Monday, December 31, 2007

All-Star Irish | by Pat

If you're like me, you probably heard "So, when is the ND bowl game again?" at least once during the holiday season. Unless you were knee deep in egg nog it probably wasn't too hard to laugh off. Just mumble something about an ugly season, freshmen starters, Clausen, and then quickly change the topic.

Still, it's tough to see the approximately 124 bowl games knowing ND is sitting home. As for now, the closest thing we're going to get to a Notre Dame bowl are the two major high school All-American bowl games. In the past the US Army All-American bowl has been the only game in town so to speak and it is loaded with ND recruits this year (insert Tom Lemming joke here). This year ESPN is jumping on the recruiting bandwagon with their own all-star showcase: the Under Armor All-American Football game. All told 18 of the 22 Irish recruits are playing in these glorified scrimmages.

Consider this your recruitnik cheatsheet for the next weekends games.

What: US Army All-American Bowl

When: Saturday, January 5th

Where: NBC, 1pm

Who:

East Team: Robert Blanton, Lane Clelland, Sean Cwynar, Steve Filer, Darius Fleming, Mike Golic, Jr., John Goodman, Jonas Gray, Brandon Newman, Kyle Rudolph

West Team: Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Ethan Johnson, Anthony McDonald, Trevor Robinson
For a full list of recruits playing, here is the East team roster and the West team roster. ND's Ethan Johnson is technically a member of the team, but won't be playing as he's rehabbing an injury. Also of note for Irish fans is West team member Gerell Robinson. He may or may not make his college selection during the game (I'm excited to see if NBC goes with the standard hat on a table routine or uses the duffel bag surprise from last year. Choices, choices...) but the Irish are considered one of his favorites. Jonas Gray is also writing an on-line diary of sorts for rivals.com during the week and unlike many of the practice updates, it isn't premium content so read away.



What: Under-Armor High School All-America Game

When: Saturday, January 5th

Where: ESPN, 2pm

Who:
Red Team: Omar Hunter, Jamoris Slaughter
Silver Team: Braxston Cave
It's sounding at this point that if any recruit does leave the fold, it will be Omar Hunter. Rumors of a trip to the Gators looms large and history shows that a late trip like that is rarely good news for the currently committed school. For now we're keeping him in the ND column, but I wouldn't get too excited by the accounts of him dominating the practices this week. Other ND recruits playing in the game include offensive linemen Kenneth Page for the Red Team and Deion Walker for the Silver Team. Walker is expected to announce his college choice during the game and ND is considered a finalist in his decision. Here is the complete game roster for those interested.

Of course, both games are going to overlap on TV (ESPN is clearly gunning to overtake the US Army game as the recruit all-star bash of choice) so you'll have to work the remote if you want to catch all the players. As part of the Under Armor/ESPN game, ESPN2 will be airing a skills challenge on Friday night at 7pm. Hopefully I'll be able once again to post a summary of sorts of the hyperbole filled-events. Once you get past the shame of explaining to loved ones that you plan on watching a high school All-Star game and figure out how to appropriately filter the high praise lauded on every recruit, it's kind of fun to get your first real glimpse of some of the players that will be wearing the Blue and Gold next season.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Many Happy Returns | by Pat

Let's take a look at the team playing time and the rough percentages of how much experience is coming back next year. Armed with Lou Somogyi's handy 2007 team playing time breakdown, here are the numbers for this year. (For easy reference, here are our previous posts for the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons.)

The only major change I made this year to the tables was to break out the "Defensive Back" category into Safeties and Cornerbacks. Now that ND has quality numbers at each position I figured it would give fans a better look at just what is coming back at each spot.

One area where the personnel might be fluid is when it comes to returning 5th year players. Different sources online have mentioned that there will only be three returning 5th year players; Mo Crum, Justin Brown, and Terrail Lambert. However, there has been no official release from the program to that effect. For now I'm going to present the percentages under the assumption that the aforementioned three are indeed the only ones coming back. If more do come back, that will only increase the returning experience.

Now, on to the numbers. It's no surprise that next year's team returns a lot of players and experience. After all, we spent most of the season beating the drum over freshmen and sophomore contributions. Overall, 79% of the offense and 64% of the defense will be back in the blue and gold next year. These percentages nearly match the numbers going into the 2006 season as the highest in the Weis era (although it should be pointed out that the career playing time experience numbers were higher going into 2007.)

Legend: PT = playing minutes, ST = special teams appearances, * = walk-on or former walk-on.



