last school he was at (Virginia). I had a nice conversation with him, and he does know his stuff about kicking. He emphasized mechanics and the little things. Some coaches will go watch a tape and watch the ball flight. He concentrated more on the small mechanics. He said not to worry about timing right now, instead follow through with your leg speed and get comfortable with kicking off the ground. I have kicked off the ground a lot. I've been working with Pat Leahy for the past three years. He kicked for the Jets for a long time. He's a family friend that has developed into my kicking coach. We'll have sessions where I'll kick off the ground and then kick off a tee. We move back and forth."

Dan McCarthy: "I really enjoyed it, it was a great experience," McCarthy said. "I got to talk to the coaches to see where I stood with them. We talked about where I fit in their system."....McCarthy did more than talk. He had the chance to watch film with new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown...."We talked about how I fit into their new 3-4 defense," he said. "The thing I was excited about it, we run a similar defense at (Cardinal) Mooney so I knew some of the terms. Their safeties are pretty interchangeable; I liked that."

McCarthy: "I was very impressed with the new defensive coordinator, coach Brown. It seems like he really knows his stuff. He explained the new '3-4' defense that they're moving to. Coach Brown showed us some film on what they were going to do. It's a lot like our high school's defense, so I was very familiar with a lot of the terms he was using."

Anthony McDonald: "Notre Dame is definitely contacting me the most," he said. "Ole Miss, I call them about once a week or so; Oregon, they aren't really contacting me much. (Notre Dame defensive coordinator) Coach (Corwin) Brown sends me a text message about every day. I call and talk to him about once a week."...Notre Dame plans on installing a new defense in 2007. They have indicated that McDonald would be slotted to play Mike linebacker...."That fits me perfectly," he said. "The 3-4 is fine with me. I'm just going to make plays; I don't care what kind of defense we're playing."

McDonald: "I get texts from coach (Corwin) Brown every morning and throughout the day and they just stay in touch with me the most. I have a close relationship with the Notre Dame coaches right now. They're doing a good job."

Jonathan Meyers: "On Sunday, I met early with the coaches. I got to know them better including my recruiting coach Powlus and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. I really like him and the scheme they run. He's got that pro mentality and he even singled me out about coming off the edge for them."

Meyers: "I talked to Corwin Brown, he's got that pro style coming from the Jets," Meyers said. "I think he is a really good coach with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of fire, and he has that great scheme. He kept telling me about how he liked the intensity I brought on my highlight tape."

Brandon Newman: Brown and Brandon Newman had been texting or talking on a daily basis for two weeks at that point. Brown responded to Newman's question with, I'm going to text you to call me in a few minutes after coach (Charlie) Weis gets out of a meeting. When he finally did make that call, Newman was getting his second offer, the first coming from Kentucky. "He makes me feel comfortable talking to him even without yet meeting him face to face," Newman said.

Nick Plato: At junior day in January, head coach Charlie Weis told Plato they would be in touch following national signing day. Since then, he has been in regular contact with assistant coaches Rob Ianello and Corwin Brown...."We've been talking about a scholarship, and they have been telling me about how many tight ends they are taking in this class," Plato said. "Pretty much, they told me they are going to take two tight ends and it was kind of battle between me and two other kids."

Kyle Rudolph: "Coach Brown is recruiting this area, and I interact with him well," Rudolph said. "I think he's great for the program. He seems like he's pretty energetic and excited about the opportunity at Notre Dame."


Special thanks to our friend Matt for pulling these together.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Let's Dance | by Pat

After a very long three year hiatus, the ND hoops team is finally heading back to the Big Dance (more on the 6 seed later). And the reason they can do that is because the Fighting Irish pulled off one very entertaining, very exciting regular season that saw them perform better than nearly everyone's expectations. We hope that, like us, you were following this team all season at sites like Rakes of Mallow, Black & Green Irish Men's Basketball, and Notes From the Geetar because this year's team was an absolute joy to watch play. The whole regular season was filled with hustle, great chemistry, instant contributions from freshmen, and stellar veteran leadership. Basically, all the things that go into having a solid college hoops team. For those that are just coming up to speed on the team (for shame), here's a really quick recap.

Coming into the season the mood was decidedly pessimistic. Picked 11th in the Big East in the pre-season coaches' poll, ND seemed to be still moving backwards and Brey's seat was heating up by the game. It's fair to say that many fans were already starting to mentally pick possible replacements. But then the team started to score a lot of points, play some defense, and win a lot of games, something that didn't stop until ND finished the season 4th in the conference and came a few inches away from knocking off #1 seed and eventual conference champ Georgetown in the semi-finals of the Big East tournament.

