Monday, August 07, 2006

Begin the begin | by Mike

In addition to signalling the start of fall camp, Media Day is one of the few times when the assistant coaches are available to the media. The assistant coaches' quotes provide a few interesting tidbits:

As with Weis, receivers coach Rob Ianello was confident that Rhema McKnight had made a full recovery:

We have two really talented really guys to start out with. We expect Rhema to be everything that he was a year ago at this time. All indications are that he is there, which could make it really hard for defenses.
Weis had been even more effusive in his remarks:
He was our No. 1 wide receiver in the second game last year, to be honest with you he is in a lot better shape now than in game two last year, because he's on a mission. He's had a long time to get ready for this. And no one is more ready than him.
I remember having serious concerns about our passing offense when McKnight went down early in last year's Michigan game. While his loss appeared to contribute to Notre Dame's offensive funk for the remainder of that game, the team quickly regrouped and Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija went on to become the nation's only receiving duo with more than 10 TDs each. This success made it easy to forget that for more than two years McKnight was widely regarded as the team's best receiver.

Perhaps the biggest question on offense in 2006 is who will claim the fifth starting spot on the offensive line. Much of the discussion on this subject has focused on whether one of the freshman - particularly Sam Young, he of the staggering prep accolades - will be physically ready to grab the spot. However, offensive line coach John Latina emphasized the primary challenges for the incoming linemen:
It's the mental aspect of the game as much as the system. Technique at this level plays such an important part in success. The physical part of the game is always difficult, but getting ready mentally for the college game is the greatest challenge.
Latina also had some interesting comments regarding the returning starters. Much was made last year of Weis, offensive coordinator Mike Haywood, and Latina inheriting "the most experience offensive line in Notre Dame history." This statement overlooked the nature of Latina's challenge:
They were veterans last year in (class year) only. This year, all the linemen I have are all experienced in our system and I think that is going to be the biggest difference this season.
While I have no reason to disagree with this statement, it's telling that we didn't hear anything like that at this time last year. There was no talk of the time it would take to get the offense installed. There was no lowering of the bar. A high standard was set, and the line was expected to achieve it. At the same time, it was clear that the line had not made the same enormous strides in short yardage and power running situations that it had made in pass protection. With this added year of experience, we should look for an offensive line that can take control on short-yardage downs.

As he enters his final season at Notre Dame, it will be interesting to see how Victor Abiamiri's Irish career concludes. Entering Notre Dame as a "five-star" recruit coveted by every major program, Abiamiri garnered early playing time and appeared in every game his freshman year. However, in part due to the injury he suffered entering last year, many feel Abiamiri has yet to realize his full potential. There is also concern that the lack of a complementary pass-rushing threat will allow opposing offenses to focus on Abiamiri, taking him out of the game. Yet defensive line coach Jappy Oliver indicated that even as a marked man, Abiamiri still had many opportunities to make plays and that he believes Abiamiri will make those plays this year:
(Victor) knows that as we went back and looked at last year, there were many plays that he could have made that he didn't make. (Some of it is) being consistent in terms of just keeping leverage on the quarterback. There's times when we're going to have good coverage and the quarterback is going to be pressed. As long as we keep the quarterback pressed and (Victor) keeps getting after him, he's going to make a lot of those plays that he didn't make last year.
As we've previously stated, many of the big plays attributed to Notre Dame's much maligned secondary could just as easily be pinned on the lack of a pass rush. I expect Abiamiri's play to be one of the determining factors in Notre Dame's season.

One of the early successes in Weis's tenure at Notre Dame was recruiting assistant coaches Bernie Parmalee and Bill Lewis from the professional ranks to join him at Notre Dame. Yesterday, Lewis commented on his decision to sign on in South Bend:
I came here for two reasons: because of Coach Weis, and because it's Notre Dame. I had competed against Charlie for nine years, 20 games with the AFC schedule twice a year and a couple times in the playoffs, and I just felt that he was the best offensive football coach that I had ever competed against ... the best.
26 days.