Quarterback - 96%

Not much of a surprise here. Clausen and Sharpley are both back for 2008 after splitting time in 2007. The two will combine to give ND the most experienced depth at quarterback in a long time. It has been at least a decade since ND returned a backup scholarship quarterback who attempted more than 15 passes in the previous season. Only a sophomore, Clausen will still be young next year, but playing over 200 minutes this past season will definitely pay off next season. His 208 minutes are somewhat close to the 250 minutes played by Brady Quinn his freshman year.

Quarterback ST Appr.
PT Minutes
Clausen (so) 0 208
Sharpley (sr) 3 108
Jones 0 11
Bragg 0 1
Gillett 1 0
Total
328
Returning
316
Difference
(12)
Return Pct.
96%


Running Back - 83%

After breaking in a running back by committee in '07, ND will return most of the major players next season. In addition to returning 83% of minutes played, ND returns 88% of all running back/fullback carries. Fullback Asaph Schwapp played about a third of all possible minutes (using the QB total as a very rough guideline of total possible minutes) while the running back with the most playing time was freshman Armando Allen. James Aldridge didn't play as much as Allen, mostly due to injury, but still led the team in attempts with 121 (compared with 86 for Allen). Armando's classmate Robert Hughes only totaled 4o minutes, but over half of that came in the final two games. His numbers will almost certainly jump up in '08. One added benefit of all the returning talent next year is that hopefully pass protection will improve next as well. The offensive line took a beating from fans this past season, but a fair number of the sacks ND let up were due to mistakes from the running backs.

Running Back ST Appr. PT Minutes
Schwapp (sr) 67 113
Allen (so) 55 100
Aldridge (jr) 0 94
Jabbie 104 46
Hughes (so) 35 40
Thomas 243 30
Schmidt (jr) 41 15
Total
438
Returning
362
Difference
(76)
Return Pct.
83%


Offensive Line - 80%


I suppose this category will be another one of those glass half full versus half empty rorschach tests. Nothing improves an offensive line like experience. But when you're bringing back most of the same guys that gave up the most sacks in the history of the program I can see why some might be gritting their teeth. Sam Young tied with John Carlson to lead the offense in minutes played, although the sophomore took a bit of a step backwards in '07 as he fought through injuries and a switch to left tackle. The starting five from the final two games will be back for '08, as well as 6th man Chris Stewart, who garnered most of his playing time in the final few games on the year. Whether all that returning experience means a dramatic turnaround in performance or not won't be answered until next September.

Offensive LineST Appr.
PT Minutes
Young (jr)36310
Turkovich (sr)37304
Duncan (sr)38286
Sullivan0259
Olsen (jr)45172
Wenger (jr)14172
Carufel1171
Stewart (jr)2547
Bemenderfer (sr)*013
Romine (so)011
Webb (jr)03
Tisak (sr)*03
Kennedy*03
Total
1654
Returning
1321
Difference
(333)
Return Pct.
80%


Wide Receiver - 99%

No position on the team returns more experience than wide receiver, where every single scholarship player is back for 2008. However, ND returns just 75% of all receptions, losing John Carlson, Junior Jabbie, and Travis Thomas who hauled in 55 of ND's 217 catches. Robby Parris led the group in minutes played, but was losing playing time to Duval Kamara as the year progressed. According to Lou Somogyi, Kamara set an ND freshman record for minutes played at wide receiver, breaking Rocket's record from 1988. As at running back, a more experienced wide receiver corp should translate to improved communication with the QB, better blocking, and better route running.

Wide ReceiverST Appr.PT Minutes
Parris (jr)1188
Kamara (so)14184
Grimes (sr)2175
West (jr)7140
Tate (so)9729
Hord (sr)023
Possley*463
Erickson*12
Richardville*11
Gallup (so)50
Total
746
Returning
740
Difference
(7)
Return Pct.
99%


Tight End - 28%

Next year the Irish will be as inexperienced at tight end as they ever have been under Charlie Weis. Only two scholarship players return, although Will Yeatman did see a fair amount of time in '07. Mike Ragone didn't see all that much action as the 3rd tight end, but at least he did get on the field frequently on special teams. In fact, he saw more special teams time than any other freshman on the team. The departure of Konrad Reuland hurts from a depth perspective because instead of having a junior 3rd tight end in '08 with two years in the weight room under his belt, ND will have two relatively slender freshmen in Kyle Rudolph and Joesph Fauria.

