Thursday, March 22, 2007

Out of the Gate | by Pat

Spring practice has sprung, and with it comes the annual tidal wave of tidbits. has Charlie's presser, a practice report, and post-practice interviews ready for your viewing pleasure as part of the All-Access package. If you can't get to All-Access, BGI has a brief free video clip of practice here while Matt Cashore's pictures of practice can be seen here.

The transcript of the presser is here. I recommend reading the whole thing, but highlights include:

On the young makeup of the team: "As it relates to objectives going into the spring, it's been well documented that we have a bunch of guys that graduated from last year's team. Well, that's what players do. They graduate and then they move on.

As has been our theme since the season ended, basically tradition is something that should never graduate. So tradition never graduates, is the theme that we are emphasizing to our players. Because with several key players lost to graduation, it provides a great venue for both competition and opportunity for anyone who has been waiting in the wings or is new to the program."

On special teams: "Special teams, the mannerism in which we are coaching special teams has been tweaked. The entire coaching staff is now involved in special teams. Now Brian Polian and Bernie Parmalee will have big emphasis on defense as leaders of the pack, but the entire staff is involved in special teams and both return units and the defensive staff will handle the field goal block and both coverage units. We'll have to get used to that change in the spring but I'm putting even a bigger emphasis on special teams this spring than I did the first two years."

On the spring focus of the defense: "Now defensively, even though personnel will come into play, schematics are the one thing that we're dealing with in the spring. So offense, the tweaks are more personnel-related. Defensively, although personnel comes into play, the changes are more schematic, and you're going to put it in in its due course, and you're going to be very deliberate in how you put it in. So everyone knows what they are doing and you are building a system rather than just throwing a system at them."

On the health of the team: "Unlike the previous two years where we had several people coming off of injuries going into the spring, no one will be held out of practice on account of injury. Everyone is full-speed, and no one has any limitations with the exception of a couple guys who maybe will have a cast on their wrist or something. That will not limit them from any football activities."

On position switches: "As we begin spring practice, I'm going to move Travis Thomas to start off the spring. He'll be over at running back and Chris Stewart to start off the spring will be over on the defensive line."

On if Stewart will stay on defense: "It depends on how he looks. Athletically from what we've seen to this point, it's very, very encouraging. But if he looks like an offensive guard playing nose tackle, then he'll have to move back to offensive guard. If he looks like a nose tackle playing nose tackle, he'll just stay at nose tackle."

On Sam Young: "I've heard a lot of people just projecting Sam automatically playing on the left side because he played some in high school. He'll be starting off this spring at right tackle. That's where he'll be starting off this spring."

On Weis's focus: "Absolutely. I'm going to be heavily almost exclusively involved with the quarterback position. That's why I hired Corwin. I'm not going to be spending a lot of time on the field worrying about the defense other than when the offense is going against the defense. That's when I'll be able to watch the two.

Right now, one of the biggest jobs I have in addition to working with the offensive staff to establish an identity, based off of our personnel, is to make sure we've got a quarterback ready to play on September 1, and we will have one ready to go."

On off-season stars: "The heroes from the off-season were Travis and Carlson. They were like men amongst boys. It was not even close for second, but you'll see some names pop up. Like I don't want to raise expectations too high but I'll give you a for instance.

If you ask me to call out like one player, I'll call out a player like John Ryan. Not too many people know a heck of a lot about John Ryan other than he was a defensive end backing up Victor Abiamiri and now he's an outside linebacker, and at 6'4", 6'5", 245 pounds, he's your prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker. Whereas in a 4-3 defense, I don't know if he had ever been prototypical either way."

A few thoughts on the presser and notes about the updated spring roster.

• I think the biggest surprise of the presser was the news that special teams is now the responsibility of the entire coaching staff. It's great to hear Charlie promise to dedicate so many resources to it, but at the same time I suppose it's disappointing that it had to come to this. Honestly, it reads like Polian's responsibilities as the ST guru are being diffused, with Weis making sure that everyone has a stake in special teams improvement.

• The fact that everyone is healthy for spring practice is a great boost to a team looking for new starters at multiple positions. It also greatly benefits the defense since everyone will be able to get reps working on the new schemes. Charlie also had a nice subtle dig at some of the rumors about Clausen's arm, saying "By the way, just so we can clear that one up, the only one who will answer for the health of our players will be me. So next time, we can just keep it that way, because I'll do the answering for the health of our players." Nice.

New Jerseys. Demetrius Jones switched to #3. Gary Gray is the new #4 while Armando Allen dons #5. Jimmy Clausen is lucky #7.

• Already big last year, Sam Young picked up over 20 pounds and now checks in at a massive 6'7", 315 pounds. Weis mentioned Young will be staying at right tackle, which leads me to believe that paired with a tough right guard most of ND's runs are headed towards the right side of the line. As ND's biggest offensive lineman, Young won't have to worry as much about keeping fast defensive ends away from the new QB, and he can focus on mauling ends and linebackers. Of course, the open left tackle spot suddenly is a big item of interest. Paul Duncan is the early favorite to land the spot.

• Other players of note that bulked up: inside linebackers Joe Brockington and Toryan Smith (234 and 244 respectively), fullback Luke Schmidt (up to a huge 252), and new defensive tackle Paddy Mullen (up to 285). Chris Stewart is still the biggest player on the team at 340 pounds, but that's 27 pounds less than he weighed in last season. A more complete list of weight changes can be found here. Take them with a grain of salt. For example...

• Jimmy Clausen appears to be the biggest benefactor of the traditional roster height and weight boost. He's listed at 6'5", 207 pounds. I don't really think he'd hit 6'5" even with the spikiest of hair. This post uses trigonometry to try and figure things out.

• He may not play at all this coming season, but walk-on running back Dex Cure still has the best name on the team. "Dex Cure" -- that's outstanding.