It seemsthat for every positive article and media mention of the 2006 Irish offense this off-season there was another article highlighting the slow Irish secondary. The general line of thought went something like this:
Brady Quinn and the Irish offense will be the best in the country this season, but I just don't think their slow secondary will be good enough for them to go undefeated. With the same guys who got burned by the Buckeyes coming back, the defense isn't going to get any faster.We've already covered the Fiesta Bowl, so I'm not going to get into that. But the whole "the defense isn't going to get any faster" line of reasoning has really bugged me. Which is why I was glad to see this article from Adam Rittenberg, the one non-local writer who seemed capable of actually doing research into the Irish off-season workout program. And while defensive speed doesn't automatically translate to a more productive and effective defense, it nice to read about all of the hard work the team put into improving their speed on the field.
Starting with the safeties, Rittenberg points out that Zbikowski spent three weeks this summer at the Cris Carter FAST program in Boca Roton, Florida.
"I wanted to get down there and train for speed," he said.Not to be outdone, free safety Chinedum Nduwke, in addition to losing 15-20 pounds, sought out personal trainer Brett Fisher in Arizona.
Carter helped the Irish senior safety understand how receivers think.
"No break is ever good enough," Zbikowski said. "[Carter is] never satisfied on any given play. You see what their mind-set is, see what they're looking at, whether they're pushing inside or outside."
Fischer's clients include NFL defensive backs Mike McKenzie, Shawn Springs and Darren Sharper. He also works with Ndukwe's older brother, Ike, a reserve guard for the Washington Redskins.As for the rest of the team, the upshift from strength to speed was crucial.
"We just worked on my backpedaling and my cuts, coming out of my breaks," said Ndukwe, who had two interceptions and four fumble recoveries last season.
Ndukwe also did individual speed work at Notre Dame, getting help from Irish QB Brady Quinn.
Speed also took precedence in Notre Dame's team workouts with the strength and conditioning staff. A year earlier, weight training was the focus, as Notre Dame checked off the "bigger" and "stronger" requirements of football's famous cliché. But this summer the Irish devoted two days of each week to speed and agility drills.Combining the additional speed work with the move of Travis Thomas to defense, I'm excited to see if indeed the defense does look quicker out there next Saturday. Of course, the best way to look faster is to not waste time getting suckered in on play-action fakes and taking good angles to the ballcarrier. So, in that regard, I'm still a bit nervous about how our new linebacking corp will do. But overall I'm pretty optimistic that the defense will be much improved. Improved enough to keep the Irish undefeated, I'm not sure. I guess we'll start to find out in a week.
"We did a lot of box jumps into running sprints, did a lot of tire pulls with weights in the tires," Ndukwe said. "It was just working on turnover, just getting your body forward and your knees going as fast as you can. We did wall [drills]. A lot of people do a lot of the same things. It's just how much you do them."
Added senior DE Victor Abiamiri: "After last summer, we had more of an idea what to expect. We had a goal in mind: improving team speed."