Tight EndST Appr.PT Minutes
Carlson119310
Yeatman (jr)163100
Ragone (so)11323
Reuland010
Talerico*03
Planalp*01
Total
446
Returning
123
Difference
(323)
Return Pct.
28%





Defensive Line - 50%

The only position to lose two of the top three players in terms of minutes played, the D-Line will have more question marks going into 2008 than any other unit. The loss of Trevor Laws will leave a huge hole to fill. Both Pat Kuntz and Ian Williams spent time starting at nose tackle so it is likely that one of them, perhaps Kuntz, will slide down to defensive end to try and replace Laws. Getting Justin Brown back for one final year will definitely help as the experience at defensive end is nearly non-existent below him. With barely enough players to fill a two-deep (and nothing deeper), there will be plenty of opportunities for whichever freshmen defensive linemen ultimately sign with Notre Dame in February. Enrolling early, Sean Cwynar will have a jump on his incoming freshmen classmates and should have a good chance to work himself into the mix.

Defensive LineST Appr.PT Minutes
Laws73330
Kuntz (sr)51211
Stephenson49193
Brown (5th)35146
Williams (so)22125
Hand (sr)627
Mullen (jr)18
Wade (jr)12
Total
1042
Returning
519
Difference
(523)
Return Pct.
50%


Linebacker - 72%


Getting Mo Crum back for a 5th year provides a much-needed veteran presence at interior linebacker. Besides him, the most experienced returning player would be Toryan Smith and his relatively paltry 78 minutes. Crum's play trailed off a bit in '07, but he is a smart player and at the very least will provide solid leadership for the new collection of young linebackers. On the outside, the future looks good. John Ryan finished with more PT minutes than the freshmen duo of Brian Smith and Kerry Neal, but was losing playing time to both of them as the season wore on. Smith and Neal are the better bet to start next year, but Ryan's experience will certainly help team depth.

LinbackerST Appr.PT Minutes
Crum (5th)106295
Brockington102289
Ryan (jr)137267
Neal (so)21146
B. Smith (so)36144
Vernaglia88101
T. Smith (jr)2378
Richardson (jr)1053
S. Smith (sr)9133
Quinn (jr)1073
Washington (sr)213
Total
1412
Returning
1022
Difference
(390)
Return Pct.
72%


Safety - 53%


Lou Somogyi unofficially figured that Zibby played more minutes than just about any ND player in the history of the program. He easily played the most minutes of any player on the team this year. Without a doubt, ND will miss him next year, and a collection of talented but largely inexperienced players will compete to try and replace him. Kyle McCarthy has a leg up experience-wise; he saw far more time than any other backup safety. Ray Herring (who was sidelined with injuries for nearly the entire season), Sergio Brown, Harrison Smith and others will make strong safety one of the more interesting spring battles. David Bruton saw his playing time increase eight-fold from 40 minutes in '06 to nearly 320 in '07. With a year of experience under his belt to add to his natural athletic talent, he is in line for a great 2008.

SafetiesST Appr.PT Minutes
Zbikowski192360
Bruton (sr)169319
McCarthy (jr)11780
Herring (sr)166
Gaines (jr)154
Brown (jr)661
Gordon (jr)550
Total
770
Returning
410
Difference
(360)
Return Pct.
53%


Cornerback - 77%


Another returning 5th year player, Terrail Lambert, will combine with rising star Darrin Walls to give ND two veteran cornerbacks. Raeshon McNeil saw limited time as the nickel back but did start to play more later in the year. Gary Gray didn't play at all this season but is expected to be a serious contender for playing time next season. And of course, we can't forget newly minted special teams star Mike Anello, who will be back to track down opposing punt returners next season.

CornerbacksST Appr.PT Minutes
Walls (jr)68330
Lambert (5th)154288
Wooden67199
McNeil (jr)3371
Prince (jr)4521
Ferrine1713
Iams*23
Williams*23
Anello (sr) *710
Total
928
Returning
710
Difference
(218)
Return Pct.
77%

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ho Ho Ho | by Jay

Today's the anniversary of the only football game Notre Dame has ever played on Christmas Eve. Strange, but true. Nineteen years ago tonight, the Irish squared off against Southern Cal in a rare, late December matchup. Details are sketchy on what exactly transpired in the game, but we do know that ND jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 27 seconds left in the first period, on a play that was good for 52 yards. (A security officer at Nakatomi Plaza who looked like Huey Lewis was heard to have remarked, "Aw, shit! I got fifty bucks bet on them assholes!")

From all of us at BGS, Happy Holidays, and yippee-ki-yay.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Trevor Laws: All-American | by Pat

With the overflow of All-American lists these days, Trevor Laws was bound to make one of them. After getting shunned by just about every traditional AA list, he was named an honorable mention All-American by Pro Football Weekly. (He's also a lead-pipe-lock for the BGS All-American list.)

