Friday, April 04, 2008

20 minutes | by Pat

It seemed like spring practice just started and we're already a third of the way through it. Today marks the 6th of 15 practices and the Blue-Gold game is rapidly approaching. So far, the media has been limited to the first 20 minutes of each practice so the amount of relevant information has been limited. There is only so much one can glean from watching players stretch their hamstrings and run over and around inanimate objects. Still, there have been a few bits and pieces of info to come out already. Here's a sampling.

• The race to replace Zibby has a definite front-runner. Coach Weis said yesterday that Kyle McCarthy is the clear favorite to man the starting strong safety spot opposite free safety David Bruton.

"You're going to have to do a lot to beat him out," Weis said. "He's very knowledgeable of the position, and he's brought a lot of toughness. The thing I like more than anything is how sound of tackler he's been in this camp."
Sergio Brown is pressing, but for now McCarthy is the starter. Throw in Ray Herring, Leonard Gordon, Jashaad Gaines, and Harrison Smith and ND has a solid collection of depth at the safety spot. The next step will be seeing how they perform on the field.

• Elsewhere on the defense, Mo Richardson has been taking most of the first team reps at the open defensive end spot. It's an interesting choice as the 260 pound junior isn't the same player as the 300 pound Trevor Laws was last year or what the 285 pound Pat Kuntz will be in the fall, assuming he returns. His presence on the first team is a big clue that Brown and Tenuta are shaking things up from last year. At this point it's premature to speculate on how Brown and Tenuta plan on using Richardson -- DE in a 4-3 front? situational pass rusher? -- but it's pretty clear they are prepping him to see the field in the fall.

• Speaking of Pat Kuntz, he's been spotted hanging around the practices, which is a good sign that he will return. Will Yeatman has been showing up to all of them too, so it's likely that he'll be back as well.

• Over on the offensive side of the ball, it's too early to gauge any OL progress. The one thing that I noticed is that early enrollee Trevor Robinson looks like he fits in with the rest of the linemen. That is to say, he's not going to need a year or two to gain size. He's already big. Can't wait to watch him and the rest of the OL in the spring game.

• Another offensive guy that I noticed is Asaph Schwapp. While most of the talk has been about the weight gain of guys like Sam Young and Jimmy Clausen, Schwapp looks like he's slimmed down some from last year. More importantly, he's running without a knee brace for the first time in over a year and doing the lateral bag drills that he used to skip. Will a lighter and more agile Schwapp translate to better blocking out of ND's fullback position? That's my hope. Asaph is one player I'm really pulling for this upcoming season.

• If you're a fan of crusty old coaches who would sooner swallow their whistle than be labeled a "player's coach", then you're already probably a fan of Coach Tenuta. Put earmuffs on the kids and check out one of the already popular videos of Tenuta at work with the linebackers.

• Charlie and Coach Polian took a trip to visit Frank Beamer and talk special teams. I'm pretty sure all the special teams woes are fixed now. Seriously though, when Weis talked about the meeting, he briefly touched on the punt return aspect of special teams and being more aggressive.
"Obviously, he spends a lot of time trying to scheme a block of the week, so to speak. That is one of the things they have hung their hat on, but there is risk/reward there. I mean, if you want to bring it after it every time, you have to be willing for everyone in the place to boo you every time you rough the punter at the same time. So there is give and take. His feeling is, when you’re the head coach, you can do that because if they’re going to be booing someone, they’re going to be booing you anyway. So he figures, what the heck, go ahead and do it.”

Is that a risk you will want to take more often?

“I can see me doing that (laughing); I can definitely see me doing that.”
The thing is, thanks to Trevor Laws and Derek Landri, ND blocked more kicks and punts the past two years than Virginia Tech did. Unless ND really revamps its punt rush to yield more blocks, we likely will see the block numbers go down in 2008. Still, there is more to bringing pressure than just blocks. The more rushed kicks, the better chances of big returns or shanks. And of course there is a lot more improvement needed special teams wise than just pressuring kicks and punts.

• One last thing. Given how limited access to practice is, I find it a bit funny just how many different outlets are assigned to report on those limited 20 minutes. If you need your fix, you can check practice reports from an assortment of websites including Irish Eyes, Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold Illustrated, the photo and video summaries of practice at those three sites, Michael Rothstein's Irish Insights blog for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Brian Hamilton's Around the Bend blog for the Chicago Tribune, Ben Ford's blog for the Elkhart Truth, and of course's video coverage of each practice and media interview. The only site that doesn't provide a near instant blog-style practice reaction piece shortly after practice is over is the South Bend Tribune, which settles for adding in any relevant practice tidbits in Eric Hansen's next day article. By my count that is eight different media outlets covering practice daily and doesn't include near daily stories from the Observer, the occasional spring stories that crop up on the national media sites like ESPN, and blogs like this one that round up what we find interesting from the previously mentioned sites and post it up for posterity.

Maybe the limited practice access is a good thing. Just imagine the information overload if everyone could hang around practice as much as they like and we fans could spend all spring parsing the importance of Robert Hughes gaining 43 yards in a mid-practice scrimmage versus James Aldridge's 37. We'll get a glimpse of what it's like once again as ND holds its one "media open" practice tomorrow morning.