Along the way, ND notched a perfect 18-0 record at home, giving it the 6th longest active home win streak in the country heading into next season. Coach Brey also put the kibosh on any job in jeopardy questions by being named the Big East Coach of the Year; a well-deserved honor. Perhaps his best coaching job was the way he handled the point guard transition from suspended starter Kyle McAlarney to freshman Tory Jackson. That kind of mid-season turnover is far from ideal but ND didn't miss many steps during the sudden switch. As a reward for their play, both seniors on the team, Colin Falls and Russell Carter, were named 1st Team All-Big East (along with 9 other players!) while Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody were named to the Big East All-Rookie team. Falls also broke not only the Notre Dame record for career three-pointers, but also the Big East record for career three-pointers in conference games. Like I said earlier, it was an exciting year.

To be fair, ND's schedule was on the easier side this season. To date the Sagarin strength of schedule ranking is 114, a drop from previous years (going back 5 seasons starting with last year it was 28th, 66th, 29th, 5th, and 51st). That is mainly due to a watered down out of conference schedule ranking (305th this year according to Ken Pomeroy). But part of coaching is getting your team ready and perhaps facing an early lineup of cupcakes is just what this young Irish team needed to quickly gel and gain confidence. Another big factor in the resurgence of the Irish program is a renewed dedication to defense. Under Brey the Irish have always been able to score, but defense has been a hit or miss proposition. This season though, the entire team (including a deeper bench than in years past) have showed the athletic ability and willingness to make it tougher for teams to score. As an example, last year ND's defensive steal percentage was ranked 276th in the country. This year; 36th. And this defense and how effective it can stay is what will ultimately determine just how deep a run in the tournament this team can make this season.

As for the tournament, the 6 seed and resultant match-up with Winthrop given to the Irish is definitely disappointing. If you don't believe me, check out the reaction of the team when they hear the news. That's the kind of applause you give someone for winning a race in which you finish runner-up. Others have already covered the curious seeding decisions of this year's brackets so I'll just point you in their direction for now rather than re-hash the same arguments.

Still, ND is in the Big Dance and, low seeding aside, has a great chance at winning a few games in the tournament. Who knows, if the low post game continues to complement the outside shooting and the defense is able to hold its own, this year's team might not be done surprising us.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Come On Feel the Illinoise! | by Pat

The good news kept rolling in as ND landed their third public commitment in four days as Chicago-area defensive lineman Sean Cwynar became the fourth member of the recruiting class of 2008. He also he kicked off recruiting for the defensive side of the ball at a position of great need.

“I knew I’d come here, eventually. There was no reason to lead other schools on. I called about 50 coaches and told them, ‘Thank you for recruiting me, but I’m going to Notre Dame.”
Cwynar didn't bother to call Weis to commit. Instead, he drove to campus today to do it in person.

At 6'4" and 280 pounds, Cwynar has stated that ND plans to play him at a defensive end spot in the new 3-4 defense. He looks to have the frame to handle the defensive tackle slot, but Cwynar is very athletic for his size so the defensive end might be a better fit for his mix of size and speed. His high school played him at defensive end (and also right tackle) and it's not often you find 280-pound defensive ends in high school. It's even more rare to find 280-pound defensive ends who accumulate over 100 tackles in a single season, as Cwynar did as a junior (102 tackles, 17 sacks) on his way to a 1st Team All-State nomination. If you want to do your own evaluations of Cwynar, you can check out his free highlight videos here.

Fighting for Cwynar's commitment were Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Virginia, Iowa, and a host of others. And while it's too early in the process for star rankings, rivals.com has Cwynar listed on their list of Top 250 recruits to watch. He's also no slouch in the classroom with a 4.2 GPA.

Another thing to note is that Cwynar is the third of four commits to explicitly mention conversations with new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown in recruiting updates. It makes sense for a defensive lineman to speak with his new coordinator, but if you follow recruiting, you'll recall that Rick Minter was rarely mentioned in testimonials from recruits in the past. Brown was also heavily involved in the recruitment of offensive players Goodman and Cave, so there's another big indication of his recruiting acumen. The fact that Goodman and Cave were seriously considering offers from Brown's alma mater, Michigan, might have had something to do with it too. His big test will be the performance of the defense in 2007, but so far Corwin Brown seems to be a huge asset in recruiting.