I had planned to write up something about the omission of Trevor from nearly all the major All-American lists, a couple of other Irish blogs (The Irish Roundup and Band of Brothers) already have it covered. Trevor's statistical superiority over the other candidates is unquestionable.

I have to admit, I'm certainly not used to complaining about a lack of recognition for an Irish player. After all, no school in the country benefits more from public exposure than ND. Win or lose, ND is always in the public eye and, more importantly, Irish players nearly always get the benefit of the doubt. Even an injured Tommy Zbikowski can get named 3rd Team All-America after perhaps his worst year in an Irish uniform ('06).

Still, there was something to the way Trevor comported himself this season that makes it difficult to just shrug this off. Opposing offenses usually ran to the other side of where he lined up, and when they did come at him, he faced constant double-teams. He, along with the rest of the defense, was afforded little help from a struggling offense that relied on the defense to make the big play. As the season spiraled out of control and the losses mounted, he had to have questioned why he ever came back for a fifth year. But he never let up, and he played every down with a relentless passion that made it seem that a national championship rested on the outcome.

So, rather than try to lay out the groundwork for why Trevor was screwed or rationalize away why he wasn't named to any major award list, I guess I'll just say thanks.

Thanks, Trevor, for playing your heart out, despite a tremendously challenging year. We'll miss you.

Legacy QB | by Pat

If you scanned through the Show Team post below, you probably saw a number of walk-ons making a name for themselves. According to the Contra Costa Times, next year ND will have a new walk-on that won't need to worry about name recognition: Nate Montana.

It's been an odd year for the oldest son of Hall Of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. The younger Montana joined the De La Salle football team this season after transferring from Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa before last season. He served as the third-string quarterback for most of the year but has seen some playing time in the second half of blowouts.

"This has taught me one of the best lessons I've ever learned," Montana said of his role as third-string quarterback. "This school taught me what hard work is and how much harder I need to work to get myself better."

While his role on this year's team hasn't yielded a ton of playing time, it has gotten Montana hooked on football again. He said he will play at Notre Dame next season as an invited walk-on and that he hopes to earn a scholarship by 2009.

Montana, who played basketball for the Spartans last year, said he will not rejoin the De La Salle basketball team this season, opting instead to focus on getting ready to play at Notre Dame.
Good news for ND; adding more QB depth is always a good thing. Kudos to Nate, too, for deciding to come to ND even if it will invite unrealistic comparisons. At the very least, the 6'4 Montana should be an excellent addition to the practice squad. This past summer he worked out at a Southern Cal juniors camp and by some reports looked pretty good. At the very least he'll keep the ND California QB pipeline going.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Montana, and Notre Dame, current QB commit Dayne Crist is a finalist for the inaugural Joe Montana Quarterback of the Year award. The award honors the nation's best high school quarterback and is presented by the Debartolo Sports University. The winner will be announced during the first half of the Outback Bowl on January 1st.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Show Stars | by Pat

Thanks to Irish Eyes for digging up the names of the Show Team players of the week for the 2007 season. The Show Team is basically the scout team who simulates the next week's opponent in practice. Here's the list of the show team members who stood out the most during each week of practice.

Georgia Tech: Golden Tate and Emeka Nwankwo
Penn State: Konrad Reuland and Brian Smith
Michigan: Kris Patterson, Brian Smith and Mike Anello
Michigan State: Golden Tate and Sergio Brown
Purdue: Golden Tate, Jake Richardville, Kevin Washington and Neil Kennedy
UCLA: Taylor Dever, Kerry Neal, Harrison Smith, William David Williams
Boston College: Mike Talerico, Kallen Wade, Emeka Nwankwo
USC: Junior Jabbie and Mike Anello
Navy: Darrin Bragg, Justin Gillett, Leonard Gordon, Harrison Smith
Air Force: Golden Tate and Kallen Wade
Duke: Taylor Dever, Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Kallen Wade
Granted, this year most of the freshmen who might normally spend a year toiling on the Show Team were thrust in the limelight. Still, there are a few names that pop up on this list and give a slight clue as to which players to watch for next spring and fall.

It's not much of a surprise to see Golden Tate's name show up so much early in the year. Those performances were mentioned by Charlie as one of the reasons he put him in the Purdue game and had Sharpley and Clausen just chuck the ball to him. Brian Smith and Kerry Neal show up early in the year too before working their way into the starting lineup. Harrison Smith picked up a few mentions later in the year which is certainly a good sign for what should be an interesting battle to replace Zibby.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Skywriting | by Pat

Catching up on a few recent topics of interest...

• Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Mike Haywood is out of contention for the University of Houston job as the Cougars hired Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin. Too bad for Houston native Haywood. Even though he hasn't been calling plays for ND I think he's ready for his own head coaching gig and will be a solid hire for some smaller program someday.

• An interesting story out of the New Jersey yesterday provided a small update to our ongoing discussion of future ND schedules and the Big East scheduling agreement. Writer Harvey Yavener included this tidbit about the rumored yearly matchup between Notre Dame and Rutgers.

That's what Notre Dame was ready to do. The deal was in place, Bob Mulcahy lining up the Irish for an annual series. Seven years at the start, but open-ended and ready to become the best intersectional rivalry in the country. And then Schiano balked. Notre Dame expected, likely was assured, the New Jersey games of the home-and- home would be played in the maximum exposure of the Meadowlands. Schiano said no, the Irish had to come to The Banks. Deal off.
If this is true, I wonder if ND will still try to stick with the pledge to play three Big East teams per year. The initial article about the Big East agreement two years ago noted the following:
Notre Dame will play one of the three Big East teams on a yearly basis -- expected to be Rutgers or Connecticut -- at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, reportedly for recruiting and alumni purposes.
I can't see UConn wanting to make the trip to New Jersey every other year (then again, what do I know) so it will be interesting to see the fallout if Schiano is indeed nixing the Meadowlands plan. When you throw in the recent decision by the Big Ten to extend their conference schedule past Thanksgiving, which potentially could open the possibility of later-in-the-season games with traditional Big Ten foes like Purdue and Michigan State, ND has a chance to add a bit more flexibility to the schedule. We'll have to see what happens.

• Working to fix the issue of the ND Stadium turf coming up in chunks every time a player made a sharp cut, the stadium field was replaced right after the Duke game. The new sod was rolled in and ND enrolled the help of George Toma, the so-called Sodfather who has prepared the fields for every Super Bowl. The above link includes a few pictures of the new sod being laid down. I know....exciting stuff.

• In other field-related news, ND made plans to modify the practice field setup and broke ground in late November on three new practice fields.

The three fields, two of them artificial turf, comprise a $2.5 million project that is based on the benefaction of John R. "Rees" LaBar, a 1953 Notre Dame graduate, and his wife, Carolyn, who reside in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Long Boat Key, Fla. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Oct. 20, the morning of the Notre Dame-USC football game, to signify the start of the project.

The turf practice fields will be available for use primarily by the football squad, but also for lacrosse, soccer and RecSports use. The fields will be located side by side at the far north end of the current Cartier Field configuration. They will help meet the year-round demand for high-quality practice fields and also will reduce demand for the Loftus Center indoor field. Each field will be lighted and secured by an eight-foot fence, with an adjacent maintenance building to provide storage.

The re-design is part of a grand reshaping of the athletic fields north and east of the JACC. The fields will also be closer to the Gug, meaning the head coach will be able to oversee the new practice fields from his second floor office balcony. I imagine that will be a stop on future recruiting tours. Good news about the artificial turf fields too. That means ND will be able to spend more practice time outside and not worry about tearing up the pitch in less than ideal weather.

• Finally, hundreds of students and fans lined up in the early morning hours to get a chance to get Charlie Weis's autograph. Charlie signed all manners of ND paraphernalia for about five hours last Friday , spending time with each person in line. The SBT was there and as a photo gallery up on their website. I guess when you don't need to worry about bowl game prep you can fill your schedule with events like these. Seriously though, it is nice to see Charlie working to earn some goodwill with the ND community after a rough season shook many people's faith in him. It's also nice to see the ND community showing some faith in Charlie after a rough season by braving the cold to wait in line so long. Those signed footballs probably will make a better keepsake than the autographed picture of Bob Davie I got my younger brother for Christmas one year.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Trevor for the Trifecta | by Pat

Back in September of 2006, Trevor Robinson was one of three recruits to get the first round of scholarship offers from Notre Dame. The other two recruits, Steven Filer and Michael Floyd, have already publicly committed to the Irish. On Thursday, Robinson committed to Charlie Weis during an in-home visit and made it a clean sweep of the initial recruiting targets.

"I found myself thinking about Notre Dame a lot," he said. "The first time around I feel like I kind of rushed things a bit. This time is completely opposite."
The first time that Robinson is referring to is his initial decision to publicly commit to his homestate Nebraska Cornhuskers back on April 7th. Robinson later decided to open up his recruitment again and take another look at ND and Michigan. After Callahan was fired from Nebraska, interim AD and Nebraska legend Tom Osbourne even made a personal trip to the Robinson household to try and sway Trevor back to the Cornhuskers. The move didn't work however and Trevor decided to switch to the Irish. As the lone uncommitted recruit at the recent ND football banquet with 14 committed players, I'm sure Robinson got a full court press from the coaches, players, and recruits. He left without a public commit, but left little doubt that he was likely to choose ND. Once Charlie visited on Thursday, Trevor made his choice public.

