Thursday, March 24, 2005

Media Blitz | by Jay

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A bunch of stuff in the wake of the Football Media Day that ND threw on Tuesday, and you've probably read most of the official releases. In case you haven't, here are the links from

Spring football outlook. The basic team rundown, position by position.

Weis inherits an experienced team that returns 36 lettermen, 13 position starters and three starters in the kicking game. The Irish are particularly well-stocked with experience on the offensive side of the ball. Ten starters and 20 lettermen are back on offense while the defense returns three starters and 14 lettermen. The kicking game welcomes back kicker/punter D.J. Fitzpatrick.

Based on the returning experience, the offense would seem primed to be the standard bearer for the Irish in `05. While toughness and consistency in the running game will be focal points of spring preparation, a passing game that averaged 281 yards per game in `04 will only benefit from Weis's offensive expertise.

Weis presser. Lots of good stuff here, from his philosophy on installing the offensive schemes ("Put a whole bunch in...throw it on the wall and see what sticks") to getting a geographically-diverse recruiting brain trust ("I'm not stupid") to this heartwarming announcement:
I am going to name today a couple of names that will sound familiar to you all who will work as honorary coaches for the Blue and Gold game. For the Blue Team, the names are Montana and Zorich. The Gold Team, there will be two names helping out called Theismann and Brown. It was one of my aims to try to get some of our alums back in the program.

They are dogging each other pretty good right now. They are talking unofficial trash back and forth...I would like to give those guys somewhat of an active role so it isn't just a 'show up and here we are.' I think it will be a good experience for them and it will be a great experience for our players.
Player quotes. Offseason workouts, installing the new schemes, the new spirit in the program, the new coaches...
BQ on the playbook: "It's thicker. It's just one of those situations where you have a little more to learn and a little different style too. I compare it to learning a different language almost. It's a tough task at times but I think once we get out there on the field and work some of the kinks out that we'll be pretty well situated."

Abiamiri on the staff: "I like them a lot. They know their football. They know a lot of football. I'm really excited to go out there and have them teach us what they know."

Fasano on the offense: "It's definitely a very complex system. I think we are learning it the right way, slowly but surely. We have a lot of stuff in already. I was pretty excited with the creativity that it has in it. I think everyone is pretty excited about it."

Stevenson on experience: "I think everyone on the offense is really excited about that. We return 10 starters and you can almost say 11 with Darius. It's huge. Experience is something you can't practice and you can't work on it except for playing in a game. I think this can definitely be a breakout year for the offense. This could be a year that the offense could really carry the team and that's what we are looking forward to."
Assistants quotes. Haywood, Oliver, Lewis, Minter, Parmalee and even Powlus all weigh in, describing the challenges, sizing up players, and laying out the road map to success. Jappy sums up the staff chemistry:
"So far I think we've gelled and mixed well together. From an offensive standpoint those guys really seem to work well together. We actually got a chance to go against the Ole Miss crew so we know firsthand what we are getting over there. And from a defensive standpoint, the fact that I've worked with Rick (Minter) before and I've known coach (Bill) Lewis for awhile and down to Brian Polian I think we work well together and it's a strong staff."
Blue and Gold Festival. The official announcement, the day's itinerary, ticket info, etc. Sponsored by Chick-Fil-A, among others.

Photo gallery from the day.

A few random thoughts on all this.

• One theme that reverberates over and over: we've got "smart" players, and we've got "experienced" players. Weis: "They are very smart...when you have a bunch of intelligent guys who really want to win, you have a chance." Haywood: "The experience is invaluable." Lewis: "We have an intelligent group of players here. We will throw a lot at them in the spring." Weis, again: “We’ve set a very aggressive installation for spring ball and we figure we can always tone it back if it is too much. But that is the way we are going to approach it.”

Did you hear any excuses about lack of depth, the complexities of installing the WCO, or the challenges of a too-demanding schedule? Neither did I.

• All the players wearing the same shirt. All the coaches wearing the same ND sweater. The "team" mentality is already well-inculcated.

• Parmalee looks like he could still suit up.

• Charlie and ND are really making a big deal out of the Spring Game this year. He wants it to be a real competition, and he wants the celebrity coaches to take an active role in the coaching. They've also renamed it to the Blue & Gold Festival, and expanded the even to not just be about the game itself, but a whole day's worth of activities. In years past, this game was a bit of a snoozer, with the coaches trying out various configurations and tinkering with the lineups, but this year it could actually resemble a real game. Imagine that.

• The Irish legends coming back to coach the spring game is fantastic. I guess the Blue team got first pick, because the Gold got stuck with Theismann. Smart money is on Montana/Zorich. They're just more balanced.

• Chick-Fil-A. Love Chick-Fil-A. Easily the best chicken-sandwich based fast food chain around. It's a pain that they're closed on Sundays.

• Powlus, believe it or not, looks like a real find, and a fine addition to the staff. Powlus' career has always been sort of Flick Webb-ish, standing tall among the idiot pumps, the expectations too great and the potential never realized. Ask any Irish fan what they think of when they envision Ron Powlus, and chances are you'll hear two things: his electrifying debut against Northwestern, four touchdown passes and Beano Cook conferring the double Heisman; and second, a wobbly Powlus happy-footing an option play down the line, awkward and jittery. Still, whenever Holtz dialed up the option (all too frequently), he plugged away and did his best. Somehow Powlus was able to grab some passing records during his tenure (although as Pat points out, QB records at ND up until then hadn't exactly been stellar, relatively speaking. Quinn will probably break Powlus' records at this rate, and then a Weis QB will probably break those.) Still, his teams were marked by underachievement, and I think it's safe to say that most Irish fans exhaled a sigh of relief when he finally graduated.

Happily, though, the curtain didn't come down on the Powlus-ND story when he stepped off the playing field. After a foray into business sales, Powlus is back on campus, having impressed Weis over a number of other potential hirees for the role of Director of Football Operations. Powlus is personable and self-effacing, traits perfectly suited to the task at hand, which requires quite a ton of organization, communication, and logistical coordination. He'll also be available to current players as a sounding board for dealing with the ups and downs of Irish football (Quinn, for one, plans to lean on him heavily: "I think he is someone who is going to be a great utility to vent and easy to talk to and get advice from. He's someone I think this program needs to have.") It's a great opportunity for one of the Irish's biggest enigmas, and he'll have a chance to reinvent himself and finally buck the saddle of his patchy playing days in the eyes of the fans. (As I'm writing this, I notice IE just put up a new interview with Powlus. It's a pay article, but it's a good read. Powlus on his new job responsibilities: “A lot of what I’m doing is recruiting, and this is a busy recruiting season right now...But at the same time I think coach wants me to be available to the current players as a resource that’s not a coach--just somebody that knows what they’re going through and what it’s like.”)

• On a more sober note, Weis announced that assistant coach Cutcliffe won't take part in spring practice, which begins Tuesday, after recently undergoing triple bypass surgery. Weis visited Cutcliffe at his home in Mississippi shortly after he was released from the hospital Sunday. ''He looked surprisingly well and in good spirits,'' Weis said. ''I told him I don't want to see him anywhere near here any time soon.''

• It might just be me, but it seems like the Sports Information Department is putting out a lot more stuff on than they have in years past. Is this directly attributable to Charlie? Who knows. In any case, it's long overdue. You should see the glut of articles and multimedia the other big-time football homepages offer.

• Gotta lose the wrinkled yellow bedsheet for the pressers. What are we, a backyard puppet show? Somebody get the FTT stagecraft department on the horn and have them cook up a backdrop worthy of the best college football program in the land.