Friday, August 8, 2008

Diving Right In

By Mark Allen
Domer Sports Report

Charlie Weis, in his opening press conference before practice begins for 2008, let his theme be known. The theme for the 2008 season of Notre Dame football is "dive right in". What does he mean? More of that in a minute.

Weis opened his press conference with a couple of condolences. First, he sent out his condolences regarding this week's death of Notre Dame man, Joe Yonto. Yonto passed away on Monday morning. He also mentioned that his favorite restaurant, Mishawaka's Polito's, burned down.

Coach Weis compared what Notre Dame is doing to what the Green Bay packers and Brett Favre are doing - moving on. The Fighting Irish are moving on and will not discuss the 2007 season. As a matter of fact, when a reporter tried to ask him about 2007, Weis cut him off and told him he will only be discussing the upcoming 2008 season.

So what did Weis mean by diving in? Well, in a nutshell, he was talking about getting off to a fast start. He meant that on a couple of fronts. First, he meant getting off to a fast start in practice. Secondly, he meant getting off to a fast start for the season. Players, during the offseason, could be seen wearing "Dive Right In" tee shirts. Weis said he is looking for players to "make things go".

In his opening statement, coach Weis said that the Irish return 38 monogram winners. But, more importantly, is the experience in returning starters. Counting the kicker and punter, the Fighting Irish return 19 of 24 starters.

Everyone knows what a fiasco the offensive line was last season, giving up the most sacks in history. So, one emphasis was getting bigger and stronger. The first two offensive line units are now all over 300 pounds. Chris Stewart, perhaps overweight in his freshman season, now is down to 329 pounds. Sam Young now outweighs him.

Even the running backs, according to Weis have become stronger. According to the coach, all running backs can now bench press 100 pounds more than they could last season.

Finally, Weis, in his opening statement, addressed how well the captains have been doing. The captains, David Grimes, Maurice Crum and David Bruton, have all done "a great job in the off season".

Notes from the question and answer session:

Running backs:

Asked if the running back position would be ran by committee, Weis answered that it would be a 2-to-1 proposition. He said that Armando Allen would be a "changeup" style running back with his elusiveness and speed. On the other side, both Robert Hughes and James Aldridge would be battling it out for the most playing time between the power style running backs.

Resuming play-calling duties:

Weis was asked, predictably, whether or not he would ever resume the play-calling duties that he turned over to Mike Haywood. He responded that he "won't be studying the play sheet".

On team health:

Only Will Yeatman had any sort of injury. About a month ago, Yeatman pulled a hamstring muscle. Besides that, everyone is healthy, will practice and is in good academic standing.

Sam Young:

Besides the oft-mentioned gain in strength, Sam Young was mentioned as having become really matured. He is also a player that other players turn to. He has become a leader.

The Jimmy Clausen drinking situation:

Writer's note: Jimmy Clausen wasn't actually caught drinking. Rather, he was seen in photos where, in the background, alcohol was seen. Weis's first comment was that he thought it was "important to not condone underage drinking". With that said, he also comments, "give me a break, let's move on".

Interior defensive line:

Ian Williams and Pat Kuntz have both been defensive tackles. Weis hinted that he might slide Kuntz over. He said, "Ian has a low center of gravity. Pat can play inside-out". That can be taken two different way, though. Does this mean he is just stating that each has different facets of how they play nose tackle? Or, does that mean Kuntz could slide over?

The Corin Brown-Jon Tenuta dynamic:

Weis said, "Corin has welcomed Tenuta". He also mentioned to not forget that Jappy Oliver is part of it. Tenuta will be upstairs in the press box while Brown will be on the sidelines.

Jonas Gray:

Jonas Gray, for a freshman, is chiseled. He has good leadership skills. The players like him.

Goals for himself:

Weis wants to be more active in all three facets of the game (special teams, offense and defense). On off4ense, he wants to be a guiding influence, not involved in playcalling.

On Freshmen having a chance to play early:

Weis stated that "all have to earn their way up". The defensive line, particularly has opportunities due to graduation losses.

What he's most excited about:

He is excited that "so many guys have a second go around". The most significant jump in improvement, he said, was between the first and second year. The Fighting Irish have plenty of those types in 2008.

Punts and kickoffs returns:

The two names that Weis mentioned were Armando Allen and Golden Tate. His duties, on special teams, will be coaching punt and kick returns.

Competition for QB:

It is Jimmy's job to lose. During the first week, each quarterback will receive one-third of the reps. Initially, the depth chart is Clausen as one, Evan Sharpley as two and incoming freshman Dane Crist as three.

Clausen's leadership:

There is a "night and day" difference in Clausen between 2007 and 2008. He has gone from 194 pounds to a current 215 pounds. Due to a stronger body, Clausen will progress better throughout the season. Of course, it depends on the offensive line not getting Clausen killed. But, he should be able to handle more mentally as far as opening up the playbook.

New athletic director:

He has talked to Jack Swarbrick on several occasions. The relationship is "moving along nicely". They have common friends which makes it easier to know each other's credibility.

The offensive line:

Each player is bigger and stronger. That will make it easier to play at the point of attack.

Weis's changes:

That has already taken place. The emphasis will be how he handles it from now on. He "can't be phoney with the changes". He doesn't have it (being phoney) in him, good or bad.

Loss of Darrin Walls:

It opens up opportunities for those down the depth chart as well as for incoming freshmen. There will be a "trickle down" effect. Player's like (freshmen) Robert Blanton and Jamoris Slaughter will not be too far from the mix. He feels good about Raeshon McNeil and Gary Gray. He has a lot of confidence in McNeil.


Michael Floyd, according to feedback from Clausen, has been "through the roof". He does not look like a freshman. Weis needs a couple of more guys to make plays besides Kamara and Grimes.

So, Notre Dame and Charlie Weis are ready to "dive right in". Are you ready for some football?

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