The 6'6" 305 pound Robinson also picked up offers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Boston College, and Iowa before quickly narrowing his list to the Cornhuskers, Irish, and Wolverines. As to the recruiting rankings, Robinson is yet another highly ranked recruit. On Rivals he is a 4-star Top 100 player, listed as #97 overall and the #3 overall offensive guard. His rankings on Scout are similar, checking in as a 4-star player, 98th overall and #6 among all offensive guards. On ESPN he is listed as the #9 overall guard.

Although he plays tackle for his high school team, Robinson is listed everywhere as a future guard and appears destined for that position along the Irish line. Here are a few short clips of Robinson from a summer Nike Camp where he was named OL MVP.

More good news is that Robinson is going to enroll early at Notre Dame, meaning he will join the team in just a few short weeks. He will pair up with defensive linemen Sean Cwynar, another early enrollee, and get a head start in the weight room and on the practice field. With a chance to compete in spring practice, Robinson should have an excellent chance to work himself into the two-deep at one of the guard spots for the fall.

Slowly but surely, the depth along the Irish offensive line is rounding into shape. Baring any changes, next year ND will return 5 offensive tackles (Young, Duncan, Webb, Romine, Dever) and welcome another freshman (Clelland). At guard, there will be 5 returning players (Turkovich, Olsen, Stewart, Bemenderfer, Nuss) and two new freshmen (Robinson, Golic). Center returns one player in Dan Wenger and will bring in freshman Braxston Cave. That's 15 offensive linemen on the roster for the fall and ND is still heavily recruiting offensive guard prospect Kenneth Page. The depth is still a touch on the young side with no 5th year seniors and only two seniors, but gone are the days where ND struggled to fill a two deep with scholarship players.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Highlights even in the meanest of times | by Pat

They were hard to find and far too infrequent, but Nevin still managed to whip up this year's collection of great plays into a 2007 season highlight recap. So before we begin our dissection of a season to forget, sit back and enjoy the plays to remember. And a hearty thanks again to Nevin for another quality job well done.



update
: You can find a higher resolution version here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

For once the chicken was better than the season | by Pat

Providing the official close to the 2007 season, the annual football banquet was held this past weekend. The mood was a bit more subdued and the crowd a bit smaller than in years past, as one might expect following a 3-9 campaign. Still, while the team as a whole had a rough year, the banquet provided a good opportunity to honor some of the individual standouts on the team. Here is a list of the award winners from the event.

Team MVP: Trevor Laws Knute Rockne Student-Athlete Award: Trevor Laws
Nick Pietrosante Award: John Carlson
Westwood One/State Farm Student-Athlete of the Year: John Carlson
Guardian of Year Award (for best OL): John Sullivan
Lineman of the Year: Pat Kuntz
No real surprises there with Laws and Carlson getting most of the awards. I'm sure some might raise an eyebrow at Sullivan winning the OL of the year award and Kuntz winning the Lineman of the Year award. I'm guessing the later was to recognize the yeoman's work that Kuntz did in the middle of the line absorbing the most punishment and helping to free things up for guys like Laws. Sullivan as OL of the year doesn't bother me because, frankly, all of the offensive lineman had their faults this year. If you're not sure what the Nick Pietrosante Award is for, it is defined as the "student-athlete who best exemplified the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Irish All-America fullback."

The highlight of the night was the speech by former All-American and fellow blogger Aaron Taylor. You can watch the speech, along with Coach Weis's speech on und.com's All-Access. Taylor was honest and passionate about his time at ND. He also, like Coach Weis, spent time talking about the promise of the future as well as congratulating the current team and outgoing seniors.
"The answer to getting this program back on track," he told the underclassmen, "is you."
Charlie, as per usual, was a little more blunt when it came to laying out what the younger players can do.
“Your season just started on Monday,” Weis said to his players in attendance. “If you want to do something about it, it all starts in the weight room. For the next of months, your season has already started.”
Speaking of the future, it wasn't all that long ago when the annual end of the season banquet was the big recruiting day of the year. The team would gather to celebrate the end of yet another successful season and in the next issue of Blue and Gold Illustrated we found out about a new crop of recently committed recruits who pulled the trigger while attending the banquet.

