Monday, March 28, 2005

Spring Practice Roundup | by Pat

Tomorrow is the first day of spring practice for the Fighting Irish and a chance for Irish fans to put the tumultuous offseason and disappointing men's hoops season behind us and begin the first look to next season under Coach Weis. Hopefully we'll see answers to some of the more obvious questions as news trickles out from the spring practice sessions. (Fishing for comments alert: Feel free to supply your opinions or add more questions.)

In the meantime, here's a quick look at some spring practice updates from next year's opponents...


One of the five opponents that will also be breaking in a new head coach, Pitt started the spring with Coach Wannstedt reinforcing the need to improve on last season's 105th ranked rushing attack.

"I know what my vision is: we're going to be a tough team," Wannstedt said. "This is when you learn to run the football. This is when you make a commitment to running the football."
His other apparent goal for the spring was to upgrade the speed of his football team, especially on defense. Perhaps coming from the NFL he wasn't prepared for the slower college game, but Wannstedt seems dead set on getting his team faster.
"We've given up a lot of size to add speed," Wannstedt said. "But from a philosophical standpoint, that's what we're looking at. That's what spring practice is for."
He isn't kidding about giving up size. Wannstedt is moving linebackers to defensive end and defensive ends to defensive tackle and he even told 245lb defensive end Azzie Beagnyam to drop more weight. Sounds like a perfect chance to work the kinks out of ND's running game. I'll put Darius Walker's number of carries around 25 right now.


The big news in Ann Arbor is injuries. With seven players out for the spring and four more limited, Lloyd Carr has already called off their traditional spring game and replaced it with a standard practice.

One of the players who is out for most of the spring is QB Chad Henne. He looked pretty good last year as the season progressed, but he's still a freshman and could have used the extra practice as the Wolverines look for a replacement for go-to receiver Braylon Edwards. Carr's biggest worry is probably about how to plug in the holes in his defense that lost All-Americans Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor. Stanford transfer Grant Mason, who briefly considered transferring to Notre Dame, looks like he might get the starting nod at one cornerback spot.

Michigan State

The Spartans will head into the spring with some new faces after losing three assistant coaches to three rival Big Ten schools. Starting QB Drew Stanton is healthy, but the big question is a defense that has to replace six starters. They just had their first practice on Friday, so there really isn't much news out of East Lansing yet.


Washington hasn't started spring practice yet, but Irish fans can pretty much guess what they will experience under "Paint Dry Ty". I'm sure there will be stories about incredibly organized practices, pushups after miscues, running the ball to the endzone on every reception, and players running stadium steps to instill discipline. Of course, to a team that went 1-10 last season, organization and discipline probably sound too good to be true.


Obviously, Purdue's biggest task this spring is to replace Heisman winning QB Kyle Orton. Wait, he didn't win the Heisman? Are you sure? But I watched the ND/Purdue game last year and I thought he... No? Well, ok.

Anyway, Orton's still gone and Brandon Kirsch looks like the best candidate to be the starter in the fall. Purdue hasn't started spring practice either so not too much to report here either. Actually, there is one interesting fact that might interest ND fans. Recent recruit Ryan Baker who pulled a last minute switch from Notre Dame to Purdue (because he wanted to play TE in Tiller's offense) is apparently listed as defensive tackle on the Boilermakers spring roster. Notre Dame was recruiting him a defensive end, but I'll admit that I'm surprised he's ended up at tackle so soon.


USC's biggest task this offseason will be to replace offensive guru Norm Chow and fiery defensive coach Ed Orgeron. Another (minor) obstacle for the Trojans is the fact that Matt Lienart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and a host of others will be unavailabe for some or all of the spring practices. That gives QB John David Booty a chance to show that he didn't skip his senior year of high school for nothing before all-everything recruit Mark Sanchez shows up in the fall. So far the star of practice appears to be running back Chauncey Washington, who has ripped off 50+ yard TD runs in every practice. I'm sure a third stud Trojan tailback is just what Irish fans were hoping for, but keep in mind the spring practice axiom: whenever your offense looks good, keep in mind it is going against your defense. Replacing four All-Americans on defense will be a tall task, even for the loaded Trojans. Possible legal trouble for one of their starting cornerbacks can't help matters either.


New BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall seems to have his work cut out for him. A recent Matt Hayes article offered this blurb on the task facing Mendenhall.
Why has BYU fallen so far? Here's an anecdote: The team--including the coaches--recently ran up Y Mountain on the campus as part of a unifying exercise. LB Kelly Poppinga, a Utah State transfer, finished the 1-mile trail first. Quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman finished second, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall was third. LB Justin Luettgerodt was fourth. What's more disconcerting--that two coaches finished in the top four or that no skill players finished in that group?
And while he's getting the team into better shape, the number one priority is to decide on a starting quarterback from the three returning veterans; Matt Berry, Jason Beck, and John Beck.


Finding a starting quarterback is also the plan for the Volunteers spring practices as Coach Fulmer sorts through a finally healthy roster of Erik Ainge, Brent Schaeffer, and Rick Claussen. All three started last season so Fulmer wants to be able to pick one and go with him this spring.
"Right now it's just amazing how much difference a year makes and the understanding those kids have for our offense and how easy it is to flow through practice with veteran quarterbacks," Fulmer said. "Personally, I'd like to have a starter or at least a guy who would start the first practice of two-a-days."
For all those armchair coaches who want to see what Fulmer has to work with, here's a video of a recent UT spring practice.


The Naval Academy start spring practice today and will have to find replacements for QB Aaron Polanco and star FB Kyle Eckel. Hopefully whoever they find won't really matter much come November 12th. Still, Paul Johnson has taken the Midshipmen to two straight bowl games and is a very good coach.


New head coach Greg Robinson is looking to bring the West Coast offense to Syracuse as the Orangemen start practice today. He's also the defensive coordinator and despite returning 10 starters, wants to work on the tackling skills of last season's 101st ranked defense. A shift to a 4-3 defense is also something that will need plenty of practice time this spring.


Stanford now has Pitt's old coach and will probably pass even more than they did last season against the Irish. QB Trent Edwards should be a good one next year under Walt Harris, but it's up in the air how the other 21 starters will look. Spring practice for the Cardinal starts April 3rd so not much in the way of Stanford football news yet.