Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Page One | by Jay

If the team improves this year, this is how it's going to happen. (Link goes to UND.com.)

CHARLIE: In training camp there wasn't one day where in every play in practice we took them to the ground, or one day where we tackled them on EVERY play. So today was the first day of the entire year that every play was 'take 'em to the ground.' This lets the lines on both sides work on some kind of mentality, and focus on run and pass blocking, and tackling. If you look at our games, run and pass blocking, and tackling, are our biggest downfalls.

We won't work anything on Michigan State on Tuesday. We'll come back again and go full pads, starters on starters, because until we fix US, the opponent is irrelevant.

The phrase in coaching is you need 'something to hang your hat on.' I think offensively if you try to X and O, and scheme a whole bunch of different things, and nothing good happens, then there's no comfort zone for the players. There's no set of plays that when you go to the line of scrimmage, you can say something good's going to happen here. So that's what we have to create.

When you talk about a training camp mentality, it's fewer things, but doing them more often, until you get good at them. And you don't do anything else until you get good at them.
The lack of hitting and tackling in camp is revelatory. Something is screwy with the Irish; while Notre Dame is hardly unique among teams having to break in a novice offensive line this year, they are the only team in football with net negative rushing yards on the season. If you were asking yourself, "why can't these guys block," well, here's part of your answer. Like Coffey pointed out, NFL vets don't generally practice full-go all the time. But that's why they're "vets"; they've been through college, they've honed their fundamentals, and they already know how to block and tackle.

Charlie's dropped down a playing level now, and with a young team, relentless drilling and repetition is the only way to build that core of toughness and reliability. The last two years he had the luxury of a largely veteran squad that had been through the fire, and he could take a more professional, and cerebral approach. Plays that required a high degree of technique, timing, and execution? Draws, screens, five wides, no huddle? Change the gameplan week to week? No problem. We had Quinn, Walker, Stovall, Fasano and a vet line. But this is the first year he's breaking in brand new starters across the board, and he's finding out -- 3 games too late -- that he's got to modulate his approach. The college game is above all a developmental league, where each year you say goodbye to your veterans, and welcome a new crop of youngsters to be cultivated. Raw talent must be fired and tempered on a yearly basis; this is the cyclic nature of college football.

Physical practices are a Catch-22, of course. With the precariously thin depth on this team, I can understand why Charlie didn't want to risk any needless camp injuries. But by not repping and hitting and knocking each other around, you risk not being prepared for the full speed of the game. You've been taking it easy in practice, coolly prepping and going through your gameplan, and you might have everything covered on paper. But that first snap of the ball -- that first punch in the mouth -- is a rude awakening. The speed and intensity is a shock to the system. It's like we've been doing laps in a closed parking lot for weeks, and suddenly we get dropped onto the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And for the fist time, there are other cars out there trying to knock us off the track.

All of this reminded me of something Corwin Brown talks about, a concept he calls "Page One." He spoke about it at the coaching clinic back in April.
The defensive scheme, no matter what it is (and there are many ways to skin a cat, as Brown put it), all starts with "Page 1", a concept borrowed from Bob Sutton of the Jets and also used heavily by Belichick. Page 1 is the foundation of your defense. You may start there, and go forward, but you have to start there. And you can always fall back on page 1 if all else fails. When Corwin started practice at ND they put in 1 front, and 2 coverages. Practiced strictly that for the first three days. "That's page 1. We can always go back to that. And we can get the job done with that."
Right now, there's not much else you can do, except go back and build the base. This team doesn't even have a Page One right now. But Charlie and Corwin and the rest of the guys can start writing one this week.

Hitting, blocking, tackling. Football starts there.