The whole recruiting cycle has been accelerated and this year instead of trying to gain commits, ND was working to keep them. Fourteen publicly committed players were in attendance at the banquet as well as uncommitted offensive lineman Trevor Robinson. With various coaches undoubtedly bashing ND in an attempt to pry a few loose, it was good to see a bulk of the incoming class meeting and spending the weekend together. Really, one of the amazing things about this year isn't so much the caliber of the players in the current recruiting class but the fact that they all seem to still be fully committed and excited to turn things around.

One final note: ndnation poster RocketShark has a few pictures of the event including those of Taylor, Charlie, Trevor, and Carlson.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bangers and Mash | by Jay

Sorry for the light posting, but I took a little trip to Ireland and just recently got back.

The good news from the homeland is that the Irish aren't nearly as distraught as we are over Notre Dame's season. In fact, most of my discussions about the Fighting Irish didn't consist of football at all. (If you're ever in Dublin, I highly recommend the tour of Kilmainham Gaol, a prison that's played a sinister part in the history of Irish independence.) All in all, the trip was an welcome respite from a challenging year of football fandom.

Once I've cycled all the Guinness out of my bloodstream (hopefully later today) I'll be ready for some year-in-review and perhaps a few thoughts on the offseason. SlĂ inte.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Haywood homeward bound? | by Pat

As the latest go-round of coaching musical chairs hits full speed, ND OC and RB coach Mike Haywood's name has been popping up for a few different jobs. It's not the first year that Haywood has been mentioned as a candidate; he interviewed with Minnesota last year before they settled on Tim Brewster. This year however his name has come up for a few different jobs with one in particular listing him as a possible favorite.

Briefly mentioned as a candidate for the open Northern Illinois job, Haywood is now a serious option for the Houston Cougars. Their previous coach, Art Briles, took the Baylor job and now Houston is looking at native son Haywood as a possible replacement. Haywood interviewed with the school's athletic director and so far is the only candidate to interview with the school. There doesn't appear to be a timetable for a decision, but we should all find out in the very near future if he'll be moving back to his home state of Texas. When contacted by the Houston Chronicle about coaching there, Haywood was adamant about his interest.

"I think the University of Houston is a great institution, and (I) would very much like to be a serious candidate for the head coaching job," Haywood told the Houston Chronicle. "I would love the opportunity to help them carry on the success they've had and to realize their dreams and ambitions."
The Chronicle titled the article "Notre Dame assistant leads pack in UH coach search" but that might be a bit presumptuous on their part. Later in the article Haywood's competition is mentioned.
Haywood is in the mix with candidates who include former Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin, former Georgia Tech and Dallas Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey, Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen and current staff members Chris Thurmond and Tony Fitzpatrick. Thurmond is serving as interim coach as the Cougars prepare for the Texas Bowl, which will be played Dec. 28 at Reliant Stadium.
There has also been recent news that Houston might be looking at former Houston coach Jark Pardee and former Houston star David Klinger as his OC.

Charlie spoke about Haywood's chances in his latest press conference and talked about the benefits Haywood would have as head coach. Charlie also discussed how he's keeping the assistants busy in the December recruiting rush.
Q. When you look at your staff right now, (indiscernible)?

COACH WEIS: Well, obviously you're talking about the University of Houston, and remember (offensive coordinator/running backs coach) Michael (Haywood) is from Houston. I think that sometimes in the coaching carousel there's times that guys get into a mix for a reason, and any time a job comes open in your hometown where you know all the high school coaches, and you know, have relationships with them, and you played high school football there, I think that that always bodes well for your chance for success because sometimes you go to a place and the chance for being successful isn't that great, but it's always -- obviously the main line for success or the best way to be successful is to get good football players, and if you have good relationships with all the people in your hometown, that will be a good place to start.

Q. And about Mike Haywood potentially leaving, do you make sure you have more than one coach that has a relationship with the kids?

COACH WEIS: Absolutely, and that would be true with any kid that we're involved in. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, one thing, for example, this month every kid will be seen by both the recruiting coach and their position coach and possibly a coordinator, as well. Every week between the head coach, the recruiting coach, the position coach and the coordinator, they might be seen by four people just in the month of December.
It's not much of a surprise that the coaches will be visiting so many recruits. ND's season is over so they might as well devote all their energy to keeping this recruiting class going. But it is also pretty clear that Charlie is prepping the recruits for the possibility of coaching changes. The more the recruits become familiar with multiple members of the staff, the easier the transition should one or more switch jobs in the near future.