Back to Sean Cwynar. Unlike Golic, Cave, and Goodman, Cwynar didn't grow up a Notre Dame fan. But according to him, he's sold on the Irish now.
“I really wasn’t a follower that much,” he said. “But when you come here, you feel something special. It’s really unexplainable. The history and fan following is just amazing. I’m their first defensive recruit, so I’ll have an early opportunity to start, I’ll get an Ivy League-like education and be on TV every week. It’s really the whole package.”

Pro Show | by Pat

Right on the heels of wooing recruits at Junior Day, ND held its first Pro Day for currently departing players looking to find work in the NFL. (No, the high schoolers weren't allowed to watch Pro Day. That's an NCAA no-no now). All 32 NFL teams showed up in some form, mainly to watch Brady Quinn, but also to check out the Irish players who were at the combine in Indy (Harris, Santucci, Landri, etc), plus Mike Richardson, Marcus Freeman, Travis Leitko, Chris Frome, and Matt Shelton, who is looking to get picked back up with a pro team.

Two teams seemed especially interested in Quinn: the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings showed up with not only their head coaches, but also their team owners. With the 3rd and 7th pick in the draft respectively, you have to imagine they were both doing their homework on Quinn to make sure they knew who they wanted to draft.

From the sound of things, Weis put Quinn through the paces for the scouts in attendance.

"We threw everything people wanted to see," Irish coach Charlie Weis said. "We put him through every throw that any NFL organization would want to see -- from moving in the pocket, to moving from the pocket, to three-step, to five-step to seven-step. I think now they have enough information to make a critical evaluation, if they didn't have enough on tape already."
The "official" take on Quinn's performance was that he had a very solid workout with only one bad pass out of the whole day of throwing.
Quinn threw 63 passes, connecting on 58 of them. On two occasions, former Irish receiver Matt Shelton got his hands on passes but couldn't pull them in. Rhema McKnight couldn't catch a 35-yard pass or a 20-yard pass he dived for. Quinn also overthrew tailback Darius Walker on a 25-yard pass.
UND.com has video of the workout and interviews with Quinn, Weis, and Harris as well as Brad Childress of the Vikings and Romeo Crennel of the Browns. If you can't view the All-Access videos, you can check out some video here of Quinn going through the passing drills as well as some clips of the various NFL reps in attendance. NBC has more video here. The agility test results from the rest of the Irish players that worked out can be found here. With a strong showing in the speed drills, Mike Richardson definitely increased his chances to hear his name called sometime during the draft. For those wondering how guys train for these type of events, Richardson worked out with a speed coach who has before and after videos (scroll down a bit) of Mike during his training.

One final note from Pro Day is that a handful of Irish players showed up to watch, including both Jimmy Clausen and Demetrius Jones. (QB Derby 2007 fever...catch it!) Other ND players who showed up are all guys likely to be going through this process next year: John Sullivan, John Carlson, Terrail Lambert, and Geoff Price.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hoosier Haul | by Pat

With nearly 40 juniors coming to campus for last weekend's Junior Day, Fort Wayne wide receiver John Goodman got right to the point when it came time to talk with Charlie.

A little before 10 a.m. Sunday inside Charlie Weis' office at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Fort Wayne receiver John Goodman peppered the Notre Dame football coach with a few questions, particularly about school and what would happen if Goodman picked ND.

"After I got done asking the questions, I was like, 'All right coach, I like how you answered everything,'" Goodman said Sunday night from his home. "So I just told him right then and there that I was committing."
The third public member of the recruiting class of 2008, the 6'3", 190 pound receiver is also the second Indiana native to pick the Irish, following Braxston Cave on Saturday. Goodman can now go from hearing Walter Sobchak jokes to incessant comparisons to current Chicago Cub Jeff Samardzija, himself a 6'4, 190 pound receiver from Indiana. That apparently doesn't bother Goodman, and he welcomes the comparison.
"My goal is to emulate Jeff as well as I can," Goodman said.
With offers from Michigan, Purdue, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ball State, Goodman was starting to see more and more scholarship opportunities come in, but he decided to end the recruiting process early and make up his mind for his childhood favorite.

“I have the next five years of my life set and my college all ready to go,” Goodman said. “I don’t have to worry about any more colleges talking to me or bothering me.

“I’m in the perfect position and I’m thankful for that.”