If Haywood does get the job, he'll be the first ND offensive coordinator in 11 years to go from ND to his own head coaching job. The last was Holtz OC Dave Roberts after the '96 season. (Urban Meyer did leave for the Bowling Green head job, but he was only ND's WR coach at the time) Roberts left ND for Baylor, the school that just hired Houston's former coach and created the opportunity for Haywood.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One last Charlie chat | by Pat

On Monday, Charlie met with the media for the 2007 season wrap-up press conference. There were no prepared remarks and it was just a long Q&A with the assembled journalists. Charlie went into a bit more detail about his future visit with the Patriots, talked about the realities of coaching changes, and discussed the future of the program. Here are some highlights, but as always I recommend giving the entire transcript a quick read.

On team plans for December.

Q. How significant is it not having December practice when you're not in a bowl game? Are you in favor of legislation that would allow the teams not playing in a bowl to practice?

COACH WEIS: I'd prefer to be practicing rather than not practicing, but I think that it gives you an opportunity to get a lot of young guys that haven't had as many reps involved in your system, but fortunately/unfortunately for us a lot of those young guys were playing a good portion of the year, and I think that it's almost as important to get started on your weight program, a heavy dose of the weight program, so we're just countering that lack of practice time by the increased early start on strength and conditioning. And I think that that's all you can do based on what the legislation is at this time is utilize it properly and get going like we did this morning on the strength program.
On his plans for the off-season.
Q. Do you have any plans on -- you've said you're going to New England. Any other plans to visit any other coaching staffs?

COACH WEIS: I have several things in mind. I think that right now they're just ideas, they're not etched in stone. Even going to the Pats, that isn't something that I have to touch a date in. We'll just work it out when we can work it out. I just know that there will be numerous attempts by me and the entire staff to make sure we use the proper resources to try to help move in the right direction.
On the development of the younger players.
Q. Speaking of those young guys, individually it was obvious like (Jimmy) Clausen and (Armando) Allen, (Kerry) Neal, (Ian) Williams all got better as the season went on. Collectively in specific areas where do you feel that you made advancements?

COACH WEIS: Well, obviously our skill players, our freshmen skill players, we were pleased at the progress. We have a couple of guys on the horizon who really didn't get into the action like Gary Gray and Harrison Smith at the end of -- by this time of the year, these two guys looked like really, really good, solid players. We have four linemen who really didn't get any action this year, one on defense in Emeka (Nwankwo) and three on offense, that we really liked their progress, as well. In addition to the guys playing, there were some guys that were on the cusp of being legitimate contenders on the depth chart going into the spring. I think it'll be interesting to see how they push their way up.
On the possibilities of coaching changes.
Q. As far as your staff, do you anticipate making any changes?

COACH WEIS: I wouldn't even think about that until after recruiting is over. There's nothing I intend on doing until after recruiting is over. Right now the main -- my main emphasis and everything I'm doing is making sure that we do a good job in recruiting.
On the current recruiting class.
Q. I was wondering if you could maybe talk about what you tell -- in the middle of the season you told us you would tell the recruits kind of the inner workings of the system to give them a sense of ownership. Now that the season is over what do you tell them to keep them in that process?

COACH WEIS: I've got like 14 of them coming this weekend, so I said, I'll see you this weekend. We're going to have a whole bunch of them in for the banquet and get a hoops game. We're going to go break this record (for consecutive Joyce Center wins) on Saturday night, so we're going to be a part of that. We're rooting for Coach (Mike) Brey and the basketball team.

I think that really the mess that we got into, every home of every kid that's already said yes this past week and a bunch of others on top of it. I think the message is they're going to be a part of something special. I think that's the way they feel. It's really encouraging that -- it's really encouraging that we toed the line and said this was going to be our stance on recruiting last year to see how guys under a very turbulent type of year where you had a really -- you had all these roller coaster ebbs and flows and a lot more downs than ups, that these guys have all toed the line. And not only that, but these guys all become boys with each other, too, which is kind of nice to see.
On the officiating in the Stanford game.
Q. I was wondering about the first touchdown catch in the Stanford game, just kind of your thoughts on that?

COACH WEIS: I think that we've had a very good relationship with the BIG EAST officials this year since we've gone to the BIG EAST, and I think that they do a very good job of keeping us informed on things that happen, and we'll just kind of leave it at that.
On ND special teams.
Q. Someone asked you towards the end of the season about special teams, all the coaches being involved and so forth. I don't think you were really ready to look at it then, and it might not be today. But do you feel like that's one area you could make some changes in?

COACH WEIS: Yes, it has to be changed. I was not pleased with the way it went.

Q. Would you say that there would be one person overseeing that in the future?

COACH WEIS: If it were the right person.