What's interesting about Goodman is that even at 6'3", he's his team's kick and punt returner. He returned two of each for touchdowns last year, averaging a very impressive 41.6 yards a kick return. It's one thing to be a tall receiver in high school who can out-jump his competition, but finding success at kick returner is a pretty good sign of athleticism.

It's likely that Goodman won't be returning kicks at ND, but he will join an already tall ND receiving corp. With 6'4" sophomore Robby Parris, 6'5" freshman Duval Kamara, and now 6'3" John Goodman, ND's QB of the future should have plenty of high-altitude targets.

It's also interesting to see ND's change in recruiting philosophy, at least for the early going. Last year at this time ND had not offered all that many scholarships, whereas this year the offer count is pretty high. (Exact numbers are hard to come by, but a ballpark figure is about 40 offers are already out compared to maybe 20 or so last year). One factor might have to do with the year-to-year differences in talent levels -- for instance, it looks like that there are a lot of very talented linebackers this year -- but part of it likely goes back to last year, when ND was stingy with offers, but were left empty-handed when a top-tier recruit chose another school. As a result of more offers being sent out, more players can start to include the Irish as they plan out their unofficial visits and summer campus trips, and they won't be wondering when/if an offer is coming -- they already have one in hand. There is no ideal recruiting blueprint, so it will be interesting to see how this new approach works out over the course of the coming year.

Cave In | by Pat

Not wasting any time at this past weekend's Junior Day, local boy Braxston Cave became Notre Dame's second verbal commitment of the 2008 recruiting class. The offensive lineman and Mishawaka native attends Penn High School and knew from the start where he wanted to go to college.

"Growing up in this area, it was always a dream of mine to wear that gold helmet one day," Cave said in a phone conversation Sunday afternoon. "When (Notre Dame football) Coach (Charlie) Weis told me to come in and see him (on Sunday morning), I didn't know what to think. When he offered me a scholarship, though, I didn't hesitate to say yes and tell him that ND was the place for me."
Here's local TV video coverage of Cave's decision and why ND was the place for him over offers from Michigan and Indiana.

The 6'4", 290 pound junior is already nearly as strong as some college players with a reported 405 pound bench press and a strong showing at the US Army All-America Combine this past January where he put up 26 reps of 185 pounds in the bench press test. Cave is likely to start his ND career at center, although he also plays defensive tackle for his high school team. With Sullivan in his final year of eligibility this year, the starting center in 2008 won't be a foregone conclusion and it doesn't sound like Cave will have to spend too much time in the weight room catching up to the other players. The last offensive lineman that ND got from Penn High School was Mike Rosenthal and he started as a freshman so Cave does have a tradition of sorts to live up to.

At an earlier Junior Day back in January, Ron Powlus joked that Cave should be leading the tour of campus instead of him as Cave grew up coming to ND games. In fact, Braxston is named after former Irish player Braxston Banks after his parents took a liking to the name during the 1989 Blue-Gold game. It's always the case that the kids most sold on attending ND are the first ones to commit, but Golic and Cave this year have even stronger connections to the University than most early commits. As with Golic, ND isn't going to have to worry about Cave flipping to another school, despite the efforts of former neighbor and current Florida defensive coordinator Greg Mattison who has been texting him to remind him that the weather in Florida is warm and sunny instead of cold and snowy like South Bend.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Quintessence | by Pat

More than just a play on Brady's last name, quintessence, as any astrophysicist will tell you, is a term for the so-called "vacuum energy" that is theorized to exist, well, everywhere. No one can see it, and it has no mass, but some say it is the driving force of our ever-expanding universe. In the spaces between the stars and galaxies, this energy is theorized to pop into existence, do its dirty work, and disappear again, all in the smallest fraction of a second.

A sort of quintessence is at work in the days leading up to the NFL draft, invisibly shaping opinions about the typical football star as they graduate from college hero to pro hopeful. In the time between their last college game and the actual draft, opinions sprout up, seemingly out of nowhere -- and at times with no basis in reality -- contribute to a common consensus of a player's draftability, and then disappear back into the ether as if they never existed in the first place. As ND fans, we are attuned to the criticisms heaped on Brady Quinn in particular, but it strikes every player. Quinn can't win the big game, JaMarcus Russell is fat and lazy, Calvin Johnson disappears for games at a time, Joe Thomas...well, okay, everyone admits that Thomas is a stud. The phenomenon is a curious one and certainly a head-scratcher for the players involved. Quoth Quinn on his rumored draft slide:

“It’s kind of hard for a guy to slip when we haven’t done anything,” he said, meaning on the football field. “It’s funny to sit back and hear some of that, and you’re thinking: ‘Man, did I not, like, lift today? Did somebody see me in the weight room miss a rep?’ I’m kind of confused.”
Still, it's silly to become outraged or upset at these various talking head opinions. Some statements are largely correct but perhaps overstated, while some are purposeful disinformation planted by NFL teams looking to mask their draft intentions. Others are what you get from guys who continue to think that having Terrell Owens on your team might be a good thing.

In Quinn's case, his slide down the draft board is largely being credited to his poor showing in the Sugar Bowl against LSU. Even Quinn can't deny that.
"We didn't do enough to get a win," he said. "And any time that's how you end your career, that's how you end your last game going into the NFL, of course people are going to harp on that. That's what everyone can think about and write about. That's their last memory."
I have to chuckle at this, however. While Quinn is getting criticized over his performance against the nation's #3 defense, JaMarcus Russell is being credited for his ability to throw against ND's 87th ranked pass efficiency defense and its lackluster pass rush. If all it takes
to cement top QB status is a single great game against ND, then Russell needs to get in line behind Tyler Palko, Curtis Painter, and Joe Dailey. But I digress.

Trying to reveal some substance in the ongoing debate was this past week's NFL Combine: a meat market full of stopwatches, agility drills, enthusiastic strength coaches, team GMs, scouts galore, and reporters representing mainstream and online media outlets of all shapes and sizes. You might argue that the growing importance of the combine is leading to more players being drafted for their "measureables" (40 times, vertical jumps, bench press) than their actual football acumen, but that's another debate for another day.

ND's combine representatives included Quinn, Rhema McKnight, Ryan Harris, Dan Santucci, Darius Walker, Derek Landri, and Chinedum Nduwke. Here's a rundown of their performance.

Brady Quinn. After announcing his intentions to complete all physical tasks at ND's Pro Day this coming Sunday, Quinn was talked into doing the bench press, where he promptly ripped off 24 reps of 225 pounds. His total was the highest for all QBs and more than many running backs and wide receivers, not to mention a handful of offensive lineman (more on that later). For video of Quinn hitting the weights, being called "Sunshine" and parading around in the manbeef-friendly combine weigh-in, check out Brian Stouffer's update over on ND's AOL Fanhouse. Early in the week Quinn had an informative session with the media where he revealed that the knee injury that kept him out of the Senior Bowl occurred during his 60 yard run against USC earlier in the season. Quinn had the knee drained of fluid at halftime in order to stay in the game and later re-aggravated the injury during the Sugar Bowl against LSU. If you want more info on how Quinn prepared for the draft, you can check out his draft blog over on xbox.com.

Ryan Harris. With a poor performance during the Senior Bowl practice week, Harris has seen his draft stock slip as of late. Despite questions about his size, he did hit the magic 300-pound mark when he weighed in at 6-4, 305. However, he didn't exactly help his cause by putting up only 22 reps of 225 pounds during the bench press test. The average this year for offensive linemen was 27, so it's not like Harris was that far behind, but the fact that his own QB out-benched him put his numbers in a bad light. Where Harris did help himself was in the agility drills, where he finished 4th overall in the 20-yard shuttle and 11th in the 40-yard dash. It has been said that Willingham was recruiting smaller, faster OL for his West Coast offense, and Harris's combine results certainly don't dispute that notion.

Harris had a really interesting Q&A with the media before working out where he talked about his size and how it relates to playing in the NFL.
“I am my height and I am my current weight,” Harris said. “I always want to get stronger but I think there is a lot to be said for how you play versus how you look. I think a lot of successful players in the NFL now were passed up because they didn’t fit that certain profile and they still had a healthy or successful career.
Harris also went on to talk about the back surgery he had 5 weeks before the Georgia Tech game, yet still didn't miss a snap all season. In another article he talked about playing for Charlie and his potential future in politics.

“Coach Weis brought a system that any player in the country would have been lucky to have,” Harris said. “I was fortunate to play in his offense, and he surrounded himself with excellent coaches. I can't say enough about how thankful I am and how much I benefited from playing in Coach Weis’ system.”

And as is the story with many players at the Combine, Harris had some unique tales to tell during his meeting with the many media in attendance. Not only did he become the only member of his family to convert to the Muslim faith in middle school prior to attending a Catholic high school and college, but he also aspires to be governor of his home state of Minnesota.

“I think politics is a good avenue to affect peoples’ lives for the good, and I believe in this country and the system of the government,” Harris said. “It’s something I think I would enjoy.”

Wherever Harris winds up in life, he's going to be a great representative of Notre Dame.

Dan Santucci. Like Harris, Santucci was average at the bench with 23 reps, but kept with the "smaller, but quicker" theme with the 3rd-best 3-cone drill time, the 7th best vertical leap, and the 8th-best 40 time. With a strong showing in the agility drills, Santucci might have locked up day two draft selection. He's not nearly as massive as many of the hopeful NFL guards, but quick feet and a tough attitude should go a long way to help him make a team.

Rhema McKnight. McKnight elected not to run in the 40 yard dash at the combine, but did participate in a number of the other agility drills and did quite well for himself. He had the fastest time of any of the wide receivers in the 60 yard cone drill, the 8th best time in the 20 yard shuttle, and 13th best in the 3-cone drill. Of course, McKnight has always been known as an athletic guy. His hands will be the difference between a mid-1st-day draft pick or a slide to the later rounds. His rep for hauling in the spectacular grabs while dropping the easy ones is something he'll have to shed for NFL scouts at ND's pro day this weekend.

Darius Walker. If there was one combine number that many Irish fans were curious to find out, it was Walker's time in the 40. Never quite the home-run threat at ND, Walker still had plenty of speed and certainly was productive. But his 40 time at the combine, fair or not, was probably what was going to have the biggest impact on his draft spot. Ultimately, Walker ran a 4.56, which placed him near the middle of the running back times. Not fast enough to really get anyone's attention, but at the same time not too slow that it would hurt his draft chances. What did help Walker out was when he showcased a 40.5 inch vertical leap, the top vertical of all the running backs and one of the best leaps in the entire combine. Most scouts see the vertical as a sign of explosive athletic ability and Walker's numbers most definitely will give him a boost on a few draft boards. He's still likely to wind up as a 3rd-down back in the NFL, but given the fact that the NFL is a copycat league, and the Colts just won the Super Bowl featuring a running-back-by-committee approach, Walker just might be entering the league at the right time.

Victor Abiamiri. Victor's numbers at the combine didn't really hurt him, but probably didn't help him much either. After checking in at 6'4" 267 pounds, he put up 25 reps on the bench, which was near the average for defensive ends, and ran a 4.8 in the 40, which was the 13th-best time for defensive ends. The interesting thing was that he worked on both lineman and linebacker drills; no doubt some teams are checking to see if Victor can play outside linebacker in a pro 3-4 defense. Certainly his versatility will help him out as he remains somewhere in the early-2nd round to mid-3rd round grouping of potential draft picks.

Derek Landri.
Since he's still recovering from the MCL injury he sustained in the Sugar Bowl, Landri stayed away from the running and agility drills. He weighed in at 6'2, 288, which is on the lighter side for defensive tackles, and his bench press numbers, 24 reps, didn't scream defensive tackle either. It will be interesting to see if teams view Landri as a possible DE in a 3-4 defense as he has the speed to get around faster lineman. His success blocking kicks is a solid example of his fast starts off the line, and when ND moved him to DE in a 3-4 in the final snap of this year's ND-UCLA game, he blew by the Bruin left tackle to sack the QB and end the game. As with Victor, it will be interesting to see where teams slot Landri as an defensive player.

Chinedum Ndukwe. Nedu's numbers from the combine might have helped him earn a draft spot with some team. He showcased decent speed for a big safety with a 4.51 time in the 40, and he had the 7th best overall vertical leap for a safety with a 37.5 inch jump. Of course, Nedu's issues on the field were rarely his athletic ability but rather his positioning. If a team takes a chance on him and he settles into a comfort zone at safety -- remember he's only really been playing the position for two years -- he might be able to stick with a team for awhile. At the very least, his penchant for the big hit and ability to help create turnovers should at least get him a shot with a special teams unit somewhere.

If you want more scoop on the combine, NFL.com has a wealth of stats, opinions, and even some video clips of the players going through the various field drills. A quick rundown of some of the various combine results can be found here, but I'm not exactly sure how accurate they all are. It does look like ND should get at least six players drafted and maybe as many as eight, which would be the highest number of drafted Irish players since the 1994 draft that featured Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor, Jeff Burris, and others. Where they all fall in the draft of course is subject to much debate and revision over the next few weeks as once again we enter a period with little activity but many opinions. At least we as Irish fans can all rest easy knowing that Luke Schmidt is in line for a 1st round slot in the 2010 NFL draft.